GLOBAL WARMING: The Future Problem Solvers Solve Some Problems
I'm going to let you in today, right up close where I live.
You may not want to know me this intimately. You may not want to know this side of me. If that's the case, you should head over here and pick a different topic.
Have you watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why yet? It holds a special place in my heart. Many of the things that happen to Hannah Baker sum up my school experience, and where our tales diverge, some of the other characters’ stories take over.
In her first tape, Hannah details what sparked the entire chain reaction of her descent: meeting a boy with an irresistible smile. “That damn smile.” Her kryptonite, Justin. After a brief flirtation, they meet at a park where she experiences the magic of her first kiss.
And that’s all.
“Why?” she challenges. “Did you hear something else?”
Unfortunately, Justin snapped a photo of her as she was gleefully coming down the slide in a little dress. The Guys interrogate him at school, he does what guys do, and the rest is history.
Yup. It happens that quickly. And that easily. But it’s not always the guys who do it, and when it happens, they are rarely the most vicious. Hannah says it best:
Boys are assholes. Some are assholes all of the time. All are assholes some of the time. It’s just how boys are.
But girls… Girls can be evil.
Future Problem Solvers of America is the club for the “brainy kids.” A few of my grade’s Brains have been in and out of Queenie’s Court for the past few years. Alliances shift, members get ousted, whether temporary or permanent. Princess seems to be out of favor with the Queen more than usual this year, leaving a vacuum for some of the girls I used to hang out with. Who knows which of them will wind up occupying the thrones.
I have stopped caring, because it will never be me, even if they offered me a Ring of Power again. I prefer my friends.
Unfortunately, none of them are in FPS. Or cheerleading. Or theater. Only Mari is in band with me, and she’s the only one left who dances with me at lunchtime.
At least when our Problem Solver team gets together to ponder over global issues and brainstorm ideas on how they could be solved, the petty problems of our pecking order seem to vanish for those blessed few hours. We use various criteria for deciding which solution would be the best option for each problem—financial, environmental, ease in execution, long-term effects, etc. Once the numbers have been tallied, we outline and present our solution. During a competition with other schools, it’s presented in a skit, which greatly appeals to my love of story and theater.
This year, our junior-high team has made the State Bowl, which means that we get to spend the weekend in Minneapolis. Our team is all girls—me, Stacy, Carin, Tanya, and Tanya’s younger sister Sheila. It’ll be nice to take a trip with them. Getting away from Queenie’s Court and the boys we’ve known since kindergarten always does wonders for how they treat me. (It helps for how I treat them, too. When they’re not in that Pack, I can remember how much I actually like every one of them.)
When we get to our hotel, we grin in wonder. This is no Motel 6, but a Holiday Inn! There is a heated pool, a hot tub, a sauna, and even a gym with weight machines. We unpack as quickly as we can, then race to put on our swimsuits and hit the water. Being released out into the wild raises the volume of everything. Our voices bounce off the high ceiling. Our eyes sparkle as we splash around, chatting, laughing, sharing our thoughts and hopes for the weekend and beyond. Today, I am not the Class Geek. I am not The Dog. I am not The Lesbo or The Prude.
I’m just one of the Smart Girls.
Before we know it, five Smart Boys from another school have transformed us into a quintet of young lionesses on the prowl. They’re older boys, muscular, good looking. When they notice us, their antics become more animated, full of bravado and puffery as they flip into the pool, wrestle, and generally make peacocks of themselves.
Between the hot tub, the pool and the sauna, the ten of us embark upon The Dance, a rotation of partners, alighting, sniffing, tasting, shifting. As fate would have it, they are the senior high FPS team from a school only twenty minutes away from ours. Flirtation can be real.
Damp fingers run through soggy hair, gazes smolder amidst the steam, nimble bodies arrange and rearrange themselves on sauna benches for the best angles of presentation. Probing question waltz with carefully plotted answers in the overheated air as the stage is set.
How will the partnering align?
Several possible pairings vie for dominance. When we can no longer stand the heat, we cool off in the pool, but the temperature only rises as the socially acceptable splashing and wrestling resumes, now coed.
