Samuel Gaitan
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High School: Junior Year (Chapter 5)

The Year That Solidifies Your Place in the High School Food Chain

I slammed through the cafeteria doors trying to catch up with Jeanette. Out in the hallway, I looked left and right and I didn’t see any sign of her. I did, however, see the corner of a manilla folder sticking out of the trashcan. The same kind of folder that Elena gave Jeanette.

Emotions began to run through my body. I’ve never felt this way before. I held the folder in my hands but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to open it. Whatever it was, it was something that really upset her. What if the information contained in the folder was something she didn’t want anyone to know? If she didn’t want anyone to know and I opened the folder and found out, how would that change our relationship? Would it be better that I knew, that way she had someone to talk to about it? So many questions with no answers I could feel my heartbeat getting faster and faster.

I hear a door open and instinctively look in the direction I heard it from. Jeanette was walking out of the women's bathroom. She didn’t see me, but I saw her. She headed for the back doors of the school that lead to the parking lot. She was wiping her face with the sleeve of her shirt. She had been crying. I’ve never dealt with a crying girl before. Before I registered what was happening I saw myself running down the back steps after her.

“Jean! Wait up!” I say trying not to fall while running.

“I’m going home, Sam. I’ll text you later,” she responded. She didn’t bother to stop. She just kept on walking. I finally reached her and I stood in front of her, forcing her to stop. I was right, she had been crying. In fact, she was still crying. Her eyes were red and puffy and her nose was getting that red tint to it.

“Sam, go back inside. I’m fine” with five years of Emma making guys and I watch rom-coms with her it taught me that when a girl says she’s “fine” she really wasn’t fine.

I didn’t know what to do in this situation so for some reason I ended up patting her shoulder. It was an awkward thing that happened and I wish I could take it back but I couldn't.  It felt as if I was petting a dog I had just stepped on to make feel better. It made her laugh which was a good thing. My awkward dog pat on the shoulder lightened the mood.

“Can I just say that what happened in the cafeteria was something I have never seen before. I mean you actually stood up to Elena, the Queen Cheer. It was awesome! Granted I was scared for my life and I’m pretty sure I peed a little, I'll have to check later, but still awesome”. We look at each other and she her mouth breaks into a smile. Boy, do I like her smile. It wasn’t one of those smile where it was ear to ear, which I find very unattractive and creepy, but a smile that gave me the fuzzies. I never noticed how she had a small dimple on her left cheek. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

“Whats that in your hands?” she asked. I lifted the folder that I had seen in the trash.

“I saw it sticking out of the trashcan outside of the cafeteria. I swear I haven’t looked at it. I figured that if you wanted me to know what was in it you’d tell me, on your own time”. Her eyes started to tear up again and I reactively went to wipe them away. When I did, she hugged me. This was the first time we actually touched each other outside of socially acceptable high fives and fist bumps, and not counting the times our fingertips touched when I handed her a pen or something. This was full on contact. She wrapped her arms around me and I couldn’t help but do the same to her. She was shorter than I was so her head was nestled in my neck. It was times like these that I wish I carried my camera everywhere with me.

“Wanna get out of here?” she asked. I didn’t know if she meant if we should go back to class or if she was insinuating we ditch school. I wanted to be with her right now, and we didn’t have any afternoon classes so I was hoping she meant the latter.

“Where are you thinking?” I responded. I thought it was a neutral way of confirming either option.

“Pawnee Park is down the street wanna go and hang there for a bit?” she released me to look up at me. I couldn't help but stare back at her beautiful brown eyes. I didn’t realize until now how she had small golden flakes in her irides. The wind was blowing so I could smell the fruity shampoo aroma coming off of her hair.

“Sure, you can push me on the swings,” she smiled at my joke. We turned and started making our way out of the school parking lot, onto the street, and to Pawnee Park.

Much like the neighborhood I lived in, the school was on a street with old style houses with beautifully manicured lawns. The trees displayed their nice array of fall colored leaves. The sidewalk was beautiful as it was littered with the leaves of the surrounding trees. The weather was nice out as well, neither too cold, nor too hot.

Here I was walking through a movie ready neighborhood with a girl I was really interested in and walking alongside her and occasionally bump her shoulder. I wasn’t doing it on purpose either. I didn’t want to walk too far away from her for her to think that I didn’t want to move past the friendship stage, so I would walk closer but I didn’t want to walk too close or she might think that I was some weirdo that didn’t know how to walk because I kept on bumping into her.

