There was Angeline and Jeannie at the back of the classroom. Those two were never meant to be sitting beside each other. By miracle of assigned random seating order, those two were sitting beside each other at the back of the classroom. Usually, Angeline would be in the front, two seats to the right of centre. Jeannie would have been second or third row from the back, or standing next to the door if she was caught talking or late.
Angeline’s the pretty one. Well, no, they’re both pretty. My tastes run towards the more mature girls, so I would say that Angeline is the prettier one. She is also smarter than most everyone here. She also sucks up to our teachers. Mr. Weber once told her in class that he would give her detention if she wouldn’t stop trying to suck up to him. I think he was right. Thank God not all teachers are stupid. Even if she’s pretty, I don’t like her very much.
Jeannie is the normal one. She talks like the rest of us and screws up on her tests like everyone else. Sometimes she plays soccer with me and the other guys at lunch. Jeannie’s kind of a tomboy. On basis of principle, she should have hated the super girly, stuck-up Angeline more than any of us, except that she didn’t. Angeline probably knew that. I think Angeline liked using her as an opportunity to look good in front of the teachers. Whenever Jeannie gets an answer wrong in class – or even if she gets it right – Angeline would have something to say after her: the right answer, or some stuck-up comment. It was all just to prove that she had an encyclopedia shoved up her ass. I tried to confront her after class about it once, but Jeanne held me back.
“Why aren’t you more angry about it?” I said. “She’s just using you to further her status as Teacher’s Pet.”
“I’m okay with it. Just don’t make a big thing over it, okay? It’s not like it’s a big deal or anything,” Jeannie said.
“It is a big deal. If she were a guy, and if I were you, I probably would have already dislodged some of her teeth.”
“No–really, it’s okay.”
“Why? Get more angry about it. You should be the one getting angry about it, not me,” I said.
“Look,…I know I’m stupid–”
“You’re not stupid.”
“–I’m not as smart as a lot of people. It’s not a big deal. She’s smarter than me. That’s fine. Okay? Don’t make it a big thing.”
Jeannie always grins like an idiot, even when she’s upset. She was grinning the whole time we were talking.
I ended up not doing anything about it, and Angeline kept on taking advantage of Jeanne, like always. I let it go, because Jeannie said so.
Except that one time, they were sitting next to each other in the music room, and there was fifteen minutes before the bell in the last few weeks before summer. Ms. Liza was nice and she wanted to let us do whatever we wanted to, but Angeline had a brilliant idea. She said she needed to practice performing some piano piece for her competition coming up. She wanted to use us as her flock of glowing admirers. Ms. Liza was nice, so she had already fallen for Angeline’s innocent little smile, and we all had to sit quiet and listen. Whatever she played was so long, complicated and depressing, it made me want to hit her.
When it was finally over, I caught Miss Child Prodigy smirking at Jeanne as she went back to her seat. I could see Jeannie turn red. For some reason, that made me angry.
“Ms. Liza, Jeanne can play the piano, too,” I said.
Ms. Liza finally took her eyes off glowing Angeline. “Oh? Jeanne, is that true?”
It was true. Jeanne had been playing the piano since she was seven and, from what she had told me about it, she was probably pretty good at it. I was gambling. It made me feel light-headed.
Ms. Liza was nice. I knew she’d let her play.
“Oh? Then, would you like to play something for us, too, Jeanne?”
Jeanne was still blushing, but I think she also really wanted to play that piano. She was always looking at it whenever we walked into the music room, and she sometimes allowed herself to pass her fingers over its glossy white edges. She bumped my chair deliberately as she passed my desk towards it.
“You should probably cover your ears,” she said. Some guys laughed at the front. Ms. Liza shushed them, then it all turned quiet.
Something about the light in the room coming in from the window, some softness of the song she was playing, and the tension of waiting for the day to end caused something in me to crack. I could feel the air rise up, and its warmth, and how the whole room seemed to open up with the space around me. Her fingers were gentle. She was smiling, like always. Her eyes were softly closed.
When her hand finally fell away from the piano, there was a moment so silent I was afraid to breathe. It ended. I heard a sigh pass through the room, and I saw that I was crying. I wiped my eyes as fast as I could, hoping that no one saw. Then, around me, I saw some others doing the same. Even Angeline, whose heart was usually frozen, had shed tears and was compelled to wipe them away.
The bell rang. Jeanne and I got up with the others to leave.
“How do you play like that?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she said. She looked happy. “I just like playing the piano.”
“You should become a pianist,” I said.
“Maybe,” she said. “I don’t know.” She smiled then, and turned to rush home with everyone else. I also decided to start heading home.