some fall in love. i shatter.

Vague Proximities (#29)

In Stories Volume 2 on November 12, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Monday; 10:29am

 

Kingsly Division always ran late for his third period Advanced Placement Math class. McKinley High School, built to constrain and educate 5,000 students at any given moment, was simply too big and whoever had built his schedule had shown no mercy in putting any of his classes near one another. Four stories, four parking lots, two main entrances, two cafeterias. Even if there had been an abundance of mercy, there didn’t exist the algorithms for it all to make sense to anyone not a long-standing member of Mensa.

It was partially Kingsly’s fault and he admitted this much. First period was English and with English came the Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume I, sometimes Volume II, and on rare yet repeated occasions, the Norton Anthology of Poetry. Second period was Chemistry with the more heavy than inspiring, Chemistry: Expanded and Revised. And then AP Math, which required not only the Master Math textbook but the two colored notebooks (one for homework and one for notes), the binder to hold the heavily annotated and corrected old homework, and whatever calculators, compasses, and rulers were required in any given class. The forest green Jansport backpack was made of stronger stuff than Kingsly, who he needed to return to his locker between second and third period.

He turned the corner from the third floor yellow hallway to the third floor red hallway. This space was typically empty in the moments before the bell rang, so it was odd to see Dana Ronski walking slowly past his locker. They passed, him hurriedly and she languidly, and after they passed one another, they each glanced backwards at the other. Kingsly had for years been described as Harry Potter’s less attractive brother, with his floppy hair, round glasses, wiry body, and clothes that spoke to no sense of fashion. Dana Ronski, meanwhile, was as put together and well maintained as Kingsly was considered a mess. They existed in different worlds and this fleeting backwards glance was an atypical transgression that neither of them fully comprehended their motivations for.

Dana disappeared silently around the corner as Kingsly spun the dial of the Masterlock hanging off his locker. It opened with a clang and before any books could be exchanged in the backpack, a folded-up piece of notebook paper tumbled onto his right foot. He picked up and unfolded the note to discover a short, ten-line love poem, signed only Yours Truly. Kingsly’s mind stumbled and his heart stammered. A love note! This knockoff Harry Potter exuded neither the charm nor the dangerous appeal of his cinematically and literarily handsome doppelganger. Love notes were not his domain. Love poems were not his world. Especially mysterious ones!

His fingers gripped tightly the thin paper as Kingsly wondered who the note could be from. And as the minute hand inevitably turns over from 59 to 60, his mind overturned from circumstance and mystery to understanding what the beautiful Dana Ronski had been doing near his locker. He grinned deeply and forgot just how late he was going to be for AP Math.

 

Monday; 4:12pm

 

An unseasonably mild winter had made the two-mile walk home from school not only bearable but pleasant in the middle weeks of February. Kingsly kept his backpack hoisted high upon his back with a thumb through each strap to give himself extra leverage. Jacoby walked next to him, bag slung over his right shoulder and his back held straight and tall. His body and mind were of one type: strong. Jacoby didn’t need to pour over his textbooks the way that Kingsly did, and yet his body was prepared for more than double the load that Kingsly’s was.

“Crazy doesn’t mean impossible.”

“No, crazy doesn’t mean impossible but it does mean unlikely and I’m sorry, but it seems pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? Has Dana ever talked to you before? Have you two met? Have you even had a class together? You’re a great guy, King, but the two of you are in different leagues.”

“We all know those facts but that’s just part of what makes this amazing.”

Their mothers had worked together for nearly the last twelve years, and the families lived just five minutes apart in the same subdivision of Lakeside Hills.

“You know who she’s best friends with? Sherry Tibbs. You know who’s much more likely to be gunning for you? Sherry Tibbs. You know who isn’t shy and says whatever she wants for good or bad? Dana. You know who’s shy, likely to write a note, and likely to have her best friend slip it in your locker? Sherry Tibbs.”

“Yeah, that makes sense and yeah, Sherry’s great, but you didn’t see the look that Dana gave me. Why would she look back if she was just dropping off the note?”

“Trying to figure out what Sherry sees in you?”

“Sherry’s great. I would totally go out with Sherry but I don’t think that’s the scenario here.”

“Well how are you going to figure this out? What’s your next move?”

“I don’t know. I’ll think it over tonight.”

“Give me a call if you need a hand or if you come to your senses and realize this is about Sherry.”

