Mayıs 31, 2023

One More Year Ch. 20

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Mrs. A took a deep, steadying breath. It wasn’t often you saw her nervous, but the teachers had more to lose from their moderation sessions than the students did. Our marks could go down – or up – depending on how we did, but Mrs. A had ambitions to be put on the board that directed the syllabus, so every year it remained a big deal for her. But she’d always done well, or she would have less at stake.

“You two-” She indicated Jerry and Sid “Are here to make sure I’m not being too strict, so just have fun. You two-” she said to Lea and Marc, “are here to make sure my curve is the right shape, so for God’s sake, please just try to be consistent. YOU THREE, however-” She turned to Louis, Angela and me.

“You’re here to make sure that I’m not being too lenient, so please, I really need you to shine. Jay, Angela – you did this three years ago, and you were fantastic, so just do it again. Louis, I know I’ve never taught you, but you did amazingly in my prelim, and I’m going to need you to live up to that, okay?”

“Right.” Louis gave her an awkward thumbs up.

“Okay, good.” She nodded sharply. “I have to leave now, because I’m not allowed to interfere. But please just have fun, relax, and do well.” She looked at the three different groups, in turn, to make it clear that those were three separate commands. After that, she turned and stiffly made her way to the door.

It was a bit strange to see Marc and Louis standing right next to each other. I never got around to telling Louis about my crush, but it seemed almost pointless now. Academic. Historical. I vaguely remembered not wanting to get too close to Louis, back when I first met him, because I thought he’d looked too much like Marc, and I hadn’t wanted to revisit that.

But seeing them together made me wonder what I’d been thinking. Marc looked so different – scruffier, shorter, blunter features. Louis looked like a much more refined version, if he even looked like him at all. I’d thought they could have been brothers, but that seemed like a bit of a stretch now. Maybe cousins, at most. All they really had in common was the hair colour.

Louis’ features were sculpted in a way that Marc’s weren’t. His face was all ridges and angles that could almost make him look mean, if he wasn’t almost permanently wearing a slight smile that went all the way up to his eyes. And Louis worked out – just a bit, but it was a lot more than Marc – so he was lithe and lean, and you could see actual muscles shifting when he turned his neck.

“Jay.” Angela’s voice caused me to snap to attention.

“Uh, yeah?”

“I was saying that she’d probably be a lot calmer if she knew we’d been practising.” Her tone was slightly clipped – mildly exasperated at my wandering mind, probably. Fair enough. It wasn’t really a good time to get distracted.

“Right.” I grinned. “But we’re technically not allowed, and it would have freaked everyone out.” I nodded back to the other four.

“Yes, I said that.” She frowned. “You are ready for this, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, sorry.” I shook my head. “My mind’s wandering a bit. Too much prep. I’m probably daydreaming about my favourite books.”

“Well, that would be good.” Louis smiled softly. “I think we’re pretty well-prepared though. And there’s nothing on Jay’s list that he hasn’t talked to me about for fun.”

Honestly, I still didn’t quite get why we had prepared so much, but the group sessions had been okay. It was probably good to get into the habit of working hard, for when we started studying for finals – which we’d be doing as soon as this week was over.

Besides, when we’d split up for the day, Louis had hung around at my house, or I’d given him lifts home, and that had been kind of fun. I really enjoyed hanging out with him, and unlike a lot of other people, I never got tired of him being around.

“She’s here.” Angela looked pointedly towards the door towards the door.

A friendly looking woman with short, grey hair was talking to Mrs. A just outside, and patted her on the shoulder. She had a fluffy, bright-pink jersey on, and wore a large pair of spectacles. The general impression she gave off was that of someone’s grandmother – she didn’t look anything like the formal, stuffy moderators we’d had for other subjects so far.

“Good morning students. If you take your seats, we can get started.” She settled down at the head of a circle of desks Mrs. A had arranged, and we all nervously took our places. Mrs. A had of course told us all where to sit, so that we were in the order the moderator would have on her list.

“Now, before we do anything, I’d like to go through my list and just nod if I read your name, so I can know who I’m talking to. I’m Mrs. Morris, but you can just call me Rita. We’re here to talk about the books you’ve read, and discussed in a similar way earlier this year. Let’s begin by making sure I know who’s who.”