“It's not that hard, you know” she spoke for the first time since leaving the school.

“What isn’t hard?” I asked. Although I think I knew what she was talking about.

“You’re walking like a drunk driver, swerving from one end of the sidewalk to the other; basically pushing me into people's yards. Also, I can literally see you thinking about holding my hand”. I’m such an idiot! I’m literally on the most romantic walk I've ever taken and I never thought about holding her hand. I wasn’t glancing at her hands, I was glancing at her feet. I don’t like walking out of sync with the other person I’m walking with. I was too worried about the spacing and walking in synchronization that I forgot all the romantic things I should have been doing, or at least thinking about doing.

“I wasn’t sure if you wanted me too,” I said trying to make up for it by trying to play it off.

She grabbed my hand and intertwined her fingers with mine, “See? It wasn’t that hard”. Her hand was really soft and small.  It fit well with mine. I could feel the blood fill my face. I really hoped she didn’t turn to look at me because I was full on blushing. I’ve spoken a lot about my firsts and this was just another one added to the list. The last woman I held hands with in public was my mom. Holding hands with Jeanette was so much better.

“You blush real easily” she joked. I guess the cats out of the bag.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about” I joked back.

“Oh, come on!” she laughed her musical laugh.

I couldn’t help but laugh along with her, “I’m sorry. To be honest, this is all new to me”.

“You’ve never held hands with a girl before?” she asked.

“What? Of course, I have. Do you think I’ve been living under a rock all this time?” I replied.

“Your mom doesn’t count”

“Then no. This is the first time,” this time the facial blood rush wasn’t me blushing but me getting really embarrassed. Her laughing made it more comical. Her laugh didn’t sound like she was making fun of me, but of the situation. “If you haven’t noticed, the friends I have aren’t particularly on top of the totem pole.”

“So that's why you’re part of the yearbook club, huh?”

“Junior year is supposed to be…”

“Junior year is supposed to be ‘the year that solidifies your place in the high school food chain’. Erik, Wes, and Ralfie are always saying that.” The way she said it, it didn’t sound like she believed in the statement much.

When we got to the park it was entirely empty. School was still in session so it wasn’t surprising. The last time I was at Pawnee Park was before my parents got a divorce. Typically we would go to Old Orchard Park because it was nearer to our house. I remember my mom wanted us to have a picnic so she went and bought the red checkered blanket and brought sandwiches and sodas. It was a fun time and one of the few recent memories of my parents laughing together. It was also one of the few moments that Alex wasn’t a complete dick to me. We actually got along pretty well with each other that day. We threw around the football with my dad while my mom heckled us about throwing like girls. In the middle of the park there was a bench with a shelter looking thing that was covered in vines and flowers on it were blooming quite nicely. My mom and dad sat on that bench and watched as Alex and I spun each other on the merry-go-round until we fell off.

Jeanette pulled my hand and headed over to the bench. The bench may be in the middle of the park but sitting in it now I could feel like I had view of the entire park. I sat down on one end and Jeanette sat down next to me. She picked up my arm and nestled her body in between my torso and upper arm. It always looked nice when I saw it in the movies. Now I really wished I had my camera.

“Did you know that in the last 10 years I’ve moved seven times?” she said.

“Really? Why move so many times?” I responded.

“My parents divorced when I was real young and I lived with my dad while my older brother was away at college; so I didn’t see him much. The first few times I had to move was because my dad couldn’t keep a job so we would hop from city to city. The only thing that I’ve found in common in every city I lived in were the parks. Every park had a swing, a bench, and a happy family enjoying it all.”

“Were you not happy?”

“I was when I was at the park. When I used to live in Salt Lake City there was a public library literally right across the street from the park. I would go check out a book and sit in the park all day reading the book. Because we moved around so much my dad and I didn’t have very many things. So I couldn’t buy books as often as I liked but every city had a public library. Most people check out the nightlife in a new city, but not this girl. I would look up the nearest library and sign up for a library card."

"Who knew Fabiola gained such a party girl when you moved here." We both laughed.  