The one who shows me the most attention is the one we've all unanimously agreed is the cutest, Jake Prentiss. As seems to be the fashion for me these days, he’s a junior. Although other boys compete for my attention, and the other girls take their shot at gaining Jake’s, he and I move steadily toward each other.
This time, there’s no chance for anyone to corner him and tell him horrible things about me, as the girls in my class have been doing for years whenever I try to make a new friend--or now that we’re older, more than a friend. I’ve only had success with boys when I can flirt in private. Like Trent and Jonathan.
In spite of what I know in my guts, there’s still that tiny (stupid) piece of me that keeps eyeballing the silent phone every time I walk by it. What if he calls? Should I call him? It would only be to make sure he's okay. I need to know what happened to him so badly. No, he said he couldn't talk about it. Or anything. But what if he misses me as much as I miss him, only he's afraid I hate him for ending things like that? What if he's over there wanting to get back together and--
I push the air out through my nose, and put my focus back on the intensity of Jake’s blue eyes, the way his mouth moves as he speaks, and how great he looks without a shirt on.
And what if purple wings spout from my ears to carry me off to a tropical island forever? Wouldn’t that be nice?
That’s more likely to happen than Jonathan Marshall calling me to get back together, so I smile at this gorgeous, well-spoken boy who can lift his buddies into the air and slam them into the water, who can do it to me with his pinky finger (which is exhilarating, I might add), and who’s thrown down and then one-upped every intellectual challenge I’ve thrown at him. He’s fun to talk to, wrestle with, flirt with. So dang it, why shouldn’t I throw myself into this dance with all my heart?
I can't think of a single reason why not.
Back in the hotel room, the girls ask me about whatever happened with Jonathan. I battle not to show the fact that his name is still like an evisceration. Glad that my mouth is full of toothpaste, I shrug up a shoulder. After spitting, I say with as much cool as I can muster, “He still hasn’t called me.”
“How long has it been?” Carin asks.
“Since I talked to him?”
Twenty-eight days, six hours and--I glance at the clock. Twelve minutes.
I shrug again. “A month.”
“Jerk,” Stacy grumbles.
He’s actually anything but a jerk.
“I’m sure he’ll call you,” Tanya says.
I know he won’t.
Silent, I shove my toothbrush back in my mouth and act like I have more teeth to clean.
Thirty years later, I find it interesting that my parents don’t remember anything about the boy who had such a profound impact on me. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. That was a particularly bad year for my mother's health--one of the biggest reasons why losing Jonathan had impacted me so deeply. Besides, the connection with him didn’t last long, and I had been as tight-lipped with them about how I felt for him--both the attachment and the devastation--as I had been about being molested by Trent.
But the girls knew. They can’t have missed me bawling my eyes out with Mari over multiple lunchtimes, and a few had even asked me about it. But once I spoke with Jon’s mom, I no longer had words or tears to express what I felt. At fourteen, I certainly didn’t have the resources to deal with it--all of it. I only knew I needed the pain, worry, and helplessness to end, and that it moved farther and farther away the closer Jake Prentiss stood to me.
That was about the only time that it did.
Maybe if I’d been able to explain what was going on in my heart, as well as the reality of the situation with Jonathan, they wouldn’t have done what they did.
And maybe I should still hold out for those purple ear-wings, too.
The next day
There are hundreds of kids at the State Bowl, ranging from ten to eighteen. Our problem revolves around how to stop global warming, but I have my own problem—how to stop my own warming every time I think about Jake.
During the break in the middle of the day, we sit with the guys in two clumps, theirs and ours. Jake and I make sure that we are at the fringes of our groups so we can sit together, our knees touching, our elbows brushing often. After we finish eating, he asks if I want to go for a walk. I am only too happy to say yes. As I stand up, careful in my little jean skirt, I chance a look at the other girls. Carin gives a knowing flash of her eyebrows and Stacy gives me a wink full of “good luck.”
