Before I Fall
The first bell rings: class is officially over now. The singing feeling returns to my blood, to the air. I step carefully around my desk and walk straight to the front of the classroom. I stop when we’re only a few feet away from each other. He doesn’t back away. Instead he finally looks at me. His eyes are so deep and full of something it almost frightens me off. But it doesn’t.
I lean casually against Becca’s desk, tipping backward and resting on my elbows so I’m totally laid out in front of him, chest, legs, everything. My head feels like it has floated away from my body; my body feels like it has floated away from my blood, like I’m just dissolving into energy and vibration.
“I don’t mind trouble,” I say in my sexiest voice.
Mr. Daimler is staring into my eyes, not looking at the rest of me, but somehow I know that it’s an effort. “What are you doing?”
My skirt is riding so high I know my underwear is showing. It’s a pink lace thong, one of the first I’ve ever owned. Thongs always make me feel like there is a rubber band up my butt, but last year Lindsay and I bought the same pair at Victoria’s Secret and swore to wear them.
The words come to me from a script, from a movie: “I can stop if you want.” My voice comes out breathy but not because I’m trying. I am no longer breathing—everything, the whole world, freezes in that moment while I wait for his response.
But when he speaks he sounds tired, annoyed—not at all what I was expecting. “What do you want, Samantha?”
The tone of his voice startles me, and for a second my mind spins blankly. He’s staring at me with a look of impatience now, as if I’ve just asked him to change my grade. The second bell rings. I feel like at any moment he’ll dismiss me, remind me about the quiz on Monday. I’ve somehow lost control of the situation and I don’t know how to fix it. The vibration in the air is still there, but now it feels ominous, like the air is full of sharp things getting ready to drop.
“I…I want you.” I don’t mean for it to come out so uncertain. This is what I want. This is what I’ve been wanting: Mr. Daimler. My mind keeps spinning in a blind panic, and I can’t remember his first name, and I feel like laughing hysterically; I’m stretched out half naked in front of my math teacher and I don’t know his name. Then it comes to me. Evan. “I want you, Evan,” I say, a little more boldly. It’s the first time I’ve ever used his first name.
He stares at me for a long time. I start to get nervous. I want to look away or pull down my skirt or cross my arms, but I force myself to stay still.
“What are you thinking about?” I finally ask, but instead of answering he just walks straight to me and puts his arms on my shoulders, pushing me backward so I tip over onto Becca’s desk. Then he’s bending over me, kissing me and licking my neck and ear and making little grunting noises that remind me of Pickle when he has to pee. Pressed against him I feel tiny; his arms are strong, groping all over my shoulders and arms. He slides one hand up my shirt and squeezes my boobs one after the other, so hard I almost cry out. His tongue is big and fat. I think, I’m kissing Mr. Daimler, I’m kissing Mr. Daimler, Lindsay will never believe it, but it doesn’t feel anything like I’ve imagined. His five o’clock shadow is rough on my skin, and I have this horrible thought that this is what my mom feels when she kisses my dad.
When I open my eyes I see the plain speckled ceiling tiles of the classroom—the ceiling tiles I’ve spent hours and hours staring at this semester—and my mind starts circling around them, counting, like I’m a fly buzzing somewhere outside my body. I think, How can the same ceiling still be here while this is happening? Why isn’t the ceiling coming down? All of a sudden it’s not fun anymore: all those sharp glittery things drop out of the air at once, and at the same time something drops deep inside of me. I feel like I’m sobering up after drinking all night.
I put my hands on his chest and try to push him off, but he’s too heavy, too strong. I can feel his muscles under my fingertips—he used to play lacrosse in high school, Lindsay and I found out—and above that, a fine layer of fat. He’s leaning on me with his full weight and I can’t breathe. I’m crushed underneath him, my legs split apart on either side of his hips, his stomach warm and fat and heavy on mine. I wrestle my mouth away from his. “We—we can’t do this here.”
The words just pop out without my meaning them to. What I wanted to say was, We can’t do this. Not here. Not anywhere.
What I wanted to say was, Stop.
He’s breathing hard, still staring at my mouth. There’s a tiny bead of sweat at his hairline, and I watch it trace its way across his forehead and down to the tip of his nose. Finally he pulls away from me, rubs his hand over his jaw, and nods.
The moment he’s off me I scrabble up to my feet and tug down my skirt, not wanting him to see that my hands are shaking.
“You’re right,” he says slowly. He gives a quick shake of his head, as though trying to rouse himself from sleep. “You’re right.”
He takes a few steps backward and turns his back to me. For a second we just stand there, not speaking. My brain is all static. He’s only a few feet away from me, but he looks hopelessly, impossibly far, like someone you can just make out distantly, a silhouette in the middle of a blizzard.
“Samantha?” Finally he turns back to me, rubbing both eyes and sighing, like I’ve exhausted him. “Listen, what happened here…I don’t think I need to tell you that this has to stay strictly between you and me.”
