14. Blackbird, Part Two

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14. Blackbird, Part Two
Junior Year, First Day

My pencil snapped against the thick tablet of paper in front of me. I’d lost concentration; wasn’t thrilled about being back in school. Summer was a letdown; hadn’t even seen Nora the entire time. She’d been vague with me lately and I worried our friendship was faltering.

Last period. Art class sucked—they let us sit in desks and ‘express ourselves,’ which made me uncomfortable.

Adding to that discomfort was Emily, who stood behind me, crowded by easels. I didn’t have money for paints, so I‘d borrowed a charcoal pencil from the teacher. No idea how Emily conned a cache of colors.

I caught myself staring as she concentrated on the canvas, the end of a brush between pouty lips. Sultry makeup and dark hair painted onto an alabaster canvas, dewy gaze outlined by shadowed eyes. The canvas only caught her cast-offs. Emily was the real artwork—not only a person, but an image. Emily wasaware.

Emily would attribute this image to Eureka. By forcing herself into different positions she’d been able to see the old ones from new reference points. The whole thing seemed to settle into some sort of twisted satire of the entire construct.

The last bell of the day rang. While everyone else filed out of the classroom as quickly as possible, I got stuck trying to give a damn pencil back to a teacher who already stepped out of the room.

“Jacob, would you come and tell me what you think?” Emily asked.

Nervous tension gripped my shoulders, drawing them tightly together. I never knew what to think of Emily, and her chief concern seemed to be making sure this remained true. I went to her, stepping carefully between the easels. Being surrounded by all that amateur artwork made it seem like we were in our own little room.

Her canvas? A random mess of red, black, and yellow.

“It’s you,” I said.

“Thanks,” she responded. I didn’t know if she took me seriously or not.

“Um…I’m going to get…going,” I stammered, for lack of anything better to say.

“I wanted to ask you something else.”

“Yeah?” Cold sweat forming.

She walked around me, fearless. Constant dramatist. I turned to pretend to study the painting. Her warm, soft body nestled a little too closely behind mine. The stiff material of a bra shifted against my bicep. A long crimson fingernail traced a line down my spine, coming to rest in my back pocket.

“Have you ever wondered what it would be like? Me and you?” Emily asked, lips close to my ear. Every other word brought mouth to my skin, each touch multiplying my heart rate exponentially.

“More than once,” I admitted. I turned to face her, pretense gone.

“I’d love to find out sometime. Just to experiment, y’know?”

Leg lifted between mine, knee rising up to my crotch gently, feeling the results of her efforts. Then, a hand on the side of my face. Couldn’t even feel her skin, only the rush of the knowledge it was happening. Emily pulled me into her, other hand squeezing me. “Tag.”

Fifteen minutes to do something life-changing. Absolution. Nothing was off limits. Whatever was expected of the day, change it. Those were the rules.

Our lips met. Her tongue slipped wetly below mine. Emily’s hand went up into the air; I didn’t know why.

“What do you want—” a female voice cut-off mid-sentence.

“What do you think?” Emily asked, as her lips broke away from mine.

“I—” the voice began to reply.

I heard a grunt of disgust and sensed motion in the doorway. I looked up to see a girl walking away.

“Thanks for coming, Nora,” Emily called to her. Dread wrapped cold fingers around my heart and squeezed. “Let her go. Jesus,” she said to me.

I had to find Nora before she got the wrong idea. I jumped around the easels, turned and froze. The figure stomping sullenly down the hallway didn’t look anything like the plump Nora I’d grown up with, the awkward girl who hid her body. This was a new Nora, warped into a new resolution. The girl running away from me wasthin.

I turned back to find Emily biting her thumb around a wicked smile.

“What…just happened? That was Nora, right?” I asked.

“I told her you wanted her to look at your artwork. She lost weight,” Emily pointed out. “You mean you haven’t even seen her yet? Jeez, buddy. I hope she didn’t do all that for you.”

“You’re terrible,” I murmured to myself, chasing after Nora, footsteps echoing down the empty hall. She turned and watched me approach.

“Sorry I interrupted,” Nora said, voice tight, eyes wet. “I should have known Emily wanted to…” her voice cracked. She tried to speak again but failed, and put a hand up to her face instead. “There’s nothing I can do to make you like me.”

“Emily is messing with you. And me, actually, I do like you, Nora. Plus, you look…amazing.” She must’ve lost fifty pounds; the change brought out high cheekbones and a narrow chin I hadn’t noticed before.

Nora stopped walking and faced my general direction, though she stared at the ground, refusing eye contact. She tried to speak, but her voice cracked again, on the verge of tears.

“Emily and I are friends, Nora. She only kissed me to mess with me. I didn’t even know you liked me, you always said you couldn’t have a boyfriend.”

“I always liked you. I didn’t like myself.” Sobs wracked Nora’s sentiment.

“I don’t want to be with Emily. She’s…she’s gorgeous, sure, but Emily is crazy, Nora. I couldn’t date her if I tried, believe me. She's just messing with me.”

If you tried?” Nora sniffed back tears. I sensed the tide changing. “So let me get this straight: you were just kissing, you think she’sgorgeous, you’rejust friends, and you’vetriedto date her—but you’d still settle for me. Gee, thanks. Forget it, Jacob. I need some fucking ice cream.” She spun and marched out of the school, leaving me dumb-founded, gripping my forehead and looking back and forth between the art room and the school’s exit.

Emily approached. “You should’ve let me take her file.”

“Seriously? You’restillthinking about that?” I asked, incredulous Emily even remembered.

She shrugged, grinning. “C’mon, it’s obvious she likes you. If I had her file, maybe I’d like you, too. Besides, Jacob—I need you to be single. I get jealous when you’re with someone else.”

“I’m not going out with Nora. What do you care? Are you asking me out?”

Emily laughed. “I don’t have boyfriends, Jacob.”

“Then why do you care if I have a girlfriend?”

“I need you to be free, so I can own you." She bit her lip to kill the smile growing there.

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