It was intriguing to hear her story. The times we’ve spoken at school the general topics of conversation revolved around the things we did after school the previous day and plans that we had for after school. Hers usually ended up with getting a new book and reading it until she fell asleep while mine frequently consisted of playing Fortnite with Wes, Ralfie, and Erik. We’d never really talked about these sorts of things. I guess it was fitting seeing as how then we were friends so we were staying within the realm of friend-type conversations. Now that we've moved past the friend stage, I hoped, the range of conversation had widened to include things about her past. I can only wonder if she would ever tell me what was in the folder that Elena gave her. 

“I’ve always lived in the same house on the same street since I was born. When my parents got divorced a few years ago my mom took a job in England and I was kind of hoping that she would take me with her. My dad thought that transferring me to a school across seas wasn’t something he thought I needed to go through so they decided that me and brother should stay with him while my mom went off to England.”

“Look at us. We both have divorced parents and we’re skipping school. Aren’t we a couple of stereotypes?” she said lightly hitting my stomach. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. Especially since I had never ditched school ever in my life. I never saw any reason too.

“So what job is your dad working here in Fabiola?” I asked.

She took a deep breath, “I don’t live with my dad anymore. I’m living with my brother. My aunt moved here a couple of years ago and hired my brother at her accounting firm”.

“What about your dad? Is he ok?” I asked.

“My dad is fine, wherever he is. As much as I loved library hopping, I didn’t want to keep changing high schools. It's silly but I wanted to make friends. Like actually make friends, not know someone's name and then one day not show up to school because I left town”.

At the moment this is the best memory I’ll ever have. The weather was perfect for a walk in the park, but sadly it wasn’t perfect for someone laying into you on a park bench. I could feel my left side starting to sweat and if working out over the summer was any inclination, when I sweat, the smell wasn’t all that great. I didn’t want to ruin the moment by telling her that she was making my body hot, and there was no telling how she would react to that statement. But I was afraid that if didn’t say something for her to move my bodily odors would make her move for me. I don’t want to weird her out so soon into whatever we are now.

As if she were reading my mind she stood up and held out her hand, “Wanna go for a walk?” she asked flashing her pearly whites.

“Sure,” I happily obliged.

“I could feel you start to sweat and I figured you wanted dry off and air it out,” she smirked. Wow! She understands me. She wasn’t even grossed out with the sweat. I don’t know if she knew but since her shoulder was directly underneath my armpit, I could see a small piece of her sleeve damp with my sweat. If she did notice she was being very nonchalant about this. If not, I hope it doesn’t send her over the edge, completely gross her out, and make everything awkward.

“So do you live with your aunt and your brother?” Now that I knew she had a brother I didn’t know how to ask about his size and how protective he was of her without coming off weird and creepy. Going off by books and movies, brothers aren't fond of their little sisters dating and usually the guy in the story ends up being pestered and intimidated by the brother. I worked out over the summer, which helped me put on some muscle, but those muscles were just for show.

“Nope, just my brother. He used to live with my Aunt but she got married. That's when he invited me to come live with him”.

“That's really cool of him to do that,” I muttered. We were walking the jogging trail and we passed the sandbox that Alex tricked me into eating sand in. When we were younger we were playing hidden treasure and he said that the only way for us to find the treasure under the sand was if I ate it. He said that when I got full he would take over. I swallowed two hands full of sand and started throwing up. I didn’t realize he was messing with me until he started laughing and called me an idiot. My parents were furious with him.

“It was actually my Aunt Becky that came up with the idea. She liked that my dad was dragging me in and out of school and all over the country”.

“Becky?” I asked. “Do you call her that because you’re referring to her as Becky, the cool Aunt, from Full House?”

“No” she laughed. “Her name is Rebekah. The guy she married, Zach, is amazing.  I wasn't able to go to the wedding.  My brother and I had dinner with them a few nights ago.  I could see he really loves her from the way he looks at her”.

Oh. My. Gosh. Jeanette was related to the replacement and she thought my dad was a amazing! How did I not know this?! How did I not know that my dad's current wife had any family living in town?! Wait a minute, how did she not know that I’m my father's son? Had my dad never mentioned me to her?

I took out my phone and pulled up a picture of my dad and his wife at their wedding and showed it to Jeanette, “Is this her?”

“Why do you have a picture of my Aunt?” she was not the only one wearing a creeped out face.

“My dad is the guy she’s standing next to.”

“Your dad is Zach?”

“You’re her niece?” 

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