Viola in Reel Life, page 9
I glance around and see Mrs. Zidar standing with the GSA chaperone as they look on with approval. Our first freshman dance is already a success and so far nobody has spilled punch, spray painted the walls, or set the velvet curtains on fire.
As we dance, I look off beyond Jared to the fringe of the dance floor. Some of my classmates look bored, and others so uncomfortable this might as well be a trip to the dentist. I feel badly for them. I almost feel guilty having a good time, as if there’s only so much happiness to go around, and it’s just luck if you get a portion.
Marisol dances over and grabs my hand. Led by Suzanne and Romy, we make a ribbon through the crowded dance floor, almost running and laughing. Trish is chewing on a minipizza as she talks with an RA from GSA. She waves as we pass her.
Jared stands by waiting for me, laughing with the other boys. The dance we started went by the wayside when I joined my friends in this nutty conga line. I grab Jared’s hand as we pass, and pretty soon all the guys on the dance floor have joined us. The DJ ramps up the music as we snake through the party room and out onto the terrace. I’m totally out of breath when Jared says, “Follow me. I want to show you something.”
We go back into the party room and pick up our cameras. I throw the camera strap over my head. It nestles around my neck comfortably. He does the same with his and I follow him outside. Normally, I might feel a little weird going off alone with someone I just met, specifically a boy, but somehow the cameras give us a purpose. We’re two filmmakers, really, like my mom and dad who work together. Even though we’ve just met, my inner voice tells me he is totally cool. So I go with it.
Jared sits down on the low stone wall near the DJ’s stand and flips his legs over the side. He extends his hand for me and I do the same. Once on the other side of the low wall, we head down a footpath with lowlights buried into the ground, lighting the way. I look back at the main building. I can hear the music and the laughter, and for real, the GS Academy looks like a castle.
“Check this out,” Jared says. He motions for me to follow him in a sharp turn on the path.
Before us is a lake with an old rickety pier extending out to the center. A series of canoes lie on the shore like yellow matchsticks. The moon overhead pours silver light onto the lake, turning it a shimmering blue. The cold November wind ruffles the edges of the water. I can hear the soft shift of the moorings as the water laps against it.
“This is beautiful,” I tell Jared. I flip the lens cap off my camera and look through it. Just enough light to get some movement on the water. Jared slips off his lens cap and takes a different angle of what I’m filming.
“I come down here all the time,” he says. “I was hoping the moon was bright enough for you to get some of the scenery tonight.”
“It’s just bright enough,” I tell him. “This is really nice.”
I focus on the light on the water, then widen out to take in more of the lake until it turns into black murk in the distance.
Jared stops filming before me and walks down to the edge of the pier. I follow him and we sit on the end and look out over the water.
“Milwaukee’s pretty close to Indiana. Do you go home on weekends?”
“Not much. My dad and mom are divorced. My dad remarried and has a family….”
“You could visit your mom, couldn’t you?”
“She just got remarried too.”
“Do you like your stepparents?”
I don’t know why, but I’m very interested in what Jared Spencer comes from. I don’t want to sound like I’m prying, but I’m very comfortable with him. Maybe all those hours hanging out with the Bozelli brothers have made me a halfway decent conversationalist when it comes to boys. I’m not nervous at all. I want him to like me, I guess. And at the same time, I can tell that he does, and that makes me smile.
Jared looks out over the water. “What about your parents?”
“They’ve been together since college. I’m an only child.”
“That’s really cool.”
“How many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“There’s just me with my parents. And then my dad has two stepkids. And my mom is pregnant with a new baby.”
“So you were an only child until they divorced.”
“Yeah,” he says. “I guess that means we have something else in common.” Jared looks at me and smiles. “And all I’ve ever wanted is to live in New York City.”
“It’s where all the great filmmakers are trained. I read a lot about the USC film school, but I really like NYU. And then there are all the New York filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky, Nancy Savoca, Martin Scorsese, and Spike Lee. I admire them all a lot.”
“So do I.”
“Who inspires you?”
“Well, my parents are really great documentary filmmakers. I love Albert and David Maysles and Constance Marks—she made this amazing documentary called Green Chimneys. My mom and dad are big fans. And Michael Patrick King, of course. They call him the King of Romantic Comedy.”
I get up and stretch my legs. I’m feeling a little guilty that I promised to film the party, and I haven’t shot one frame. “Have you ever made a movie?”
Jared stands up next to me. “A short subject. I did a story about an old lady in Milwaukee who decorates sugar cubes,” he says.
“I know. It seemed like a dumb thing.”
“I didn’t mean that,” I clarify. Boys can be sensitive too. They’re just not known for it. “I meant it sounded interesting.”
“It was. It started off about old-world craftsmanship but became so much more. I interviewed her and watched what she does—she decorates the sugar cubes in miniature with tiny roses, or daisies, or letters, and then she boxes them and sells them.”
“Mom and Dad always say that they start out thinking they’re making one documentary, and then the subject dictates what the movie will actually be about once they start filming.”
