By Andrew Fagan
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This is what it all comes down to for him. Tied game, bottom of the 9th, bases loaded with the ace closer on to defuse the bomb. He grips his controller with a little bit more pressure than usual, signifying the critical situation unfolding before him. If he could just get a ground ball, he could do this. In his room, his small aqua, embarrassingly cluttered room, he becomes the scene he imagines - whether while sleeping, daydreaming or playing video games. Now, the fate of the Red Sox season hangs in the balance, and he is in the spotlight, a position to which he knows he is entitled. Not yet, however. Now is the time for people who have no patience. Mother is sometimes right with her platitudes about the virtues of patience. Father cynically suggests that patience makes one a Communist. They are not in the room, where defense against the Russians has been prepared, so that any sort of Communist force could be decisively beaten. The room is his.
Mother comes to the door, however, to act like a timer, reminding him that there are responsibilities owed to homework and sleep, not to mention staying away from watching FOX and getting enough sunlight, not to mention not smoking and drinking. He is easily corruptible, she knows, and the hours he spends sitting in his room reading and playing games are better than the streets, but what about friends? He says that no one likes him, which means he’s shy, because everyone outside of school does, she knows. She leaves the door to return to her life and he has barely noticed. He has lost the game. His unwillingness to throw a strike - to draw the line, make a stand, force the issue - caused him to walk the winning run home. He has failed himself, and he has failed the Red Sox. It will take another long, difficult season to get to this point. This visibly angers him, as he lowers his head and clenches his fists, as if he is weeping. He looks at the clock. It reads five minutes until the bus comes to go to the dance. He is now unhappy. Very unhappy.
In this mood, he walks across the lighted residential street to the bus stop. A light mist hangs in the air. The streetlights look like they are crying soft tears, tempering their light with a shade of melancholy. He wonders why they have reason to cry, when the situation is so much worse for him. At least they have a set place in the order of things. He sees the bus approaching, and snaps himself to attention, ready to present the cool image he wishes he was to the other travelers of the lonely night. Boarding the bus, he pays his fare, shakes the dew from his jacket, and takes a single seat by the window. He prefers sitting in a one-seat row because he finds the silent presence of a stranger unsettling. When he wants to be alone, he goes to great lengths to ensure his solitude. He wishes he had a car.
Looking out the window, he looks past the lighted sidewalks and darkened storefronts. The reflection of the passing headlights and streetlights become the steady, soothing background in which he loses himself. After baseball, reflection has become his second favorite hobby. He reflects on the crushing defeat he suffered at home, and wonders what further losses he may suffer through tonight. He reflects on school, his relationship to his classmates and to his teachers. He wonders who, if anyone, he will talk to. He assumes his few, fellow pariahs (friends) will not be present at the dance, but he holds out hope he is not going solely to confirm his sneaking suspicions that he is the most unpopular person in his class. He reflects on the senselessness of hope, but at the same time, he is holding out hope that something, anything, will change.
The dance floor is alive - bursting with flashing, strobe-like lighting and adolescent energy running free. But not in him. He has positioned himself along the dark fringes of the bacchanal teenage revelry. Why? He has no recourse to fall back on were he to act boldly and step up and party like the cooler people on the dance floor who don’t care. They all have their friends. There is no tension or mistrust among them. There are no disputes about who gets to dance with who. There is no question about their popularity - it is their ticket to action without consequence.
A girl he once thought about peers over through the flashing spotlights at him. He nervously looks down and away; she titters, amused at his reticence. She would have asked him to dance if he weren’t so shy. He obviously just refused her tacit proposition. But does he realize it? Apparently not. If he were attracted to her, he would have smiled or waved or walked over to her and took her by the hand into the dance of the next song. But no, that moment has passed. She wonders why for a second, and then, partnerless as well, withdraws to her group of female friends to discuss how much Math sucks, how she never gets cute guys to talk to her and the other prospects for the evening. He leaves the cafeteria and the teachers eye him warily, remembering stories of the quiet detached ones. They know him in the academic sense as a disciplined, trained mind who nonetheless experiences trouble with concentration and self-expression. But it is a large school, and the ones who make the trouble now need more attention than the quiet kids who might just like to be quiet.