“Angela Saccente.” Angela nodded, and Rita took a note. “Jason Newell. Louis Calvet. Marc Mitchell. Lea Goodman. Sid Vee. Jerry Ankara escort Fielding.” The nods proceeded around the table, as Mrs. A had intended, and Rita gave the group a warm smile. “Oh my, we are very organised today, aren’t we? Alright, let’s get right into it. Angela, from your list here, I can see you read Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. How was it?”

“It was okay.” Angela grinned. “I thought it would be better.”

The shock of Angela making a joke almost made me miss it, but when Rita broke into a hearty chuckle I laughed too, and after frowning for a second Louis joined in. Lea laughed nervously, but no one else did, and Sid looked very confused.

“Very well.” Rita smiled. “Was that answer just for the joke, or were there parts of it which you found… objectionable?”

“Oh, no.” Angela blushed. “There were definitely parts I didn’t like. Ms. Havisham, for example.”

“What about her was it, exactly?”

“Her entire treatment.” Angela then began to give an impassioned summary of why she thought Dickens had been so problematic in his construction of a female character whose sole purpose revolved around betrayal by – and revenge on – men. I zoned out a bit, not because I didn’t agree, just because we’d talked a lot about it already, in our prep. I looked over to Louis, and he gave me a grin.

He’d probably heard it more often – all the books on my list were ones I’d loved, so they’d worked on memorising theirs much harder than I had. They’d quizzed me over mine once or twice, but once it became clear that I had an obsessive grasp of detail over something I’d actually enjoyed, they’d paired off and I could work on other things. I was up for moderation for more subjects than the two of them, anyway, so Sue and I had worked on preparing for Accounting while they’d gone over their book lists.

Angela finished her review, and Rita smiled. “That’s an excellent analysis. Thank you, Angela. Has anyone else read great expectations?”

The rest of us shook our heads. I actually had, but it had bored me to tears, and I was worried that saying that – which would be the main thing I could contribute to the discussion – wouldn’t put me in that good a light. You were supposed to like classic, foundational literature. Not fall asleep when trying to struggle through it.

I was next on Rita’s list, and she asked about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I still had my analysis prepared and memorised from the last time I’d done it, and I more or less made my way through it smoothly. When she quizzed me about the details, I think I did pretty well, and she looked fairly pleased. “All right. That’s quite good, Jason. And which of the characters would you say you identify with?”

Louis chuckled. “Careful, Jay’s going to say he thinks he’s Hyde.”

I laughed, and Rita smiled. “So would you identify with Jekyll then, and his transformations into Hyde – which symbolise him giving into his baser, darker urges?”

I cleared my throat. “Uh, yeah. I guess. We all have parts of our personality we don’t quite like, that we occasionally let out.”

“I see. Who else has read Jekyll and Hyde?” Rita asked. Angela and Louis raised their hands. Unsurprisingly, no one else did. Marc had been a bit better with reading when we’d been close, but this might have been a bit too old to appeal to him. Rita nodded at Angela and Louis. “And do you two know Jason fairly well?” They both nodded. “Excellent. And which character would you think he is?”

“Gabriel, definitely,” Angela said firmly. “He’s got his flaws, and he makes misjudgements sometimes, but he’s still essentially a good person, and it’s not as if he’s on a downward spiral.”

Rita chuckled, looking at my expression. “It would seem he doesn’t agree. What do you think, Louis?”

Louis smiled. “I think Jay’s too hard on himself sometimes. He’s not a monster, he’s just way too introspective. Definitely Gabriel Utterson.”

I laughed at that, even if it made me blush slightly. Rita smiled warmly. “Are the three of you good friends?” We all nodded, and it made me feel really happy how none of us had hesitated or shown the slightest bit of self-consciousness about that.

“Well, then I’d stick to this line of questioning, but move on to one of Louis’ books. Let’s see if we can find one all three of you have read. Raise your hands if you have. Let’s see – The Alchemist? No. The Picture of Dorian Grey? No. Pride and Prejudice? Ah, excellent.”

My eyes had shot across to Louis when she’d said the last one as I’d put my hand up. I hadn’t put Pride and Prejudice on my list. I’d had too many other candidates, and I’d kind of wanted my selection to seem cool to Mrs. A back when we’d done it. Louis and Angela had gone through theirs together, mostly without me, but I couldn’t believe I completely missed that it had been on his. One of my favourite books. I really should have paid more attention.

