Issue #15: Never Simple

This entry is part 3 of 15 in the series The Descendants Vol 2: Magic and Machines

February is possibly the most socially awkward month on the social calendar. This is difficult to quantify, of course, given variables such as having a birthday near or on Christmas (or any other gift giving holiday depending on religious observance), discovering that the only clean clothes in one’s closet are white after Labor Day, and the first month or so of anything that can be described as a ‘freshman’ year.

In any event, when it comes to socially awkward months, February is certainly in the top twelve. It all stems from a certain day consecrated to a martyr who died for loving his God but which is oddly now dedicated to the romance between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man, a small group’s love for itself, and most of all, the vast majority of people’s love for chocolate.

Conveniently, this holiday falls in the exact center of the month (foreshortened, it seems out of some sense mercy from the Romans). This allows for the first half to be neatly set aside for couples to worry about what they intend to do for each other, romantics to worry about having a companion at least for that day, and for cynics to grouse and snark at the entire concept. The second half affords time for the mind, wallet and occasionally body to recover from the previous fourteen day whirlwind of devotions, emotions and chocolate binges.

It should come as no surprise that combining this month with high school, colloquially the most awkward time in any person’s life, results in an even more awe inspiring vortex of angst, stupidity and above all, excess. The best love stories are never simple, but some people make it harder on themselves than others…

***

“Uh, hi.” Warrick was trying to look casual, leaning his shoulder against the bookcase beside him. He was in the stacks of the school library after hours, waiting on the rest of his physics class project group to arrive. “So… the Valentine’s dance is Thursday and I was thinking maybe…”

The girl he was talking to was taller than him with a mane of strawberry blonde hair. She was part of the group that normally orbited around Lilly Goldenmeyer in the halls and at lunch; one of the ‘conserv’ girls that all dressed disturbingly alike. To say they traveled in different circles was to say that Earth’s Moon and Europa traveled in different circles. That fact really didn’t excuse her derisive snort as she looked him up and down like a predator watching a prey animal wander past when it was already sated.

“Don’t you know who I am?” she shoved the book she had been perusing back into the shelf, making its mates jump with the impact. She didn’t give him time to answer before rolling her eyes and stalking away.

“Ooh, swing and a miss, strike three.” JC said into his pencil in his best commentator voice. “This isn’t looking good for Warrick Kaine, Bob. He’s had five at bats this evening and he’s struck out each time. Seems the only time he gets anywhere, it’s because a pitcher’s throwing him a little chin music.”

Warrick punched him lightly on the shoulder. “Way to be supportive, wingman. It’s easy to be cocky when you’ve already got a date. Hell, you don’t even need to arrange a date because Snackrifice is playing the dance.”

“It’s not all paradise, man.” JC admitted. “We really only see each other on the weekend anymore. I mean the band practices most of the time after school…”

“Which you’re there for.” Warrick pointed out.

“Quality, not quantity, bro. I don’t consider it a date when five other people are there.” The two returned where they had left their books to find Juniper, the third of their four person project group, sitting there, looking like she was lost in a daydream. “Plus,” JC continued with a nod to Juniper, “Kay is always dragging her off for ‘girls’ night out’ on the weekends. Really, since they’re playing the dance, I’m not even going to get to dance with my girl on Valentine’s.”

Juniper blinked. “Dance? Oh. Can I ask you guys something?”

Both boys shrugged, realizing that she had just completely derailed JC’s rant. “Go ahead.” JC said, “I’m done anyway.”

“Done?” Juniper blinked again before coming back to herself. “I just wanted a guy’s opinion. Do you think its okay for a girl to ask a guy to a dance?”

“This is for Adel, right?” JC asked. Juniper nodded vigorously. “Yeah, I think that’s not only okay, but it’s your best bet. Mills doesn’t do things like talking or interacting with people. And I’ve heard that those are a key component of asking girls out.”

“You’ve got a point.” Juniper said, letting her hair fall into her face to hide her eyes. “He is kind of quiet and shy. Maybe he just can’t work up the nerve.”

JC smirked and clapped Warrick on the shoulder. “No such problems in our boy here though. He’s asked five girls out today alone.” He looked his friend up and down. “By the way, asking out one of Lily’s friends? Ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy. My question is ‘why?’”

“What do you mean?” Warrick asked, “Just because her friend is a bitch doesn’t mean she is.”

“Yes it does.” JC countered. “Their whole clique-shtick is based on them acting like one another. Therefore, if Lilly’s a bitch, by definition, Jean’s a bitch too.”

“That doesn’t seem fair…” Juniper started, but thought better of it.

“That Lilly made it to the top of the pecking order is the thing that isn’t right.” JC shrugged. “But that’s not my point. Why are you stretching so far, man? You live in a house with five, count them five hot women—“

“Thanks… I guess…” Juniper stammered.

