Saturday Night School Ch. 06byjessica_tang_vonharper©
(This is the sixth chapter of the Saturday Night School series, by Jessica Tang-Von Harper.
Our story so far:
Charlie Tucker is a high school senior who spends most of his Saturdays editing videos in the A/V room at Pine Hills High School. One Saturday, he discovers cheerleader Michelle Santos walking naked through the school. Michelle has a fascination with public nudity, and she and Charlie enter into a secret relationship centered around Michelle's experiments with streaking.
After a disagreement with Michelle, Charlie asks junior Ronni Arthur to the prom. Michelle, feeling hurt, agrees to go to the prom with football player Glenn Mack. Charlie and Michelle renew their secret relationship during a trip to Charlie's film school interview in another city, which results in a wild sexual encounter on the train ride back. Unfortunately, Glenn's best friend Cody sees them and takes a video of them kissing on the train station platform.
In an effort to split up Charlie and Michelle, Cody first threatens Charlie before school, then sends the picture of Charlie and Michelle kissing to Ronni.)
Ronni held her phone up to Charlie's face like an accusation. Charlie gazed at the picture on her screen, and his first, completely inappropriate thought was, "Cody took a pretty good picture!"
Both his and Michelle's faces were captured in profile and clearly visible. Michelle had her back against the pillar at the train station, and Charlie pushed against her. Cody had captured the moment of their kiss, their eyes closed, their mouths pressed together. Not a chaste kiss, not a friendly kiss. This was a kiss with desire behind it.
He must have zoomed in on our faces, Charlie thought. How long did he have his camera on us, anyway?
"Cody sent you that picture?" he asked Ronni.
"Yes. Did you know he saw you?" Ronni pulled the phone back and stabbed at the screen with her finger. "So he took that picture on Saturday. That means while I was shopping for a prom dress, you were out with Michelle. Then I sent you a picture of the dress. Here's your response." She read from her phone: "Hey Ronni, looks great. You're going to look amazing." Ronni lifted her eyes, glaring at him. "Were you actually still with Michelle when you wrote this?"
Charlie felt a throb of pain from the side of his head. "I just saw Cody in the bathroom. He had one of his football buddies punch me in the head."
"What?" The change of subject caught her by surprise. "Why? Because you kissed Michelle?"
"I think so..." Charlie leaned against a table and rubbed his head.
Ronni nodded. "Because she said she would go to the prom with Glenn. You were kissing Glenn's date. So now, what? The whole football team is your enemy?"
"Charlie... please just be honest with me. I was glad that you asked me to the prom, and I thought it would be fun to go with you. But I can find someone else to go with. I really don't want to find out a week before that you're taking Michelle instead."
"I wouldn't do that to you, Ronni."
"You wouldn't? What if she insisted? Do you really think she couldn't get you to take her? You'd drop me in a minute." Ronni shook her head. "What happened, Charlie? We talked about this before. You said you'd gone out with her a few times, but it was over. Then Cody sends me this picture, and it clearly isn't over. What happened?" She looked up at him imploringly. "Just tell me, Charlie. I need the truth from you, okay?"
"The truth..." Charlie whispered under his breath. He glanced down at his hands, tangled together in front of him. For a moment, he wrestled with indecision. He met her gaze, her eyes watching him, waiting for him.
He gave her the truth.
He started with how he glimpsed someone passing outside the A/V room, on a Saturday when no one should have been there. Ronni's eyes widened when Charlie described catching Michelle walking naked through the school. He tried to explain how Michelle's initial embarrassment had turned into a peculiar companionship, how he had escorted her on her nude stroll through the school, how they'd even gone outside to the parking lot. He left out a lot of the details, in particular the sex, and Ronni seemed to notice the gaps in his story but didn't press him.
How easily I tell Michelle's secrets, Charlie thought with a surge of guilt, but he went on to describe the Second Michelle incident. How she'd appeared naked in the A/V room, a few Saturdays later, after undressing by his car and sliding her clothes through his car window so she couldn't get to them again. Again, he left out the sex, and kept Daryl's role to a minimum. He skipped Third Michelle entirely, but tried to explain how his secret encounters with Michelle combined with the apparent social chasm between them at school had caused him to feel dissatisfied with his life, and that had prompted him to invite Ronni to the prom.
