Immediately I want him. Not because he has pierced ears. Not because he has unruly brown hair and gray-blue eyes. I want Tate Newman because he is wearing a two-toned blue handwoven yarmulke atop his head. It’s like he’s wearing a piece of his soul outside himself. I’ve been watching him for a few weeks now. We have math together, which is where I noticed the yarmulke. He’s just returned from a summer trip to Israel with a big group of Jewish kids from Bentley. He’s the only one in the group still wearing his yarmulke, and when I look at him, I see audacity and spirit, and I want those things in my life. I decide I want him in my life.
He says my name like we’ve talked a million times before.
I wonder if he can hear the nervous laughter behind my voice.
“Calculus,” he says.
And I know exactly what he means.
“Calculus,” I say.
So this is how we meet. We meet after school in the hallway of Bentley High over happenstance and a calculus problem.
He couldn’t know that I have a secret passion for all things calculus. Calculus, as it has been described by our math teacher, “is the study of change.” I like the idea of infinitesimal change. Small change in several steps makes sense to me because it feels like somehow I can control it. I am in charge of getting the numbers and symbols where they need to go. And though from start to finish it looks different on paper, I am really showing the tiniest shift. What I can’t control in real life is the sudden, catastrophic change that often comes without steps or warning and makes life insufferably different. Like a dead mom. Calculus? Calculus is change I can wrap my head around.
He says it again. My name.
“Yes,” I say, answering the question he hasn’t asked yet. “I can help you with the calculus problem.”
“Thank you,” he says.
I’m smiling again, and I notice when he looks at me he cocks his head a little like he’s trying to figure me out.
“What?” I say.
I let myself laugh because I might explode if I don’t.
“Yes,” he says. “It’s weird we’ve never met before. I think we’re supposed to be friends.”
Supposed to be.
“Okay,” I say. “Then let’s be friends.”
“Whatever that means, Tate. Fast friends.”
Talking to Tate is like swimming underwater. Everything silences, and it’s just him and me. But I can’t breathe.
“Talk after class tomorrow and we’ll sort something out?”
I can’t breathe but somehow I speak. “Looking forward to it.”
Marissa lies on my bed reading a magazine, her feet resting on my pillow, her long brown-auburn hair hanging off the side in its usual mess of waves. A half-eaten candy bar sits next to her. How can she do that? Eat only half.
I’m at my desk working on a four-part calculus problem. I have part one and half of part two completed, but I’m not in the zone.
“Oh my God,” she says. “Turn it up. I love this song.”
She’s right. The music is good. Really good. Deep, gospel-like singing, severe drums, a choral background. It’s rock and soul, emotional. I lose myself. First, it’s the singer’s voice pulling me into the music and out of my calculus homework. Then, the drums have me tapping my pencil on the desk, bobbing my head with the beat. Finally, the choral background kicks in with the crescendo. Colors, lights, feelings burst and swirl in me. I close my eyes and let the music swallow me. And then the song is over and I look at my half-finished calc problem.
“Because I can concentrate so much better with the music blaring?” I say. I look past Marissa where my guitar leans against the nightstand. I wonder if I could trim the song down and cover it with just the guitar. I’d have to change the key. Lower.
Marissa tracks my gaze and props her head in her hands. “Write anything good lately?”
“I’m almost finished with the song I played for you the other day. It’s not right, though.”
She sighs, and with a smile she says, “Ade. Always the perfectionist. I thought it was amazing.”
“It’s not amazing yet.”
“It will be.” Just like that, Marissa believes in me, unfailingly, ferociously.
I put my pencil down, hating that my calculus problem is half finished and I’ll have to start from scratch when I get back to it. But I should have known I wouldn’t get much done with Marissa here. She flips the page in her magazine, a history book lying untouched on the floor next to her.
“Make contact with Josh today?” I ask her.
“And he’s so . . . uninteresting.”
“I’m bored. We have to stop doing our thing. It’s so old.”
I think about Josh and his piercings and his attitude and the way he’s always just there for Marissa, and I say, “Yeah. I get it.” I feel bad for the guy. Josh pales in comparison to Marissa, with her light and love and charisma. He’s a stoner who fails classes and plays video games every spare second. But he’s been home base for Marissa all through high school. He’s the guy she’ll keep returning to because he’s a warm body, and he always wants her. The same cannot be said of her deadbeat dad who left when she was a little girl.
“So who now?”
She raises an eyebrow and glances back at her magazine.
“Missy! Who?” She hates it when people call her Missy, but I do it because we’v...