 

Tuesday; 11:02am

 

Half an hour had passed since Kingsly skidded into his Math class, bustling through the doorway with Sean Teether, another classmate suffering from an inhospitable schedule. The company in tardiness deflected some of the blame and Kingsly, whose lateness was borderline expected, slinked towards his desk in the back of the classroom while Sean caught the flack behind him. In the ensuing half hour, Kingsly had continued to fly under the radar; keeping his head low and volunteering an answer now and then in order to avoid the inevitable calling upon of the conspicuously quiet.

Below the math textbook, sandwiched between that and the scratched wooden desk, was the second poem from Dana. It was sweet, it was trivial, it was fluff that puffed up Kingsly’s heart and made him feel like the scholar, the athlete, the comedian, and the musician all bundled into one. He’d even underlined his own name at the top to ease his mind every few minutes when he’d suddenly turn uncertain that the notes were meant for him. He didn’t have time to deal with such self-doubts, nor time to deal with advanced mathematics, for this second communiqué had offered a plaintive challenge in the closing lines:

‘If only you could show me a sign.’

A clear response to a veiled statement. Kingsly took mostly AP classes, was on track for his Regents diploma, already had a number of universities visible on the horizon, but a romantic request constituted a challenge he had neither studied for nor could cram for. Angles and equations hung in the air and he brushed them aside for more important and immediate pursuits. Puzzle-solving, creative thinking, these were the tools to crack this nut.

Crack this nut, Kingsly thought, and his eyes took on a dead stare into space.

“And so that means that ‘X’ solves for… Kingsly?”

 

Tuesday; 7:07pm

 

Jacoby’s bedroom was a Spartan affair. No posters, no photos, no trophies or testaments to any achievements. Just a bed (plain, muted bed sheets), a desk (with school books and papers in neat stacks on either side of his Toshiba Satellite laptop), a bookcase (full, divided between fiction and non-, organized alphabetically by author), and a dresser with a few scattered items strewn across the blonde wood. Jacoby sat backwards on his desk chair, facing Kingsly, who lay on the floor, looking upwards at the ceiling lamp, hands knit behind his head.

“So the idea is that you’ll give her fortune cookies, but you’ll replace the fortunes with little messages?”

“Love notes.”

“Love notes that fit onto the space of a fortune. Tiny love notes.”

“Just something to get the idea across. She said, ‘If only you could give me a sign.’ This is a perfect sign. She’s obviously not into coming right out and saying how she feels – ”

“Which, again, doesn’t sound like Dana.”

“ – so she’ll love the thematic connection.”

“You’re spending too much time on your English notes. But okay, let’s say this is the right approach, how are you going to make this work? How are you going to get the old fortunes out of the fortune cookies and the new fortunes in?”

“I thought you would never ask.” Kingsly reached for the backpack near his feet and unzipped the front flap. “My dad always keeps a stash of fortune cookies in the house, which is where I got these, and if I need more, I can swing by his restaurant and grab a few from the back.” He produced three normal looking fortune cookies from the bag, identified one with an ‘X’ made of black sharpie, and tossed it to Jacoby. “Nobody will notice a few missing from the restaurant. Even if they do, Dad won’t care. They give these things away.” Jacoby was inspecting the cookie still in it’s package. “Take a careful look a that packaging before you open it.”

“It looks normal.”

“Yeah, except I’ve already opened it and sealed it again.” Jacoby looked up with incredulity in his eyes. “Little bit of water and my mom’s hairdryer.”

“No shit.” Jacoby opened the wrapper gently, a bit more reverential of the packaging after Kingsly’s admission and the frightening realization that anyone, not just his benign friend, could open reseal some food packaging. He cracked the cookie, tossed the edible parts to Kingsly, and unfolded the fortune inside. It read: Trust Me, Jacoby – It’s A Good Plan. “How did you do this?”

“Just measured the paper on the actual fortune and tested the fonts. It’s close, it’s not perfect; I measured and cut as best I could but I don’t think it needs to be completely accurate. Just accurate enough.” Kingsly popped the cookie pieces into his mouth, smiling as he chewed.

“You’re pretty proud of yourself, huh?”

“Yup.”

“Better hope Dana likes fortune cookies.”

Oh, yeah.”

 

Wednesday; 12:42pm

 

Dana stood up from Table 24 in the East Cafeteria of McKinley High, pulled her cherry red Jansport backpack around her right shoulder, and waved goodbye to Sherry before exiting the cafeteria and heading for next period’s English class in Room 344E. Sherry, a free period shambling unobtrusively in front of her, pulled her yellow Economics binder from her LL Bean backpack in order to cram a little more for her eighth period test. She didn’t see Kingsly enter the cafeteria, didn’t see him craning his neck and casting long eyes around the room, didn’t see those eyes alight upon her, didn’t see him approaching until he practically stood over her.