“That’s exactly what happened to me! I had no idea that my movie would end up being about fleeing communism. I really thought it was about decorating sugar cubes. Have you ever seen them?”
“Yeah. My grandmother makes formal tea, and she uses them.” How funny. I just realized that I call my grandmother Grand, and that she actually does grand things—like make tea and serve it in a silver tea service with decorated sugar cubes and miniature sandwiches. It’s even more interesting to me that it’s a boy I just met who helps me make that connection.
“What was compelling to me was the story behind the woman. How she brought the art form to the United States from Czechoslovakia after the uprising of 1968 when the communists took over. A Czech-American family in Milwaukee sponsored her, and she moved here and basically saved her life and the life of her family by making and selling the sugar cubes.”
“I’d love to see it sometime.”
“Sure. I can show it to you.” Jared twists the lens cap on his camera without removing it. I do the same thing, sort of an involuntary cameraman thing.
“Maybe we should get back.” I look up toward the main hall of the academy. Although, if I’m really honest, I’d rather stay here and talk to Jared all night. But that’s not an option. Trish and Mrs. Zidar would send out a search party.
I have a feeling that this is the beginning of something interesting with Jared Spencer. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve met someone my age who is as passionate about making movies as I am. Most of my friends back in Brooklyn are good at lots of things, and I’m really only good at film. I can tell that’s also true for Jared.
“I’m hungry,” he says. “Are you?”
“Yeah,” I admit. Here’s more proof I’m comfortable with this new boy. I’d actually eat in front of him.
Caitlin Pullapilly says she doubts she’d ever be able to eat on a date in front of a guy she liked. I thought that was sort of dumb—people have to eat
Jared follows me back up the path. The moon is even brighter now, and I wish I could turn around and go back and film the water again. The perfectionist in me comes out when light changes to benefit my camera work. But Jared doesn’t turn back, so I don’t either.
Marisol is waiting for me by the DJ station. She looks relieved when she sees me. “Trish asked where you went,” she says nervously.
“I went on a walk with Jared,” I tell her.
Marisol’s eyes widen at the news. “Well, at least you’re back.” Marisol follows Jared and me into the main room to the food table. The table is totally picked over and getting bare: the quesadillas are limp, the sliders have slid, and the popcorn is basically rubble at the bottom of the bowl, more kernels than puffs.
“Sorry,” Jared says. “Looks like the food is gone.”
“That’s okay.” I smile. “Let’s make some movies.”
Jared and I slip off our lens caps and work through the crowd. I spin and get the faces of the freshmen, increasing the shutter speed. Then I go out into the main hall and do the same with the oil portraits. When I return to the party room, Jared is interviewing some of the girls from PA, including my roommates.
“Did you know they call the girls of Prefect Academy ‘Perfect Girls’?” he asks.
“Did you know they call Grabeel Sharpe…Drab Dull?” Romy says dramatically into the camera.
“That’s cold.” Jared laughs. “Do you think it’s true? Having survived your first freshman dance?”
“I don’t think it’s drab and I don’t think you’re dull,” Romy says flirtatiously, but with a wink to me. She twirls and the tulle layers on her skirt flounce out.
“But you did run out of cupcakes,” Marisol says.
Jared turns the camera on her. “We’ll make sure that we don’t next time.”
“Fair enough,” Marisol says.
The DJ cranks up the music again and Jared introduces me to his roommates. They seem very nice, but I don’t really pay much attention because I’m most interested in Jared. I can’t believe he’s exactly my age and he’s already made a movie. That’s pretty impressive.
Suzanne pulls me aside. “So…”
“How’s it going?” Suzanne says going like it’s eight syllables long.
“Fabulous,” she says with satisfaction. “See, we’re all still standing and we’re all still alive.”
“Girls, it’s almost time to get back on the bus,” Trish calls.
Suzanne goes to gather Marisol and Romy. I look around to say good-bye to Jared. I don’t have to look far. He motions to me from the door. “Can I walk you out?” he asks.
Jared guides me through the hall to the front entrance door and outside. It’s about fifty degrees cooler than it was by the lake. A shiver goes up my spine.
“Are you cold?” he asks.
“It’s like it turned into winter during the conga line.”
“I know,” he says with a laugh. I like his profile.
“And I wore this flimsy jacket.” I pull it tightly around me.
“I like what you’re wearing,” he says.
“Yeah. You’re very original. I like that. And you’re pretty without being, I don’t know, all made up.”
If only Jared Spencer knew how long it took me to get this natural look. I used a pineapple face scrub, followed by Proactiv moisturizer, and then some Benefit Lemon Aid, and Tarte lip gloss. I may look natural to him, but only as natural as the makeup my mother actually allows me to wear.
