The Outcasts, part 4: Ben Finally Gets It
It was Amelia’s favorite shirt, though she made a point not to tell anyone that it was. That would result in the inevitable question of “Why?” “Why” wasn’t a thing she could easily explain without explaining her other secret: her complete adoration of Ben.
The t-shirt was black and the front was adorned by a graphic of a skeleton riding a tricycle. The words underneath it, in a simple sans serif typeface, read “Dead Kids.” The Dead Kids, a slightly morbid name in her opinion, were a local band that was steadily on the rise. In fact, it was more likely than not that they would have a record contract by the end of the year, thanks to their growing popularity in the online blog scene.
The band, and the shirt for that matter, were important to Amelia because of Ben, who was the lead singer and guitarist for the Dead Kids. That is, when he wasn’t working at the same record store as her part time, or going to college.
She suspected that Ben was aware of her crush on him, but was nice enough to play oblivious. This knowledge made some conversations a little awkward for her, but she figured that if she played oblivious to the fact that he was playing oblivious to the fact that she was infatuated with him, it might work. So far, it was working just fine.
Standing behind the counter at Record Nation, she brushed some crumbs off of her shirt that must’ve been left behind by the granola bar she had eaten earlier. Her eyes glanced at the tricycle-riding skeleton again and she instantly felt a wave of confusing euphoria course through her body.
Why was it that she felt like this about him? Why, for that matter, did she have to keep it to herself?
“Everything alright?” asked Ben, who had been flipping through a magazine.
“Oh…yeah. I had some crumbs on my shirt,” she said with a nervous laugh.
“Hey, don’t mess up the band shirt,” he said with a sarcastic laugh.
Amelia stuck her tongue out at him and went back to trying to look busy, not that she had anything to do. The store was usually kept in perfect shape during the day by the owner, Geoff. Furthermore, she knew that Ben knew this too. There was absolutely no reason for her to have to look busy, and yet she was always doing something. It was mostly because she needed a reason to avoid him.
Sometimes it actually seemed to bring physical pain to her body to think about how much she liked him. He was so unattainable, in her eyes. Yet, he was everything she could ever want.
“How is school going?” he asked.
“It’s alright,” she said, unhappy with the prospect of making small talk with him.
“This is going to sound ridiculous, but I wish I could be back in high school sometimes.”
“That does sound ridiculous,” Amelia said, feeling her trademark attitude coming back a little.
“When you leave high school, you’ll get it. Suddenly, you’ll knee deep in college homework, working to pay your bills and realizing that you have to go buy some milk for your apartment. High school is a vacation.”
“It certainly doesn’t seem like one when you’re there.”
“No, probably not. I mean, I hated school.”
“But in hindsight,” she asked, “it’s somehow better?”
“It’s not the same. I think it’s the attitude, it is just so different. I realize now that I could have treated high school completely differently. I could’ve studied less. Give less of a shit. Spent more time just enjoying being young.”
“You sound like a bitter old man,” Amelia laughed.
“Fuck that,” he replied with mock-frustration. “Just don’t take high school as seriously as I did, ok?”
“Consider it done.” They both laughed
“We’re playing a show in New York City next month.”
“Really? All the way up there? Why?”
“There’s some sort of college music festival going on, and we’ve been invited. It’s supposed to be packed with label reps and stuff.”
“That sounds great!”
“I know, but it’s going to force me to make some difficult decisions sooner than I expected.”
“School or the band,” Amelia guessed.
“I can answer that one for you,” she said with a smile.
“Yeah, well of course you’d say the band. You’re obsessed,” he said in jest, playfully poking her in the arm. If only he knew how that made her feel, she thought, when he touched her.
He went back to his magazine, and she went back to shuffling through some CDs mindlessly. In an effort to get her mind off of Ben, she started to think about other things. Not much was coming to mind until she remembered Natasha. Natasha and her possible diaper wearing.
It was hard to put a finger on exactly why this possibility interested her. Maybe because it was something that she had never once considered before: a girl in high school with a secret…like this. Amelia sometimes imagined herself in the position of Natasha. She wouldn’t just have to avoid the cliques and drama of high school in general, as she did now, but she’d also be wearing something that most anyone her age should not be wearing. If she was caught, there’d be a giant spotlight, just on her and what she wore.
There was no doubt what she’d be called. A baby, an infant, a little girl. There’d be nasty remarks and laughter. There’d be humiliation on a scale that she couldn’t imagine.
Now, she thought, on top of that potential for ultimate embarrassment, you have these diapers on for what I assume is a reason. You have to conceal the times you use them the best you can. Does she change them at school? Where?
“You’ve got this look on your face,” Ben said, interrupting her thoughts.
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re mind is in a different dimension while your physical body is right here in front of me.”
“That sounds like some sort of stupid Star Trek shit,” she said smugly.
