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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Six

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**


Even running, I didn’t have a chance in hell of catching up with him. I was a sprinting mouse trying to run down a slow, loping giraffe. He had physical advantages I couldn’t compete with. And the fact that I never, ever, engaged in any kind of physical activity was not much of a help.
I promised myself that if this stupidly impulsive adventure didn’t leave me mortally wounded from an exploded chest cavity, I would start using the dusty treadmill in our basement. Even smart girls should be able to run a few blocks without causing internal bleeding.
Once we were out of view of the school, it seemed like Porter slowed his pace a bit, and after another block, he stopped altogether near a small park with dead winter grass. I actually started to gain on him a bit.
The realization that I might actually catch him sent a nervous rush through my body. What exactly was I planning on doing? Hauling him back to school? Interrogating him on the street? How crazed did I actually look, running him down to . . . what?
What the hell was I thinking?
What would Porter think?
I stopped, suddenly hyper self-conscious in a way I never, ever was. Since when did I care what some guy from school thought? Next to me, I caught sight of my reflection in a large tinted plate-glass window. My hair was wild and my face looked desperate in a physically injured way. If I had been able to see any color in that reflection, I knew my whole head would be flushed a deep, deep crimson from running.
I stepped away, worried that maybe there was someone on the other side of the dark tint watching me disapprove of myself and getting a huge laugh at my expense. I should turn around and head straight back to school before anyone even realized I had left. It probably wasn’t too late. Just stroll across the parking lot, back to the yard, and rejoin everyone else waiting for the fourth-hour bell to ring.
That’s what I would do.
Except, just then, Porter Creed turned his head and saw me standing there, and he started to walk back up the street toward me.
I froze to the spot, right next to the large windows that undoubtedly hid the audience amused by my shame.
This was such a stupid idea.
Wait, this was not a stupid idea at all—that was giving myself way too much credit, because none of this had been an idea in the first place. No, this hot mess of embarrassing idiocy was a headlong, impulsive, rush toward God knows what.
And the what was actually a who and the who was an angry-looking Porter Creed, who was now standing right in front of me.
“Are you following me?” he asked.
I was so obviously following him I couldn’t think of a single reasonable thing to say. So instead I said, “You’re not supposed to leave school grounds.”
Porter looked over my head and all around us, like maybe I had a secret camera crew in tow and we were busting him for News @ Nine. “What are you, some kind of vigilante hall monitor?”
“No, but I am your calc partner and we are supposed to meet after school today to get started.” This, I felt, at least made some sort of rational sense.
Porter lifted his wrist and looked at his watch, “Am I missing something? It’s not after school yet.”
“But you won’t come back.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you never do!” Which was totally true, but I totally wished I could take the statement back, because now Porter Creed knew—
“What, you track my comings and goings?”
“No, but . . .” But what? “But you never do and it’s not like I didn’t offer to do all the work but you’re the one who has the problem with that so if you want to work on this as a team . . . then I need to know you’re going to actually be there!”
Porter, who towered over me by probably an entire foot, just stared at me with those deep, deep eyes. I expected him to maybe yell back, but instead, he let out a shaky sigh and ran his hand through his hair in a way that made it stick up on the side.
Right then, standing there, watching his eyes shift to the street while he tried to think of something to say, a startling realization pushed all my annoyance into an insignificant ball and shoved it to a corner of my racing brain. My heart still hammered like mad. It had started first because of the running. It had continued when I got mad. But now, now I realized—it was hammering simply because Porter Creed was standing in front of me. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans, looking not at all like a crazed psycho. He looked completely vulnerable.
When he returned his eyes to mine, my heart pumped so hard it sent a shivery wave of discovery that started in my chest and rode on a current through every nerve ending until it reached the tips of my fingers and the ends of my toes. The feeling was so intense, I had to look away from him. My eyes found a spot of dirty black gum to stare at on the concrete instead.
“You’re right,” he said. “I wasn’t going to come back.”
I just nodded and kept my eyes low, suddenly afraid that if I dared to look up, he would be able to read what was happening inside of me written all over my traitorous face. I should say something. Acknowledge his acknowledgment—somehow. Except, just then, just when I really, really needed it, my normally oceanic-size vocabulary seemed to have dried up to the point of extinction. All that was left flopping on the dry sand of my cognitive resources was, “Yeah, well . . . okay.”
My God! Did physical attraction to another human being reduce me to this? “Well?” I managed to ask. “Are you going to come back with me now?”
Porter looked at his watch again. “No.” He shrugged. “And I don’t think you’ll want to either. Fourth-hour already started.”
“What?” I reached for my phone in my back pocket and saw two things. First, the time, which absolutely confirmed that Porter was right. I had missed the start of my fourth-hour class—I was officially truant. Second, there were about a million text messages from Eli, each one more alarmed, distressed, and CAPITALIZED than the last.
“Shit,” I whispered, and looked up at Porter who actually, amazingly, looked somewhat sympathetic. “What am I supposed to do now?”
Porter shrugged. “I go to the library a lot.”
“You ditch school so you can go to the library?”
He didn’t answer me, just waited for me to decide what I was going to do. Was I going to go back to school, face security, face the attendance clerk, and face an afternoon of detention—or was I going to walk another three blocks with Porter to the city library and worry about all the rest of it later?