“All right then. Louis, who in the book would you say you identify Ankara escort bayan with?”

Louis grimaced. “So, I don’t want to immediately go for one of the main characters, but… Mr. Darcy does a lot of things that he thinks are good for the people around him, and he doesn’t do it to make people think well of him, he just does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.”

“And you identify with that?” Rita asked.

“Well, it’s not as if I’m running around breaking up engagements or forcing people to get married.” He blushed slightly. “But I try to help my friends where I can. To be there, and offer advice, and maybe just listen if I can’t do anything else. I also don’t always get it right – sometimes I misjudge someone, or am wrong about what someone else is thinking, and then the result backfires. I guess I identify with that.”

“Jason, do you think Louis is right in that summation?”

I smiled at him quickly. “Yeah, absolutely. Louis is always fixing up my messes, and I haven’t even known him for a whole year yet. But he’s a lot more charismatic than Darcy – he’s not going around putting people off his personality. Everyone likes Louis.”

Louis blushed, and Rita turned to Angela. “So Angela, do you agree with Louis’ assessment, and Jason’s?”

“I think Louis is right that he tries to help all his friends, and sometimes that might not always go well for him. And I think Jay is right that Louis is much more likeable than Darcy ever manages to be.” She smiled warmly at him. “But I think they’re both missing the fact that Louis, out of a sense of principled behaviour, hides what he wants so much that sometimes it makes him misstep occasionally. He’s also quite like Darcy in that way.”

I frowned at Angela, wondering what she meant by that. Between the fact that they’d been going to the same university visits together, and sharing rides home from most of our study sessions, they’d grown pretty close. I didn’t realise they’d gotten that close, though. Closer than he and I were, it seemed. I felt vaguely jealous at the idea that Louis was telling her more than he ever told me. I wondered if he’d come out to her yet – he hadn’t told me about it, if he had.

“Well, isn’t that interesting!” Rita said. “I’d love to explore that further, but I unfortunately only have you all for a limited time, so I’ll move on to other questions about the book. Now, let’s see.”

She asked Louis a few more, and I tried not to interrupt – even if I liked it more, she was trying to make sure he was the one who had actually read it, since it was his selection. Then she continued down the line, asking everyone about the books on their list.

Marc had some fun takes, and only made a minor misstep when he started getting The Hobbit mixed up with events from its movie adaptations. Lea didn’t have any great insights, but she could solidly prove that she’d read everything she’d said she had. Sid and Jeremy were lost, but that was expected. It looked like Mrs. A would be happy with the way this one turned out.

After the session, I dashed off to the bathroom, which I’d needed for a while. We’d be waiting for Sue, Ellie and Sara to finish their Economics tutorial, before we drove home for the day’s study session. Although we’d probably do something social first, since we probably all needed a small break, and Ellie would probably enforce that.

Jamie lay sprawled across the bench in the bathroom, looking casual and relaxed, as always. I almost would have laughed. It had been a while since I’d seen him in there, but something about it felt oddly normal and comforting.

He grinned up at me. “Heyyy, it’s Jayyy.”

“Hi, Jamie.” I dashed right past him, into one of the stalls. I had more urgent needs than chatting.

He was still there when I got out, but he’d twisted around on the bench so that he was sitting. I walked past him to the basins and began washing my hands. Through the mirror, I saw him stand.

“So, what are you doing here today?” He stepped up next to me. It almost sounded like an accusation. I knew he was here for the Economics tutorial – although he was clearly avoiding it, if he was hiding out here in the bathroom.

“English moderation.” I nearly sighed. I was pretty tired and bored after the session, and I didn’t really have the energy for him right now.

He nodded. “Ah, cool. How’d it go?”

“Fine, I think.” I shrugged.

“Cool, cool. I’m only up for AP maths tomorrow. You in on that one?”

“Yep. I’ve been up for five subjects. Awful, right?”

He laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yeah. Rough, man.”

“Tomorrow will be my last one, though. So that’s a relief.” I dried off my hands, and turned. “Anyway, see you tomorrow then.”

“Wait.” His hand shot out, and grabbed my arm. “Sounds pretty stressful, with all those moderation sessions. Want to… blow off some steam?”

I looked down at where he was holding me, and back up at his face. He stepped in close and pressed Escort Ankara himself up against me, his breath washing over my skin. Fuck, Jamie was hot. It had been stupid of me to ever pretend my crush on him had ever been anything I could control. It seemed like he was over whatever it was that had been making him keep his distance from me.