“Kingsly. Hi. I didn’t see you.” She shut her binder, looked up at him, looked down again, and opened the binder back up before looking up once again.

“Sorry, it’s loud in here.” He had one hand in his pocket and the other was on the strap of his backpack. His casual air was betrayed by his own thumb nervously running up and down a portion of the backpack strap. He sought strength from the new note in his pocket.

After another few moments of forced small talk, as Kingsly avoided the traffic of students with heavy bags and oversized lunch trays, he mustered the strength to ask Sherry if Dana liked fortune cookies. It was an odd question, the cafeteria was loud, and Kingsly, feeling forced and embarrassed, sort of mumbled his way through this question. Sailors call this a perfect storm, which, naturally, leads to imperfect results.

Sherry answered that, yes, she did like fortune cookies, which was the answer that Kingsly wanted to hear. But Sherry hadn’t heard the question that Kingsly wanted to ask, she’d heard the question that she wanted to hear, which was, “Do you like fortune cookies?” Either way, it was an odd question, but as the author of love poems directed towards Kingsly, she understood exactly what he was getting at. Or at least thought she did.

“That’s great,” Kingsly quickly responded, that anxious thumb now gripping tightly the strap. “Thanks for helping me.” The thumb twitched. “I was just curious… I’ve been asking around today. For my dad. Cause he runs a Chinese restaurant.” The thumb was back into full-blown rubbing mode.

“Oh, okay, got it, no problem.” Sherry knew this already and she had that thumb in her peripheral vision. She smiled at the shyness and understood a moment later when…

“So I should get going, but thanks.”

… he was gone so quickly as to not even hear her delayed…

“You’re welcome, Kingsly.”

 

Wednesday; 2:59pm

 

“You want these fortune cookies?”

“Where did you get those from?”

“Kingsly Division. He came up to me outside my locker between eighth and ninth period, handed me these two cookies, mumbled something that I couldn’t understand, and took off before I could say anything. Squirrely guy; he’s kinda weird but kinda cute. Anyway, you like fortune cookies? I’m throwing them out if you don’t.”

“Yeah… I do… you know, he asked me earlier today about fortune cookies.”

“Why do you think he’d give them to me? You don’t think he’s into me, do you?”

“I think he wanted you to give them to me. He asked me if I liked something, then he hands those things to you, and he says something that you didn’t hear. He probably said to give these to me. He’s so shy he could barely ask me about them earlier today.”

“Well look at you, Sherr; you’ve got yourself a guy on the prowl.”

 

Thursday; 7:57pm

 

The dining room of the Golden Buddha was packed on Fridays and Saturdays; all other days of the week, it thrived on takeout and delivery orders. On those days, the dining room was mostly absent the sounds of clattering cutlery and the chatter of customers. Only the noise of the kitchen would sometimes overflow and compete with whoever took the phone orders and handled the take-out transactions. It was a sort of calm, serene place to be; primed for crowds yet subdued.

On certain nights when his mother was stuck working long hours or meeting clients for dinners, and his father had become caught up working at the restaurant that he both owned and managed, Kingsly would come in to the Golden Buddha to do his homework, chip in with the cooking, and get what his father called a home-cooked meal (“This place is like a second home, so why not a home-cooked meal?”).

Homework was slim that night and Kingsly had it securely out of the way by the time Ellyn brought his spicy chicken and cashews. He’d shown up early to the restaurant and hit the books immediately; even though the coursework was light, Kingsly needed to set himself up for an early departure. Planning wasn’t his strongest muscle but he understood how to exercise it when necessary.

Ellyn came and Ellyn went; the chicken came and the cashews were gone, though the long, dried chilies remained on the plate amongst the stray bits of once-white rice and spicy chili sauce, red and thick with cornstarch. Kingsly carried his dishes and backpack through the kitchen doors where he found his father deep-frying a batch of egg rolls.

“King! You done already? Homework and dinner?”

“Yeah, both.”

“That’s my boy. Good brain makes for a good appetite. You gonna head home now? Mom should be home by 8:30. If you want to wait a little before taking off, I can have Martin drive you home while he’s doing deliveries.”

“My bike’s locked up out behind the restaurant so unless you need me, I’ll just take that home now.”

“Leave those plates there – I’ll wash ‘em up. Just do me a favor; on your way out the back, take a look and see if the trash needs taking out. If it’s close to full, just haul it out for me, okay? I’ll be home by 11.” Kingsly smiled. He loved his father; loved his cooking, loved his sense of humor, and now more than ever, loved his routine predictability.