“We could actually start working on that calc project,” he suggested.
We were ditching school to work on school work—it wasn’t exciting, it was unlikely I would end up drunk in a basement and tattooed with pink hair, but it made me feel better. Sort of like we weren’t really ditching at all, just working remotely. “Okay,” I nodded. “Let’s do that then,” my tone was super grave, like I just found out I had some incurable disease.
Porter stared at me like he was observing some undiscovered freak of nature. “Have you seriously never ditched school?”
We started walking. The wind had picked up, and I was starting to feel cold because I had rushed out of the cafeteria in January without my sweatshirt—or anything else, I realized. I had left my bag and all its contents right there at the table next to Eli. “I don’t even stay home when I’m sick.”
Porter laughed, and without even asking, slipped first one arm and then the next out of his severely beaten leather bomber jacket and handed it to me.
Not understanding what he was doing, I looked first at it and then at him while we walked and he continued to hold the jacket between us.
“You look cold,” he explained.
“Oh!” I took it from him and hesitated—the rough looking leather was actually super soft in my hands—before putting my arms through the sleeves that hung way past the tips of my fingers. The inside of the jacket had a quilted liner that was still warm from Porter’s body. “Thanks,” I said. I watched him nod, shove his hands in his jean’s pockets, and raise his shoulders against the cold.
No boy, not even Eli, had ever offered me their coat before. As much as I hated to admit it, as we walked that last block, side by side, it felt really good to be wearing it—and somewhere inside me I realized, it wasn’t just because it was warm.
When we reached the stone steps to the library, Porter leaped up them two at a time ahead of me, pulled open the door, then stood holding it for me until I caught up.
“Thanks,” I said.
The library had a double set of doors, so I reached for the second set but Porter moved fast around me and took the door handle from me. Because I wasn’t expecting it, the whole exchange was sort of awkward, me reaching, him reaching, me moving out of the way, me saying, “Thank you,” again, even though I just said it.
Both of us not looking the other one in the eye.
God, maybe I should have gone back to school and taken the detention.
“There are some tables on the second floor that I usually use. No one else really knows they’re there.”
I nodded. We were here to work on our project, even though I didn’t have anything with me. How exactly was I planning on getting anything done, I wondered. Porter’s coat sleeves slipped over my hands again, and the thought occurred to me that I should probably give it back to him now that we were inside.
But I didn’t.
I followed him to the back of the first floor toward the staircase. “I don’t have any of my things,” I whispered.
Porter turned around and inspected me, then shrugged. “We’ll plan it out for now,” he explained, and then looked at his watch again before heading up the marble stairs. He didn’t race up these, maybe because we were inside the library instead of outside. As his feet climbed each step in front of me I noticed the bottom of his left shoe had a flap of the rubber sole that was peeling away. Actually, now that I was looking closely, both of his shoes were so tattered and worn, they looked like they might completely fall off his feet at any moment.
And the collar of his T-shirt, I noticed, the ribbed collar was separating from the rest of the shirt at the base of his neck. A thin sliver of his skin showed through the hole. I looked away quickly, like I had seen something I wasn’t supposed to. When we reached the top of the stairs I slid off his coat and handed it back to him. “Thanks again,” I said. “Sorry if you were cold.”
He shrugged and held the coat like is was a stray animal in one hand.
What was I doing here?
When we reached the table, Porter let his backpack slide off his shoulder and I took my phone from my back pocket. There were five more text messages from Eli, who was now in full-blown emergency mode and threatening to go and get my mother if I didn’t—!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!TEXT ME BACK RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“Crap,” I said, and started typing.
“Everything okay?”
“Yes—no. I don’t know.” A nervous dread filled me as I finally responded to Eli and told him I was fine and that I would meet up with him after school and tell him everything. Also, did he happen to pick up my stuff from the cafeteria?
YES! AND THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW YOU’RE NOT DEAD. I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!
Sorry! I texted back
“My friend is just worried,” I explained.
Porter raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. He pulled out his calculus book and a single sheet of crumpled notebook paper that looked like it had been living at the bottom of his bag for weeks. He dug around in his bag some more, pulled out the strange small binder filled with thousands of pages I had seen him with at lunch, a torn manila folder, a broken eraser, and finally stopped when he produced a tiny nub of a pencil that had been sharpened down to about two inches. “Sorry, this is all I have,” he held it up. “Wait!” He got up and left the table. I had no idea where he was going, and he was gone before I thought to ask.
This entire afternoon had me confused and lost—completely adrift from my normal routine. It felt like being inside a strange movie about someone else’s life. I had no idea what might happen next.
I stared at Porter’s giant paper-filled binder and wondered why in the world he would lug such an enormous thing around. It must weigh a ton.
When Porter came back, he was holding a small golf pencil like it was a victory torch. Ah, now I understood. They kept these next to the catalog computers so people could write down the call number for the book they were looking for. “Thanks,” I said. When I took the tiny pencil from him and our fingers brushed against each other, I tried to ignore the electric sensation this insignificant physical contact created in my nervous system.
What the hell was wrong with me?