He described his conversation with Michelle on the bleachers, and his belief that it had ended things between them. But then he described how Michelle had come with him to Jefferson University for his film school interview, and how it had ended with her undressing in the train on the way back.
Ronni listened intently, asking few questions. The home room bell rang, but Charlie ignored it, and Ronni didn't show any intention of leaving until he was done with his story. He reached the kiss in the train station, and how he had discovered Cody on the opposite platform, recording them with his phone.
"Cody isn't going to show the picture to Glenn... but he did threaten me to stay away from Michelle. And Michelle told me she still wants to go to the prom with Glenn." Charlie threw up his hands. "So... all that stuff that happened on Saturday, her taking off her clothes in the train, her kissing me in the train station... none of it has really changed anything."
Ronni didn't speak at first, but just sat quietly with her hands in her lap, a thoughtful look on her face. Charlie suddenly felt terrified that he'd just made a big mistake. He'd given up Michelle's secret and now Ronni, feeling slighted, would tell everyone at the school.
"Ronni... he spoke urgently. "You can't tell anyone any of this."
"I won't," she said quickly. "It's just... it's not what I expected." She looked up at Charlie with a sly grin on her face. It caught him by surprise.
"I know." Charlie looked away, nervously pushing his fingers through his hair. "It's a weird situation. Definitely. I mean... it was just by chance that I caught her that first time. She has this thing that turns her on... this fetish... and because I was the one who caught her doing it... and I'm the only one who knows about it... now I'm a part of it."
"She likes the thrill of being naked out in public, and now she likes having you there to witness her do it," Ronni murmured.
"Because she knows you like to see her doing it. You like to watch her while she streaks."
"Oh, don't pretend. Just about every boy in this school would like to see Michelle Santos naked. You're no different."
"I'm not pretending anything," Charlie said. "I'm just not going to speak for Michelle. You'd have to ask her why she likes having me there."
Ronni look thoughtful for a moment. "I know a place," she murmured.
"A place where Michelle could be outside. Where you and her could walk around and no one would care."
"Walk around?" Charlie struggled to understand what she was suggesting. "You mean where Michelle could... um..."
"Where she could walk around naked," Ronni said matter-of-factly. "Outside. And you could take her there and be with her and Cody and Glenn would never know."
"Have you ever been to Greenholt Gardens?"
"Yes..." Charlie said slowly. "We had a class picnic there in seventh grade." He remembered green paths that wound through flower beds and groves of trees. An artificial pond filled with koi. A wide green field where some of the boys had tossed around a football.
"My brother works there," Ronni said. "He's like the night watchman. There's a restaurant there called The Shamrock, that's open until 10 or 11, and after it closes, my brother says its just him. This big, beautiful garden, and it's totally empty, all night long."
"Except for your brother," Charlie said.
"Right." Ronni smiled. "But I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind."
Charlie shook his head. "Thanks for the thought. But I didn't tell you all this looking for your help. I just felt like I owed you the truth of this thing I'm mixed up in with Michelle. If it's too much, if you want to go with someone else to the prom, then I totally understand."
Ronni leaned forward in her chair. "We're going to the prom together as friends, right?"
"So that's why I want to help you with Michelle. Because we're friends." Ronni gazed up at him.
"Okay. But you know, I can't even tell her we had this conversation. It's just between us, okay?"
"I know, Charlie." Ronni pantomimed turning a key at the corner of her mouth, then smiled. "You can trust me." She leaned back in her chair again and crossed her hands in her lap.
Charlie had trouble concentrating as lunch approached. He kept an eye out for Michelle in the halls but didn't see her, and started to wonder if she hadn't come to school that day. Maybe she'd skipped school for some reason. He thought about texting her, now that he had her number saved in his phone, but couldn't think of what to say.
The lunch bell rang and he walked towards the cafeteria with grim expectations. She wouldn't be there. He'd asked her to lunch spontaneously, after a long day, and she probably didn't even remember she'd agreed to it. It made sense that she would forget. If she was even in school at all.
