“W-w-what do y-you mean you d-don’t like m-me?” the girl stuttered, tears gliding down her cheeks.
“Bella, what’s the first thing I told you when we went out?” I asked.
Her brows furrowed. “That I was pretty?”
“You…said ‘Let’s get out of here’?”
I ran my hand through my hair. “I said ‘I don’t do serious’. This, us, was a short-term thing.”
“I know, I know,” she quickly said. “But…I thought you liked me? I just…I just thought that people were wrong…That you…it’d be…different with us. I don’t know,” she nervously chuckled, “I guess…I thought I could change you.”
I sighed and leaned back against the wall of the empty chemistry classroom. It smelled like something had died in here. My eyes slowly scanned the room. The chairs were still up on the desks. It was still pretty early. Through the windows, I could see a few people walking with their friends, parking their cars, laughing. My eyes landed back on the girl. Her eyes were expectant. I guess she’d asked me something.
“So…” she said.
“So…?” I repeated.
“You do like me right?”
“I like beer.”
She looked confused.
“I like beer,” I said again. “But,” I emphasized, “that doesn’t mean I drink it on a regular basis. There are much more, fresher, cooler beers out there. Drinking the same beer would get tiring.”
“So…what you’re saying is…you’re tired of me?”
“Yes,” I said. Her eyes grew wide and hurt flashed in her eyes. I felt something weird in my chest but I shook off the feeling. “Aren’t you? Tired of me, I mean?”
“No,” she said confidently. “I’m not tired of you. I’m happy when I’m with you. You’re the first person I want to see when I’m sad when I’m happy. I like the feeling of my head against your chest, of your lips against mine…but…I guess that was just me, wasn’t it?”
I know I should’ve looked away, shown some semblance of shame or regret, but I didn’t. I wasn’t known for having a heart. I wasn’t known for caring.
When I didn’t answer, she looked down, then up at me again. “Okay. Let’s end this. But before we do, I want to give you something.”
I knew it was coming and I didn’t even flinch when she slapped me. My head snapped to the left. I stood like that for a few seconds before stretching out the cramp in my neck. I looked down at my watch then up at her again. “We should get going. The bell’s about to ring.”
She glared at me through the tears in her eyes. Opening the door, I walked out. I kept walking forward even as I heard her break into sobs. I kept walking forward even as I heard whispers behind me.
“Is he dating anyone?”
One chapter was over. Closed. On to the next one.
The bell had rung a few minutes ago. I should’ve hurried but I couldn’t bring my legs to move any faster. As I arrived in front of a classroom, I looked down at my class schedule to confirm that this was the right class number. Room 215. I pushed down on the door handle and opened the door.
“…philosophy of love-“
Multiple heads turned to look at me but I just looked to the front of the room, to the man whose eyes were trained on me.
“Late on the first day.” He lifted a clipboard from his desk and looked down at it. “Miss Tavora, is it?” He pronounced it Tuh-vo-ruh instead of Tah-vo-ruh.
“It’s Tavora,” I corrected him. A few kids made a ‘ooooh’ sound.
The teacher looked at me a while before nodding his head. “Right. Tavora,” he said, this time correctly. “Our new student. So, how should you be punished for being late? Care to sit on the hot seat?”
“Depends,” I said.
“On?” He questioned, looking slightly amused.
“On our deal, of course.”
“Which would be what, exactly?”
“I get a Get Out of Jail…I mean…Get out of Class card for today.”
Someone let out a low whistle.
He pondered my offer before saying, “Okay. But that all depends if you can handle the pressure.” A smile played on his lips and his eyes held a challenge.
“Okay, then,” he said, “Have a seat.”
I walked to the front of the class and took a seat facing the entire classroom. The teacher, Mr. Finch, I think – I remembered reading it on the class schedule – took a seat to the far right of me, leaving one empty seat between us.
“Any volunteers?” He looked around. “No? No brave souls, I see.”
“I nominate Jeremy!” someone shouted out.
“I second that,” a girl giggled.
“Mr. Drake,” Mr. Finch said, looking to the far right corner of the classroom. “Looks like you’re quite popular. Care to gamble?” I looked at my hands, playing with the ring on my index finger when I heard the screech of a chair and footsteps approaching the empty seat next to me. I wrapped my arms around me and looked to Mr. Finch when he spoke.
“Okay, Mr. Drake. Miss Tavora,” he kept emphasizing the correct pronunciation, “let’s get started. The philosophy of love. What do you think? Mr. Drake, let’s start with you. Majority rules, right? What do you think about love?”
“Love?” the boy repeated. I looked to the right, all sorts of posters covered the wall. Dante’s Inferno. Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. A poster of Freud. A poster outlining what hormones sex stimulates in our brain. “Love,” the boy said, pulling my attention back.
“Yes, Mr. Drake. Love. Will we get an answer or are you just going to keep repeating the word?”
The class snickered. Something must’ve happened because a few girls started giggling again.
“Okay, Mr. Drake. Let’s pass on the question to Miss Tavora, shall we? Seeing as this question makes you uncomfortable.” I heard the screeching of a chair again and looked up to see Mr. Finch turning his chair towards me. “So, Miss Tavora, what is your take on love?”
“What kind?” I asked. “There’s so many. Friendship. Romantic love. Sexual love. The love you have for your dog or family.”
“Well, that’s true. There are many kinds. Your pick. You can talk about whichever one. It can be general.”
I paused before I spoke again, pulling my ring on and off. “Well, all kinds of love ultimately have one destination.”
“And that is?”
“Suffering,” I said.
“Suffering?” Mr. Finch’s brows rose. “What about bliss? The euphoric feeling of being in love. The drug-like high. The grass is greener and all?”
“Those are all chemical impulses. Hormones our brain releases.”
“So it’s all down to a science.”
“Yes. It’s all down to a science. Even drugs have an expiration date. Depending on the quantity of hormones released, the euphoric feeling you’re referring to eventually wears off after a few years. And in the end, it leads to suffering.”
“You have very little faith in humanity. What about the humane side of humanity?”
“Tell me,” I said, “then why is it that the ones who hurt us the most are the ones who claim to love us? If someone says you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
A smile found its way to Mr. Finch lips. “You’re quite the fatalist aren’t you, Miss Tavora?”
“Sure. If you want to put a label on it. I’m a fatalist.”
“So, your take on love is?”
“And your solution?”
“To avoid it as much as possible for as long as possible.”
He nodded his head as he took in my words. He looked at his students. “Miss Tavora, it looks like you’ve stunned my students into silence.”
“So,” I said, “about that free pass.”
Mr. Finch’s small smile broke out into a full-toothed one. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Well played, Miss Tavora. Well played.”
Rising, I slung my backpack over my shoulder and started walking towards to the door.
“Tavora,” I heard behind me. “It means broken-hearted in Hebrew.” I turned back and saw Mr. Finch’s head hung low as if in deep thought. Looking to the boy to his right, he said, “Drake, meaning dragon in Norse.”
“It also means male duck in English.”
At this, the boy’s head jerked up. His shocked eyes slightly narrowed.
“It’s just a fact,” I said, before walking out the door.