1: Educating Kaylee Ch. 02bySpartan22©
III -- Sea of Faces
"A little late, aren't we buddy," Ryan asked his son from underneath the hood of his vintage midnight-black Challenger, without looking up. He adjusted the position of the lamp and leaned over the engine, trying to shine the light in one of those hard-to-reach places.
"No wheels, dad. Besides, I had more tutoring to do."
Luke sounded tired.
Ryan glanced over at him, still working on the car, "I don't mind the tutoring, and in fact I think it's great you're doing that. Knowing how to do something is great, but teaching it makes you even better. Just don't neglect your own grades."
They both snickered simultaneously, knowing full well Luke wasn't about to get his first A-minus ever any time soon. "Still, I mean it. Don't get cocky."
"I won't, dad. I'll catch up on my reading this weekend."
"Hey, speaking of this weekend, are you still going to the gym with me?"
Luke shook his head, "Um, no thanks. Like I always tell you, not interested. Too much homework I have to catch up on anyway. By the way, where's mom?"
"She's in the study, but don't bother her. She's running numbers for Pacific Spa. Apparently she made a killing this last month. I keep telling her she needs to sell her business while she's ahead, but she loves that spa too much. If I can talk her into it though, she'll get the money, and with all of the free time she'd have, she could give all the massages to me. Score."
Ryan smiled in a way that made Luke's stomach turn and said, "It's a win-win."
"Ew. No. TMI, dad," Luke said dryly while turning to leave him and heading inside the house, trying his hardest to shake the disturbing image from his head.
Ryan snickered, turning his full attention back to his beloved Challenger. "If only you knew the half of it, son," he whispered quietly to himself.
"You took long enough," Kaylee said, restarting her car.
"Beauty takes time. You of all people should know that, hun," Audrey said, sliding in the passenger side. "By the way, how'd your night go with Loser Luke?"
To her own surprise, Kaylee flinched, but it was subtle enough that Audrey didn't notice, "Um, it went fine, actually." She chose her words carefully, "He actually had a way of explaining things so I understood it."
Without thinking, she added, "I'm meeting him again tonight" before she could stop herself.
Fuck, she thought, realizing she had just set herself up for a million one-liners from Audrey the entire drive to school. She pulled out of Audrey's driveway hoping her friend either wouldn't notice or would let it slide, but the redhead was already cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West.
"Oh, so he was that good last night, huh? What won him over for you, was it the size of his pocket protector or the size of his pocket rocket?"
Kaylee turned beet red. She knew she should have just ignored her, but she couldn't help blurting out, "If you don't shut..."
Audrey interrupted her, "What would Bradley think? So, who's bigger, your boyfriend, or Luke? I mean, Bradley's like two feet taller than Luke so one would just assume, but then again you know what they say about nerds."
Now she was getting personal, dragging Bradley into this. She tried again, "Audrey, I swear, I'll kill..."
"So how does it work? Luke knocks all of the books off the table and takes you right there, or do you use the library chair instead? At least you're at the library so he can research what to do. Does he grab the 'How to Have Sex for Dummies' book before getting it on with you or is he reading it during the act?"
Kaylee slammed on the brakes without as much as looking in her rearview mirror, let alone looking at Audrey.
"Wow, girl, I think smoke is coming out of your ears!" As if anticipating Kaylee's next threat, Audrey said, "Ok, I'll stop."
Kaylee looked at the passenger door, and then looked at Audrey. Audrey was a smart enough girl to read between the lines.
"I really don't feel like walking to school, so I'll behave. Girl scouts honor," she said, trying unsuccessfully to hold back a smile.
Still, Audrey didn't -- or couldn't -- stop snickering the entire way to school, but at least Kaylee didn't say a single word.
Kaylee met up with Luke a couple other times over the course of the following week, but as discreetly as she could possibly manage. It took time, but she gradually began to understand algebra in spite of her immense hatred of the subject. Luke even helped her with her chemistry homework and proof-read some of her papers for her English class.
Occasionally she showed up late because her cheerleading practice ran over, but Luke didn't seem to mind. Or at least he didn't show it. That in itself was astounding; even Bradley harassed Kaylee whenever she was late -- which was often. He wouldn't hold back giving her an earful and didn't even make the slightest effort to try and pretend to hide his irritation.