“And taking into account that Juniper’s into Adel and Ms. Keyes is attached –“

“Wait, why the hell are you counting Ms. Keyes and Ms. Brant into this equation of possible dates for me? They’re like twenty-five apiece!”

JC shrugged, “Just by way of illustration… though you have to admit Ms. Brant is hot.”

“Twice my age!” Warrick managed to shout without shouting, being in the library after all.

“Fine, whatever. That still leaves Melissa and Cyn.”

“Have you met Melissa?” Juniper peeked out from behind her hair. “I mean she’s really nice deep down—I’m sure she is—but on top of that is a girl that wouldn’t be caught dead going to the dance with Warrick.” Her eyes grew wipe at her own faux pas. “Oops. I meant that she wouldn’t go to the dance. You know, with any guy. Even you, I mean… There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“And there goes the masculinity.” Warrick groaned. Juniper gave him an apologetic look, but he waved it off. “I know what you meant, Jun. Anyway, you’re right. Melissa wouldn’t be caught within line of sight of a dance.”

“So that leaves Cyn.” JC offered helpfully.

“Yeah, right. She’s my best friend, but the idea would be so stupid to her that she just wouldn’t stop laughing. Ever. The seas will dry up, the sun will go cold and there would be Cyn, still laughing at me being a feeb. No thank you. I’m sure some girl would be totally into going to the dance with me. I just have to find her.”

“Please tell me we’re actually going to work on our project today instead of shifting into over-angst over the stupid Valentine’s dance.” A new voice interrupted. They looked up to see their fourth in the project group, Christina Carlyle, better known around the school as ‘Tink’ both for her love of gadgetry as well as her ill fated role in a freshman year production of Peter Pan. She was taller than average with a few whispers of baby fat still on her frame. Copper colored hair grew wild on her head and had been unceremoniously sheared off just above her jaw line. A pair of wire frame glasses perched on her nose.

She switched on her tablet computer, something of a trademark accessory for her, and started flipping through files. “I’ve got a few designs I’ve been thinking up ever since I heard we’d be doing electromagnetism and I’d really rather talk about them than some stupid dance. There’s no point in worrying about not having a date. It’ll either happen or it won’t.”

“I take this to mean that it hasn’t.” JC said slyly “You getting asked, that is.” He elbowed Warrick.

“No.” Tina shrugged. “And?”

JC elbowed him again and Warrick yelped, which got Tina’s attention readily. “Ow… er, I mean how would you like to go with me then?” he managed not to glare at JC for what would certainly become a bruise in the morning.

Tina’s fingers stopped in their fluttering over the screen of her computer. She wore a thoughtful look for a while. “Sure, why not?”

***

Cyn sneezed and opened her locker. Someday, she vowed, she would find a way to shift away whatever mechanism caused sneezing. Of course, that would be easier if the school ever saw fit to place her in the biology class she requested again at the start of the semester.

Instead, she had landed in Earth Science, which was not only useless to her, but was taught by the man who was fast becoming her nemesis; Frank Bevilacqua, also known as Coach Bevilacqua.

“Coach” as he was called by nearly the entire school, had noticed the agility with which she had avoided the ‘accidental’ shoves Lilly Goldenmeyer and her friends tended to aim at her. Naturally, instead of putting a stop to the bullying, Coach had demanded she try out late for the gymnastics team. Great was her hatred for the man that subjected her to the very concept of uneven bars.

It was over now, however, and all she could do was nurse her grudge and hope that a carefully orchestrated case of klutziness would end Coach’s Olympic dreams by proxy for good. The bright side, if there was such a thing, was that she knew Juniper and Warrick were staying late for their physics project and that meant she wouldn’t be alone on the trip home. She could probably convince them to go on an impromptu patrol.

Taking heart in the possibility of working out her frustrations on someone probably far more deserving than Frank Bevilacqua, she closed her door. And immediately shrieked upon seeing someone standing right there.

He clearly wasn’t expecting such a reaction and nearly fell over himself backing away. “Whoa!” he shouted reflexively.

Cyn finally registered who she was glaring at; Jonas Griffin. During the fall, he was the star wide receiver on a lackluster team. During the spring, or so Cyn was lead to believe, he played third and had the best batting average on the baseball team. This, according to the rather mysterious and convoluted physics that make up the social hierarchy of high schools, made him one of the most popular people there.

And he was talking to Cyn, who according to Lilly was the bottom of the barrel. She proceeded with caution—giving him a look that demanded explanation.

“Sorry.” Jonas said a flush coming over his dark skin. “Sorry.” He repeated extraneously. He shifted his books to the other arm, starting to sweat under Cyn’s hot glare. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I thought… I mean I’m not exactly quiet walking down the hall…”

Feeling she was definitely missing something, Cyn let some of the intensity drain out of her gaze. “I was otherwise distracted.” She shrugged. “So why were you ‘not sneaking up on me’ in the first place?” She tried to make it sound as polite as possible.