I was sitting in the single chair at the end of the table, so Porter pulled out and sat in the chair immediately to my right. He pushed his bag away and pulled the crumbled paper and his calculus book closer. “All right,” he said as his hands pressed and smoothed what was essentially a piece of garbage flat. “I think we should start by figuring out who will tackle what.”
Why was he using this scrap when he had a whole binder overflowing with paper? “What’s that?” I pointed.
Porter glanced to his right and laid his hand on top of the binder. “What? This?”
“Yes, the thing that appears to be filled with perfect paper while you’re suggesting we get started working on less-than-perfect paper.”
Porter smirked; maybe he kind of liked that I was such a smart ass. He pulled the binder over and flipped open the cover. “Because this perfect paper is already being used.” He turned the binder toward me so I could read the cover page: United Flight Operations Manual.
I gave him a confused look and flipped through some of the pages that were separated by tiny plastic tabs. “What . . . like, for pilots?”
Porter nodded.
The manual looked totally legit. “Where’d you get this?”
He hesitated for only a moment while I pulled the manual closer and opened to a section titled: Boeing 747 Preflight Safety Checks. “It was my grandfather’s.”
“And he just let you have it?”
Porter shrugged. “Not exactly. I can guarantee it was supposed to be given back to the airline when he died, but I took it instead. That, and his favorite jacket.”
I looked up into Porter’s eyes, “I’m sorry he died . . . were you close?”
Porter shook his head, “I never even met him. The first time I ever saw him he was lying in his casket.”
I looked back at the manual in front of me and tried to figure out what to say next. I guess I could understand the jacket, but I wanted to ask him why he would take something as strange as a pilot’s flight manual from a man that he never even knew—not to mention carrying it around everywhere he went.
But before I could gather the nerve, Porter reached for the binder, closed it, and slid it to the side.
“We should get to work,” he said, and returned his attentions to straightening out the wrinkled paper that would be our project plan.  
I stared at his hands. They were big. Big wide hands with long fingers that ended in nails that were clean and recently clipped. They looked like hands that could do things. Build things. Porter’s hands looked like they did work. They were attractive. Porter had attractive—
“Hello?”
My eyes yanked away from his attractive hands and fell directly into his eyes. His eyes that were staring right through me. “I’m listening.”
He furrowed his brow like he didn’t believe me, then returned to what he was saying. “I’ll handle the . . .”
It was like my body was operating completely independent from the rational, thinking side of my brain. I rubbed my hands down my thighs, drying the sweat on my jeans. Sitting this close to him was almost painful. My God—I should get up and go home right now.
I felt nervous, flushed, excited, scared—all at the same time. I wanted to touch his hand, but didn’t dare do something so stupid. It was a ridiculous thought, but what would it feel like to hold that big hand, the one with the tiny pencil, the hand capable of scribbling out that amazingly complex equation?
Wait.
“That’s wrong,” I blurted, and pointed to his calculation mistake with my own finger.
Startled, Porter sat back and frowned at where I was pointing. “No it’s not.”
I nodded emphatically, “Um, yes. Yes, it is.” I could feel that my eyes had opened super wide and my face had that are you seriously questioning my ability? look.
Porter shook his head, flipped the paper over, and began writing something else. “Look,” he said.
Annoyed that my mathematical authority was being challenged, I sat back in my chair and waited for him to be wrong again.
Except.
I leaned forward, narrowed my eyes at his work. For several minutes, numbers piled on top of numbers. Porter, seemingly lost in his mathematical creation, worked quickly. Completely focused, he turned the page sideways when he ran out of space and began carrying equations down the side of the paper.
When he had finished, he sat back and stared at the rush of thinking he had produced. “See?”
I stared. I did see. “Yes,” I said, suddenly realizing that, without noticing it, Porter and I had moved very close together while he had worked so hard to prove me wrong. Under the table, my knee was pressed against his leg.
We were touching.
I continued to stare at his complicated equation, pretending to still be considering it even though I knew within a minute what he had done. The place on my knee that pressed against his leg felt like it was the epicenter of a brilliant flame. I wanted to move my leg away.
I also didn’t want to move my leg away.
Porter was staring at the paper too, and I realized he was now also aware that our legs were touching under the table.
Why, why, why didn’t I stay at the cafeteria table with Eli?
“Impressive,” I finally managed to say, taking the opportunity to sit back and shift my body away from his. Breaking the contact between us was a relief—but also a little disappointing.
I took a breath, “So, you’re clearly a genius.” It was almost painful for me to admit. “How do you want to break the project up?”
For the next hour, we planned and sketched and divided assignments, always careful to not touch again, it seemed. Just when I thought we were really getting started, Porter looked at his watch, then jumped up so fast his chair tipped over behind him with loud crash. “Crap,” he said and started grabbing everything on the table and shoving it back into his bag. He didn’t even zip it up before he threw the strap over his shoulder. “I gotta go,” was all he said, and then walked away.
Stunned, I sat there and watched him go. Realizing only after it was too late to stop him that he’d forgotten his jacket.
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 Thank you for reading chapter six of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Five

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday (except this week it was Saturday :-)

Mr. T was killing me—and everyone else apparently. We all let out a collective groan. Which, I suppose, was exactly what Mr. T wanted to accomplish with this brand-new hell he was imposing on us.
