A week passed without any major problems, which was possibly the reason that the flowers took me by surprise. While I'd been sick, I'd made Giovanni promise not to visit me at work, and school had mostly been normal. He'd brought me soup for lunch once, which had just given rise to a few comments, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle with a straight face. Sometimes that part was difficult. Dumb comments were funnier when I remembered that Giovanni wasn't interested in me the way some other people assumed he was.
At least, not actively.
I honestly thought he just didn't understand. He didn't draw lines between things. Kissing my head in public was the same thing to him as shaking a stranger's hand. A social niceness, without any levels. I sat at the desk, because it would have been worse not to, and read the card. My name was printed in large, dark letters on the envelope, but at least the card was simple. It had a robin on it, with a branch in its mouth. The inside was mercifully free of a poem, and merely bore an admittedly sweet and thankfully brief message that concerned my health and Giovanni's wishes regarding it's robustness. He'd signed it and taped a pencil inside the card.
"Hey, what gives?" Laine pushed her desk closer to mine and peered at the card. "It's not your birthday or anything like that."
It had been a while since I'd seen her, aside from the purely literal visual sense afforded by shared classes. She'd dyed her hair a darker shade and started a personal trend of wearing more clothing and leaving her short skirts at home, which made me hope she had experienced a nice sort of personal revelation. I closed the card and put it in my backpack. "No, it
it's not. I just"
"Have a secret admirer?" Her eyes gleamed with a passion that I chose not to think of as malicious. It was still intimidating though. "Or is it a secret?" Eyebrows a-waggled, she leaned over, not even glancing up at the door.
Mr. Barkis was late, but I couldn't enjoy it. I could only imagine how he would react to the flowers
It was a huge bouquet that had to have come from the only nearby hothouse. Not cheap. "Actually, it's not even really an admirer," I said, carefully casual. "Just a friend who likes flowers." And over-dramatic gestures of platonic meaning.
What I had said didn't seem to impact the already-spinning rumour mill in a positive fashion. Laine scooted her desk back to its original place and let out an exaggerated sigh. She was grinning. "Can't say I'm surprised. I don't know anyone who looks more like a fairy than you."
I almost reached into my backpack to retrieve the pencil so I could throw it at her. "I'm not." There was no way to say that and not sound defensive, but I was getting very weary of people making that assumption. If it was true, then I wouldn't have cared what they said. However, it was not true, and that was important. As long as they decided what I was, I had to deal with the fact that they didn't care who I really was. My friend was refusing to know me for the sake of an ignorant giggle.
She held up her hand in mock surrender. "Yeah, yeah. I guess you still need to say that. It's kinda"
"Stop it." I picked up the flowers and set them beside the desk, in the space between the wall and the desk legs, so as to keep it out of anyone's way. I wasn't angry, and I knew I didn't sound like I was, but speaking so plainly
It wasn't how I usually handled this. I wasn't even blushing.
Behind me, I could hear whispers and snickers. Some of them sounded like they were pointed at Laine, which made me feel guilty. If it would have helped, then I would have turned around and told them to mind their own business, but I wasn't that naïve. I just took out a sheet of half-used paper and practiced working out equations, showing the path to the answers as well as I could. Although it was getting easier, it still took more thought than just writing down what I knew the answer was.
Then I ended up making a list of all the pros and cons of leaving school altogether. I couldn't help it. Maybe I was just in a gloomy mood.
1.) Leave the gossip behind.
2.) Spend more time working, earn more money.
3.) Lower my overall stress level.
Not long, but big.
1.) No diploma and no chance of getting a good career.
2.) Lose touch with my friends.
3.) Disappoint myself.
I looked at the list of cons and sighed through my teeth. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Lain shooting dirty looks at Mr. Barkis's back every time he turned to smile at the board. I'd missed his entrance, but apparently it didn't matter. He was either going to let the thing with the flowers slide, or he was waiting to report it to the principal. He did seem inordinately happy.
At least Laine wasn't mad at me. Still, it would probably be best to let her alone. I didn't feel like talking to her anyway. It was one thing to calmly discuss sexual orientation with Saffron, there was some dignity in that. Respect. This was more like being accused. And calling it that made me feel stupid.