“You got it.” His father clapped him on the shoulder as he walked past towards the storage shelves and big, gray Rubbermaid trash bins at the back of the kitchen, near the back exit. Kingsly stepped to the side of the storage shelves where he was moderately concealed. With one hand, he grabbed the top of the nearly empty black garbage bag wrapped around the rim of the can and pretended to struggle with it, pretended it was weighed down. His other hand he ran along the edges of the storage shelves, looking for the collection of fortune cookie boxes he knew were there.

He ultimately found them on the corner of the bottom shelf, just next to his feet. Kingsly pulled the trash bag free of the trash can and set it on the ground to tie the top into a knot that would hold at bay the smells that sometimes attracted raccoons. As he knelt to tie that knot, he slid the backpack of his back and opened the zipper with one hand. Knot tied, Kingsly quickly grabbed one of the white cardboard boxes with the red print and shoved it inside of his backpack.

Backpack zipped and on his back and trash bag in hand, Kingsly slipped out the backdoor. He threw the trash into the dumpster and sped away on his bike, certain his father would approve of such minor theft in the name of love and yet still disinclined to be caught with his hand, only somewhat metaphorically, in the cookie jar.

 

Saturday; 3:03pm

 

“I’ll open the packages to make sure they’re opened just the right way.”

“It can’t be that hard.”

“The more tears, the harder it is to seal, so just indulge me, okay? So I’ll open them up, then you take the tweezers, pull out the old fortune, then I’ll slide in the new fortune, and then seal them up later.”

“Does your dad know you took the cookies?”

“Not important… but no, so don’t mention this. And while we’re opening the packages and pulling out the old fortunes, I need you to help me come up with things to write in the cookies.”

“You haven’t thought of that yet?”

“Well I did for the two on Thursday and the two on Friday, but that was it.”

“What did you write on those?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“Come on, King.”

I Dig You.”

“… Okay.”

Love Him Naughty.”

“What does that even mean? Did you really give that to her? Really?”

“I said I needed help.”

“Whoa, yeah, you do. Okay, that’s two, what are the other two. Sheesh, do it fast like you’re tearing off a band aid.”

Key, Meet Heart.”

“Holy shit. And…?”

He Dreams Of You And Cries.”

 

Monday; 8:11am

 

Sherry tapped with her nail on the passenger’s window at the school bus idling next to her in Dana’s silver Ford Fiesta. It wasn’t a taunt and yet Brian Fuller, an unpopular tenth grader, gave her the finger. Indignation formed around her lips as the light turned green and Dana pulled away.

“I’m glad you have this car.”

“Be glad that stoner dropped out and I got his parking spot. So where were you all weekend?”

“Studying; I have three tests and a presentation this week. What about you?”

“Shopping with my mom. Dad’s off at another conference in Vegas. Usual drama and usual fallout. But anyway, what’s up with the cookie guy? What’s the story with that?” Sherry was thankful that the air was brisk in the car, and that Dana was an attentive driver who kept her eyes on the road, for it helped her to mask the blush creeping across her face.

“Kingsly? He’s got a crush on me; each of the fortunes in the cookies is some romantic little note. He’s either finding a way to put new fortunes in or he’s bought some stash of romantic fortune cookies. Either one is weird, but they’re also both sweet.”

“Why fortune cookies? And why’s he giving them to me then?”

“Because it lets him talk to me without talking to me? He always seems shy. And too shy to give them directly to me? Maybe? I don’t know.”

“But how would he know that I would give the cookies to you? That seems pretty important, huh?”

“Yeah… he asked me if I liked them, but… yeah, I don’t know.”

“So what’s on these fortunes?”

“Ha… I’ll tell you later.”

 

Monday; 2:11pm

 

Jacoby lingered by the water fountain, trying to look busy and trying to avoid looking awkward. He glanced at his Swatch. The Study Hall Monitor didn’t care if he was a few minutes late; she probably wouldn’t care if he didn’t show up at all. Kingsly had class in four minutes and it was all the way across the school. Jacoby wondered if anyone’s schedule made sense at McKinley High. His did, but he got the impression that he was an outlier. Kingsly, his classroom at least five minutes away, had just peeled himself away from the water fountain and was heading towards Sherry, rummaging through her locker.

“Hey, Sherry.”

“Oh hey, Kingsly, I didn’t see you there. You’re good at being invisible.” Her lips pulled downward and she involuntarily rolled her eyes at such a stupid thing to say. Antagonize the shy guy flirting with you, she thought, smart idea.

“Uhhh, yeah, I suppose so. Um, but I just wanted to see if you and Dana might be interested in coming to dinner at my dad’s restaurant on Thursday.” He ran his hands one over the other. Jacoby had been recruited for support but Kingsly suddenly felt an increased anxiety with his friend watching from a distance. He began cracking his knuckles one by one.

