I don’t remember meeting Scott. I suppose I must have done at some point. I didn’t remember him being there when I’d started in year seven but he was there now. I think he must have started at the start of year 10 that year. He was in most of the same classes as me. I didn’t share many classes with Michelle which was a little odd because it wasn’t a very large school.
I’m not a very social person. I didn’t feel the need to make friends at school. Michelle hadn’t had time for me at school since we’d gone to high school but she seemed happy enough to hang out with me at home and I had my imagination to keep me company at any time she wasn’t available. I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I was in the right place at the right time and had done all of the expected reading and homework. And very little time thinking about what other people thought of me.
I knew I was odd. Enough people had told me that. I knew I sometimes made people uncomfortable with my way of speaking and the way I didn’t look at people’s eyes.
Michelle had tried to coach me for a while. Told me to look at people’s eyeballs. Told me when to smile and what to say. But then people told me that the way I looked too much at people’s eyes was creepy and I decided the whole thing was pointless.
I was much happier when I just tried not to care what people thought. So I mostly tried to leave other people alone and they left me alone.
At some point, probably around March or April, Scott started to talk to me a lot. It took me a while to notice it because he generally just talked a lot to anyone that was nearby. I’d noticed that I’d been the closest person nearby fairly often before I considered the idea that he might be seeking me out specifically.
I did not know what to do with that.
“How do you know if someone wants to be your friend?” I’d asked my mother and sister at the dinner table one day.
They both looked at me, shocked. Looking back, now, I wonder if it was the question specifically or just that I had asked it. I was usually pretty content to listen to them talking and supply answers only if I was asked something.
It’d probably surprise people if they learned I often tried not to talk. I’d often enough tried when I was a child to engage with someone else by listing names of things or explaining how something worked that was interesting to me. I’d been informed that these subjects were extremely boring and I wasn’t sure how to talk about the things that others deemed ‘interesting’. So I just stopped doing it, I suppose.
It was easier with Michelle. We’ve had our own secret language since we were little kids. You can’t bore someone to tears in Bibby language. There aren’t enough words.
“Is there someone at school who you think wants to be your friend, Alan Sebastian?” asked Gillian. She looked and sounded concerned.
“Who is it?” asked Michelle sharply, “a boy or a girl?”. She seemed defensive.
People often assume I have more trouble reading people’s emotions than I do. It’s not that I can’t tell what other people are feeling. It’s that I get confused when it doesn’t match what they are saying or seem related in any way to what I said. It feels safer just to ignore it and go with what people say.
Treat people how you would want to be treated is the golden rule, after all. People often assume I’m thinking or feeling something wildly different to what I actually am. They claim they ‘know what I meant’ when they didn’t. I wish other people would just listen to the words I actually say instead of what they think they heard. So that’s what I try and do.
“Yes,” I said to Gillian, “A boy,” I told Michelle.
“Who is it and why do you think he wants to be friends with you?” asked Michelle.
“It’s Scott Maher and I don’t know,” I replied, “I don’t really understand why anyone would want to be friends with me. He has lots of other friends. Everyone likes him. So I don’t know why he would want to be friends with me. It’s a bit confusing.”
They looked at each other.
“Does he ask anything from you? Does he want you to give him anything?” Asked Gillian.
“No,” I said.
They were quiet.
“You both seem worried,” I said, “I don’t understand why.”
“I just don’t want anyone to take advantage of you, sweetheart,” said Gillian. I don’t like it when she calls me that. My name is Alan Sebastian and it’s confusing to me because she also calls Michelle ‘sweetheart’ and there is a potential ambiguity there which makes me uncomfortable.
“Remember when you used to give your toy cars to Alexander in primary school? Until I punched him in the face.” Michelle smirked.
That made sense. There isn’t any reason anyone would want to be my friend so if someone wants to spend time with me it might be just because I have something that they want and think that I might give it to them. But I stopped giving people things just because they asked a long time ago. I didn’t want Michelle to punch anyone else in the face.
“I don’t think he wants anything from me,” I told them, “He just sits next to me in class sometimes and talks to me. He talks a lot. He doesn’t seem to expect me to say much or anything. But sometimes I do and he says I am a good listener. He does call me ‘Al’ though which isn’t my name and I don’t like it.”
“Maybe he just wants to be your friend,” said Gillian. Which is what I’d said at first and then she’d tried to argue against it and now was arguing with me again from the other side. It was very confusing.