But I didn’t really want him touching me any more. Well, not entirely. I could feel his warm hand on my arm, and I could still remember what his skin tasted like. There’d always been a voice in my head that convinced me that what I wanted to do was always the right thing to do. But I was so tired of listening to that part of myself and, this time, I was determined not to.

I slowly moved my head forward, until there was only a finger’s width between our lips. I had no intention of actually kissing him, but I wanted to see what he would do. To his credit – I guess – he paused for a moment, before turning his head to the side. “I uh… still don’t want to kiss.”

I pulled my head back slightly, and nodded, satisfied. I reached up my hand to his cheek, and turned him back to face me. “That’s fine, Jamie. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” I patted his cheek, and reached down to my arm, prising myself out of his grip. “But neither do I.”

He didn’t have a response, and just stared down at his hand – the one that had been gripping me – as if he couldn’t believe I’d managed to pull away. If I’d stopped to think about it, I might have been a bit surprised too. He looked back up at me with a strange, curious smile on his face.

“I’m going to be very busy.” I took a step back, and headed for the door. As I reached it, I turned back with a huge grin on my face and winked. “See you around.”

I felt like I’d finally done something right. Maybe it was just how I’d been feeling since things had fallen apart with Eric and Nick, or maybe it was Louis’ good example – along with the knowledge that he didn’t always get it right when it came to love, either. But I was feeling really good about myself.

I was practically beaming as I saw Louis moving towards me down the hall. He stopped me with a gentle hand on my arm. “You okay? You look weirdly happy.”

“I kind of am.” I was almost bouncing. “I’ve finally made at least one good decision.”

“Well, congratulations. You can tell me about it later. I need the bathroom too.” He let his hand drop. “Uh, listen, I don’t know if this makes things awkward for you, but I kind of… Just told Angela I was gay.”

“Oh, wow. Big step.”

“Yeah.” He grimaced. “I’d normally have told her by now, because I really trust her, but I didn’t want to make things awkward for you. But I kind of realised that she’d already guessed, so it felt weird not to tell her. Sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine. Angela’s… trustworthy.” I shrugged. “So, she knew? Is that what that Darcy thing was about?”

“No. That was something else.” He put his hands in his pockets and looked away.

“You can tell me if you want. But obviously you don’t have to.”

“Good.” He looked back at me and grinned. “Because I’m not going to.”

“All right then, Gandalf.” I laughed. “Keep your secrets.”

“I will.”

We broke apart, heading in our separate directions. I got to the wall Angela was sitting against, and slid down on the floor next to her. “Hey.”

“Hi.” Her pale grey eyes lifted to my face, and she smiled slightly.

We sat there quietly for a while, but then a strange sense of resolve, or recklessness, came over me. I’d known Angela forever now. She never gossiped, or said anything derogatory about anyone. I’d even heard her passionately defend gay rights once. She was definitely trustworthy, and the fact that Louis also thought so made me feel really safe, somehow.

I cleared my throat. “Louis says you know things.”

“I do.” She smiled mysteriously. “I know many things.”

My entire social life had changed – Ellie, Louis, Melissa, even John and Sara were my friends now. Angela and Sue had always been around, and that relationship had always been sort of professional, but now we kept seeing each other socially too. It was kind of great, even though I knew that everything would change once finals were over.

Maybe I felt kind of jealous that things were already out in the open between her and Louis. It seemed crazy to me that I’d been hanging out with this cool, stable, loving person for three years, and we’d only just developed some sort of personal relationship. It made me feel kind of like taking a chance – especially since Louis had already taken it.

“Did you know that… I’m gay?” I asked softly.

“I did.”

“And do you have any thoughts on that?” My heart was racing.

“Not particularly.” She shrugged. “Unless you want to be more specific.”

I took a deep breath. “I do not.”

“Then I have no thoughts.”

“You know many things, and have no thoughts,” I mused.

“It’s almost Buddhist, isn’t it?” She laughed.

I just grinned back. I felt giddy. It wasn’t quite a proper coming out – she’d already known, and even the way I’d asked her had acknowledged that. But it was a start. I hadn’t really had to outright tell someone since Jamie, and that was hardly a good blueprint, given what had happened afterwards.