“I didn’t know your dad had a restaurant.” Sherry smiled deeply, a looseness overtaking her.

“You know the Golden Buddha, in the Shopper’s World Centre? He owns that and he runs the kitchen.”

“That must be so much fun. You must eat Chinese food all the time.” She finished transferring the contents of her bag and shut the locker, various things hung on strings and on magnets shaking and rattling against the green metal.

“Not so much. He thinks of it as work. Never cooks Chinese at home.” She’s stalling, he thought, that can’t be good.

“Oh, okay. So, Thursday? Me and Dana?” The emphasis on and was vague enough to send it in two different directions. She didn’t quite understand why Kingsly would want to invite Dana, and Kingsly thought she might not know why he would be inviting Sherry on a date between him and Dana.

“Well,” he glanced back at Jacoby at the water fountain, “Jacoby will be there too.” Why didn’t I think of that earlier, he thought. A double date is way easier and why wouldn’t Sherry/Jacoby be interested in Jacoby/Sherry? He’s a good guy, she’s pretty, and he’s always saying such nice things about her.

“Oh, so like a double date?”

“Sure.” Just the word date caused stammering and fruitless attempts to crack those same knuckles a second time.

“That sounds like fun. Dana will be so excited.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah, she –” The bell rang before she could finish her sentence. “Oh, shit, I gotta go. Sorry, but Thursday sounds like fun.” She was about to turn and run when Brandon Merrill, also late for class, ran by them, bumping Kingsly, rattling the backpack that wasn’t quite zippered all the way closed, and knocking loose two fortune cookies that fell to the tiled hallway floor. They both blushed as Kingsly bent quickly to retrieve them. When he regained his footing, he saw Sherry grinning widely. “Are those for…?”

“Oh, you… you know?” He hadn’t known if Dana had been telling Sherry about the cookies but it made sense since they were best friends.

“I knew right away.” She wondered if Kingsly really thought she couldn’t figure it out.

“So, then, I can give these to you?” Even after handing the cookies to Dana the couple times that he did the previous week, it remained a fraught undertaking. If he could funnel them through Sherry, he’d be much more relaxed.

“Of course. But I really have to run.” She grabbed the cookies from his hand, her fingertips running long over his palm and fingers. She smiled. He smiled back. “I’ll see you later.” Sherry turned and ran down the nearly empty hallway, looking back once before turning a corner.

Kingsly turned around and gave Jacoby a thumbs-up. “You’re late,” Jacoby called. “You’re coming on a double-date Thursday,” Kingsly called back before taking off.

 

Monday; 3:44pm

 

“Why didn’t you just ask Dana out? Why do you keep making this more complicated?”

“I don’t know, it just sort of keeps happening this way.”

 

Monday; 5:17pm

 

Sherry had left two voicemails for Dana, sent five texts, and sent one email. She knew that Dana had soccer practice but never paid much attention to what the timing was. Her American History homework, spread across her desk, held not one sliver of her attention. She checked her email, checked her phone, picked up her pen, looked at her notebook, put her pen down, checked her email, and looked at her phone in an unending round. Finally, Dana called her back.

“What’s the matter? Why do you keep calling?”

“He asked me out!”

“Yeah? That’s awesome!”

“I know! I couldn’t wait to tell you.”

“And he actually did it in person and not through me.”

“Amazing, right? Thursday night, dinner at the Chinese restaurant his dad owns.”

“Sounds a little weird if his dad’s there.”

“I think he works in the kitchen, so he’s not really there. And then maybe we all get special treatment.”

“What do you mean, ‘we all?’”

“Did I not mention it’s a double date?”

“Ughh… with me?”

“Yes and it will be fun, you’ll love it.”

“Ughh… with who?”

“Jacoby.”

“Really? Oh, well in that case, maybe it will be fun. He’s cute.”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“And this means that Kingsly won’t be awkwardly handing me fortune cookies anymore?”

“Who knows. He was still pretty nervous and twitchy when he asked me out today, so I don’t know how much of a confidence boost he got from it.”

“But everything’s pretty apparent now, right? You know they’re from him, he’s acknowledged to you that they’re from him… I still don’t get how the whole fortune cookie thing came about. It’s so weird that he would do that based off nothing. I mean, you’ve never much spoken to him, have you?”

Sherry hesitated. She hadn’t told Dana about her crush or about the love notes she’d been slipping into Kingsly’s locker. Hers wasn’t an issue of shyness but of easy embarrassment. Sherry didn’t want Dana to know about her feelings towards Kingsly if there was to be no reciprocation from Kingsly. She’d always been like this: generally free but quietly secretive of particular aspects of herself.