I follow him down the sidewalk. His compliment gives me this strange and new confidence that I never had in Brooklyn. Even Tag Nachmanoff, with his total admiration of my computer and camera abilities, never made me feel like a beauty. I feel like a beauty around Jared Spencer and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s like I’m at the beginning of a long marathon—going where, I don’t know—but I like that I’m getting a running start as opposed to tripping and falling and lying there like a total disaster. Caitlin and I always talk about how it will be when we finally meet a boy who could be a potential BF. How will we know? Will there be signs? And I can’t wait to tell her that it’s just mutual, and sort of no fuss. My mom always says “you just know.” And it’s true. I like Jared, as much as I can after one school dance.
The last strains of music waft out of the doors of the Grabeel Sharpe building. The dance is over, but it’s not a letdown. It was a success from what I can tell. A group of girls is laughing and talking with a group of boys by the bus. Mrs. Zidar is having a big laugh with the GSA sponsor. Girls continue to pour out the front door and onto the sidewalk.
Jared walks me across the crunchy gravel to the side of the dark bus. The driver is not on the bus yet. Jared looks around. When he sees that no one is nearby, he takes my hand, and then places his other hand on my face. The only place on my body that isn’t shivering in the cold is where his warm hand meets my face. I close my eyes. I’m shaking from the night air.
“I had a great time tonight,” he whispers.
“Me too,” I tell him. I mean it.
And then Jared Spencer of Grabeel Sharpe Academy leans forward and kisses me. First, softly on my lips, and then once on each cheek, as if to cover my entire face with sunshine. He brushes his lips over my ears and says, “I hope to see you again sometime.”
The gravel crunches under his loafers as he walks back to the entrance. I stand in the dark and watch him go. When he kissed me, the world sort of went silent, and now, it’s as if it’s bursting with noise, as though the volume has been turned to high. I hear laughter, and talking, and whistling in hi-def sound. The engine of the bus starts up with blaring intensity. The dizzy noise matches my dizzy feelings. Weird. Suzanne, Romy, and Marisol come running around the side of the bus.
“What happened?” Marisol asks.
“What do you mean, what happened? Didn’t you see? He kissed her!” Suzanne says this triumphantly like I just won the gold medal in downhill skiing at the Winter Olympics or something. “It was so romantic.”
Make that pairs figure skating, not downhill skiing. I want to say something, but I can’t. I’m savoring the moment.
“This is so fabulously great!” Romy claps her hands together.
I nod, not wanting to say anything about Jared, or the lake, or the kiss. The kisses—three of them, not one—three! This is one of those times when explaining a feeling cannot measure up to actually having the feeling. And the best part? It’s not for anybody else. It’s just mine.
We climb onto the bus. I sit next to Marisol, while Suzanne and Romy sit in the seat behind us. Romy leans forward and she and Marisol give a blow-by-blow of the dance and the boys they met. Suzanne taps me on the shoulder and I turn around. She says, “Told ya.”
I just smile back at her, then I turn and lean back in the seat. The chatter of the girls around me is like background music. I hardly notice it. I’m too busy thinking about Jared Spencer, which is about the best name for a boy I’ve ever heard.
I came to this dance tonight expecting the worst; I figured I would have a horrible time and go home wearing disappointment like the flimsy jean jacket I pull tightly around me to fend off the chill. Instead of something terrible happening, my whole life changed for the better. I went from fourteen, almost fifteen, totally unkissed, to fourteen, almost fifteen, totally kissed. Tonight, I am a Perfect Girl, because I had a perfect night. And it ended with three perfect kisses. Three. What a lucky number.
Of course, I can’t sleep. I’m too excited from the dance, too excited about meeting Jared, and I’m starving. My stomach is actually growling. Suzanne, Romy, and
LaGuardia sucks without the Riot. Nobody to fix my Avid. Keep the faith. Tag.
Before I print it out I put the font in calligraphy instead of American Typewriter Light because this is, like, historic or something that Tag thinks I deserve an email—a totally personal email. I can’t believe he remembers me, and that school sucks without me. That means…he misses me. Now I’m practically sorry that I kissed Jared Spencer three times! How could this all happen in the same twenty-four-hour period? This is too much good stuff: a layer cake of joy, of possibility!
I turn off the computer. Either I’m shaking because the heat hasn’t kicked on, or I’m hungry, or, I don’t know, I just became a full-fledged teenager with an actual life, but the world has changed. I’m completely different. Maybe my father was right, that you have to shake up your world sometimes. You can’t just stay in Brooklyn, even though it’s cool, and it’s just a subway stop from Christopher Street in Greenwich Village—the coolest place on the planet. Sometimes wonderful things can happen in other parts of the world, like Indiana.
I saw a full moon over a pristine lake, and I met a boy and I didn’t panic, and he kissed me three times, and I laughed and I had fun and I danced. In Indiana! After a bus ride! It doesn’t seem possible. But I’m learning that good things happen to people like me, and maybe this is just the beginning of lots of good things—a happy chapter in my video diaries, in the story of my life, my real life: Viola in Reel Life.
I pull the blankets up over me and nestle down into my bed. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in this moment. I’m content in my quad with three girls who are rooting for me, who seem to want my happiness more than I want my own. For the first time since I unpacked, the Prefect Academy for Girls Since 1890 is really and truly—and I’m not kidding, not one bit—home.
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