Every Tuesday and Thursday she had choir -- which ran even longer than cheerleading -- so she couldn't study those nights, which meant she had to stick to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. As midterms loomed over her head, sneaking closer and closer with the passing of each day, she was desperate enough that she told Luke she was willing to study on the weekends if she had to. She breathed easier when he told her it shouldn't be necessary.
Kaylee was exhausted from her current session. Slamming her pencil down, Kaylee told him, "I can't take it! I need a break. Are you hungry?"
"Yea, I could eat. Sometimes I get so busy with my work I forget to. Looks like you could use a break too," he said, looking at her cracked mechanical pencil. "What did you have in mind?"
Kaylee thought about going out for a bite, but wasn't sure how that would work. She didn't feel comfortable driving Luke -- who was she kidding, she didn't feel comfortable even being seen driving Luke -- and he didn't have his own car. She went for the easy solution.
"I'll order us a pizza."
Luke pulled out his wallet.
"No, I got this. It's the least I can do for you after all the hours you've put in for me."
"I can't do that; you can repay me some other way some other time," Luke said, sliding a twenty across the table.
"I mean it, Luke!"
Kaylee pushed it back towards him, irritated.
"Alright, fine," he said, taking his money back. "Not a big deal, you know. You're not very good at this whole relaxing and taking a break thing, are you?"
Kaylee dialed up the closest pizza place over the phone. Covering the mouthpiece, she whispered, "What kind of pizza do you like?"
Luke whispered back, "Anchovies."
Kaylee scrunched her face, giving Luke a look of disgust.
Luke snickered, "Just kidding. Nobody likes anchovies. Anything with meat is fine."
She raised an eyebrow and shook her head, but couldn't help a little grin.
After the pizza was delivered to the library (Kaylee had to sneak it in because she didn't think they'd let them eat in a library, and she wasn't about to ask only to be told the answer was 'no'), Luke grabbed two cans of Coke from the vending machine in the school hall.
"So tell me about yourself," Luke asked her while taking another bite.
Kaylee looked at him as if he was cross-eyed. We're not dating; this is simply business, she thought. Still, she responded, "Well, there's not much to tell. You know my entire school schedule by now."
"Well, what do you do outside of school? What do you do for fun? Cheerleading and choir don't count."
She shrugged, "I don't have time for much else beyond cheerleading and choir."
Luke followed up, "Do you have any pets?"
For a moment, a look of sadness briefly crossed her face, but it vanished as quickly as it surfaced. She said, "No. I've always wanted a yorkie, but my parents are so against any animals. Mother doesn't like the idea of shedding pets around the house."
The more she talked, the more she slowly warmed up to the conversation with Luke. She continued, "I hang out with my boyfriend Bradley a lot, but lately it's been just on the weekends. At least until I get through the midterm; I've been too busy to do anything else. Once they're over, I'll be able to see him a lot more."
Luke shook his head and chuckled.
"What? What are you laughing at?"
"Bradley," he asked, as if she was out of her mind.
She set her slice down, ready to fight, "And, please tell me, sir, what is wrong with Bradley?"
He couldn't help but chuckle again, "It's none of my business."
"Too late. You made it my business."
Luke shrugged indifferently, "I've seen the way he treats you, first of all. It's like you're an object to him. He doesn't treat you the way you deserve to be treated; like a princess. You put up a cold front sometimes..., well, a lot actually, but you're really a sweet, compassionate girl deep down. You're just not comfortable with people seeing that side of you which is why you often manifest your emotions into a frigid stone wall. He doesn't know any of that. If he did, he would try to tear down that wall just to get to you. Although it would most likely be for his own selfish reasons and gratifications."
Her mouth was open, trying to find the right words to rip him a new one, but she had nothing. Dammit Luke! That's not fair, she thought. How can I tear you apart when you talk like that?
"I do NOT throw up a cold front," was all she got out.
"And second," Luke said, ignoring her comment, "he's just an oxygen thief."
She was baffled. "A... a what?"
"An oxygen thief. He doesn't try in school -- at all. He doesn't try to better himself in anything except football, and let's see how far that will get him after graduation. All he does is steal the air that the rest of us should be breathing."
She had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. "Hey! That's my boyfriend, you jerk! He might seem rough on the outside, but he's really a sweetheart."
