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STOP. KISSING. FINN. - Chapter 21 + Music by Holly Humberstone
"It wouldn't make sense if it wasn't personal."
Chapter 20 recap: In a moment of bravery (or insanity), Charlie makes her private IG public and sends Finn a vulnerable email. She decides her independent study is still salvageable and asks Andy for help.
*5 Months Later*
“I wish this part wasn't required.”
“I don't think there's any getting around it,” Liz said. “Especially for you. You've called in all of your favors.”
“I know. I still can't believe they let me do any of this.”
I was too nervous to eat, so Liz skipped lunch with me. Andy and Jess had emergency chorus rehearsal for their senior performance (three altos had strep throat, requiring last-minute sectional revisions) and were going to meet me after. We sat in the auditorium, which was completely empty and almost dark, except for one row of lights that shined directly above a podium that had been wheeled out to center stage. We spoke just barely over a whisper, but our voices echoed throughout the room.
“Is that where you stand to give your presentation?” Liz asked.
“I guess so.” I swallowed hard.
“Are you nervous?”
“It looks like a chopping block,” I said. “For human sacrifices.”
“It looks like a podium… Remember that spelling bee?”
“It was a geography bee,” I said.
“The point is you kicked ass.”
“Well, that was, like, eighth grade.”
“Still,” she said and propped her running shoes up on the seat in front of her.
“I just wish it wasn't so personal. Nobody else’s presentation is going to be this personal. I wish it was about something more objective.”
“Like food?” Liz asked and giggled.
I laughed, too. “Oh darn, wish I'd thought of that.”
“It wouldn't make sense if it wasn't personal,” Liz said. “Plus, it's all really good. I mean, not like I know anything about poetry. But, I like it. I still can’t believe you never showed us anything before.”
“I should have,” I said, meaning it. I leaned back in my chair and silently watched Liz retie one of her laces.
“I wonder if Finn will be here,” I said quietly. Technically, he would have to be, since his art class was an independent study and the presentation was a requirement. But, I’d learned long ago that the word “requirement” didn’t mean much to Finn.
Liz sighed. “You’ve been doing so good. Please don’t let him upset you now.”
“I know, I know,” I said.
We were quiet for a minute.
“I wonder if Jackie will be here,” I added.
“God, you’re such a masochist! And, yeah, she will. She has to present, too, remember.”
“It’s weird. On one hand, the idea of them being here is basically horrifying. But, on the other hand, I almost feel like I should publicly thank them.”
“For what? Inspiration?” Liz laughed.
“Well, I don’t think you owe Finn anything. Especially not a thank you. That guy is a colossal asshole.”
“Well, what about Jackie?” I asked, and then regretted it. I was really trying not to “test” Liz’s allegiance when it came to me and Jackie. But sometimes I couldn’t help myself.
“Honestly?” Liz asked, unfazed. “Who cares at this point? Who cares about Jackie or Finn or anyone at this school? In four months you'll be rid of this town and you never have to see anyone ever again.”
“You're right,” I said. “Why not go out with a bang. Who cares?” I almost sounded convinced.
“How many minutes 'til this thing starts?” Liz asked.
“Sixteen,” I said without having to check my watch.
Liz leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “I'm going to need a cat nap to get through this day. Wake me in ten.”
“Sleep tight,” I said.
I looked down at the book resting in my lap and ran my hand over the fabric cover for about the thousandth time. It had been my idea to use the various yards of material Gram and I had found together at tag sales and flea markets. Once she’d started feeling better and was strong enough to get up and move around, I'd brought a bunch of swatches over to her new apartment at Green Acres, the retirement community Gram, Marlena and I had picked out together.
“Gram, which of these is your favorite?” I’d asked. We sat across from each other at the newly purchased dining table in her tiny kitchenette.
“This one,” she'd said, reaching into the pile of folded fabrics and pulling out a faded yellow toile.
“Why this one?” I'd asked.