“Cooperative learning,” he continued, holding up his hand to ward off the well-articulated complaints he could feel rising. “Being able to work well in a group is a no-joke necessary skill you guys are going to need out there.” He pointed to the door of the class. “Beyond that door is the real world, and whatever you may think about your considerable skills, you all pretty much suck at working with other people. After graduation, some of you will be working in jobs which will require you to work as a member of a project team. Now, it may be true that some of you will be holed up in a top-secret government basement where you will only need to socially interact with a complex database because you lack even the most rudimentary of social skills necessary for most corporations.”
Was it my imagination, or did he actually look at me when he said that?
He smiled. “But a few of you may actually find yourself one day”—he held up both his hands gospel style—“and I know this is hard to swallow”—he gulped loudly—“needing other people to help you solve problems.”
He paused for dramatic effect, looking around the room at each of us. One bad thing about Mr. T not actually being a full-time high school teacher was that he often went way overboard with the theatrics. He really loved listening to himself pontificate.
“So, for the rest of the semester, one objective for this course will be to help you develop the skills necessary to work effectively as part of a team.”
We didn’t like it, but we listened. The thing about Mr. T was, one, teaching high school kids wasn’t his full time job. Out in that real world he had just pointed to, he was an aerospace engineer for Lockheed Martin. This was the only class he taught at Roosevelt High; the school had to contract someone from the outside world to meet the intellectual demands of this class. Because of this, fair or not, we respected Mr. T more than most of our other teachers.
The second thing about him—and this might have even been the real thing that made us sit up and listen—was that Mr. T didn’t bullshit you too much. If you turned in something subpar because you were tired the night before, he’d hand it back to you and say, “You’re better than this. Do it again.”
Mr. T didn’t let us slide by on our natural talent, probably because he was the grown-up version of us. He worked with people with big brains all day long, in a career field some of us—not me, but some of us—hoped to be in one day. We respected him because he actually was smarter than us, so he wasn’t afraid of us.
“So.” He clapped his hands. “Since we are so few, but now thankfully an even number at least”—he nodded to Porter who was three rows behind me—“three groups of two, pair up!”
Before I even got all the way turned around in my seat, everyone else in the class was coupled with someone else. Everyone except, of course, Porter Creed.
Even my coworkers—my “peers”—would rather not work with me unless they absolutely had to. Now, thanks to Porter, they didn’t have to. I could just imagine, from the moment Mr. T uttered the words cooperative learning, all four of the other regulars were eyeing each other behind my back, pointing fingers—You and me, right? Quickly shoring up their partner decisions before they got stuck with me or the special-ed psycho.
As everyone else began shuffling toward each other, pushing chairs and moving desks, disrupting the ordered balance of the room, I glanced at Porter. A wave of nervous dread rolled through me.
He was sitting in his seat, not moving, and from the look on his face, which appeared to be one of extreme disinterest, I wondered if he had even heard what Mr. T’s instructions had been. Like the day in the cafeteria, he didn’t look at me, didn’t make the normal sort of eye contact one would expect from a future cooperative learning partner—even though I got the feeling he knew I was looking right at him.
It made getting up out of my chair and walking toward him practically painful.
When there were only a couple steps between us left, his eyes shifted to me. I couldn’t help it. I stopped right where I was, wondering and waiting for him to say the same thing as before: What do you want?
But he didn’t.
“I hate group work,” he declared. It made me wonder if this was some sort of refusal to comply with the general instructions and a not-at-all-subtle hint that I could just turn myself around because this wasn’t going to happen. Would Mr. T push the issue if Porter flat out refused to do this? I thought of Porter that first day I had seen him, yelling, pushing against the hands holding him until he was eventually carted away by the police. Mr. T wasn’t a regular teacher, and I wasn’t sure he had been fully briefed on the special case that was Porter.
Nothing about Porter’s body language or facial expression gave me the impression that it was okay for me to pull up a chair and join him. Every part of me wanted to say, Look, psycho, this is my grade were talking about here. And I realize you clearly don’t give a shit about your abysmal future educational opportunities, but I have every intention of standing up on the stage at graduation in four months and being the valedictorian of these assholes. I’m not about to let you screw that up just because you “hate group work” and have a clinical noncompliance-with-authority problem.
If it were Bella Blake et al pulling this shit, that is exactly what I would have said. Except this wasn’t Bella or her friends. This was the guy I had witnessed straining under the weight of two cops holding him down, the guy with that look of naked desperation I hadn’t been able to get out of my head.
So, instead of saying any of the words running through my head, I said, “So do I. So does everyone. But I don’t think we really have a choice.”
The corner of his mouth, just barely, rose for half a second. If I hadn’t been looking closely, I might have missed it. I took this as my chance to grab a chair and sit down.
“Look,” I said, placing the chair in his vicinity but not right next to him. “This doesn’t have to be hard. Honestly, I usually do all the work in group efforts anyway. Actually, I prefer it.” I looked to see that Mr. T wasn’t within earshot; he was standing next to Ryan and Helen, who appeared to already be arguing about who would be doing what. I turned back to Porter and dared to lean slightly closer to him. “Just so we’re clear, all I need is for you to put your name on the final piece and just say that we worked fifty-fifty.”
Porter didn’t answer me right away; he didn’t even look at me right away. He sat there, reclining back in his chair with his super-long legs stretched out in front of him while his hands rested on the desk. After a moment more, his fingers started tapping out a rhythm on the fake wood surface.
