The Day We Met
'Do you like peanut butter?'
It was the first thing she ever said to me. The five words didn't have a deeper meaning and weren't that much elegant or charming. It was a short question, straight forward and without any details or irrelevant additions. It wasn't really an official conversation starter and by all means, the answer would probably not matter. She stood there, hands folded behind her back, waggling on her toes. Her huge eyes stared uncomfortably long at mine. I liked her immediately.
'Yes,' I answered her, 'Of course I do. Who doesn't like peanut butter?'
That was a silly thing to say, I realised after the lost word had escaped my mouth. Naturally, there were people who didn't like the nutty texture, its strong smell or the taste. The right wasn't mine to justify their considerably important opinion about the matter of peanut butter.
'People with nut allergy,' she responded. She leaned closer, put her hand flat beside her mouth and looked around her as if she didn't want anyone to know what she was about to go tell me. 'But seriously, I do not approve their view on peanuts. They are obviously biased for all that I know.'
She sat down next to me. As I wasn't used to company at lunchtime - and not at all from a girl - sweat found its way to the palms of my hands and I didn't know how to properly behave myself. In an attempt to do something decent and useful, I did something really ridiculous instead. As if my life had depended on it, I stuffed my daily cucumber salad sandwich in my mouth and tried, in the moment of embarrassment and panic, to swallow it at once. Unfortunately, this masterplan of mine had a different outcome than I had expected and my throat began to get ticklish. While my cheeks were hurting because I had too much food stored in them, I tried to clear my throat. This wasn't my best idea either. I gathered all willpower I had and forced the sandwich down. At the end, I was incredibly happy I survived the battle between life and death, but I must admit that the whole situation could have slightly scared the girl off and I would be sorry for that.
Her name was Emily Cotton and she had not run away from me the moment I had humiliated myself in front of the whole lunchroom. While the other kids laughed and pointed at my tomato-colored face, she looked at me as if she was taught something new. After a quick glance at her own sandwich, which she had unpacked in the meantime, she crammed it in her mouth as well. She even smiled. I liked her more.
'You are new here, aren't you?' she said, when she was capable of speaking again and the haunting laughing had faded away into a soft rumbling of barely audible giggles. I envied her ability not to care about other people's opinion as I still felt the heat of the quandary.
'Yes, yes,' I stammered, 'I sure am.' I had nothing more to say. I was too intimidated and confounded by all the happening just minutes ago.
'That's strange. I haven't seen you around here. In fact, I doubt if it is even possible that I could have seen you before, but you do seem a bit familiar. Are you absolutely sure you are new here?' That was another strange question. However, I did not really notice its oddness as her first question about peanut butter was even more peculiar than this one.
'I have been here before, but that was so long ago. You could have never...'
'Seen you?' She let out a cry of astonishment. 'But somehow I do know you.'
'That isn't even possible.'
She looked at me. Sadly, I saw. The expression on her face could be compared with the expression of a intensely sorry dog, who had secretely eaten all the vanilla cookies on Christmas Eve and then had pushed down the Christmas tree by accident. I really had to withhold myself to apologize for something I didn't have to be sorry for. It was only the truth I had told her.
'I'm not a fan of cheese, though.' Her sudden change of subject confused me more than I had expected and for a moment I didn't know how to respond. Then I found the ability to speak again and found myself laughing carefully as if I hadn't done that in many years. Which was, unfortunately, true. The most wonderful thing was, she returned the smile.
'What's your name?' Emily asked me.
'Samuel Wallington,' I told her. 'What's yours?' I already knew the answer of that question as I had heard her name all over the place ever since I got here. Apparently, she was an extraordinary person and she was notorious all around town for her remarkably different activities.
'Emily Cotton is the name,' she then said. I have no clue why I delineated the sound of her last name as ashamed, as I am often wrong in the field of deciphering emotions in social interaction, but I sensed how it was almost spoken too cautiously. It was like she thought 'Cotton' was ought to be a secret. 'Sam,' she continued, 'do you, by any chance, have relatives living around here?'
It was the first lie I told her, with yet one more to come in all the years I've known her. So I said explicitly: 'No, I do not' and proceeded the exercise this room was meant for: eating. I was too befogged to even look at her. Nevertheless, this time I remembered all eating protocol and took small bites of my slice of bread, which had cheese on it, I'm afraid.
'You're a strange person, Sam Wallington,' she informed me with all determination. 'Really mysterious,' she added after a short moment of radical thinking. I had never thought of myself being mysterious as I had always played the role of the small geek with thick specs and his backpack completely filled with wearisome lecture and literature.
On the sixteenth of May I had smiled twice within one day.
I was incredibly sorry for the fact that lunchhour actually was three quarters of an hour. I thought it was unacceptable that grown-ups had the power to make time have a different value and could, in any way that included time, affect our schedules. I've always wanted to rebel against the authorities. Their manner of correcting us whenever we break a completely unnecessary, strict rule, was unfair and conflicting, because I am still absolutely sure they had broken those rules as well and had even enjoyed it. However, of course, they wanted to punish us, the younger generation, because they had been punished for the same criminal deed when they had been effortless, negligent and non-wrinkly themselves.
However, the sixteenth of May might have been one of my luckiest days, I still had to follow my courses and thus the authority's rules as I was still Samuel Wallington, a small, unnoted boy, who didn't have a lot to say at all, but did remarkably well at quizes and major exams. I was utterly sure I didn't even need to attend all these lessons.