“No, just in passing, here and there. I don’t know where it started but I think it’s sweet.”

“Oh, yeah, me too, totally sweet; he’s probably awesome. So what are you gonna wear?”

 

Wednesday; 12:43pm

 

“Hey, Kingsly.”

“Oh, hey, Sherry. How you doing?”

“I’m great. I just wanted to make sure we’re still on for tomorrow –”

“Absolutely.”

“ – and that Jacoby is coming.”

“He wouldn’t miss it. He’s awfully excited about it.”

“Great. Dana and I are both looking forward to it.”

“Good, good. You know I haven’t had a chance to talk to Dana, face to face, so I didn’t know how interested she really was.”

“Oh, she was excited when I told her. Really excited. We both are.”

“Awesome. This is going to be great.”

 

Wednesday; 2:12pm

 

“Sherry came by to check on tomorrow night and she was asking about you; making sure you were coming. I think she might like you; sounded like she’s excited about dinner.”

 

Wednesday; 2:59pm

 

“So I checked in with Kingsly and he confirmed Jacoby is coming. Says he’s really excited.”

 

Thursday; 7:16pm

 

The air smelled of vegetable oil and soy sauce as Dana and Sherry sat down to the table set for four. Dana hesitated when she saw that the white linen table cloth was pockmarked with the dark brown and thin orange stains of soy sauce and chili oil, but when she looked at the adjacent tables, she saw that they were all marred in the same way.

“Have you ever eaten here before, Sherr?” Dana was slowly sinking into her seat as first Jacoby, then Kingsly emerged from the kitchen. She gave a flustered wave and Sherry turned to see them approaching. “Why are they wearing aprons?” Dana ran her fingers through her hair and flattened the minor wrinkles on her blouse as the boys approached.

They both wore the white aprons of line cooks but no part of them was grease smattered or out of place. It was the first time that Sherry could recall seeing Kingsly in something other than a plaid shirt/t-shirt combo. His hair had been flattened a bit and straightened out. She smiled at her own premonitions. Jacoby looked good, everything in place, but Jacoby always looked good with everything in place. She knew that Dana would be happy.

“Ladies,” Kingsly started, “welcome to the Golden Buddha. I’m glad you could both make it.” He looked at Dana, who was looking at Jacoby, who was looking at Sherry, who was looking at him. “As a little surprise, I thought that Jacoby and I could prepare some of our food for us this evening. Show off some of our kitchen skills. So I just put together a little menu,” he reached into his back pocket and pulled free two sheets of twice-folded printer paper, “if you want to take a look.” The papers shook with his nerves as he handed one to Dana, then one to Sherry. Kingsly glanced at Jacoby, who gave him an approving nod.

The menu was made up of the simple things that Kingsly had been helping make in the kitchen for years. Premade egg rolls that just needed frying; cold sesame noodles that waited in the cooler; beef and broccoli in garlic sauce, everything precut and awaiting the wok; spicy chicken and cashews. All the sorts of things that could be done with minimal attention and in minimal time. “This looks great. I’m sure whatever you make will be delicious.” Sherry handed the paper back to Kingsly as Dana nodded and did the same.

“Okay, great, we’ll be back in just a few minutes.” As they walked back to the kitchen, Jacoby leaned over and whispered into Kingsly’s ear. He turned and walked quickly back to the table. “I’m sorry – do you guys want something to drink?” Both girls laughed at the panic in his voice and eyes.

Sherry placed her hand over the hand he’d planted on the back of a chair. “Don’t worry about it – we’ll have two Coke Zeros?” She glanced at Dana, who nodded, and then back at Kingsly, who had gone a little rigid. He looked at his hand, at Sherry’s hand over his own, and then at Dana. He pulled back slowly and disjointedly, as if he was trying not to touch that which was already touching him.

“I’ll have someone bring that out to you real quick.”

Back in the kitchen, Kingsly dropped the egg rolls into the fryolator while Jacoby portioned out the sesame noodles. “How you feeling about this so far?” he asked Kingsly.

“Pretty good. It’s all going pretty smoothly. I can’t seem to make much eye contact with Dana… and that thing with Sherry putting her hand on mind was weird.” Jacoby rolled his eyes. The blindness, the unwillingness of Kingsly to shift his perception of the events occurring in front of them, was comical and, for as much as Jacoby had tried to tell him what reality looked like, fiercely strong. “Got any insight for me?”

“You know what my insight is.”

“You’re just bending what you see to fit your theory.”