I leaned back in my own chair. Was he just going to ignore me? I sighed, my breath rushing out of me as a noisy complaint.
Porter looked at me with his eyes first, those deep blue pools, then turned his head as well—his expression questioning. “What makes you think I would want to put my name on your work?” Clearly implying with his tone that my work might possibly be substandard.
I actually felt my eyes go wide while my pupils constricted into sharp laser points. Was I seriously having my academic capability questioned by a special-education kid who, until recently, had to have his every move supported and monitored by a grown-up? My heart pumped hard in my chest and I felt a sheen of sweat form on my palms. Every inch of my body begged me to verbally castrate this guy.
Then, he smiled at me. “Is this how you want to”—he raised both his hands and made air quotes—“‘help me?’”
My blood made whooshing sounds in my head. I had been such an idiot, thinking he was maybe going to blow up the school or something—not that he could possibly have known what I was thinking, but still. My hand-flapping behavior that day was still a source of enormous embarrassment to me. Not to mention the root of the rumor that had tenuously circulated, among some of the lesser assholes, that I had it bad for this guy who was now sitting in front of me, mocking me, in his dirty jeans and faded T-shirt that looked like it probably hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine in months and—
“You look like your head is going to explode.” Porter jarred me from my private mental tirade—an impudent smirk materialized on his lips. “Have I offended you in some way?”
“No,” I blurted, clearly indicating that the exact opposite was true. Was he screwing with me? I narrowed my eyes at him. It felt like he was screwing with me.
Porter sat up straighter in his chair and looked at his hand that had now stopped drumming the desk. “You were right; you do have a bad temper.”
“You’re one to talk.”
“Yes, but I’m labeled and filed. You’re allowed to just prowl around in the general population.”
“I’ve never tried to bash someone’s brains inside out.”
He turned his head and his eyes met mine. “Maybe not physically.”
Speechless was not a state I typically found myself in. Thankfully, after seconds of painful silence, Mr. T wandered over and clapped his hands.
“So”—he looked from me, to Porter, then back to me—“we all set here?”
“Yep,” Porter announced for us both and grinned. “We just love group work.”
I could tell from Mr. T’s amused expression that he didn’t believe this for a second, but he smiled big anyway and said, “Perfect!” He pulled a chair up between us, turned it around, and then straddled it with his arms resting across the back. “Here’s what I want you to do.”

“What if he freaks out and stabs you?” Eli asked me at lunch.
I pulled my eyes away from Porter, who I just realized I had been staring at, and gave Eli a dirty look. “That’s just perfect. Thanks for planting that seed in my head.”
“I’m serious.” He glanced at Porter, who had again devoured his entirely inedible school lunch and was now leaned back in his chair flipping through a thick binder that looked like it held a thousand pieces of paper. “Does Mr. T seriously expect you to work one-on-one with a sociopath?”
Just then, I noticed Bella Blake and her friends noticing Eli and me looking at Porter. When we made eye contact, they looked away. But it was too late; the damage had been done. “Stop staring at him,” I hissed at Eli. “The whole fricking school thinks I’m in love with the guy.”
“Fricking?” Eli asked.
“What?”
“Since when do you say ‘fricking’?”
“I’m trying not to cuss so much.”
“Since when?”
“Since right now, asshole.”
Eli smiled at me and nodded, as if all were right with the world just so long as there was evidence to refute my ability to ever stop being crass. “Okay, no cussing for you. Got it. And you are in love with him. You might as well just stop trying to fight it,” he teased. “Let the whole world know how you truly feel . . . go ahead and stare at the man you love,” he finished with a flourish.
I reached over and pinched his waist, hard, under the table.
“Ow!” he shouted, and jumped away. “That hurt.”
“Good. Quit trying to be a comedian.”
Eli rubbed his side. “You’re mean.”
Just then, Porter stood up and waved to Henry. “What is he doing?” I asked.
“Looks like lover is getting ready to bail again.”
I shook my head, incredulous. “We’re supposed to meet after school today to start our stupid project.”
“Maybe he’ll come back.”
“He never comes back,” I said, getting up as well.
“Where are you going?” Eli asked.
“To make sure I don’t get screwed over.” Porter didn’t want to just let me handle the work—fine. But I wasn’t going to be sitting around for hours in the library waiting for him to show up either. As I rushed toward the doors to catch up with him, I caught Bella’s table all giving me furtive looks and smirking.
“My God, get a life,” I said as I passed them.
Darren flipped me off, but I ignored him. I didn’t have time right now to comment on his stunning capacity for communication.
By the time I reached the courtyard, Porter was already halfway across the parking lot. His long legs meant he moved fast, especially considering he didn’t want to get caught. I picked up the pace, hoping to at least get up the hill before he disappeared onto the street. By the time I made it to the top of the grassy hill, my heart was pounding and I was out of breath. It occurred to me that I was so totally out of shape. I bent over to catch my breath and watched Porter get even farther away.
“Hey!” I tried to shout, but he either didn’t hear me or was completely ignoring me. I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching or listening to me make a complete ass of myself—thankfully, only a few people had come outside yet and they were busy listening to their music on the far side of the yard.