I beam back, astounded that they’re so supportive. For a few minutes last night, when we all whispered and giggled in the hallway after both our groups just happened to have been struck by the same late-night need for snacks, I’d thought I glimpsed the normal fire-daggers in their eyes when Jake chose me as the girl he wanted to spend his time with.
But they were friendly before bed and we’ve had a great day at the conference. Now, to see that they’re excited for me, just like they were when Jonathan took me to the dance, my heart sings.
I battle down the shakiness in my knees, and stroll with Jake into the hushed hallways of a high school that is three times the size of our entire K-12 complex. We move closer and closer, talking and laughing until our hands finally touch. He slides his grip inside mine and I meld the length of my arm along his. Our fingers lace. I inhale, breathing in the kind of intoxication I’ve been missing since Jonathan and I cuddled on the couch.
Not only is Jake gorgeous and friendly, he has a side to match every one of mine. He’s a football and trombone player, and if he’s here, he’s as academically oriented as I am. Since the moment we met, we’ve spoken easily about all sorts of things. The magnetic hum between us grows with every look, every word, every step.
Eventually we come to a far-off room that is dark, but unlocked. Slipping in, we close the door and he takes a spot on a chair, pulling me down on his lap. There is no hesitation in his movements as he reaches up to touch my face. The kiss we share is soft at first, testing, probing. My eyes close. Oh, yes, I remember this. This is the song. Soon we are locked lip-to-lip, tasting, exploring, breathing each other in. His hands on my body are molten, yet I shiver beneath his touch.
When his fingers slide up the bare skin of my abdomen, my lungs flood with my indrawn breath. The heady rush fills my ears. He edges further northward. Lava shoots down my spine and legs, and then we're twined together, gripping, caressing, kissing, panting in unison. Everything that’s been frozen and numb in me thaws once more.
I, who am usually so distant, so withdrawn, buried under all those winters and cocooned deep inside the tunnels I used to carve through the hard-packed hills made by the snowplows. Hiding. Listening to the muffled sounds of the world. Held by the hush and the blessed solitude.
But to be touched like this--liquid light shoots through all those secreted places within me. His mouth covers mine. His tongue is halfway down my throat but he pumps renewing breath into me after a lifetime of gasping.
Connecting this way with a boy who thinks I’m beautiful and interesting and wonderful…this is why we have hands. It’s why we have lips and eyes to lock together. This is the way we’re supposed to touch each other. Hot and sweet like caramel poured over apples.
Jake’s fingers slide up the inside of my bare thigh. My heart skips a beat as my hands clench around his shirt. My wide eyes snap onto his.
He stops, pulls back. I don’t want him to think I’m a little kid or a prude. I am not a lesbian, like they say. I really don’t want him to think I’m a tease, because I’m not. I like him. I like what we’re doing. I just... It took dates and dinners and a dance with Jonathan, and even we didn’t touch under clothing. If I tell Jake to stop, will he be angry like Trent?
“Is this all right?” Jake whispers.
And with how gently he asks that question, it suddenly is. It’s just fine. There’s no demand in his gaze. No expectation. He’s not grabbing me and shoving my hand anywhere. He’s not grabbing me and jerking me around, slamming my head into lockers, pushing me down staircases.
Jake only uses his hands to tell me how much he likes being close to me, and he's sincerely asking my permission to come closer.
Nudging close into his neck and shoulder, I give it. He is slow and tender, letting me experience each step of the way. He only moves further when he feels my yearning. He is so strong and warm around me, so welcoming and affectionate, so patient and safe.
“Do you like it?” he asks. “Do you want me to keep going?”
My answer is a low, hungry moan as I open further to him. When he reaches that most intimate space inside me, I can’t help but cry out. I bury my face into his shoulder, muffling the sounds against him. It is lightning all over again, but the bolts are continuous. I am blinding brilliance! I am unspeakable joy and all I want to do is pour it back into him, a thousandfold!
My hand grips his thigh. Hard. My palm is on fire. So is he. His bulge is hot and hard beneath me. Shifting on his lap, I look at him the way he looked at me. Questioning. Yearning. He’s gone all glazy-eyed the way I’m learning that boys get when you touch them like this. I wonder if I am, too.