Jonas looked to be caught in the headlights suddenly, which confused Cyn all the more. “Um… sneaking—yeah. The dance. I saw you come down this hall and I was going to ask… you know, about the dance.”

Occam’s Razor be damned, Cyn was sure that the simplest explanation to what Jonas was trying to get out certainly wasn’t the correct one. Jonas went to every school function with Lilly. It was a law, set in stone as surely as the laws of gravity. “What about it?” Cyn asked.

Taking a deep breath, Jonas calmed down a bit. “Well, I asked around and everyone said that the guy you usually go to stuff with isn’t your boyfriend…” he started, leaving room for her to add to the sentence.

Cyn shrugged. She usually ended up going with Warrick on the account that he never got a date due to the triple threat of Lilly’s social assassination, Elizabeth von Stoker’s drama, and his own crippling lack of confidence. Cyn’s own apathy when it came to most of the guys at school made up her part of the equation. Nothing ever came of those; usually, they would meet up with the rest of their social group and any semblance of a date would dissolve.

A hiccough formed in her throat. Why would she expect anything to come of those? Those outings were strictly platonic and she had made clear—in ways more subtle than her usual ‘frying pan in the face’ approach—that that was that. Assured of this position, she nodded. “Yeah, he’s not. So?” The glaringly obvious failed to penetrate the atmosphere of cynicism enveloping Planet Cyn.

“Since he’s not your boyfriend, I was thinking maybe you and I should go?” Jonas hadn’t meant that as a question, but it sure came out that way.

She chewed her lip for a second, and then held up a finger. “Oh, I see now. It’s one of those… ham party things.”

“Excuse me?” Jonas blinked.

“One of those things where you try to find the biggest loser to bring so your clique gets to laugh at them and the girl goes home crying and then she and her mom have ice cream and someone mentions that story about the swan being ugly and end the end she gets confident.” Cyn explained in a rush.

Jonas stood a moment in silence, and then was forced to admit defeat. “Excuse me?”

Cyn pressed her fingers to her temples. “You’re asking me out as part of some stupid plot by the Queen Bee…itch” She simplified.

“No I’m not.” Jonas said. “I know I used to go out with her, but she doesn’t really like me and lately, I don’t really like her much either. My dad said it’s a sign I’m maturing.” He shrugged. “He said that from now on, I should just go with who ever I feel like going with.”

“And that’d be me.” Cyn filled in the blank. When Jonas nodded, gears turned in her head. The most popular guy in school liked her. More importantly, he’d chosen her over Lilly. Popularity, especially by proxy meant nothing to her. Pissing off Lilly however was a delicious treat that made her mouth water. “Okay. But I’m going to be honest; I’m only giving you a chance because you think Lilly’s a bitch and this will tweak her good.”

Jonas shrugged. “That’s fine. I didn’t expect you to say yes. And if I went with Lilly, she’d only be going with me because I’m a jock. The way I see it, at least you care what I think.”

Cyn smiled. He wasn’t really a bad guy, she decided. Still, she wondered why she had a sinking feeling about this.

***

“Hello, Imperial Dragon Restaurant?” Ian asked into the phone. “Yes, I’d like to make a…” He set his jaw. “What do you mean I’m already too late? You haven’t heard what I—well, yeah, I was trying to make reservations. No? Oh come on! You’re the tenth place I’ve called today! How can all of you be completely booked for Valentine’s Day?!” He rapped his knuckles against his forehead. “Yeah, okay, thanks. Bye.” He snapped the phone closed.

For a moment, he glared at it. In old movies, he’d seen people using old landline models that they would slam back into their cradles after infuriating conversations. He supposed her could just slam his cell phone down on the table, but that’d probably dash it to pieces. Sometimes progress wasn’t.

Growling his frustration, he tapped the screen of the phone directory in front of him until the next page of restaurant listings appeared. “’J’ he declared. Lucky letter ‘J’.”

“Are you seriously calling every restaurant in Mayfield in alphabetical order looking for reservations?” Laurel asked, coming up the stairs into the upstairs commons.

“Just the ones that are… you know sit down places.” Ian said, flipping his phone open. “And it didn’t start that way. I called Rosario’s, Midnight Black, and King’s Chase first. The guy at Rosario’s actually laughed at me.”

“I’d laugh at the dumb guy trying to get reservations the week of Valentine’s Day too.” Laurel sadi, the polar opposite of helpful.

“Very funny, L.” Ian said dryly. “Can I beg or your help?”

“The begging really should be for Alexis.” Laurel pointed out as she sat down. “But I can’t resist helping the Valentine’s challenged.” Se smiled as she pulled the directory screen over to herself.

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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