Luke shrugged indifferently, "He doesn't have to be an oxygen thief; he just chooses to be one. If you like him, maybe you can talk some sense into him. Man, this pizza really is good. Where's this place at?"
Narrowing her eyebrows, she said, "It's down on Main Street, by the theatre. And don't change the subject, you. You couldn't take him if he was blindfolded and sitting in a canoe, so I'd watch what you say."
Luke shook his head but had a grin on his face, "That was actually kind of funny. I didn't know you had a sense of humor."
Kaylee started grinning, "Well, it's true. And don't think you're off the hook. I'm not done being mad at you."
Luke looked into her eyes, "Right or wrong, I love how you defend him. I respect that. He might be an oxygen thief, but he's a lucky one."
Once again, Kaylee was thrown off guard by Luke, "You say the strangest things, you know that, Luke Patton?"
"I know. I have all my life, or so I've been told."
"Ok, so what about you? Now that you're done insulting my boyfriend, tell me about your life so I can exchange the favor."
Luke took a drink of his Coke. "Mine's simple, really. Outside of school, studying, reading, and computers, my main focus is my family."
Kaylee pouted; she couldn't find an angle to get him back. Sure, there was the typical nerd stuff he did but he probably heard it all the time and knowing Luke, he probably didn't care. But when he mentioned family-- especially with all the issues she had with her own family -- it made it hard to find a chink in his armor.
"We should get back to studying," Luke said.
"Oh, no. You're not getting out of it that easily, after what you said about Bradley, my boyfriend," unknowingly emphasizing 'my boyfriend'.
Luke either didn't notice or didn't care, "Ok, I'll give you the cliff notes version. My dad's a fireman and my mom runs her own massage and spa business. My sister Faith is a freshman here. It seems strange, really. I remember playing with her when she was just a baby and now she's in high school. Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Nope, I'm an only child," she said with slight discontent.
Luke gave a sympathetic smile, "In some ways, you're lucky."
All that was left in the box were a few crumbs, a couple pieces of crust, and an untouched jalapeño. After Kaylee tucked the box under the library table, Luke glared at her, "Oh lighten up," she told him.
Luke blinked, not saying a word.
With an over-exaggerated roll of the eyes, she said, "Fine, I'll take it out when we're done, if you have such a problem with me leaving it here and letting those librarians earn their paycheck. Let's get the next hour over with."
After another hour of studying, half of the lights in the library were turned off. Kaylee set her pencil down and slouched back in her chair, "I'm glad that's over with. One more day closer to the weekend."
Both Luke and Kaylee loaded up their respective books and binders. Luke grabbed the empty pizza box on the way out. He folded it up and threw it in the trashcan outside the building. As they walked to the parking lot, Kaylee was quiet.
It was obvious Luke sensed something was off with her, "Are you ok, Kaylee?"
"Yea, I'm fine," she said quietly as they walked towards her car. "Hey Luke," she said.
"Do you want me to give you a ride home?"
She couldn't believe she was asking him, but she felt like it was the least she could do for him. It was late and getting dark, so no one would see her giving him a ride anyway.
"No thanks, it's ok," he said. "Besides, as nice as your car is I'd probably cramp up having to duck down the entire time."
Kaylee didn't think he would pass up a chance to ride home with her; she was stunned. She wasn't sure what he meant about having to duck down.
"What do you mean?"
Luke shifted awkwardly, shrugging, "I'm sure you don't want to be seen with me, so I'd have to fold myself over like a pretzel, and I'm really not that flexible. That's ok though, I'm cool with it. It's just the way we are. Goodnight, Kaylee. Drive home safe, ok?"
She was floored. She was also embarrassed, and wasn't sure what she should say. He said it so calmly, but somehow he looked uncomfortable. She stuttered, "N-no, I... Lu..."
Luke had already walked off and didn't hear her. She wasn't sure whether to be mad at him for refusing her, or mad at herself. She was frustrated. She yanked open the car door, jumped in, and slammed it shut.
Kaylee watched him walk away as he became nothing more than a distant shadow. She felt like sulking as the dome light slowly faded out, leaving her in the dark car in the middle of the empty parking lot. "Hmmph," she grumbled to no one in particular, turning the ignition.
Just then, her cell phone rang. She didn't recognize the number, but answered it anyway.
For a moment, she was elated at hearing his voice. She wasn't sure why, though; she was puzzled at her own reaction.