When I turned back, Porter was already dodging traffic and crossing the street.
Damn. I stood at the curb lining the grass, the concrete demarcation between “technically still on school grounds” and “clearly leaving school grounds” and watched Porter take three running strides toward the opposite sidewalk to avoid getting hit by a speeding Prius.
Every second I hesitated, he got farther away.
Impulsive decisions: I didn’t make them. But I took a step anyway. Then I took another, and another, and before I realized I was actually leaving school, and breaking school rules, I was running across the parking lot, into the street, and onto the sidewalk that, if I didn’t die of a heart attack first, would hopefully lead me to Porter.

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Thank you for reading chapter five of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Four

**New chapters posted here every Wednesday**


Apparently, I cared, because a week later, I had become practically obsessed with Porter Creed.
“You know, I think you may have a problem,” Eli said.
“Shhh.” I hushed him while we both sat unable to even pretend to eat the spongy macaroni and cheese that the cafeteria had the audacity to serve.
“Why shhhhh? It’s not like he can hear us from here.”
It was true: Porter couldn’t hear us halfway across the room and over the voices of every other senior at Roosevelt High. “I’m not worried about him hearing us, I just want you to be quiet so I can think.”
“Right.” He nodded and dared to take a bite. “Ugh,” he spit the mess back into its styrofoam bowl. “It is totally not fair that the powers that be decided to close the campus just as we were coming into our own.”
For years, Roosevelt had been combating an ever-increasing dropout rate—closing the campus at lunch was just the latest in their many, many desperate attempts to help the half-brain-dead plebes here to “STAY IN SCHOOL!” Basically, because twenty percent of these people were dying to fail so badly that they felt the need to hasten the process along by spending their lunch hour hanging out in each other’s basements and frying what little brains they had with uncontrolled substances, the rest of us were all made to suffer through the Monday Mac&Cheezie special.
As he had every day since my monumental failure to make conversation with him, Porter was making his move.
“Look,” I said, grabbing Eli’s arm. “There he goes again!” I sat back in my chair, exasperated by this blatant rule defiance. I glanced over at Henry, who yet again seemed clueless that Porter was taking off. It was unbelievable! “How does he get away with it? I mean, what, they haven’t figured out he sneaks off campus every day and doesn’t come back?”
“How do you know he doesn’t come back?”
I tried to change the subject. “You’re still coming over after school, right?” I asked casually.
“You didn’t answer my question. You’re totally stalking him.”
My face contorted into what I hoped was a believable mask of annoyed disbelief. “I am not stalking him. The mere observance of ‘hey, this person is at school,’ and then later, ‘hey, that person is no longer at school,’ does not constitute a valid stalking.”
“Okay, fine.” Eli raised his hand in surrender. “Have you found out anything about him online yet?”
“Nothing!” I said exasperated. “He doesn’t seem to have a profile anywhere.”
Eli jumped sideways in his seat. “AHA! Stalker. I told you,” he gloated.
I ignored him and rolled my eyes while he smiled, self-satisfied, and nodded at his own brilliance.

Later, at my house, while Eli rummaged through my refrigerator, I sat cross-legged at our coffee table with my laptop and turned my attention to Caged Karen. It had taken me a while to decide what angle my paper would take. Then, last week when I was helping out again in room 233, midway between the Peppermint Forest and Gumdrop Pass, it hit me.
“Maggie,” I said, “I’ve got it!”
She was busy counting out the squares between her first purple square and the next, so she didn’t answer me—but I didn’t take it personally. Instead, I got up, grabbed a sticky note off the teacher’s desk, and jotted down my epiphany.
My paper would be a comparison study. Karen was the perfect example of what happened when someone with a cognitive disability was denied the same life experiences and educational opportunities that Maggie and everyone else here in room 233 had had. Sure, Maggie wasn’t going to Harvard, but thanks to her work-study classes, she would one day be able to hold down a job.
Maggie would one day be a contributing member of society, while Caged Karen, lacking any sort of educational opportunities for most of her life, would be living in a hospital or mental health care facility.
It was perfect! Especially considering that I had firsthand, direct knowledge and experience with one half of my argument—Maggie.
Now, all I needed was Karen.
While Eli pulled out some salami and the loaf of bread from my fridge—“Do you want a sandwich?”—I moused over my email icon and hoped for good news. “Sure,” I said. “No mayo.”
“Extra mustard . . . I know,” he said annoyed that I should dare to remind him.
“Then make it right for once.”
My email opened: spam, ads, Viagra . . . yes. An email from the assistant to the director of Harmony House, the care facility one hour’s drive north on I-95 where Caged Karen was now a resident. Now please, please, please let it be a yes.
My eyes scanned the initial blah, blah, lovely greeting, thank you for inquiring, until—“YES!” I exploded from my sitting position into a victory stance.
A loud clang erupted from the kitchen. “What the hell?” Eli said turning toward me, a huge glop of mayonnaise sliding down the front of his sweatshirt. “You scared the crap out of me,” he complained as he reached for a paper towel and wiped at the oily mess staining his favorite garment. “Shit, that’s not going to come out.”
“Sorry,” I said reading the important part of the email one more time, just to make sure I had in fact read it right, before getting up and holding out my hand. “Give it here, I can get it out.”