His knees shift apart with a low sound that is all aching and asking. My palm molds against the swell between his legs. This time he does grab me, but only to pull me against him with a husky groan. As my hand strokes and explores, kneads and tests, his body gives off a few shudders, a twitch. He arches and contracts, depending on how I touch him. My body does the same, and just as I had always imagined, it is magic! We are as musical instruments, vibrating and singing and humming beneath each other’s deft hands.
“Christ, girl,” he groans, “you’re gonna make me cream my jeans.”
The comment brings a flush to my cheeks and an awkward giggle up my throat, for I have no idea what that would entail. All I know of the male orgasm are clinical descriptions from sex ed class and the enshrouded myths of the initiated or imaginative, uttered in whispers—and never to me.
I've heard the other girls gossip with each other, describing their experiences or guessing what it would be like, but I’m always on the outs, sitting in the bathroom stall, waiting for them to finish touching up their faces and leave, or sitting in front of them on the bus, or catching snippets of conversation in the hallways or at lunch. TV and books provide innuendo, but nothing can prepare me for what I’m experiencing in the arms of Jake Prentiss.
With a frustrated shudder, he lets his hands slip away and kisses my neck. “Shit,” he says, looking at the clock.
I glance up to see that we only have a few minutes to pull ourselves together and find our teammates for the afternoon session. “Yeah,” I pant, disappointed.
We are loathe to disengage, and keep sneaking kisses and quick touches as we quick straighten our clothing and hair, catch our breaths, shake off the surging tension of our encounter cut short. He has to straighten what’s in his pants, too. He groans off a comment about “blue balls” as he laughs and tries to get his body to calm down so he can be seen in public again.
Just in case we don’t find the opportunity at the end of the day, we exchange phone numbers and intentions to continue this as soon as we can.
“Well?” Stacy asks the moment our advisor leaves us to the activity we actually came here for.
I practically melt into my seat. “Oh, my God,” I murmur. I am still shaky, still light-headed. I can taste Jake on my lips, smell him in my hair. My skin still sings from his touch.
Chairs make loud scrapes over their giggles as they scoot closer, all ears.
"Did you kiss him?" Carin asks.
"Was it good?"
"Oh, my God."
"Anything else?" Stacy asks.
"Um..." My gaze flutters around the paperwork on the table.
Numerous chairs scrape again. "Oh, come on!"
After a bit more cajoling, I quietly come up with my own enigmatic lingo, relishing in this long-coveted girly experience of kiss-and-tell. They gasp and grin, interjecting comments and queries, squeals and laughter as they coax from me the details of this steamy, stolen afternoon rendezvous.
“So?” Tanya says. “Are you going to see him again?”
“Definitely. He said he’ll call me tomorrow night.”
The loudest squeals rise up, and I can’t help but join in.
Eventually, we get back on task, but my mind is hazy for the rest of the day. When we return to the hotel, I itch to go home so I can hear his voice, but we have one more night to spend in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, Jake and his team returned right after the convention, so there will be no nighttime frolics in the hot tub or sauna. I go to sleep, still a-glow.
The next morning
I awake to universal cold shoulders. The scathing glares, the all-too-familiar hissing behind my back from every one of my teammates. I blink rapidly, stunned to silence. In a breathless voice, I ask, “Wh-what’s going on?”
They snicker and roll their eyes. “You’re such a slut,” Stacy says.
My mouth drops open.
“Yeah,” Tanya chimes in. “Like we want to hear all the sick details of some guy feeling you up. That’s gross!"
My eyes strain with fury. They were the ones who poked and needled until I told them, and they damn well know it!
Until I showed up at that dance with Jonathan, I was disparaged as a lesbian because I didn’t have a boyfriend and had never “put out.” Before that, they reviled me for being a prude, and before that, it was the disgusted, “Are you a boy?” Now that I’m finally getting to taste what happened in that closet at Kristina’s birthday party when nobody wanted to spin the bottle with me...and what happens in the back of the bus or when parents aren't home at anybody's house but mine--now I’m suddenly a slut?
My snarl is pure bile. "Hypocrites!"