“The hand,” she'd said. “It's a sturdy one, but still soft to touch.”
I used all of the toile on the cover. Riley had shown me how to make the edges and corners smooth. She was surprisingly calm and patient teaching me how to thread the bobbin and use the presser foot. I'm guessing she was relieved that I was better at sewing than I was at cooking.
I'd used bits and pieces of the other fabrics throughout the book. “A multi-media collection of art, collage, prose and poetry” I'd written in the revised proposal I'd given to Trousseau.
“Like a scrapbook?” Andy had asked the night he’d come over with coffee and energy bars. We’d sat the kitchen table waiting for the espresso pot to heat up.
“Kind of, but not exactly,” I had said. “More like a multi-media poetry collection. There’s the physical copy that’s one of a kind, but then I’ll build a separate digital experience based on the book.”
“Whose poetry?” he’d asked,
“Mine, actually,” I'd said
“I didn't know you wrote poetry.”
“I've never really talked about it.”
“Why didn't you ever submit anything to the Anthology?” Andy asked. He was being sincere. In Andy’s world, there was no reason not to submit your poetry to the school literary magazine. Or volunteer for the yearbook, or run for student council. Or wear a grass skirt with a coconut bra in public.
“I don't know,” I said. “I guess I was too embarrassed. I'm still embarrassed. I'll probably regret this whole thing,” I said and covered my face with my hands.
“What’s your poetry about?” he asked.
I stared at him, remembering the time Finn asked me the same question at Dino’s that day we’d skipped class for the first time. And that reminded me of what I’d just done.
“It’s a hard question, I get it. What if I just read something?”
“Well,” I said, pausing for a moment. “That’s now entirely possible since I just changed the user name on my anonymous Instagram to my own.” I was instantly sweaty.
“Hold, please,” he said and pulled his phone from his back pocket.
I stood in my grandmother’s kitchen in silence for what felt like an hour while Andy peered at his phone, periodically using his thumb to scroll down.
“Charlie,” he finally said. “This is really good.” He looked up at me and smiled.
“Uh, I don’t know,” I said and fidgeted with one of the kitchen table placemats.
Andy groaned dramatically.
“There it is again. Come on, what's so hard about admitting that you like something you've done? That you think you're good at something?”
“I mean, I think I’m decent...” I said awkwardly.
“Charlie, you had to have known you were more than decent. You were the one who hit ‘publish’ on this thing.” He let out another flabbergasted groan. “And, can I just say that I'm so tired of self-deprecation. It's so inauthentic. It's like an epidemic at our school – in our town!”
Liz shifted and coughed quietly. I opened the book to the table of contents. I hadn't thought to include one, but Trousseau had strongly recommended it. I'd originally ordered everything chronologically, starting with some of my best poems from freshman year, thinking that I'd be able to tell this story of how much I'd changed since then. But, I noticed that the same themes kept repeating themselves. What I felt and who I was hadn't really changed all that much. Just how I reacted – the words and details – changed.
It reminded me of my first classes with Riley. How she'd tried to teach me “the basics.” If food had actually been my Thing, I could have taken those core principles and any combination of ingredients and come up with a bunch of dishes without ever using a recipe. That obviously hadn't happened.
But it gave me an idea for the book. I still wasn't sure if it really worked, or if anyone would really get it. At the very least, I thought maybe it would make Trousseau and maybe even Riley smile or laugh. I figured with all the slack they'd cut me, I owed them at least that. I turned the page.
Chapter 1: Preparation. It was the section where I put everything I'd written about wondering or worrying or anticipating. I never realized how much of this I did. Practically every other page in every notebook I owned could be boiled down to wondering or worrying or anticipating.
In an unprecedented move of unselfishness, Marlena handed over to me a stack of her small, unfinished canvases. I maybe would have pulled the “you were never a good mother to me and took away the only home I ever knew” card if she'd said “no” when I'd asked. But she'd only sighed and said “I suppose those days are over anyway,” before she dug them out of her closet. I used the faces she'd painted, all in their own unique state of unfinish, to create a collage of worried eyes and twisted mouths. “This definitely helps create a sense of unsettled urgency,” Trousseau had written on a sticky note she'd tacked to the page during our last review. It felt like reading my eleventh grade journal again– in a good way.