“I’m not bending anything if you’re the one that thinks Sherry and Dana are acting weird. Quit standing there with those eggrolls getting cold. Plate ‘em and let’s go out there.”

Sherry and Dana had sat down across from one another at the round table so that there was a seat between each of them on both sides. When the guys brought the food, there was no natural place to go that signified one being with the other. Kingsly sat with Sherry to his right; Jacoby set Dana to his right. Their placement, their friendships, the table set-up, it all made for an inclusive conversation that circled around the four of them and left no off-ramps for either of the pairs to head down. Until there was a lull and the exits came with blinding speed.

Just a few moments of dead air, an uncertain Jacoby, and a shy Kingsly. Sherry turned to her left.

“This is fun. I’m glad you caught on to the code so quickly.”

“The code? Oh, the letters, you mean? The poems?”

“Yeah, the poems. I know they’re sort of cheesy; you know, I didn’t think they’d work.”

“How could they not work? I’ve never received anything like them before.”  Kingsly spoke these words to Sherry but was looking straight ahead towards Jacoby. He was keeping one eye on Sherry and one on Dana; the person he was talking to and the person he wanted to talk to. Jacoby kept glancing towards him with an uncertain eye.

“How did you finally figure out it was –”

“Hey, King, when do we need to get back to cook the main courses?” He looked around to see everyone’s plate cleared but his own. Kingsly’s nerves had kept his chopsticks resting on the plate while his hands fumbled over themselves and he drank sip after sip of water. His was the only glass empty.

“Uh, let’s go do that now. Sorry, Sherry.” He turned to Dana and said more quietly, “Sorry, Dana. We’ll have to talk when we come back.”

As the two guys headed back into the kitchen to fry, sauté, and sauce, the girls turned to one another to assess the night so far, like teams returning to the locker room at half time.

“Jacoby keeps talking about Kingsly. I’m starting to think that he has a thing for him.”

“Why don’t you just steer the conversation towards yourself. You’re good at that.”

“I keep trying but he turns it all to what a great guy Kingsly is. It’s kinda off-putting. How are things going with you and Kingsly?”

“He’s being a little… evasive?  I don’t know. We haven’t really talked about much. He seems like he’s pulled in two different directions. Maybe the dinner here wasn’t the best idea.”

“Well this is the main course, right? They shouldn’t be cooking after this so we should be covered.”

“I kind of wish we were at two of these two-person tables instead of this four-seater. It would make it a whole lot easier to get these two to focus.” Dana’s eyes glanced back and forth at all of the open tables in the quiet restaurant. She wasn’t a person easily dissuaded from getting what she wanted.

“Why can’t we? There’re just those two other couples in here now. It’s not like we’d be taking up so much space.” Sherry glanced around, nervous at the volition Dana had fashioned onto her idea.

“I don’t know that we should. I mean, they probably set things up like this for a reason.” But by the time Sherry looked back, Dana was already moving her drink and napkin. “Dana!” She just smiled at Sherry when she came back for Jacoby’s things. “Dana, come on.”

“You better move your things otherwise you and Kings are going to be sitting at this big table all by yourselves.” And so with no other choice and a reminder as to why she kept certain things from Dana, Sherry picked up and moved both hers and Kingsly’s things to a neighboring table for two. They were now four tables apart, each up against the opposing walls of the dining room. They sat there silently, too far apart to speak without shouting. The minutes passed interminably, the only sounds coming from the brisk takeout business in the neighboring room.

Finally, the two guys exited the kitchen, each carrying a large platter of food. Jacoby hesitated while Kingsly came out from behind him and assessed the scene.

“We thought it’s be a little cozier this way,” Dana offered, “two on two.”

“Ha ha, alright, okay.” Kingsly’s nerves took hold for just a few seconds before he beat them back and retook control of himself. “Okay, so we’ll just serve the food and then leave the platters on the big table in case anybody wants more. Alright?”

Without waiting for anybody to respond, Kingsly first went to Dana’s table and then Sherry’s, Jacoby working in reverse. “You’re going to be okay,” Jacoby whispered to Kingsly as a half-statement, half-question. Kingsly nodded and after a moment’s hesitation, they broke apart; Kingsly taking a seat across from Dana, Jacoby sitting down with Sherry. The girls glanced at one another before laughing.

“Well, hello, Jacoby,” Sherry said in a voice that Jacoby couldn’t differentiate between mock interest and the real thing.

“Funny, Kingsly,” Dana said with full throated sarcasm.

Jacoby, though inclined to take charge, had written the entire evening as Kingsly’s affair and so turned to him from across the room, looking for some guidance, but finding only his friend looking quizzically at the girl across from him.