“Do you want to be his friend?” asked Michelle.
“I don’t know.” I had said.
I didn’t really know what to do with the idea that he (maybe) wanted to be my friend. And it wasn’t until I did want him to be my friend that I realised that up until that point I actually had not.
We were in the library, because I often went there at lunch time to do homework so that I didn’t have to worry about it when I was actually at home. I used to worry that it might not be right to do homework at school because it’s called homework. But as it turns out that’s just what it is called and it doesn’t matter whether you do it at home or somewhere else.
I was getting frustrated because I couldn’t get the correct answer to one of my maths problems. It made me angry which made me feel like I might cry which made me angrier at myself. My hands were shaking.
“Hey Al,” said Scott, “What’s wrong?”
“Alan Sebastian,” I said.
Sometimes people ask “what’s wrong” and they mean “calm down, you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” but Scott didn’t seem put out by my distress and confidently told me that that the book was wrong.
Scott was confident a lot of the time. Or acted so. He spoke with authority on many topics. But Maths was one subject we didn’t take together. Maths was streamed at our school, according to ability. I was in the highest stream and he was in one of the lower ones. He didn’t even look at my working. Just the question and the given answer. He told me what the answer should be and it was the same as mine. He didn’t even think about it. Didn’t write anything down.
But the next day in class the teacher informed us that the answer to that problem in the book was wrong. My answer had been correct after all.
“How did you know the answer to that question?” I asked him later.
“I don’t know.” He said, “I mean that’s not true I do know I just… I don’t know how to explain. I’m not good at maths. I don’t know how to do all of the working part and I skip too many steps and guess the answer.”
I watched him do his maths homework after that. I’d told him if he wanted to hang out with me while I did my homework in the library then he should do his too. He told me that was a good idea and that he might actually turn some of his homework in that way. He started coming over to my house even. I’d do my homework and he’d start his and try and do it but end up getting up and walking around touching everything.
I’d always been so stressed about school work. About doing it and getting it in on time. It was astonishing to me that he could just… not do it. And nothing terrible had happened. He hadn’t got detention or been expelled or gotten into trouble. Not that I’d imagined the consequences for not turning in homework should be so very dire: I’d never got that far. The prospect of not doing a thing I knew I was supposed to do was too terrifying in and of itself.
And I watched him. He’d quickly write all the answers down first and then go back and try and fill in the working. Get distracted. Miss questions. Spill his water bottle on the paper. Knock everything onto the floor. Lose it entirely or forget to turn it in.
And I thought… if he only had to do that first part. Writing all the answers down. He’d probably get full marks.
“How do you do that?” I asked him. “Know what all the answers are?”
“I’m just guessing.” He said.
“You’re not though. You’ve got all the answers right.”
“Like when you know the answer but can’t explain why. I was always told off for guessing. You’re supposed to do all the steps in between and I hate it because it’s so boring.”
“I don’t think you know what the word ‘guess’ means,” I said.
“Yes I do!” he laughed.
“A guess is when you don’t know the answer and you make it up. Guess the answer to um… 53 x 47”
“2491” he said.
“What’s the square root of what you just said?”
“Like… almost fifty.” He said.
“That’s not guessing. And it’s also kind of terrifying.” I said. I had goosebumps.
“I know I can do that with bigger numbers than other people but like… if I asked you to guess the answer to 2 + 2 you just know it. Without having to write it down.”
“That’s not what the word ‘guess’ means though”
“It means something different in maths than in other things,” he said. And normally he was the one who confidently told me things and it made my heart race to tell him he was wrong about something. But I showed him in the dictionary and he couldn’t supply any evidence for his assertion and eventually he gave up and said I must be right.
I asked him why he wasn’t in the highest math stream with me and he told me he wasn’t good at maths. He was okay at arithmetic, he conceded. But he didn’t get good marks.
He started to get better marks, after we did our homework together.
I started to keep track of Scott’s homework and assignments, where they differed from mine.
“Your essay is due on the 26th of April.” I told him, “so you should start working on it.”
“No it isn’t. It can’t be.”
“Because the 26th of April is a Sunday this year,” he said.
Scott is worse at keeping track of time than I am. I keep on top of my schedule through leveraging my own anxiety. Scott is regularly astonished by the current date or time. He rarely even knows what day it is.
“What day is it today?” I asked him.
“I have no idea, Al, you’re the one that knows that,” he said.
“Alan Sebastian,” I corrected him.