"Hey Luke, everything ok? Did you change your mind about the ride?"
She still couldn't believe the words that had left her mouth, but it was like she kept pushing the subject despite his refusal, based on principle alone. After all, he rejected her and she didn't like being told 'no'.
"No, but thank you anyway. I just wanted to tell you to look inside your bag, so it doesn't get lost. See you in school tomorrow," Luke said as he hung up the phone.
"Lu..." she tried to say in vain before he hung up. "Ugh! That boy! No one has ever just left me or hung up on me, and he just did both in less than a minute," she growled out loud to no one in particular.
Perplexed, Kaylee tucked away her iPhone and opened up her purse.
"Luke," she said with a frustrated tone. Inside her bag was a twenty dollar bill -- the same one he tried to give her earlier for the pizza. "Why don't you ever listen?"
She sighed, unaware of the smile creeping up on her face.
"I can't believe you sat through three entire sessions with Loser Luke," Cindy said, carelessly stuffing her books in her locker.
"Oh my gosh, Audrey! You told Cindy?" Kaylee couldn't believe it. She wasn't sure if she was more shocked, or more upset.
"Don't worry, she's the only one I told. She won't tell anyone. And she does have a point; we're just trying to offer our... condolences," Audrey giggled.
"That must have been rough," Cindy said with a cynical smile. "At least you didn't shoot yourself. I would have thought we'd hear about your suicide on Facebook."
Kaylee bit her lip; if they only knew the truth. She'd studied with Luke at least ten times as often as she led them to believe.
"I thought about it," she said, forcing out her words. "Yea, I mean, it was either that, or grab a gun and go on a rampage."
Audrey laughed, "Nice try. We both know you've been enjoying your time with him. Did he make it to third base yet or is he stuck on second?"
"Will you stop saying that," Kaylee scolded her, "It's been miserable. He's so pathetic. You don't know how difficult it's been, being around Loser Luke."
A devious, intrigued facial expression popped up on Cindy.
Wide-eyed, Audrey froze.
Kaylee didn't seem to notice. She continued, "I just can't wait to get midterms over. Putting up with that nerd has been a nightmare. He's such a loser; he just doesn't get it. The world would be better off without him."
"Hey, Kaylee," Luke said from behind her.
The blood drained out of her face. Of all the voices in the crowed hall, his was the last one she expected. Audrey giggled initially, but it seemed to be out of sheer nervousness; Cindy's laugh was one of pure enjoyment.
Kaylee wasn't laughing.
She turned around slowly. Her jaw dropped; she couldn't believe he was standing right there. She prayed by some miracle that Luke didn't hear her stinging words, holding out a glimmer of hope. Kaylee desperately mouthed at Luke so her friends wouldn't see, "Luke, not now, please go away," but he didn't notice; he was looking for something in his backpack instead. She couldn't tell for sure since his head was down, but his eyes looked red.
Luke continued digging and matter-of-factly said, "I think we accidentally swapped math books last night. I only noticed because mine has a bunch of notes written in it, and the one I opened last night didn't have any of my writing, so I can only assume it was yours. It makes the most logical sense if you think about it..." Luke kept rambling about the stupid math book, but never made eye contact with Kaylee. When he held her math book out she could tell by the dampness and the puffy rings around his eyes that he wasn't doing so well.
Audrey gave Kaylee a look of surprise -- Kaylee didn't tell either of the girls that she was still studying with Luke, let alone the night before. Cindy flat out laughed but to Kaylee, it sounded something more like a cackle.
Luke locked eyes with Kaylee. Despite his mundane words, his eyes were crying out in pain, as if to ask, "why, Kaylee?" even though he never acknowledge what she had said with words of his own.
He heard her... he heard every cruel word she'd said about him. There was no mistaking it. And as Kaylee spit out her venomous words with her back to Luke, he simply sat there and took it for as long as he could. As if that wasn't bad enough, he just kept talking as if she never said those hurtful words, as if he could ignore every cruel word she spit out.
"Luke," she said. "What you heard. I mean...I didn't..."
Kaylee tried to address what she said, making her best attempts at damage control. She wanted to explain what she said to Luke, but her words backfired; they only served to bring to light the cruelty she hammered Luke with.
He couldn't pretend that he didn't hear her painful words any longer.