“X-Men, more likely.”
“Comic books are shit, too.”
“You’re just saying that because I like them,” he said with a laugh.
“Maybe,” she said, vaguely.
“So, really. What are you thinking about?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I’ve got nothing better to talk about.”
“So, there’s this girl…”
“Oh shit, I can’t believe it. I just figured it out!”
“What?” Amelia was confused. “What did you figure out?”
“I never thought about it before, but just how you said that right now, and how you were staring off before you talked about it. You’re into girls, aren’t you?”
“I should’ve figured. You’ve always been a little hesitant around me. I couldn’t place it. Like you were holding back something from me.”
“I always tried to flirt with you a little bit, but…wow, I guess I should’ve realized this sooner.”
Amelia couldn’t even speak. She didn’t know what to say. Ben was completely convinced, suddenly, that she was a lesbian. Which was ridiculous, considering that she had never even had the opportunity to actually say anything at all. He had misread her body language, and came up with the wrong answer.
“Tell me about this girl,” he said with a smile.
“She’s…uh…well, I go to school with her.”
“I figured as much,” he responded.
Amelia wanted to just go on with what she was going to tell him originally. However, with Ben’s sudden ‘revelation,’ she was at a loss for words.
“Well, sure. You’re curious, I get it. Honestly, you don’t have to hide this side of yourself with me.”
“Ben!” she said at a tone that was just below a holler.
“Uhm…yes?” He could detect her frustration.
“I’m not a lesbian. I don’t like girls. Period. You’re wrong!”
“I’m so sorry, Amelia.”
“It’s…fine.” She didn’t want to blow it off, and she wouldn’t have if it was anyone else. But this was Ben.
“Just ignore everything I just said. I really didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You didn’t. I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of that though. Well, to my face.” Amelia finally cracked a smile, showing Ben it was okay.
“Alright…wow, so that was embarrassing. Am I forgiven?”
“A complete pardon for you,” she said.
“So, then, tell me about this girl.”
“I don’t know if I want to now.”
“You have to! You’ve got me all curious now.”
“No, you’ve got yourself suspicious of my sexuality,” she teased.
“No! I swear…not at all. Please, go on.”
“Her name is Natasha, and she’s a new girl at our school,” she started.
“Well, my friend…actually…I don’t know if I’d call him my friend or not. He pisses me off. Anyways, this guy,” she emphasized ‘guy’ as a replacement for ‘friend,’ “Will, he tells me and my friend Meredith that he suspects this Natasha girl is…er….”
“Is what? A man? Gay? The lead singer of Boston?”
“No,” she replied, trying to find a delicate way of talking to him about this.
“Wait. Her name is Natasha?”
“New in school this year?”
“Fuck, I know her.”
“You do?” This changed everything in Amelia’s eyes. There was no way she could him what she was going to now. “How do you know her?”
“I know her older brother. He comes in here sometimes. She used to come in with him sometimes. You probably know him. Scott?”
“Oh, Scott? That’s Natasha’s brother?” She thought about Scott in her head. There certainly was a resemblance. “So, what’s with her being in our school now?”
“It’s her first year in public school, I think Scott told me. She was apparently home schooled for a while.”
“Yeah, I’d say. She’s a senior in high school.”
“So what about her, anyways?”
“Oh, so Will was telling me that…” she didn’t know what to say, and she paused. If she said the truth and it wasn’t true, it could come back to her. Hell, if it actually was true, it’d be even worse. “…she looked pregnant.” The words just fell out of her mouth, and now she couldn’t put them back in.
“Well, that’s what Will said. I looked at her, though. She doesn’t look pregnant at all.” She was trying hard to diffuse the situation now.
“I’ll ask Scott when he comes in next.”
“Don’t tell him that I said anything!”
“I won’t, I won’t. I’ll pretend I just…uh…heard it through the grapevine.”
They both laughed. The tension seemed to be dissolving, finally, and Amelia was feeling like she could relax. What more, the entire tone of her conversation with Ben today had done something she didn’t expect: it made her slightly less interested in Ben.
It was a reality check. Ben was in his own world, with his own problems; who was she to think she had a chance with that? Besides, at the end of the day, he saw her as a high school student, she thought, inferior to his college status.
Did she adore him still? Absolutely. But was she going to secretly obsess over a future with him? Well, probably, yes. But she knew that she wanted to tone it down a little.
Her mind was flooded with thoughts now. But at the top of the heap was Natasha. Again. She had already sworn with Meredith that they’d just forget about her and the things Will said. But she couldn’t shake it. She couldn’t separate herself from the curiosity she still had.
There was something else, though. Another emotion that was buried in her confusion and curiosity. She couldn’t quite pin it down, but it was a feeling that was familiar to her. Very similar to how she felt whenever she thought about Ben.
What, exactly, did that mean?