Charlie pushed through the doors into the cafeteria. He stepped to the side, out of the way of the steady stream of people entering behind him, and stood with his back against the wall. He scanned the cafeteria, and found Michelle immediately. She was sitting at a table by herself, almost in the center of cafeteria. He could only see the back of her head, but he knew it was her. His heart bounced in his chest.
This is it, he thought. I'm going to walk over and sit right in front of her, and everyone's going to see us together, and everyone's going to know that we're a couple. Maybe in a weirder way than they can ever understand... but it's the truth. Michelle Santos and I are a couple.
Even in his thoughts, it sounded unbelievable.
Charlie took a step towards Michelle. Just one step and then he froze in place.
He could see a group approaching Michelle's table, flowing inevitably towards her. Vampire Vanessa, flanked by two more cheerleaders, Sandy and Tina. Behind them, Cody and Glenn Mack and Ryan Fender. Ryan Fender, most likely the source of the punch that had made Charlie's head spin that morning. Cody, the guy who had ordered the punch. More of Michelle's friends, a procession of them, headed for her table.
He could see Michelle perk up as Vanessa called out to her. Charlie was too far away to hear, but he could see Michelle raise her head, and could see her smiling and nodding to the approaching group. Vanessa set down her tray next to Michelle, and Sandy and Tina did the same. Cody and Glenn were already grabbing another table and moving it next to Michelle's. A long table for them all to sit.
I can't do it, Charlie thought. If it was just her alone, maybe I could. But I can't sit with all her friends. I just don't belong there.
He realized then that it was just a fantasy, the idea that he could bring their fling into the daylight. Seeing her, surrounded by her friends, he understood that what he and Michelle shared in private could never be revealed to the world. It was a secret link between them, a bond meant for empty schools and empty trains. Michelle had been alone before with her secret impulses; now he had joined her in her hidden life, and she wasn't alone anymore. Nevertheless, her secret still separated the two of them from everyone else.
He gazed at Michelle, surrounded by her circle of friends. Enjoy her, he thought to them. Talk to her, have fun with her, even go to the prom with her. But you'll never truly know her. Not like I do. You've never seen her face as filled with life as I have.
He would talk to her later, sometime when he could speak to her alone. Maybe he would spend his lunch brainstorming a way to present Ronni's Greenholt Gardens offer to her. Of course, first he would have to gently break the news to her that he had told Ronni everything, and that was a conversation he wasn't looking forward to.
Or maybe he'd leave Ronni out of it and think of something else he and Michelle could do together. Maybe they could just get together and drive, leave Pine Hills behind and drive for miles and miles. Find someplace else to be for an evening, someplace where no one knew them. Someplace far from Cody and Glenn and all the rest of them.
Charlie let his eyes linger on Michelle one last time as he turned to leave the cafeteria. Was it a fair exchange? To give up any public association with Michelle in exchange for the private life he shared with her? Resigning himself to watching her from the other side of the cafeteria, from the other side of the hallway, from his camera perch at the top of the bleachers, knowing that later when she was alone with him she would be naked and beautiful in his arms? Was he satisfied with that deal?
Yes, he decided. It was enough. More than he ever hoped for.
He turned and walked out of the cafeteria.
As he walked away, uncertain where he was going, Charlie moved to the side of the hallway to avoid the flow of students that headed into the cafeteria. He was almost at the end of the hall when he stopped abruptly.
Michelle! It was Michelle! He saw her walking right towards him, part of the stream of students walking to lunch. So that girl he'd just seen in the cafeteria, sitting with Cody and Glenn and Vampire Vanessa... That wasn't Michelle at all! He'd made a mistake, misidentified some other girl with long dark hair. What a dummy!
He raised his hand to Michelle, smiling, about to greet her.
The instant before he spoke, he realized he was wrong. It wasn't Michelle walking towards him. He vaguely recognized this dark-haired girl; she was a sophomore, and Charlie didn't know her name. She didn't even really look like Michelle. Charlie's hand wilted to his side. How could he have made that mistake? Was it a matter of his eyes seeing what he wanted to see?
Charlie stopped, putting his back against the wall, watching the dark-haired girl as she passed by him. A stranger, she didn't notice him, didn't look at him. She just walked right by as if he wasn't there.