Chapter 2: Ingredients. This section was for the stream-of-conscious poems. The lists, the details, the recounting and analysis of dreams. They didn't always tell a coherent story, but seemed just as important. Gram once told me “life is in the details.” She could have said “life is in the ingredients,” and it would have made sense, too.
The design of these pages had less order. I created page borders out of ticket stubs to movies. And, just because I thought it was kind of sad and funny at the same time, I included the stub from my one and only football game. The one I went to with Jackie.
One night I'd found a packet of peanuts she had given us on Halloween. I'd emptied it out and twisted the plastic wrapper into a Japanese-style fan. I pasted it next to my creased copy of “the constitution” that I’d written with Jackie and Liz.
I used the drawstring I’d stolen from Finn's old sweatshirt to spell out the title of another piece I'd called “Regrets.”
Chapter 3: Direction. Yes, it should have been “Directions,” but “Direction,” like the course that a person moves along, just worked better. Direction was for everything I'd written about wondering what to do next or making a decision about how to move forward.
The day we'd cleaned out Gram's basement, I'd set aside a box of stuff I'd found. (“Who's saving this junk?” Bill had asked.) I used the contents – a few old bottle caps, pieces of rosemary Gram had tacked to the wall to dry and then forgotten about, and a box of old matchsticks – for Chapter three’s title page. It was a picture of a house. Not the one I'd had with Gram, but a different one. The matchsticks were the frame, the rosemary was the trees that provided shade, the bottlecaps a stone pathway that lead the way to an open door.
Chapter 4: Yield. In a recipe, the yield is how much you get after following all the directions properly. Like four dozen cookies, or enough soup for eight people. When I shifted gears and started the poetry book, I thought this chapter would wrap up everything perfectly. Like, by the time I got to the last chapter, I would have figured out the point of everything that had happened – the yield.
But, up until a week ago, I didn’t have a single poem. I didn’t have a word. Like, literally nothing. A completely blank page.
I’d called Andy.
“Quick, what are the first five words that come to mind when you think of the word ‘yield?’”
“Yield? Like in driving?” he’d asked.
“Well, no. I hadn’t been thinking of it that way. But, that’s interesting.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I hung up and started writing.
So, the section had just one poem. And, considering that independent study presentations were in just under seven minutes, it looked like one was all it was going to get.
“Liz,” I said and nudged her with my elbow.
“Huh?” she said groggily.
“It's been ten minutes.”
“Thanks. I totally passed out there.”
“You're not going to miss Larry Bolton Memorial field at 6 am.”
“Or your snoring keeping me awake 'til 1 a.m.”
“I don't snore,” I insisted. The Farmers were letting me crash on Liz's futon until the beginning of the fall semester.
“Yes, you do,” she said, yawning. “But, honestly, La Salle is going to be even worse. Two-a-days are going to kill me…” her voice trailed off sleepily.
“Can you believe Jackie’s going to UCLA?” I said carefully, not wanting to seem like I was prying. Jackie hadn’t told me, of course, and I could tell Liz tried not to mention her too much. But, where everyone got accepted or rejected or waitlisted was the only think anybody had been talking about the last few months, so I knew.
“Yeah, she said. “In a few months, the three of us will be in three different states,” Liz said. “On different coasts, even.”
“It's weird, right?” I said just as the lunch bell rang.
Liz turned toward me and propped her arm on the back of the auditorium seat.
“Showtime,” she said.
Now Spinning: Deep End by Holly Humberstone
By my calculations, we have just three more chapters left! I’m excited for you to see how this story ends, but also a little sad we’re reaching the conclusion. Thank you for reading every week, liking, commenting, and sharing.