Consumed by frustration, he walks the empty hallways of his high school - upset, confused, alone. He seeks no council nor would he accept it if it were offered to him. It is for the best that the hallways are empty. Outside his Chemistry classroom, he watches the rain and wonders what he’s really missing. He is comfortable, in that he has a stable home and a secure life. He wonders why this seems so ugly and boring to him. Lost in his thoughts staring out the window, he ponders the clouded nighttime sky. The pace of the rain begins to increase steadily. He reflects on the wonders of meteorology, and wonders if that would be a good career for him. He works on a strategy for next time he faces a tough situation in his baseball game. He lets his mind go blank and tries to relax. It is not until sometime later that he awakes from his reverie. Nothing has changed tonight, and he doubts his lot will improve anytime soon. The rain is pouring down now, and the clouds are flashing with the hint of a cleansing thunderstorm. He is eating himself alive with a conscience that weighs heavy from the burden of inertia. To lighten this load, he begins to walk slowly back towards the dance, where perhaps he can learn from classmates free of such concerns. He wonders about the future as he squeaks his loafers on the waxed tiles. He hears the pumping beat of the music resonating through the halls, growing louder and more intense with each step he takes towards the cafeteria. Something is going to change.
The brewing storm outside is matched in intensity only by the storm raging inside him. He steels himself to pass by his teachers with his well-practiced facade of coolness, and as he passes them, exchanges nods and wan smiles. He looks around the cafeteria and sees that nothing has changed here either. He was holding out hope for a drastic change in mood, where he could fit in with a clique of similarly depressed and introspective teens. But he has been afforded no such luck. He walks coolly to the vending machine, where he buys a soda - for he believes that sitting, watching and drinking his soda will appear much cooler than just sitting and watching.
He is surprised to feel a tap on his shoulder, and braces himself internally to face a taller, more attractive male classmate ready to heap hot coals of derision and scorn onto the already burning fires of frustration aflame in his heart. But he is completely shocked to instead see the soft, friendly face of the girl he was afraid to look in the eye before. He groans internally, believing this attention to be worse, because this goddess of hell was likely going to do worse damage than any guy could inflict. His worst fears for the night seemed to be unfolding before his eyes.
They exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the unthinkable - to dance. She sees the fright in his eyes and reflects on her decision to act, wondering if this was going to turn out as badly as her friends presume it will. After all, they saw no reason for him to be here, let alone for one of them to pay him any attention. But a change comes over him and he smiles warmly, saying yes. She takes him by the hand out to the dance floor and they begin to groove like the others who don’t care.
Suddenly, there is a loud crash and the lights go out. Lightning flashes in the windows, and she clutches him, shaking. He stiffens, looking around uselessly in the darkness, wondering what he is supposed to do. He hesitantly relaxes and holds her, whispering reassuring words to her. He is struck by the enticing smell of her hair and his heart begins to pound. He feels himself begin to shake, but not because of the storm. She asks him if he is scared of thunderstorms, and he says no, saying they don’t bother him. He wonders how someone their age could still be afraid of lightning, but even he knows better than to ask that question.
Dim emergency lights come on, and the teachers spread out through the crowd to make sure that everyone is alright. They see this unlikely pair together, and internally express relief, not at their safety, but that he is with another person, out of his self-imposed solitude.
He asks her if she would like to go sit down. She counters by asking if he would like to take a walk. She says she would like to talk and get to know him better. He agrees, since they are nothing more than aware of each other. She tells him to wait a moment while she gets her purse, and he takes a seat at a table. He watches her and notices that her friends are looking at him intently as she says a few words to them, and then, almost in unison burst out laughing at her. He wonders what is so funny before he realizes it is him. He reflects on this reversal of fortune and, as she defiantly turns her back on her friends and comes back to him, wonders if this is change.
It is certainly not how he expected change to come, and certainly not how he expected tonight to proceed, but he realizes that he has been given an opportunity, and realizes that determination means nothing unless it is acted upon. She forced the issue with him after he chose to be shy, and it may just be that the change he was looking for in everyone towards him was only possible if he was willing to concede that he had emotion. He is satisfied with who he is on the inside, but now realizes that perhaps if he let something show on the outside, everyone might see that he has so much to offer on the inside.