They respond with snooty hair-tosses and flounce their way onto the bus. I follow, still growling. When I hurl my stuff into a seat, then hurl myself into the one opposite it, Stacy bolts up to grab my bag and purse. She marches to the front of the bus where she drops it all behind the driver’s seat, then marches back. She pauses over me long enough to sneer, “Sluts have to sit at the front of the bus,” before flopping down beside Carin.
Four smirking faces smack me with triumph.
I blow out a hard sniff. I have no problem stalking to my new exile island. I have no interest in sitting anywhere near them anyway. They are not even worth my words.
This is just like fifth grade when you all dragged my desk up to the front of the classroom after I beat you out for the part of Dorothy.
I curl up in the corner of seat, trying to keep warm by wrapping my arms around myself in the sunbeams. They toss me some new little hate-bomb notes. Apparently, the worst of my crimes revolve around how easily I’ve forgotten about Jonathan. As if I could ever forget about him. But he is not an option. Jake is. I make a few attempts to explain the situation, to reconcile with them—all rebuffed.
Like any of them ever even wait a month before jumping to their next boy.
As I burrow down into the bottom of the seat, pretending to fall asleep, it occurs to me that this is just more of the same old crap. Those fire-daggers I’d glimpsed in their eyes when Jake squeezed himself up next to me along the balcony with his winsome smile? I’d known exactly what those girls were about, and I’d been such an idiot to think it would ever change.
This has nothing to do with loyalty to a boy they met for a few minutes at a dance, and it has nothing to do with Jake Prentiss. They're just mad that my name still has the longest row of stars behind it. That was the first time I ever felt this--all the way back in stupid second grade, when Mrs. Wilander put me and John Swanson in our own reading group because we were so far ahead. Every star I’ve won since that day has only heaped on more hatred.
“Don’t you dare!” their glares had shouted when Jake leaned closer on the railing until our arms touched.
I should have marched up to them right then, getting in their faces to demand, “Don’t I dare what! I think it’s Jake’s choice who he likes and who he doesn’t.”
But to them, he’s nothing but a lost contest and another weapon to aim at me. “Let me win at multiplication wars, give me your lunch money, stab Mari in the back, purposely botch that high note so I can play Dorothy.”
Or else what, you jealous, heartless, backstabbing bitches?
I know what real friendship feels like. Mari never makes demands like that. Or Lynn or the twins. And they certainly are never “nice” to me, only to ambush me, circling in a pack to take out my jugular the second I let my guard down.
I will never, EVER make that mistake again.
I don’t care if we’re supposed to be a team, and I no longer believe my parents, teachers, and every patronizing adult—that they’ll “mature with age.” No, the older we get, the worse it is.
Scrunching my eyes shut, I clench my hands into fists and bury them inside my coat. I grind my teeth down on everything I burn to scream, battling to keep my breathing silent. I will NOT let them hear how badly they got to me. My body shakes as I shove wave after wave of sulfurous lava back down to the pit of my gut. Breathe. Just breathe. You’ll be home soon.
At least Jake is as good as his word. He calls me later in the evening and we have an amazing damn chat.
While I was talking to Jake, they must have called Queenie and the rest of the Court, who must have blabbed to all the boys, because when I walk down the hall before school the next morning, the eyes bombard me. The hissing tongues fly in my wake, punctuated by scornful laughter.
When I get to my locker, there’s a note taped onto it. I blow out a long, slow sigh. Here we go again. I peel off the paper and open it. Inside there’s an unwrapped, unfurled condom along with the single word: “SLUT!” I almost drop it all. Praying that the thing is not used, I throw the hate-bomb and its pasty, shriveled gift in the garbage. The laughter grows louder, more threatening.
What exactly did those girls tell everyone I did?
The truth would be bad enough, but if they embellished… They’ve always embellished, and people have always believed them.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A PSYCHO-SLUT - Rumors, Labels & Violence
--OR if you're just joining us and are wondering how many episodes of this childhood war you've missed, it starts HERE.
--Wondering who Jonathan is? He's the boy I fell for at a funeral.
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