Heartache and Other Natural Shocks (5 page)

“Watcha See Is Watcha Get”

According to
, a girl has to make the most of her assets, and I don’t like to brag, but I have more to work with than most girls at my school. Take Marlene, for example. She’s way too short, especially in the legs, but what can she do? Get stretched on a rack? I tell her: Don’t worry, there’s lots of short guys looking for short girls. And I’m sure her teeth will look really great when her braces come off.

And then there’s Deb. Debbie’s boobs are like two pebbles on a highway. Bummer! Debbie wants to get those silicone implants, but her mom says no. Deb hates her boobs (who wouldn’t?). When I was in grade six and my boobs suddenly popped out, I was so embarrassed, especially when Ron Kachinsky used to run into me on purpose and pretend to bounce off my chest like it was a trampoline—until I finally kicked him in the shin so hard, he limped for a week. And it still bugs me the way I’ll be walking down the street and some guy will twist his neck around like a pretzel to stare at my boobs. Jeez! Men are such pigs. But, on the other hand, as I get older, I’ve learned to work with what I’ve got, if you catch my drift.

Which brings me to the question of the day:
What to wear to school?
At first, I was thinking my Hash jeans with the star on the butt and the rainbow stitching because they really hug my bum and they’re comfy, but now I’m thinking my white miniskirt because my legs are really tanned and soon the tan is going to fade, so I might as well show off my legs while they’re at their best.

And then there’s my top. My yellow tank top is so cute and it shows a lot of cleavage, but if Papa sees it, he’s going to have a big hairy fit about what’s appropriate to wear to school. Or there’s my black, stretchy, tie-dye T-shirt, which sort of makes me look like a leopard. I try on both and turn sideways to check myself out in the mirror. I look great. I pick up the phone and poll Marlene and Debbie. Mar votes for my black top; Deb votes for the yellow one. A tie! Ugh! I can’t decide, so I flip through
and do a quiz about what kind of guy I’m attracted to.

1. When you go out for dinner, your date should

a) Split the cost with you

b) Let you pay

c) Pay for everything

Definitely c). If he likes me, he can bloody well pay. I mean, sure, I believe in equal rights for women and all that shit, but when it comes to dates, guys should pay. Besides,
like my grandma Nonna Cabrielli says, “It’s just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man.”

2. On your first date, the guy should expect

a) No kiss

b) A brief kiss

c) French-kissing

God, I hate those questions. It depends on the guy, obviously. I mean, if I like him, I’ll want to kiss him, and if I don’t, forget it. I skip to the next question.

3. The thing I value most in a guy is

a) Conversation

b) Humor

c) Physical appearance

Well, I’d like to choose “all of the above,” but since that isn’t an option, I circle c). At least I’m being honest. The truth is, if a guy has a face like a toad, no girl’s going to look twice. Besides, when you’re a ten out of ten like I am, you don’t want to dip into the single digits.

“Smiling Faces Sometimes”

Light washes into the early morning sky like water into a metal pail—cold and gray. The numbers on my alarm clock click over. 4:48. 5:32. 6:24. At seven o’clock, I go down to the kitchen and sprinkle cereal into a bowl so it will look like I’ve eaten. At 8:15, I leave for school. I take the shortcut: down the ravine, across the wooden bridge that arches over the stream and up the paved trail through the trees to the school.

From the outside, Tom Thomson Secondary looks like an ugly concrete slab, but inside, it’s new and modern, with open-plan areas and Lego-colored lockers. Students gather in the corridors, joking around and comparing summer stories. I keep my head down. I could be a time traveler disguised as a student, an alien from a parallel universe or a mutant with strange telepathic powers, like Sophie in
The Chrysalids
, and no one would have a clue.

My homeroom is in the English area. I grab a seat against the wall, in the third row, and doodle in my notebook as students file in: keeners in the front, rebels at the back. It’s important to get a good desk on the first day because once
people choose their spots, they hardly ever change them. It’s just one of those things.

Mrs. Llewellyn, the English teacher, takes attendance. She’s in the middle of explaining about lockers and schedules when Wolf Eyes slips into the room. There are empty seats in the center of the room, but he doesn’t go there. He sits in the back corner, in no-man’s-land, in the seat closest to the door.

Mrs. Llewellyn looks up at him. “And your name is …?”

“Ian. Slater.”

So that’s his name. He slouches in his chair and sticks his long bony legs into the aisle. I don’t look at him, but I see him out of the corner of my eye, in his jeans and black T-shirt, his knees jiggling, his eerie, gray-blue eyes staring at nothing. He’s like a coiled spring. He’s like an accident on the highway that you know you shouldn’t look at. Maybe I notice him because he’s the only familiar face in the class, but I don’t think so. There’s something about him; it’s like I already know him. I can’t shake the feeling that we’re two meteors hurtling through space, in arcing trajectories, on an inevitable collision course.

At noon, I avoid the noisy lunchroom and push through the main doors into the bright sunlight. Kids hang out near the entrance, smoking. I hesitate, trying to decide if I should go for a walk in the ravine or hang out in the bleachers with my nose in a book. Then the doors swing open, and Ian Slater steps outside. He has an unlit cigarette dangling from his
mouth. He squints into the sun, spots me and lopes over in my direction. I freeze. When he’s about a foot away from me, he removes his cigarette, holds it lazily between his thumb and forefinger and says, “Hi.”

“Hi,” I say. I can’t believe this is happening. Am I psychic?

“You’re in my homeroom,” he says in a low voice.

“Yeah.” He noticed.

