Girl Code(5)

By: L.D. Davis

“What?” He pulled on the candy necklace.

“You know you’re not a four-year-old child, right?”

“Listen, sometimes you need a snack,” Leo explained with an ultra-serious face. “Maybe you don’t have pockets. Maybe you don’t have a fanny pack—which, by the way, is a big no-no—or maybe you just don’t feel like carrying anything with you. Maybe you’re just chilling and doing some algebra with a pretty girl or a cute guy—I’m the cute guy, by the way—and you just want your hands free. A candy necklace is the perfect, portable snack.”

To make a point, he took a bite of the candy jewelry. I shook my head in disbelief. I didn’t know what to say. All I could think about was how sticky his neck must be.

“Look, I knew you would covet my necklace.” Leo sighed, reaching into his pocket. “So, I got you one, too.” He handed me the small package that obviously came out of a bubblegum machine, probably at the small corner store a few streets away.

I stared again with incredulity. Finally, I shook my head, tossed the candy on the bed in front of us, and dove into the math. Working one on one without the distractions of the pretty girl that was crushing on Leo, we were able to push forward, and before long, I was actually beginning to understand the numbers. The numbers didn’t look like an unsolvable puzzle to me anymore when I looked at a problem. The only distraction was when Leo touched me. He sat so close that his arm often brushed against mine, making the fine hairs on my arm stand at attention as if a ball of static had just passed over my skin. When he felt the need to point something out to me in my notebook, he leaned over me, pressing his chest against my side. When he was that close, I couldn’t help but to breathe in his scent. Whatever cologne he wore and whatever he washed his hair with must have cost a fortune, because there was no way that anything cheap could make a guy smell that good.

I chastised myself every time my body reacted to Leo. I reminded myself that I hated him, that on a normal basis he was still a pain in my ass. It didn’t matter that he was being uncommonly kind and even a little sweet when I did a problem correctly. It was inconsequential that he was making me laugh sometimes, or that his smiles seemed genuinely benevolent and not mocking. None of that mattered. He was still the same Leo Pesciano that called me Tacky, invaded my privacy and personal space and teased me mercilessly. I played along for the time being, but I refused to be duped.

My brother Tack poked his head in a few times to check on us. The door was open, and he was well aware of how much I disliked Leo, but having a boy in my room at night made him automatically distrustful.

“Do you feel better about the test tomorrow?” Leo asked, yawning during the second half of his question. It was nearly eleven by the time we closed our books and tossed our pencils aside.

“Yes, I feel much better. Thank you for your help,” I said sincerely. I looked over at him. “Really, Leo. If I don’t get this now, I’ll fail all year. I didn’t know I was stupid until Advanced Algebra.”

He laughed softly. His head had been tilted back against my headboard and his eyes had been closed, but he opened them and looked at me.

“You’re not stupid, Tabitha. Our brains are just wired differently. Math is my thing. English and writing are yours.”

“I guess,” I said noncommittally.

We were quiet for a few moments. I was thinking of a polite way to kick Leo out so I could go to bed, but he wasn’t done talking.

“I have to tell you the truth,” he said quietly as he picked up my candy necklace. He ripped it open and instructed me to hold my hair out of the way. Absently, I did as he asked and he pulled it on over my head.

“Now you have the perfect, portable snack, too,” he said, lightly fingering the candy on my neck. His warm fingers lightly grazed my skin and I had to swallow several times before I was able to speak again.

“You have to tell me the truth about what?” I managed.

He smiled and spoke in a low, tired voice. “The day I found your precious notebook, I was supposed to be outside for football practice by three, but at the end of my last class, I got nosey and opened it to the first page. I expected notes between you and Leslie or class notes and all of that flowery doodle shit you girls do. I was not expecting basically a handwritten book. I don’t really like to read, nothing ever interests me, you know? But your first few words caught me right away, and I sat there long after class ended and the room cleared out, reading. Eventually, I had to close it and get to practice. I know I told you that I was going to return it to you when I saw you again, but I didn’t expect it to be so soon. I wanted more time to read it, and I was thinking about how I couldn’t wait to get home after practice so I could keep reading, but then you ran into me, and then you got your book back.”