“I don’t get it – what’s so funny?” The look on his face stopped Dana’s slight laughter.

“Why aren’t you sitting with Sherry?”

“Because,” the nerves that he’d held at bay gathered their strength, “I’m on a date with you. So why would I sit with Sherry?”

The restaurant was quiet. Though they couldn’t have comfortably held a conversation across their tables, it was still more than possible to hear the things being said across the way. With no speech of their own to interfere with their hearing, Kingsly’s words came shooting across the dining room with all the booming impact of rockets in an enclosed space.

“Jacoby… you’re with me?” Sherry asked.

“Yeah.” The word fell out of his mouth as if only gravity could have pulled free the admission.

“Oh, God.” Sherry pushed back her chair and was out the door before anyone oculd react.

“Dana, you didn’t write me the love poems?”

“What love poems?”

“The ones you were dropping into my locker.”

“I didn’t drop anything into your locker and I haven’t written you any love poems. Sherry thought you were into her – why else would you have been giving her those fortune cookies – so if anyone wrote you poems, it must have been her.” Kingsly sat there, dumbfounded. “So are you going after her or am I?”

“Oh shit. I am.”

 

Thursday; 7:54pm

 

Dana stood up from her table and sat in the empty seat across from Jacoby.

“I thought it was you and I on a date tonight.”

“I told him that it was more likely Sherry that was interested in him.”

“Is that so?”

“Yup.”

“Well, we’ve got this food here and they need to figure out what they’re doing, so why not make this the date I expected.”

Jacoby smiled.

 

Thursday; 7:55pm

 

“Sherry!” Kingsly looked left and right for where she may have gone. Though the restaurant was nearly empty, it shared a parking lot with a dozen other shops, so there were plenty of cars for her to be lost between. “Sherry!” He waded out into the parking lot, moving between the rows of cars, hoping to catch a glimpse of her white blouse against the black night. Approaching the ‘Section L’ sign of the parking lot, Kingsly came across Dana’s Fiesta with Sherry in the driver’s seat. The engine was off. Kingsly crossed in front of the car, directly in front of Sherry’s gaze. She didn’t flinch or move a muscle.

The passenger’s door was unlocked, he could see it through the window, and when he placed his hand on the handle, Sherry let it alone. Kingsly opened the door and slid into the passenger’s seat. Sherry remained silent as they sat still for the next few minutes until Kingsly finally offered a muted, “I’m sorry, Sherry.”

“What are you sorry for, Kingsly?”

“For what happened.”

“For embarrassing me? For embarrassing Dana? For reading the two of us so very backwards? You know part of what I like about you, Kingsly, is your intelligence. You seem like a smart guy but in a way that’s about more than just class smart. You have a knowing air about you and I’ve found that attractive and admirable. But this time around you’re just so incredibly off base. I mean, Dana?”

“I thought it was her because I saw her in front of my locker on the day of the first love poem.”

“She has a class around the corner from your locker. I know cause I walked over there with her when I dropped off that first note.”

“Jacoby and I talked about it – he thought it was from you –”

“Then your friend is smarter than you.”

“and I didn’t really disagree but I thought I had physical proof. I thought I had to trust my eyes.”

“Not this time.” Sherry still hadn’t made eye contact though Kingsly was looking in her direction. It was embarrassment more than anger but anger was easier to convey. Kingsly continued to hunt for an opening.

“Look, Sherry, this may sound crazy, but I don’t have any crush on Dana, I never really have, not even through this. Not Dana directly, only indirectly. I have a crush on the person writing those love poems. They’re inspired, they’re beautiful, they’re like nothing anyone’s ever done for me before. If I were being rational, I would have quickly seen that it wasn’t Dana but I wasn’t, and I wasn’t being rational because I was caught up in the beauty of those letters. If you think I have some knowing air, understand that I know this is something beyond the physical being of a person.”

She finally turned to look him in the eyes. They were earnest, his eyes, they were plaintive and struggling to reach her as much as his words were. He could be honest, she thought, naively honest.

“Are you being serious?”

“Absolutely. Look, I don’t know either of you that particularly well but the poems you wrote were beautiful and that means something.” The car was silent again but for the racket of their thoughts turning over.

“Would it be weird if we went back in there?” Sherry asked.

“I don’t think so. Jacoby was pretty certain things would turn out the way they have.”

“And Dana was looking forward to a date with him. Okay, what do you say we try this again? I’m me, you’re you, and we’re on the same page with each other.”

“Sounds great.”

He thought about taking her hand but acted like himself instead. After the confusion, it was smarter to simply be who he was and let Sherry be who she was.

 

 

 

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