Eli lifted the hoodie over his head, exposing his ripped abs for a second before his T-shirt dropped back into place. I had thought it before and I thought it again, Eli was going to make some boy very happy someday.
“It’s not going to come out,” he whined.
“Yes it will, stop being a baby.” I put my hand inside the sweatshirt underneath the stain and opened up the cupboard under the sink.
“So what’s all the excitement for?” he asked as he returned to the open-faced sandwiches waiting to be finished. I noticed he had, again, put mayo on both of them.
“I just heard back from the institution where Caged Karen lives . . .” I rooted around among the hundreds of half-empty cleaning supplies until I found what I needed. “They said I can come for an observation. They just need about a week’s notice and a letter from my dean verifying that the purpose of my visit is strictly educational.” I handed him the bottle of Goo Gone. “Here, open this for me.”
Eli twisted the top off and handed it back. “Well, that’s good news.”
I squeezed the toxic smelling liquid onto his beloved sweatshirt. “That is excellent news. Want to come with me?”
He hesitated by pretending to be busy making our sandwiches. “Um . . . maybe. When are you going?”
“Oh, come on.” I put the bottle of Goo Gone down and picked up the bottle of dish soap. “It’s only an hour away; he can totally make it.” I squeezed a giant puddle of blue soap on top of the Goo Gone and the stain and began rubbing the fabric together. “He” was my 1984 Buick Grand National GNX, aka, Vader.
As he piled the salami on the bread, Eli’s expression was doubtful. Ever since that time I was driving him home from his church retreat and Vader’s brakes went out, Eli has had zero faith in my classic car.
“There has been nothing, nothing since that one time.”
“Yeah, well, I think I have my gay camp thing that day.”
“I didn’t even decide on a day yet!”
“Well, whatever day you’re driving anywhere that’s a two-hour round trip in that death trap, I’m busy. Here,” he said, sliding one of the sandwiches across the counter to me. “It’s done.”
I turned on the sink, put in the plug, and started filling it with warm water. “You used mayonnaise.” I observed.
He looked at the plate, then looked at me. “That’s what you said you wanted!”
In the living room, my phone chimed. Someone had texted me. I pushed Eli’s sweatshirt into the sink to soak and dried my hands as I went to check. I figured it was my mom letting me know she would be working at the school late again, and to not worry about her for dinner. Other than Eli she was pretty much the only person I ever got messages from. But when I reached down and picked up my phone from the table, the name on the screen made me stop.
“It’s my dad.” I turned toward Eli, unsure of what to do. He looked as shocked as I felt.
“Does he think it’s your birthday or something?”
This was totally a possibility, so I didn’t say no. I wasn’t entirely sure my father could tell you what month I was born in—never mind the exact day. “Maybe someone died?”
“Maybe he’s dying,” Eli added around a mouth full of salami and bread.
“Maybe it’s not bad? Maybe he won the lottery and he’s going to give me some money.”
“Now you’re just being silly.” Eli swallowed and took another bite from his sandwich.
It could be anything—but Eli was right, it was highly unlikely that it was good. I had often wondered what would be worse, having no father at all, or having one who forgot you were alive ninety-four percent of the time.
Whatever the reason he was texting me now, it was apparently urgent enough to warrant a follow-up call because my phone was now ringing loudly in my hand. I just stared at it, not wanting to answer, or talk to him, and not feeling like I could just ignore him either.
“Ruth,” Eli said from the kitchen. “You have to answer it. What if something is wrong?”
He was right, of course. “Shit,” I whispered, and answered the damn phone.
“Hello?”
“Ruth?” I heard my father ask. Of course he would have to ask. It had been so long since he used this number, he probably wondered if it was still good. I wouldn’t even begin to think about how sad it was that the man couldn’t even recognize his own daughter’s voice.
“Yes, this is Ruth,” I said, completely unable to keep the sarcastic edge out of my voice.
“Ruth, hello!” he announced. “This is Dad!”
His excitement immediately put me on the defensive. “And this is Ruth!”
Silence.
He had definitely heard the icy edge in my tone. The last time we had spoken, like six months ago, this is what our parting argument had been about: my “crap attitude.” He actually had accused my mom, not to her face but to me, of “poisoning” my mind and opinions against him. Which had totally made me ballistic and launched me into anger space because, for one, my mother never, ever says one bad thing about my dad—even though there are so, so many things she could say. And two, as if I couldn’t come to the conclusion that he was a complete asshole all by myself? Please, that was just so insulting.
As the silence between us stretched, I could tell he was fighting the urge to get into it with me. Usually he would just bite my head off for being “snotty.”
He sighed and cleared his throat instead. “Well, hey,” he started again, completely faking a good mood. “I’m glad I caught you. You must be really busy finishing up your senior year.” This was his lame-ass way of trying to say without actually saying that the reason we don’t ever talk is because I’m really busy, and it has nothing at all to do with him.
“Yes, really busy,” I nodded and rolled my eyes.
“And Princeton! Wow, I mean . . . although you were always . . . I tell everyone, my girl’s going to Princeton. Did I ever tell you that I went to Harvard?”