He sticks his cigarette back in his mouth, tilts his head, and his wolf eyes hook into mine. One look is all it takes and I’m hypnotized, consumed by every detail of his face: the long cords of his neck, the hollowed-out space between his cheekbones and his jaw, the whiteness of his forehead beneath his long black bangs, the way his wide, sloping lips hug his cigarette. There’s a small scar at the crease of his mouth—a thin white stitch. It’s impossible not to stare. Ian reaches into his pockets, and his hands come out empty. “Do you have a light?” he asks.

“Oh,” I say. How had I not noticed he’d been hunting for a light? “Uh, no,” I say. I blush. I wish desperately that I smoked. Why don’t I smoke?

Ian smirks. I wonder if he can read my mind. We both look over our shoulders, searching for someone with a match, and that’s when I see Carla, Marlene and Debbie staring at us from across the courtyard. They’re whispering. Carla has a stunned expression on her face, like she’s thinking, I can’t believe
’s talking to
. I pretend not to see her, but within
seconds, she’s elbowing through the crowd of smokers, flashing me a big, fake, high-beam smile. Debbie and Marlene follow in her wake.

“Hi, Julia,” Carla says, barging in between Ian and me. “I see you have a new friend. Aren’t you going to introduce us?” She tosses her hair over her shoulder and thrusts out her chest. She’s wearing a tight yellow tank top and an ankh pendant on a leather string that hangs just above her cleavage. She smiles at Ian. The smile says
Go ahead, have a look

Ian grins. He says, “Does anyone have a light?”

Carla and her maids-in-waiting dive into their purses for smokes and matches. Carla wins the race and strikes a match. Ian cups his hand around hers, guides the flame to his cigarette and leans over. He inhales and the tip of his cigarette glows red. He exhales a long smooth wreath of smoke, and we watch in awe, as if we’ve never seen anyone smoke so beautifully in our entire lives. Ian releases Carla’s hand and says, “Thanks.”

Carla is speechless. Marlene edges over to Ian. Her braces glitter in the sun. “You’re new, aren’t you?” she says in a perky voice.

Carla shoots her a back-off-bitch look and proceeds to run the conversation. She quizzes Ian. He’s from North Bay. His father is a mining executive who got transferred to head office. He lives on Hawthorne Crescent. I can tell from Carla’s expression that Hawthorne Crescent is a nice address.

I stand there for a while listening in, watching Carla pose her body this way and that, like a model at a photo shoot. Ian smokes and doesn’t say much. Finally, I say, “I think I’ll get some lunch.” Carla glances at me as if to say
Are you still here?

Ian says, “See ya.”

I go for a walk in the ravine. If Mollie were here, she’d laugh and tell me to forget about Ian Slater because he’s trouble. She’d say that Carla and Ian deserve each other. Mollie always tries to look on the bright side of things. Last month, Mollie told me, “Moving to a new city is an opportunity to reinvent yourself.” Then she spun out a fantasy, like we do sometimes to entertain each other. She said, “Maybe, on the first day of school, you’ll be looking for a classroom and a handsome guy, some Adonis with golden locks and a great body, will say
Hey, I’m going to that class
. And the next thing you know, you’ll be studying together, and he’ll ask you out to a movie. A good movie, like a Fellini. And he’ll pay for your ticket
your popcorn. And afterward, when he drives you home, you’ll talk for an hour in the car with the motor running, and then he’ll lean over and kiss you. And the kiss will be so passionate and hot that you’ll practically wet your pants!”

We both burst out laughing.

I wonder who Mollie’s having lunch with right now. Is she sitting on the hill where we always used to sit? Did she get a good locker? Is she in any classes with Mike Cameron?

When I walk back to the main entrance, Carla, Ian and the girls are gone. I think about Ian and his strange crystalline eyes that pull you in like gravity. If he wanted to, he could be anything: a rock star, a gigolo, a thief, a psychic, a rodeo rider, a lion tamer, a movie star, anything—and he wouldn’t even have to try.


Oh yes! Oh yes! I believe in karma! And here’s why: I did not want to invite that boring Julia Epstein to my house the other night, but I did it to get Ma off my back. So—and here’s the karma part—today, I’m standing in the smoking area, checking out the action, and who do I see? Julia, talking to this guy who could be Mick Jagger’s twin brother. No joke! Same body type, cheekbones, sex appeal, charisma, the whole package. And there he is, shooting the shit with Julia! Well, I cannot believe my eyes, but when opportunity knocks, I answer. So, I strut my stuff right on over, and, oh my God, he’s even better looking up close! His eyes are like diamonds on black velvet. And he has that lean, tough, sexy thing going on that makes me want to pounce. And yeah, I said I was off guys, but that was before I met Ian. Even Deb and Mar can’t believe how hot he is. And here’s the best part: he’s in my drama class with Mr. Gabor, which is fantastic because Mr. Gabor is the best teacher in the entire school, Ian and I will get to do improvs together (ooh, can’t wait), and Ian will get to see how incredibly talented I am.

Unfortunately, Julia is also in the class, but I seriously doubt she can act. She doesn’t strike me as the theater type. Most theater types, like me, have outgoing personalities and are
, but Julia is one of those sensitive, straight, intellectual girls who listens to Bob Dylan all day long. Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Puh-lease! I can just picture her doing one of those existentialist plays—Beckett or someone like that—something so deep and symbolic, no one understands what the hell it means anyway.

But who cares. Ian Slater is in my drama class, and Mr. Gabor is so cool. I love the way he walks into a room like he’s king of the castle. And there’s something about him that makes you
want him to like you.

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