He’s smiling at me, but it’s not his normal, easy smile. There’s no humor in it. “This is important, Samantha. Do you understand?” He sighs again. “Everyone makes mistakes….” He trails off, watching me.
“Mistakes,” I repeat, the word pinging around in my head. I’m not sure whether he thinks he made a mistake, or I did. Mistake, mistake, mistake. A strange word: stinging, somehow.
Mr. Daimler’s mouth, eyes, nose—his whole face seems to be rearranging itself into unfamiliar patterns, like a Picasso painting. “I need to know that I can count on you.”
“Of course you can,” I hear myself say, and he looks at me, relieved, like if he could, he would pat me on the head and say, Good girl.
After that I just stand there for a bit. I’m not sure if he’s going to come around and kiss me or give me a hug—it seems insane just to leave, to pick up my stuff and go as though nothing’s happened. But after he blinks at me for a bit, he finally says, “You’re late for lunch,” and now I know I really am being dismissed. So I grab my bag and go.
As soon as I’m out in the hall I lean up against a wall, grateful for the feeling of the stone against my back. Something bubbles up inside me, and I don’t know whether I should jump up and down or laugh or scream. Fortunately the halls are empty. Everybody’s already at lunch.
I take out my phone to text Lindsay, but then I remember that we’re in a fight. There’s no text from her asking if I want to go to Kent’s party. She must still be mad. I’m not sure whether I’m fighting with Elody, too. Remembering what I said in the car makes me feel horrible.
I think about texting Ally—I’m pretty sure she’s not mad at me, at least—and I spend a long time trying to figure out how to word it. It feels weird to write I kissed Mr. Daimler, but if I write Evan she won’t know who I’m talking about. Evan Daimler feels wrong too, and besides, we did more than just kiss. He was on top of me.
In the end I drop my phone back into my bag without writing anything. I figure I’ll just wait until I’ve made up with Lindsay and Elody and tell them in person. It’ll be easier that way, easier to make it sound better than it was, and I’ll get to see their faces. The thought of how jealous Lindsay will be makes the whole thing more than worth it. I put some concealer on my chin to cover the red spots where Mr. Daimler’s face gave me an exfoliation I didn’t need, and then I head to lunch.
YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS STEEL-TOED COMBAT BOOTS
When I march into the cafeteria ten minutes late, our usual table is empty, and I know that I have been officially and deliberately ditched.
For a fraction of a second I can feel everyone’s eyes lift in my direction, staring. I bring my hand up to my face without meaning to, suddenly terrified that everyone will see the rawness on my chin and know what I’ve been doing.
I duck out into the hall again. I need to be alone, need to pull it together. I head for the bathrooms, but as I get close, two sophomores (Lindsay calls them s’mores because they’re always stuck together and more than two will get you sick) come bursting out of the door, giggling, arm-in-arm. Lunch is prime bathroom traffic time—everyone needs to reapply lip gloss, complain about feeling fat, threaten to upchuck in one of the stalls—and the last thing I need right now is a steady stream of stupid.
I head to the old bathroom at the far end of the science wing. Hardly anyone uses it since a newer bathroom—with toilets that don’t clog 24/7—was installed last year between the labs. The farther I get from the cafeteria, the more the roar of voices drops away, until they sound just like the ocean from far away. I get calmer with every step. My heels beat a steady rhythm on the tile floor.
The science wing is empty, as expected, and smells, as always, like chemical cleaners and sulfur. Today there’s something else, though: the smell of smoke and something earthier, more pungent. I push against the bathroom door and for a second nothing happens. I push harder and there’s a grating sound; I jam my shoulder against the door, and finally it swings open, carrying me inside with it. Instantly I hit my knee on a chair that has been propped up against the doorknob and pain shoots up my leg. The smell in the bathroom is much stronger.
I drop my bag and lean over, clutching my knee. “Shit.”
“What the hell?”
The voice makes me jump. I didn’t realize there was anyone else in the bathroom. I look up and Anna Cartullo’s standing there, holding a cigarette in one hand.
“Jesus,” I say. “You scared me.”
“I scared you?” She leans up against the counter and taps her ashes in the sink. “You, like, forced your way in. Don’t you know how to knock?” Like I’ve just broken into her house.
“Sorry I ruined your party.” I make a halfhearted move for the door.
“Wait.” She holds up a hand, looking nervous. “Are you going to tell?”
“About this.” She inhales and blows a cloud of smoke. The cigarette she’s smoking is extra thin and it looks like she rolled it herself. Then it hits me: it’s a joint. The weed must be mixed with a lot of tobacco because I didn’t recognize the smell immediately, and I come home with my clothes reeking of it after every party. Elody once said it was lucky my mom never came into my room, or she would think I was dealing pot out of my dirty laundry hamper.