He turned, no longer looking at the dark-haired girl, now looking at the cafeteria door as it opened and closed. He was shaking his head without noticing what he was doing. "No." He spoke out loud. "No. It's not enough."
He couldn't go back to walking past Michelle and pretending he didn't know her. He didn't want just the secret part of her life.
He wanted all of it.
"Shit," he swore softly, squeezing his hands into fists, knowing what he had to do. "Come on, Charlie. If you're gonna go, then go. Don't keep her waiting." He took a deep breath. "She's worth it." He felt like he could repeat those three words over and over again, like a mantra, to keep his resolve firm. He left the wall and went back into the cafeteria.
He didn't go directly towards Michelle. The whole idea was that they were going to have lunch together, so he needed to buy himself a lunch. He went to one of the refrigerated bins and grabbed a pre-packaged chicken salad sandwich, then grabbed a bottle of Sprite. He didn't even feel hungry; the sandwich and soda were more like props. He stood in line at the register and handed the cashier a twenty. He almost walked away without his change.
He walked along the edge of the cafeteria, eyeing the group that now took up three tables in the middle of the cafeteria. He could see Michelle's profile clearly now, sitting right in the middle of the group. She was smiling, talking to Vanessa. She wore a thin-strapped blue dress that left her shoulders mostly bare. What was it Greg Arden had said once, in this same cafeteria? "That Michelle Santos always has something on..."
Charlie changed course, heading directly for that cluster of three tables with his sandwich and his Sprite. He approached from an angle that was just behind Michelle's peripheral vision, so she didn't see him coming towards her, and she wasn't likely to notice him until he was right up at her table.
No one paid him any attention until he was almost right behind Michelle, and it was Tina who noticed him first. She sat across from Michelle, and she glanced up at him as he approached. At first, her eyes dropped back down, showing little interest, and then something clicked in her mind and she looked back up at him, now very interested. She grinned, glancing between him and Michelle.
Charlie stood awkwardly, surveying the group. Vanessa sat to Michelle's left, and Sandy to her right. Tina sat across from Sandy, and Glenn sat across from Vanessa. In between Sandy and Glenn, across from Michelle, a chair sat empty.
His seat. Michelle had saved it for him.
Charlie saw the faces looking up at him, the different reactions to his presence. Vanessa looked startled, Glenn looked puzzled. Sandy's face matched Tina's, a grin of delighted interest. Cody looked annoyed and Ryan Fender almost looked impressed.
Michelle looked up at him and she had the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. She didn't say anything, only pointed at the empty seat across from her.
As Charlie circled the cluster of tables, heading for that empty seat, he heard Cody say, "THAT'S who you were saving the seat for?"
Charlie sat with Michelle's friends expecting to be eyed suspiciously as an outsider, particularly after the way Cody had treated him earlier that day. But Cody mostly kept his thoughts to himself (aside from a few barbed comments) and Charlie was surprised to find that most of Michelle's friends were friendly to him. Vanessa, who more than anyone else must have realized what Charlie's presence meant for Michelle, made a clear effort to engage him in the conversation, and Sandy and Tina kept smiling at him and giggling.
He expected some animosity from Glenn; after all, weren't they rivals for the same girl? But Glenn was actually very friendly towards him, first asking questions about a highlight reel Charlie had edited together for the football team and then becoming very interested when Charlie mentioned pursuing a career in film. As they discussed different films, Charlie found to his astonishment that he was beginning to like Glenn. The tall football player actually seemed like a pretty cool guy.
Maybe Glenn didn't see him as a rival for Michelle. It made sense. Glenn didn't know about the kiss in the train station; Cody had intentionally kept that information from him. And he was still taking Michelle to the prom. Maybe Glenn just saw Charlie as one of Michelle's odd friends, maybe a means to get closer to her.
Maybe a guy like Glenn wouldn't see Charlie as a rival anyway. Glenn was tall, handsome, athletic. What did he have to fear from a quiet loner like Charlie?
Michelle acted shy, speaking very little, only slipping in a comment now and then. Whenever Charlie glanced in her direction, she always seemed to be peeking at him, and she always had the same little smile on her lips.
"You've barely touched your sandwich," she observed as lunch period came near to ending.
"Oh. Yeah," he said, looking down at his sandwich with three bites out of it. "I'll save it for later."