[Forgot to do this in the a.m. before I dashed out the door]
I got my bagel and took a seat. The union was still pretty dark, its econo-lighting system relying mostly on the natural light that hadn’t really got going yet, and almost empty other than a few U workers who had to be up this early. I woke up my laptop and cruised the news. The economy was getting worse, unless you were rich – luxury goods sales up 7% last year, yay. Reddit has a subreddit called “Collapse,” where people talked about how to prepare for the End Times. It used to be only nuts believed that would happen; now I think we’re all pretty convinced. I had an idea for a MMORPG – I wanted to call it “After the Fall.” When civilization ended, who would survive? How? You’d have to be able to get to land that could feed you, and a permanent source of fresh water. You’d have to know how to repair some sort of machinery, how to build stuff, how to be of any use to the people with whom you’d have to band together to survive so that they’d take you in, so you wouldn’t be dead weight. You’d have to shoot everyone who tried to invade your little village and take the land, the water. To play the game, you’d have to really know what car parts were what, one kind of nail from another. The knowledge base would be so ridiculously large it would take a Google-sized server to run it. I don’t know why I liked the idea of a game I could create which I would lose instantly; me and all the other manually unskilled brainiacs who’d die by the roadsides in the millions after a real collapse, barely able to pump our own gas let alone build settlements.
“Reading the news will make you old,” a voice behind me said. “Frown lines so early in life, tut tut.”
“Good morning, Christopher.”
I’d been at Harrison for a month now, and I had one friend. I mean, I’m not socially retarded, and even if I was there were enough other kids worse off than me to make me look well-adjusted. I’m just not a friendaholic – that was Dad’s word. “Why,” you’d hear him say, talking to no one in particular as he looked at the monitor, “do people I barely knew once upon a time want to be my Facebook friend? And they’ve always got nine hundred ‘friends’ already!” I knew kids, I said hi in the halls to the ones who’d acknowledge you, I had study buddies, but no “let’s all go hang out at the malt shop” friends yet. Mom was always asking about my social life, “why don’t you invite your friends home?” It wasn’t because I was ashamed of the apartment or them or anything – I just didn’t know anyone I wanted to invite home.
Except Christopher, I guess. But I’d kind of embarrassed myself when we met, because I hadn’t figured out straight away that he was gay and I was totally gawking at him, so now I didn’t want to ask him if he wanted to hang out, not because he wouldn’t but because I was afraid it would come out wrong because to be honest I still thought he was really cute and kept letting myself have little fantasies in which he decides to experiment or something… Like I said, embarrassing.
Christopher was one of those people who actually have hundreds of real friends, or at least acquaintances. He was so friendly, so charming, so good looking, you just felt special when he turned the death ray of his charm on you. He was tan, green-eyed, copper-haired, swimmer’s bod, a little on the short side which I think worked to his advantage because it let him be self-effacing about something. Plus he had this slight southern tang to his voice – I asked him where he was from and he said “we’re from old Virginia horse people,” but then right in front of me one day he told someone else he was from “fallen Mississippi cotton planters,” and another day called his family “a bunch of Alabama squirrel-eaters.” I thought, okay, I won’t ask which is true, if any of them – for all I knew he could be from Rancho San Something, California, and the accent was fake. But I thought he was from somewhere Southern, or else how could he say “doll” and “darling” as easily as someone else would say “dude”?
He’d introduced himself in our British Lit class the first week of school. “I hope you need a study buddy because deciphering the meaning of tables and chairs in ‘Wuthering Heights’ is not my forte.”
“Hi, nice to meet you,” I said, slightly startled if only because nobody else had taken the initiative to do much more than say “hey” yet.
“So how long have you been going here?” he asked.
“This is my first year.”
“Mine, too. What a relief, huh?”
He didn’t have to explain. “Yeah, definitely.” I still felt like a freak, like I always had at school, but it was dawning on me that everyone else here was a freak, too.
“So you don’t have a lot of friends here, either?”
There was something about the softness of Christopher’s voice that made every personal question seem more like concerned interest than prying. “No…I mean, you see people in the hall, but getting some of them to look at you, you know, people you see every day, it’s like…” I retreated. “I don’t know. Freaks and geeks, right?”
“Oh, I’ll show you my trick. Come out here.” He ushered me with a flourish out into the hall, placed a gentle hand on the small of my back with no concern for sexual harassment charges, and positioned me at the end of the hallway. Like a duelist he paced to the other end before turning around with a mischievous light in his eyes. “Now come toward me.”
I started walking, my eyes on him. “No, don’t look! Start over.”
I laughed and resumed my position. “Should I put my super scowl on?”
“Definitely. You are very important and your mind is on far higher things than good manners.”
I walked towards him and he towards me, my eyes focused on the very important and interesting wall behind him. Then, when he was just about six feet away, he nodded and said loudly and firmly, “Morning!”
Caught off guard, I looked at him and blurted, “Hi.” Then I laughed, delighted at the simultaneous wickedness and justice of the move.
“You really do that!” I exclaimed.
“Absolutely. They know you’re there, darling, they just think it’s okay to pretend they don’t. And I’ll guarantee you, you pull that move on someone, the next time they see you, they always say hello first.”