When The Heart Heals
Central High School
I don't like Alyssa Miller, Drew thought, scowling as he waited for the teacher to stop talking to the student in front him. Turning his back to John and Mrs. Thompson, his eyes skated over the object of his disapproval.
I suppose, there's probably nothing wrong with her looks. She's certainly pretty enough, with that mane of strawberry blonde hair, a heart-shaped face with turquoise eyes, soft rosebud lips, and a slender, waif-like figure. He shook off his distraction and tore his gaze away from the girl. Not that I've been looking, of course. No, there's just something about her personality that rubs me the wrong way. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly, but ever since elementary, we teased, made fun of, and generally tried to make each other miserable. I can't possibly work with her, just the two of us, on the AP English final project, which of course counts for a quarter of our grade.
John wrapped up his extended and pestering round of questioning, and Drew rehearsed what he wanted to say.
It's bad luck really. How did the two of us – only us – both end up being absent on the day when groups were selected? And what kind of project is this: exploring theater, from Ancient Greece through the modern era, with our topic being the use of romance in plays. If there was one thing I do not want to talk to Alyssa about, it's romance. “Mrs. Thompson,” he begged, and his voice, he noticed, no longer carried the crackly, grating whine he'd had to contend with up until recently. The deep tone sounded collected and professional. Good. “Mrs. Thompson, can't I please work with Dave and Jamal instead? I don't like romance. War is much more interesting to me, so I'll do a better job. You'll see. We'll have the best project in your class… in all your classes. I promise.
“I'm sorry, Drew,” Mrs. Thompson said, her chins jiggling as she shook her head, “but a group of three is too big for this project. I want you to work with Alyssa.”
“I don't like her,” he argued. Though his tone suggested calm, inwardly he raged. “She doesn't like me, either. There's no way we can work together. It would be a disaster.”
She closed one eye halfway, in that oh please look all teachers seemed to have. “Listen, Drew, sometimes in life we have to work with people we don't like. Do you think I enjoy the company of every other teacher in this school? The real disaster would be if you two refused to do this project and got a bad grade for the whole semester. You're not changing groups. Make peace with it and get to work.”
Muttering under his breath, Drew grumpily returned to the desk where Alyssa sat, along the wall under a large poster of a bear with paws over its face, groaning about forgotten homework. Mrs. Thompson seems to love those kinds of decorations. They dominate every wall of the classroom. “Sorry, Miller,” he said in a sarcastic drawl. “No go. She won't let us switch.”
“Shit,” Alyssa whispered.
“No kidding,” Drew agreed at normal volume. “Well, I don't know about you, but I'll be damned if I get a bad grade in this class. We'll have to make it work somehow.”
She leaned her head back against the wall in defeat. “I guess. I need a scholarship pretty bad, so I have to keep my grades up, and pass the A.P. exam too.”
Drew didn't respond. I'd like a scholarship, he thought, but I probably won't need one. Dad can afford to send me to college if I live at home, and since my first pick is in town, that will be easy enough. He turned his attention to his nemesis – now his project partner – and considered what the statement might mean about her. I knew Alyssa was a little poor, but she always seemed all right. It struck him how much worse off she suddenly looked. Her clothes are shabbier than I recall and that cheap makeup isn't doing her skin any favors. A twinge of pity snaked its way through his insides. Uh oh. Can't have that. It's too much fun teasing her. I don't want to give that up.
She lifted her head and opened her eyes, suddenly determined. “Well, Peterson, let's brainstorm. What kind of project do you want to do?”
He shrugged, not yet finished being annoying. “I don't know. What do you think?”
She frowned at his obvious attempt to push the decision making back on her, but gamely stuck to the topic, suggesting, “A diorama? I think I have an old shoebox.” She began to sketch in the notebook with a purple pen.
“Naw.” He dismissed her thoughts with a wave, plucking the pen from her fingers. “That's pretty middle school. What about a commercial?”
“What kind of commercial?” she asked in a hard voice, narrowing her brilliant turquoise eyes.
He grinned at her annoyance. She didn't appreciate the middle school comment. Then he stopped teasing her and got down to business.
“Like, what if all our plays represent romantic getaways?” He mimed quotation marks in the air. “Each one with a caution, like those medicine commercials. We could talk about passionate Ancient Greece, where you can marry your mother, but the side effect could be gouging your eyes out, Venice, specializing in the interracial scene, like in Othello…”
“But you have to watch out for treacherous friends. Good idea.” He could see Alyssa starting to get inspired. Her hard expression softened and her eyes sparkled. “And how about a cruise, like in that Eugene O'Neill play, but you could end up…”
“In the zoo.” They both laughed.
“I hate to say it, Peterson,” she admitted, grabbing her pen out of his hand, “but you do sometimes come up with a good one. Let's do it.”
“You know what would make it even better?” His enthusiasm sparked higher at his next clever inspiration.
“If we recorded it on a video and played it for the class.”
Alyssa got quiet, her smile inverting itself as the sparkle faded from her eyes.
“What's up, Miller?” he asked, wondering what had deflated her high spirits.
“Do you have a video camera?”
What a strange question. “No, but I think we can rent one.”
“I can't afford it.” Her pale cheeks turned pink.