Right before summer, at the beginning of May, I moved to Dandelin with my family and was transferred to Red Rock Highschool. So I had attended this school for about two weeks now, but still didn't know all the names and was already the laughing stock for everyone. I've always wondered how I had pulled that off so quickly. Meeting Emily Cotton was like getting a brand new pair of glasses. I was astonished of how bright the classroom looked, how quiet the whispering of rumouring classmates could be and how prominent Emily Cotton actually was. It was a miracle how I could have not seen her before.
When I arrived at the classroom and seeked out my usual spot in front of the rows, Emily Cotton waved at me and pointed at the empty seat ahead of her. In case of miscommunication I first looked behind me, because I was so stunned someone actually wanted me to sit near that person and wasn't really sure she was actually appointing me. When I was certain that nobody was behind me and she did mean to get me over there, I foolishly hobbled towards her. While walking and overthinking all the things I could say to her, trying to prevent an awkward silence, I bumped my toe into a table leg, causing immense pain and a round of mocking laughs. Clumsy, that was, Samuel, really clumsy. With cheeks burning like a medieval pyre, I sat down, opened my books and had to keep myself from turning around and face Emily. Unfortunately for me, she was the one who sought contact and I was compelled to meet her eyes. As I was expecting a very judging look, I prepared for the worst case scenario and tried not to turn red again. That moment, when she had confronted me with the feeling of embarrassment, was actually the time when I sympathized with her. I felt like I knew her, from years ago. Ages maybe. It was a strange, unknown feeling I wasn't familiar with, but yet it was so clear and I immediately knew what it meant. It meant that she was to become a very good friend.
'What do you think about math?' she asked me with a voice dripping from sincerity.
I profoundly thought about the question for a moment. I was very concerned I might state a sentence full of complete nonsense and humiliate myself even more than a moment ago. Shame and bewilderment overwhelmed me as I noticed that I set more value on a random girl's opinion than the opinion of a whole classroom. I didn't know myself for a minute. This wasn't who I actually was.
'I think math is very important for society and does have a lot of influence on people. We know what time it is, we know how much we pay for gas, we can measure flour and sugar whenever our mothers force us to help her bake cookies.' Just a moment Emily's face darkened. I stopped myself, thinking I said something wrong, but then she recovered and smiled.
'Well, go on,' she commanded me.
I cleared my throat and nodded. I was about to ask what was wrong, but then kept quiet about that matter, because I wasn't sure she was planning to tell a stranger something very personal. 'So we are dependent on math for a lot of reasons. However, I am not fond of the fact we actually have to spend so much time on solving problems we never have to solve later on in our lives. The time that is imbibed by all the classes we take could be better perished.' I had to take a deep breath. It was nice to express my opinion about small things - of which nobody had actually an opinion about. But I still felt even more satisfaction about the fact somebody dared to take the time to listen to me. To hear me out.
'We are still kids, Emily, we ought to be outside. Somewhere building treehouses and gathering particular branches for an immense collection consisting of leaves, rocks and other finds'. While saying it, I notice how I'm shaking my head. 'We shouldn't be here wasting precious time if all the matter is already in our heads.'
'Maybe, mister Wallington,' a voice sounded behind me, 'you shouldn't.' Especially the last word was said very clear and was not to be ignored. I turned around, feeling caught. Or better: being caught. Mister Pyke leaned over his desk, planted his fists into the deep brown wood and stared at me crossly. His face was harsh and I knew I was in big trouble. I wouldn't be sursprised if steam would dash into air from his ears and sweat would simmer on his forehead. I was afraid to move.
'Mister Wallington, if you are of opinion that you already know everything that is to know about math, you might be the best student who ever attended this school.' I've had a fine feeling for sarcasm since I was young so I immediately knew, without any doubt, mister Pyke wasn't praising me. Instead, he was really furious and I questioned if I would leave this room alive. As I have always been an optimistic person I thought about all the witnesses he would have if he were to murder me right that moment and he would not have a very pleasant life in jail. That thought pleased me, but I still did want to escape from that destiny if that was an option.
'Tell me, omniscient student,' Mister Pyke took the time to look at me with all the hatred he had sofar stored, 'I have a lovely tomato plant in my garden. It is 5 metres long and is ready to get harvested. However, there aren't any tomatoes on the first half a meter of the plant. The rest of the plant grows one tomato every ten centimetres. How many vegetables will I have at the end of harvesting?'
I knew I had to shut my mouth and rethink what I was about to say, but I simply couldn't. Mister Pyke had made a terrible mistake and that couldn't be disregarded. 'I do apologize, mister Pyke, but that is a really unrealistic question. A tomato plant does not have that height or it has to be an scientific experiment, which is very unlikely. Furthermore is the question incorrect as a tomato isn't a vegetable, but is officialy named a fruit by the U.S. Surpreme Court in the year of 1893.'
Mister Pyke's reaction was similar to an explosion, caused by a mixture of sodium, water and chlorine gas. Ever since I saw the anger of that man, I didn't look up whenever someone else was really mad. Mister Pyke earned the title: 'Angriest man I've ever seen' and I don't think he should be proud of this achievement. 'Get out!'
'But, sir, if you want me to, I can still solve the question,' I tried.
If there was any way to make it worse, I just did that exact thing.