“It may be noticed that decimals are very much like fractions. In fact — and this is exciting — they are fractions. You see, a fraction is any part of a whole — though you can express them as being bigger than an integer even though not all of them are — and a decimal is just a fraction expressed with a denominator of some multiple of ten. The notation for decimals entails putting your digits that would otherwise be thought of as integers when on the left-hand side of the decimal point and-”
My forehead smacked my fake wood desk. Our teacher, Mr. Grayson, has all the charm of a cinder block, so I tend to fall asleep in class a lot.
“Dude! Are you ok?” Jordan loudly whispered. I looked around. Mr. Grayson, who never notices anything, also seemed to not notice one of his fifth graders nearly getting a concussion in the second row. All the kids in the class did, though, and I was getting some funny looks and a lot of snickering giggles.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, blushing. I rubbed my forehead to numb the pain.
“Hey, since you’re up,” said Jordan, under her breath, “why’d you dump Henry? I heard you guys made out.”
“I didn’t dump him,” I protested. “He-…we-…it just wasn’t quite right.”
“What, the kissing?”
“No!” I almost yelled. Mr. Grayson didn’t miss a monotone beat. I vaguely heard him say something about proper and improper as I stalled for time, trying to figure out what I was going to say. Why is it so uncomfortable to talk about boys and stuff like that?
Jordan let out a little squeal of excitement. I rolled my eyes.
“So you did kiss him! What was it like? Jenny Marcinko said that last year at theater camp she kissed a boy from Toronto, which I was like Toronto?, really?, and anyway she said it was weird and terrifying and wet and it was magical. Was it magical?” Sometimes she talks so fast it’s like someone throwing an extra big water balloon at you. It hits you and explodes and it takes you a second to realize that it’s all over and you’re soaked to the bone.
“He just…” I trailed off. Words failed me. Mr. Grayson droned something about Line up to add up. What was it about Henry anyway? And why did Jordan care? It seemed like a lot of people cared about other people’s relationships, come to think of it.
An incident from Labor Day a week or so prior popped into my mind. My mom was off work and I was off school, so she took me to Jumpstart!, one of those coffee shops where the employees don’t seem to shower very much. It was near our house, and Mom wanted some “mother-daughter” time. Oy. Anyway, we were sitting there sipping our drinks, my mother trying her best to get me to “share.” Gross.
Over Mom’s shoulder and behind the counter I could see a dreadlocked barista methodically swaying her hips to the funky beat of the in-house live band, which consisted entirely of a guy sitting in the corner in ratty clothes belting out an acoustic, slow-jam version of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.
“How are you?” She made serious, sincere, earnest parental eye contact. It was unbearable.
“Fine,” I said, putting on my best fake smile. A group of mid-forties moms had just collected their drinks and crammed themselves around the tiny table next to us.
“No, how aaaare you?” She dragged out the are the way only moms can. She put her hand on mine and squeezed. “I want to know what’s going on with you.”
“I’m into drugs now.” Ugh. Forced touchy-feely talk with a parental unit. The neighboring mom-squad all chatted at once. They sounded like hyperactive geese…well…hyperactive geese wearing matching black spandex workout clothes. With make-up.
“Come on, Emma,” she pleaded. “I’m just trying to get to know you.”
And she was; I knew that. Whenever she gave me that Mom Look, though, my words would get all squished up in my throat like two fat guys trying to fit through a little door. Time to pull out something shiny.
“Well, I was just thinking about how I want to have an important job like you someday.” That did it. Mom looooved to talk about her job. Her eyes lit up like a puppy who has just spotted a squirrel, a duck, and two chickens sitting in his food bowl.
“Oh, honey, I’m so glad you’re interested! Just the other day we got this new report about organic farming yields and….” She was in the zone and would be occupied for at least fifteen minutes.
The mom-squad was quieter now, focused on one storyteller. The fair-haired, sun-freckled speaker dished the latest gossip about another mom who apparently spent her mornings actually working out (which I’m guessing meant she ran a real risk getting some bit of genuine sweat on her black spandex workout clothes).
“I mean, you know why she’s killing herself in the gym, right?” Freckles said, faux-whispering and clearly audible. The group leaned in, totally focused. “Ever since George left her, she’s been, you know, looking around.” The other moms nodded, getting something that I didn’t. “Anyway, I hear she’s found one. He’s an orthopedic fellow at Sacred Heart, he’s just twenty-eight, and he looks like what’s-his-name in Thelma and Louise. Can you believe it?”
The other moms inhaled sharply and covered their mouths.
“Shaaaake…iiiiiitt…offff…” moaned the guitarist. Dreadlocks slow-motion pirouetted, not spilling a drop of the extra large macchiato she was preparing.
“And get this,” Freckles continued, “You know her oldest, Spencer, is pre-med, right? Well, I hear that Mr. Cowboy-hat Doctor is pulling strings to get him a spot in next Fall’s med school class. He’s only six years older than Spencer!” The moms variously shook their heads, clicked their tongues, and hmmm’ed.
I couldn’t hear much more of the conversation because Mom had gently smacked her palm on the table, apparently to make an important point about something to do with the hole size of swiss cheese. That brought me back to pretending to pay attention to her. The soloist in the corner shrieked, “MY…EX…MAN…AND…HIS…NEW…GIRLFRIEND….”
Despite that, I could tell that the mom-squad kept gabbing about their friend and the doctor for a while because over the next few minutes, I could make out a NO! and a They’re going where? and a Married!?.
Anyway, it stuck with me that these women seemed to be living their lives through the adventures of their divorcee friend. Why did they care? I mean, I like Jordan and Eva and my other friends, but it just doesn’t matter to me if they say they like this boy or that boy.
And now Jordan sounded just like the spandex-clad mom-squad. She looked at me, waiting. I hesitated.
“OMG, I knew you weren’t listening.” Jordan rolled her eyes. “I swear I don’t know how your head doesn’t just wander away from your shoulders sometimes.”
“How could my head wander away?” The memories, Mr. Grayson’s droning, and my aching forehead all made me foggy. Jordan smiled and shrugged. She returned to drawing hearts all over her notebook cover. In the upper right corner she had drawn a really fancy one with curly cues and three different colors of pen. In the middle it read E+H 4ever. It was crossed out.