After class Michael, Nichole, and Alyx stayed to discuss forming a study group. During class their makeshift group had gained another classmate named David. They walked together to a lounge area and settled in. What originally started in earnest as a study group soon devolved into a chat group that occasionally discussed French. Other classmates who came to a “study” session soon learned their mistake and took to studying elsewhere. August soon gave way to September, and the group’s penchant for joviality was famous; even when it was at each other’s expense.
“That was a good one, Michael,” David chuckled. Michael snapped, “I didn’t know, OK? ‘Excité’ looks like ‘excite.’ I figured it meant the same thing.” Alyx politely offered, “Well, I guess it can if you use it the right way. I mean, whenever I see Johnny Depp in a tux, je suis excité.” Nichole and David laughed. Michael dipped his head. Alyx adorned a sympathetic expression, cooing, “Aww, are you no longer aroused? I mean, excited?” Michael looked away with a flat expression. “Hey, come on, man,” David patted him on the arm. “We’re just messing with you.” Michael said nothing. David turned to Alyx. “So anyway,” he looked down at the oversized folder on the table. “When is your art class, again?”
“It starts at 10:00,” she replied while opening the folder. “I’m not looking forward to turning in this drawing. The perspective’s all wrong.” Nichole turned her head to get a better look. “I think it’s good,” she countered. Alyx looked at her drawing again and gave it a sneer with a grunt. “I don’t know, I mean, this wall that runs along the right is too big. It draws attention away from the fountain.” She asked Michael, “What do you think? You’re the art expert.” The others looked at him as well.
He gave a false start before musing, “W—well, I don’t know about ‘art expert,’ but, to quote one of the great philosophers of our time, Twilight Sparkle, ‘When you try to please everypony, you often times end up pleasing nopony, especially yourself.’ I’d say just go with your gut.” He looked around confusedly at the others’ stares. “What,” he flatly asked them. Alyx furrowed her eyebrows and boisterously asked, “Twilight Sparkle? Isn’t that from ‘My Little Pony?’” Michael quietly replied, “Yes.” With a smile Nichole asked, “You’re a brony? I haven’t gotten into that show.” Michael’s eyes lit up. “You definitely should! The 2nd season is starting next week!” “Cool,” Nichole beamed. “I’ll watch the premiere with my boyfriend.” Michael’s expression dropped. He mumbled, “Oh. I didn’t know. I mean,” but he was so quiet that the others carried on the conversation without paying any notice. For the rest of the group’s bull session he quietly sketched various Nintendo characters in his notebook.
Michael managed to go from school to his house without saying a single word. I don’t know how he managed—especially with two bus rides, but he did. After arriving home Michael sat at the dining room table to do his homework. About an hour passed when his father came home. “Hey, buddy,” Jeff cried when he came in through the door. Michael was finishing his algebra. “Hey,” he murmured. Jeff walked up to the table. “Math homework? If you need any help, don’t be afraid to ask. I didn’t graduate top of my class for nothing!” He punctuated this with a rather pleased expression. “Of course,” he continued with an obnoxiously fake French accent, “Perhaps I can be of aseestance vis your Fuh-rench as vell. After ahll, je suis un poi—” “Stinky fish,” Michael interrupted. “Eh?” his father asked. Michael curtly explained, “It means, ‘I am a fish that smells bad.’ Also, don’t ever tell a Frenchman you’re excited,” he added before slipping his textbook back into his bag. Jeffrey leaned forward to rest on one of the chairs. “Is something the matter, buddy?” Michael looked away. “Nothing. Bad day at school.”
“Is there anything I can do, bud?” Michael shook his head. “I wasn’t that interested anyway,” he said softly. This reminded Jeff of something. “Speaking of interested, your cousin Jessica called today asking about you. You gotta stop leaving your phone off, pal. That’s important. I might need you for something.” Michael reached for his pocket. “Oh, right. Sorry, I’ll give her a call,” he said, then headed to his room to call his cousin. I am that cousin, by the way. My name is Jessica O’Neil. I’m six years older than Michael and for the longest time I have thought of him as my little brother. Ever since his mom died I guess I’ve been somewhat of an aunt as well. But anyway, enough about me. This is Michael’s story, after all.
“Hi, Jessica,” said Michael. My immediate response was, “Why don’t you ever call me, dude?” Michael stumbled over his answer, “Um, I’ve… been busy lately. School and such.” “I know,” I said. “That’s why I wanted to hear from you. How is school going?” A reflexive answer of “OK.” After a short pause, he continued, “I’m taking four classes.” “Come on kid,” I sighed. “I can never get anything out of you. How are you liking it?”
“Well, great I guess.”
“Are there any girls you like?”
“Y—well, not exactly. I mean, she has a boyfriend.”
“Aww, that’s rough, dude. Does she like you too, though?”
“What do you mean? She has a boyfriend.”
This stunned Michael into silence. He didn’t know how to respond so I relented with a hasty “It’s none of my business. Anyway, what’s your favorite class?” He mumbled, “French.”
“Oh, so you’re still interested. Is Noelle in it?”
“…No. She’s going to college in New York.”
“Oh, I see. Sorry, I didn’t know.”
“It’s OK,” he hastily assured me. “I mean, I’m not sad or anything. I think we’re friends now so everything’s cool.”
We talked more about school and then about family, but I could tell Michael had little interest in talking. Sometimes I feel guilty about living so far away. I can’t help but think I should have been there more to help raise him. Maybe then he wouldn’t be a human hermit crab. Poor kid.