Home > Unteachable(9)

Author: Leah Raeder

“Hi,” I said. “Bye.”

He laughed again.

I swung my leg over and bit into the dirt with my tire.

“I’m Wesley,” he said.

“I’m not looking for new friends.”

“That’s a weird name.”

I laughed, despite myself. Dammit. The ground was all rutted and lumpy. Would’ve been faster to walk my bike out.

“I’ve seen you here before,” Wesley said, following me with a cloud of herbal smoke. Clove cigarettes.

“Great,” I said, “so you’re a stalker.”

“It’s not stalking if I was here first.”

I stopped, my shoes slapping into the dirt. “Look. Whoever you are, it’s nice to meet you, but this isn’t going to work out. I don’t want a friend, boyfriend, groupie, or big brother. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s not going to happen.”

The cherry arced off into the darkness. “You’re M. O’Malley, aren’t you?”

Ice in my heart. “What?”

Crinkling. He opened something white and fluttery in front of my face. Moonlight turned it bluish. I could just make out laser print.

“They dropped me from film class. Someone took my seat. The lady in the office said it was a girl who looked like Snow White. She went on and on about how ‘talented’ you are.”

“Shit,” I breathed.

“I’m not mad,” Wesley said. “But the least you could do is tell me why you need that class so bad.”

I didn’t even know about E. Wilke yet. How it would feel to need someone. Right then, I just wanted something of my own. Something I’d made. Something no one could take away from me.

I stuck out my hand.

Wesley frowned at it, then shook. His skin was dry and rough, like a corn husk.

“Maise,” I said.


“That’s my name.”

I gave it easily, freely, no strings.

You remember these things later, when they matter.

“And the reason I need that class,” I said, “is so I can get the f**k out of this town.”

He smiled, a big, crooked grin. “Good. That’s a worthy reason to f**k me over.”

Wesley walked me home. Not intentionally, but the conversation just kept going. Turns out he’s into movies, too, but more the technical side: cameras, cinematography, video editing. I respect people who get nerdy as f**k about something they love. He spent most of the walk explaining the difference between 24, 30, and 48 frames per second, and how human eyes work. How our brains fill in the gap between frames. How when we’re watching a movie, half of what we “see” isn’t even real—we’re making it up in our heads.

I thought about seeing Mom at one frame per day. The way I blurred her life into something to fill the gaps.

I wondered if Evan was doing the same to me in his head.

When we got to my house, Wesley pulled out his phone. “Want to trade numbers?”

I didn’t want to say yes too easily. High school boys are so presumptuous. “Are you going to guilt trip me about that class?”

He shrugged. “If I miss anything life-changing, you can tell me.”

We traded numbers.

“You lied,” Wesley said, grinning.

“About what?”

“Not wanting new friends.”

“We’re not friends,” I said coolly, walking toward the porch.

Mistake. I thought I was being flippant, not coy. This isn’t fourth grade. We’re not going to instantly become BFFs because we have the same cartoon character on our backpacks.

But what Wesley heard was, I have not ruled out the possibility of f**king you.

You’re never saying what you think you’re saying.

First day of school.

It felt like life was beginning all over again. That September sun, still a smoldering summer ember but starting to fail, to slant a little more heavily. The shadows of leaves flickering like pixels on the sidewalks. All the voices were relaxed, happy to shake off the terrible freedom of summer and slip back into comfortable straitjackets, schedules and routines. Everything had a golden powdercoat, the autumn decay setting in slowly, breaking the world into molecules of sun and dust.

7:55. First bell, bright and comforting. My insides arranged themselves obediently, preparing for the role we were going to play for the next ten months. I waded through suntanned bodies, the ocean mist of gel and perfume. Everyone’s face was jammed against a phone, getting in their last few precious minutes of airtime before they severed all contact with the outside world. I tossed mine casually into my locker. Wesley had texted me: Lunch 4th period? And I said, See you there.

So began the first day of my “new job,” as I’d told Evan. I wondered where he was, if he’d started his yet.

In retrospect you want to scream at yourself: don’t you feel it? Don’t you feel that strange edginess in your blood, the way it vibrates, as if some nearby force is disturbing it? Don’t you notice the disturbance, Luke?

I slammed my locker closed.

A Mean Girl stalked past, lip curled. Her eyes slid down my body like a viper’s tongue.

Okay, I hadn’t totally remade myself. I wasn’t Mother freaking Teresa. I wore shorts a hair’s width within dress code regs, and a button-up boy’s shirt that I hadn’t buttoned very diligently. The funny thing was, even in my hillbilly attire and zero makeup, I looked a hundred times better than this girl who’d spent all morning tweezing and abrading just to end up resembling a chihuahua. I smiled at her sweetly, and her sneer deepened. You could almost see the circuits sparking behind her eyeballs as she scanned me: Target acquired. Terminate.

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