After that class let out, I hung back. It'd be easier to get out with the flowers if I was the last to leave, but plenty of other people took their time as well. Every one of them took the opportunity for a jibe or two before Mr. Barkis bullied them out the door. I nearly thanked him.
By the time I got to the door, the room was empty, barring the two of us. I waited for a cutting remark, but it never came. He walked up to me and I winced, the beginning of an apology forming in my frantically working brain.
But he just took hold of the flowers and looked around them to find my face. "Why don't you leave these here?" he asked, not grabbing or pulling. Just helping me hold them up. "I can put them in the closet if you'll just remember to pick them up on your way out after school."
I nodded dumbly, and let my arms fall gently to my sides as he walked to the closet with the bouquet. As soon as the closet door clicked shut, I thanked him and bolted into the hall and towards my next class, my backpack flapping behind me like a cape made of bricks. On the way, I collided with Trouble.
"Watch where you're going, you little fruit fly."
No question about who that was. I sighed and knelt to pick up the papers she'd been carrying. "Excuse me, Eiyah. I'm late for class."
"So I've heard." She flipped her hair from one shoulder to the other. "Where is this miniature garden I've been hearing about?"
My face went pink, with no warning or overture. Whatever the obvious and inevitable effect, Giovanni had meant well. He didn't deserve to have his gift shamed and misconstrued by people who didn't even know him. I set my jaw and got to my feet. "I assume you mean the flowers that Giovanni sent me. And I'll thank you to mind your own affairs." It wasn't quite what I would have liked to say, but I was a little agitated. Besides, other people's lacking decorum did not mean I had to descend to a similar level.
Eiyah puffed up her face and looked like an upset handbag. "Apparently only one of us follows the pulse of the student body," she began.
"How thrilling that must be for you. Good morning." I smiled thinly at her and started gliding to my next class. The teacher in that block actually liked me, so I would have little grief to look forward to.
The halls echoed her foot stamping with such theatrical acoustics that I felt compelled to pause and glance back. Her hair was coming out of place, and I suspected I would have noticed oddities in her makeup if I'd known how. She stalked towards me on long legs that must have missed summer. "He was mine," she snapped. "If you'd just stayed away for one stinking day
A twitch in her face gave away her repressed desire to curse, and I had to respect that. "What are you talking about?"
"Giovanni DiBenedetto!" She was sniffling now. I nearly took her hand to comfort her. "Half the school knew I had my eyes on him." The a sneer tried to curl her features, but it turned into a pout. "Of course you didn't."
My eyes were bugging out of their sockets, but I pushed them back in with a blink. "But I don't"
"I know! That's the worst thing." She rubbed her nose with a shaking fist. "I dont' care if you're gay or not. Either way, he's completely wasting his attention on you. You don't want him."
And the other shoe was lain gently on the floor, next to my metaphorical jaw. I picked them both up and categorized them under O for 'oh dear'. Then I smiled more genuinely than I had done all day, and said, "I'm sorry you had to suffer like that. You're right, I don't want to date him." And because I was entirely too mindful of how much influence Eiyah had on the school-wide rumour mill, I added, "for the record, I'm not gay."
She nodded, then rubbed her nose again. "I kinda figured." I nearly hugged her for saying that, but it wasn't very difficult to suppress. "So are you stringing him along or what?"
"Nothing like that! He's just a good friend."
"If you're stringing him along, you're a little bastard."
I winced, then tried to go back to smiling. "I'm not. Look, if you knew him well, you'd know that he just
" I trailed off as her glare intensified. Of course. "Have you ever tried talking to him?"
Her expression was a clear enough answer, she looked equal parts crestfallen and embarrassed. "I was going to ask him out," she claimed, seven types of defensive. "Then he gave you that hat."
The headwear in question was currently on my head, but she didn't point, for which I was grateful. "Sorry. But
" I took a deep breath and hoped I was doing the right thing. "Giovanni is a very direct, somewhat simple person. If you go up to him and say outright that you think he's fantastic or whatever, he'll tell you in no uncertain terms what he thinks and how he feels. Just appeal to his
She looked like she'd won a Ferrari. I really hoped it would work out well.