Trundling all around in a wheelchair kinda makes me feel bionic, and in homeroom everyone makes a huge to-do over my leg. I get tons of signatures on my cast. Except most of them are like: Get better, Fuzzball! Feel better, Beast! Hey, Sasquatch—Next time stick to the woods!
JP was right: it is a pity magnet. All the girls in homeroom go, “Aww…!!” in that cute, high-pitched way. They touch me. Pat my shoulder and give me quick little side hugs and stuff. Nina gives me a piece of gum. I save the wrapper in my pocket.
The bell rings for first period and I take a breath.
Even though we have this stupid rotating schedule that I can’t remember for shit, I know someone else’s schedule better than my own. If I stall a little before going to my class, there will be someone coming in with her books and sitting down in the seat in front of mine.
I waste some time and lo and behold, Fern Chapman.
She comes into the room and it’s like time stands still. St. Lawrence gives girls an option between navy blue pants or a skirt and today she chose the skirt. I’m almost positive she did it for me, to make me and my broken leg feel better. She comes closer and I can feel my pulse in my fingertips. My rib cage might be the size of a small bathtub, but that doesn’t stop everything inside from bubbling and quaking like jelly.
I will pretend body hair directly correlates to confidence.
“Hey, Fern,” I say, mushing my books and papers in a pile.
“Hey,” she says. And then she sends me the tiniest of smiles. I think I might pass out.
When it comes to girls, I want to be a gentleman because if you break it down, you’re a gentle man. That’s what I want to be. A gentle man. Figure if I’m polite and nice and not manbearpigboy, everything will go well. So here goes nothing. “H-how are you?” Wonderful. A stutter. I clear my throat and cough. She frowns. Great, now I can’t speak or breathe right. Course correction and proceed to do-over. “What’s up? How’s things?”
Fern sits down and swings an elbow around the back of her chair. “Going better than for you.” She laughs.
We share a laugh! Time to buy prom tickets. “Yeah, I…I fell off…ah…the roof.”
“I heard,” she says.
Fern turns to her homework from the night before and underlines a few answers. No tea and sympathy? I fall off the frigging roof and that’s all I get from my future wife? Cold, Fern. So cold. I check the clock. I should go, except I don’t want to. But she’s not even looking at me anymore. “Um,” I say.
She looks up, in a “What the hell does this troglodyte want now?” way.
“You want to sign my cast?”
“M’kay,” she says.
“I have a Sharpie,” I say, and hold it out.
She hesitates before she takes it. “Why do you have a Sharpie?”
“Um…” Because I’ve been waiting for you to sign my cast since I woke up from surgery. “It was JP’s idea. The marker. He said pen works like crap on casts. He’s always looking out for me.”
“JP’s so smart,” she says.
No, he’s not. He’s always “checking” his homework with me from the night before because he’s a lazy dumbass. Let’s leave my far more appealing best friend who’s already hooked up with half the class, okay? Bending over to make her mark on my ankle, she finishes and I read: Poor Beast. —Fern
Time to get a refund on those prom tickets. I take the Sharpie and put my books on my lap. Wheeling backward, I knock into the desk behind me. Her eyes snap up at the loud bang. My chin stiffens. I’m down but not out. Prom’s two years away, I still got time. “See you in study hall,” I say.
“?’Cause I don’t have gym anymore. I have study hall in the library instead,” I say. Same time as Fern, and I prefer the term “observer” over “stalker.” Just because I memorized Fern’s schedule doesn’t mean I’m going to be hiding in her closet with a rag full of chloroform. “So I’ll see you.”
“Okay,” she says.
I sit in the chair. Is she going to say anything else?
“Dylan…” My homeroom teacher, Mrs. Dobrov, butts in. She swings her thumb toward the door. “Class is starting soon. Don’t abuse your privileges.”
“Right.” I roll my eyes at Fern. “Because having a broken leg is such a privilege.”
Fern laughs again and I almost throw up. I got her to laugh twice. Suck it, JP.
“Dylan, homeroom is over!” Mrs. Dobrov snaps.
“Right, fine, I’m going already,” I say, and rumble my wheelchair into a whole row of chairs. They catch on my stuck-out foot and their metal legs shriek against the floor, but I don’t care. Only three periods until study hall!
After that, I seriously don’t care about the rest of the morning. Trig: blah-blah-blah. English: blah-blah-blah. Physics: blah-blah-blah. Aw yeah, study hall. In which I hope to not study at all.