Scott couldn’t concentrate on anything that bored him even slightly. But he could read a book in an hour. He’d lost library borrowing privileges because he’d lost too many library books but he’d pick up a book and read it straight through without stopping. I watched him. People would accuse him of faking reading because he was turning the pages so fast. But I knew him. He couldn’t sit still to watch a movie. He was always fidgeting and putting things in his mouth. When he read he was finally still – only his eyes flicking back and forth and his hand turning the pages.
He was interesting to me. When he was reading it was safe to look at him. The way his hair curled unevenly. Tight ringlets around his collar and softer waves around his ears. A mixture of different shades of blonde and even brown. His eyes were multicoloured too – brown and green and grey and blue and yellow. I learned the location of every freckle on his arm and rated all his smiles based on the depth of the dimples in his cheeks. He was a contradiction in so many ways and I wanted to understand all of them.
“I like your eyes.” I told him one day, without thinking to stop myself.
“They can’t even decide what colour they are,” he said.
I’d known I was attracted to him for a while. I’d noticed how good looking he was even before I’d known him much or liked him as a person.
But that moment when he held my gaze, my heart thundered in my chest and that was when I knew I loved him and I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted to kiss him and I didn’t think I would ever be able to stop.
I remember the exact moment I first met Alan Sebastian Parker. It was my first day at my new school after moving to my Dad’s place and I saw him standing slightly apart from the rest of the class with his very straight back and his head cocked slightly to the side. He was different from everyone and he didn’t even seem to mind.
I couldn’t help but mind what people thought of me. I wanted to be liked. I needed to be liked. At my old school I hadn’t been. And I was determined it would be different here.
People hadn’t liked me there. They’d asked to share my lunch and I’d happily do so. I loved to share. It gave me no joy to have something that was only mine. I wanted to enjoy other people’s enjoyment. Then they’d eat half my lunch and then laugh at me and throw the rest of my sandwich on the ground when I asked for some of theirs.
There was a girl once, I don’t remember her name. But she told me she was desperately thirsty and could she have a sip of my Popper juice box. “Just one sip” she said and she made eye contact with me as she drank the whole thing down in front of me without taking a breath.
People hadn’t liked me and I hadn’t quite known why. Until they started to call me names and I learned what those words meant and I realised… I had to make sure that wasn’t true again.
I needed to be liked. I needed to be approved of.
Alan Sebastian didn’t appear to have those worries and that was intoxicating to me. I wanted to be near him. I wanted to absorb him and become him. I was drawn to him. It’s funny because although I wanted and needed everyone else to like and approve of me I never felt like I set out to make him like me. I was happy just to be near him. He didn’t give many opinions about things, not at first. He always seemed hesitant to say whether he did or did not like something. Anything. A book. A colour. A food. So whether he did or did not like me seemed like unattainable knowledge. Therefore I didn’t really worry about it.
I liked him a lot. Too much really for my resolution to be different. To be better. To be manlier. To be cool.
I kissed a lot of people that weren’t him. Girls, obviously. In the hopes that it would help. But it didn’t really.
Being around him too much felt dangerous. Like I might end up on the wrong side of a line I didn’t want to cross. A line I didn’t want to admit was even there. But being around him also made me feel so safe. Like being in the eye of a storm and if I stayed there, with him, for long enough I might gain some sense of control.
I felt so out of control most of the time. I couldn’t restrain my impulses to do and say things I’d realise, even immediately, weren’t so wise.
You know those game shows where someone stands in a sort of dome and they blow money around and someone has to catch as much as they can before. the timer runs out? I felt like that. There was no point even attempting to keep track of anything, time, my belongings, my thoughts or feelings. Unless I was actively holding onto it it was whirling around, out of touch and out of reach. And there was only so much I could hold on to at one time.
So I kissed a lot of people. First was Dawn who I liked a lot, obviously. She was older. She
Then later there were others. Girls from school. Tiffany, Tamika and at least two girls named Jessica. And so I knew what to do. If they wanted. And it wasn’t that I wanted them so much as I wanted to be wanted.
But it never lasted. I couldn’t seem to say no to people. Or admit that I maybe wanted to. But when I’d get dumped I’d feel like my heart was being torn to shreds even if I hadn’t thought I’d liked her that much at the time. Being rejected made me hurt so much I felt like I would die from it.
I never really know what to do with my feelings. There are too many of them and they are too strong. Kissing girls didn’t help me handle my feelings for Alan Sebastian. But it gave me something to do.