P.S. I Like You

by Kasie West

A lightning strike. A shark attack. Winning the lottery.

No. I lined through all the words. Too cliché.

I tapped my pen against my lips.

Rare. What was rare? Meat, I thought with a small laugh. That would go really well in a song.

My pen drew a couple more lines, blackening the words to unrecognizable before I wrote a single word. Love. Now that was rare in my world. The romantic version, at least.

Lauren Jeffries, the girl sitting next to me, cleared her throat. It was then I noticed how quiet the classroom was, how I’d slipped into my own space again, shutting out the world around me. I had learned how to keep my head down over the years, how to handle the occasional unwanted attention. I slid my Chemistry textbook over my notebook full of everything but Chemistry notes, and slowly raised my head.

Mr. Ortega’s eyes were on me.

“Welcome back to class, Lily.”

Everyone laughed.

“You were writing down the answer, I’m sure,” he said.

“For sure.” It was all about acting unfazed, like I had no feelings.

Mr. Ortega let it go, just as I hoped he would, and moved on to explaining the lab for the following week and what we’d need to read to prepare for it. Since he’d let me off the hook so easily, I thought I’d be able to slip out unnoticed when class ended, but after the bell rang he called out to me.

“Ms. Abbott? Give me one minute of your time.”

I tried to think of a good excuse to leave with the rest of class.

“You owe me at least one minute seeing as how the last fifty-five were definitely not spent on me.”

The last student filed out of class and I took a few steps closer. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ortega,” I said. “Chemistry and I don’t get each other.”

He sighed. “It’s a two-way street and you haven’t been doing your part.”

“I know. I’ll try.”

“Yes, you will. If I see your notebook out again in class, it’s mine.”

I held back a groan. How would I make it through fifty-five minutes of torture every day without a distraction? “But I need to take notes. Chemistry notes.” I couldn’t remember the last time I took a single Chemistry note, let alone multiple ones.

“You can have one sheet of paper, unattached to a book, that you will show me at the end of each period.”

I clutched my green-and-purple notebook to my chest. Inside it lived hundreds of ideas for songs and lyrics, half-finished verses, doodles and sketches. It was my lifeline. “This is cruel and unusual punishment.”

He gave a small laugh. “It’s my job to help you pass my class. You’ve left me no other choice.”

I could’ve offered him a list of other choices.

“I think we’ve come to an agreement.”

Agreement wasn’t the word I would’ve chosen. That implied we both had a say in the matter. A better word would’ve been law, ruling … edict.

“Did you have something else to say?” Mr. Ortega asked.

“What? Oh. No, I’m good. See you tomorrow.”

“Minus the notebook,” he called after me.

I waited for the door to close behind me before I opened that notebook again and wrote down the word edict on the corner of a page. It was a good word. Not used enough. In the process of writing, my shoulder slammed into someone, nearly sending me flying.

“Watch it, Magnet,” some senior guy I didn’t even recognize said.

Two years later and people still couldn’t let the nickname go. I didn’t react, but imagined throwing the pen in my hand like a dart at his back as he walked past.

“You look ready to kill someone,” my best friend, Isabel Gonzales, said, falling in step beside me.

“Why do people still remember that stupid little chant Cade made up?” I grumbled. A stray piece of my dark-auburn hair escaped its hair-tie prison and fell into my eyes. I tucked it behind one ear. “It barely even rhymed.”

“A chant doesn’t have to rhyme.”

“I know. I wasn’t debating his chant-writing skills. I was saying that kids shouldn’t remember it. Still. After over two years, when there’s nothing catchy about it.”

“I’m sorry,” Isabel said, linking her arm through mine.

“You don’t have to apologize for him. He’s not your boyfriend anymore. Anyway, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me.”

“Well, I do. It’s stupid and childish. I think people say it out of habit now versus really thinking about what they’re saying.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed with that, but decided to drop it. “Mr. Ortega banned my notebook from class.”

Isabel laughed. “Uh-oh. How are you going to live without one of your limbs?”

“I don’t know, and in Chemistry of all classes. How can anyone be expected to listen in there?”

“I like Chemistry.”

“Let me rephrase that. How can any normal person be expected to listen in there?”

“Are you calling yourself normal?”

I bowed my head, conceding her the win.

We both stopped as we reached the fork in the sidewalk just past the B building. The pinkish rock landscape that lined the pathway looked especially dusty today. I lifted my red-sneaker-clad foot and toed a few rocks off the sidewalk.

The landscape was good for water conservation, but up close, Arizona scenery did little to inspire me. I had to observe it from a distance to find notebook-worthy lines. The thought reminded me to look up. The beige buildings and crowds of students weren’t much better than the rocks.

“So, fake Mexican food for lunch today?” I asked Isabel as Lauren, Sasha, and their group of friends walked around us.

Isabel bit her lip, her expression suddenly worried. “Gabriel wants to meet me off campus today for our two-month anniversary. Is that okay? I can tell him no.”

“Right, your two-month anniversary. That’s today? I left your gift at home.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “What did you get me? A homemade book about why guys should never be trusted?”

I put my hand on my chest and gasped. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d do at all. And the title was How You Know He’s A Selfish Pig. But whatever.”

She laughed.

“But I’d never give you a book like that for Gabriel,” I added, nudging Isabel. “I really like Gabriel. You know that, right?” Gabriel was sweet and treated Isabel well. It was her last boyfriend—Cade Jennings, king of stupid chants—who inspired imaginary books.