I clenched my teeth to keep myself from saying anything because the only things my lips were dying to say were, My girl? Really? And, You’re seriously going to try and take any credit for my academic accomplishments? And, No one gives a shit where you went eighty years ago, especially considering it doesn’t even matter because whatever potential you did have was completely drowned in gallons and gallons of beer.
“Not that I could have kept going,” he chuckled uncomfortably. “Pretty hard to support a wife and a newborn and go to Harvard.” He laughed again, as if this was all ancient history that no longer bothered him—as if he was clearly so over having all of his life’s dreams shattered by an unwanted pregnancy and being unfairly yoked to a woman and a child.
Ha. Ha.
It was some kind of miracle that I managed to not say any of this; my mother and therapist would be so proud and use words like progress. But in reality, there were just so many things I wanted to scream at him about, it was too difficult to choose a single angle to attack him from. It wasn’t progress in my emotional maturity; I simply conceded defeat in the face of too many acerbic insults flooding my brain all at once. It was impossible to choose just one.
“Harvard? Impressive,” I offered flatly as if this were the first time I had heard this story instead of the hundredth.
More silence.
“Well,” he ventured again. “I suppose you don’t need to hear any of that from me now. You’ve always known how smart you are. Even when you were six. Just don’t go getting yourself pregnant and throw it all away.”
My face felt like it wanted to explode and I realized I had stopped breathing. I closed my eyes, tipped my head back, and filled my lungs with as much air as I possibly could. I wanted to slam my phone against a brick wall and watch it shatter into a hundred thousand splintery pieces. I considered it a great testament to my ever-growing self-control that I somehow managed to exhale, inhale, then ask a simple question.
“Is there something you want?”
“Well, actually I was calling to invite you to dinner.”
I couldn’t help myself. “Why?”
“Does there have to be a reason? Can’t I just take my girl out for dinner?”
I could actually feel my heartbeat pulsing in my temples. “Don’t call me that.”
“What?”
My girl . . . don’t call me that.”
He sighed, as if the problem was me and he, once again, was having to deal with my unreasonable crap attitude and he was completely the victim here. He was the long suffering estranged father whose reputation had been sullied by the toxic efforts of his embittered ex-wife—he just knew it.
I in no way wanted to have dinner with my father, but I said, “Fine.” There was no use trying to dodge it. The embittered ex-wife, would just make me go anyway. In truth, she had been begging me for years to try and “mend fences” with my dad. Without putting it in these exact words, she held out hope that I would one day learn to forgive him for being him.
She completely believed this was possible for me because, apparently, she herself had managed to forgive him—eventually.
“You know, I’m not the evil incarnate you seem to think I am,” he said.
Just then, I heard the door to our garage open; my mother was home. I didn’t want to get into with him in front of her. “When and where?” I asked.
“When and where what?”
“Dinner,” I tried really hard to keep the knives out of my tone. “Where do you want me to meet you and when would you like me to be there?”
“Oh.” He was surprised I was letting the I’m-not-evil comment go so easily. “How about next week? Thursday? I can make reservations at Tony’s.”
My mother walked into the living room, leaning to one side to counterbalance the weight of her overloaded computer bag. She let it slide to the floor as she eyed me with a questioning expression. She saw Eli was standing in our kitchen stuffing his face, so she was trying to figure out who I was talking to.
“Sure, whatever. Just text me the time when you’ve made the reservation,” I said and pushed End before he could say anything else.
“Who was that?” my mom asked.
“Dad.” I stared at my phone in my hand, still unsure of what had just happened. Was I seriously going to be suffering through a meal with him, alone, in just over a week?
“Oh!” my mom said, and busied herself unzipping her bag and taking out her laptop. “Well . . . so it sounds like you’re meeting him for dinner?”
I sighed. “Yes.”
She didn’t say anything at first, just kept digging around in her bag like there was something super important in there that she just couldn’t find. When she finally stopped and stood up, she took a deep breath. “That’s good. . . . Did he have anything else to say?” She was trying to sound casual, but her lips rolled between her teeth, a sure anxiety tell.
“No.” I narrowed my eyes at her. “Should he?”
She pursed her lips and shook her head. “No, no. Just . . .” She looked to the kitchen. “Eli, are you staying for dinner?” She turned back to me. “We could order from King Luie.” It seemed to me like she knew something, something about my father that she wasn’t telling me.
“Sure,” Eli said, even though he had just finished both his sandwich and mine. He was a bottomless pit. “I’m always up for the King.” Eli, the traitor, had also sensed something wasn’t quite right with my mom. He was clearly helping her change the subject—I could totally tell. There was something not right about your best friend and mother teaming up against you. Lucky for them, restraining myself from unloading on my father had completely exhausted me. I didn’t feel up to interrogating her about what was going on—not right now, anyway. I would get it out of her later anyway. She was a total sucker for the, Mom, I really need to talk to you about blah, blah, blah. It was an occupational hazard of working in mental health—she always wanted to help. Everyone.
I reached down and picked up the remote. “It’s almost time for Jeopardy.”
“Perfect,” my mom said, relieved to have dodged whatever is was about my meeting with my father that was making her squirm. “Eli, you call your parents, I’ll order the food.”

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 Thank you for reading chapter four of Affective Needs. A new chapter is posted every Wednesday. If you don't feel like waiting for updates, here is the link to my book page and all the vendors that carry my books. Happy reading!