Valerie

“Valerie,” my teacher said causing me to glance up from my doodling, “you have partner?” My teacher’s attempts at English were fair, but annoying. I didn’t want to be partnered up with anyone, I just wanted to finish this last class of the day and be done with it. I shook my head to her question. She stepped to another student and spoke to him. I didn’t need to hear what she said, I could guess by the fact that he got up to walk over to me. He was tall and skinny with a nice but sad face.

My teacher introduced me to him in French, “Adrien this is Valerie. I need you to work with her for this activity. She doesn’t speak French so please do your best.”

“Hello,” he said in heavily accented English as he sat across from me.

“Hi,” I figured I would at least speak even though I wasn’t interested in participating.

The teacher got everyone’s attention, “Okay class, I need to you to …” That’s as much as I heard before I tuned her out and resumed my doodling.

Adrien watched her intently trying to understand the activity she planned for us. I watched him from the side, trying not to stare. I wondered why he seemed so sad since he came to our class a couple of months ago. I remembered when he transferred. The teacher introduced him saying his was from Gonesse and asking the class to welcome him. It didn’t take long for the girls to become eager to work with him, the guys thought he was cool, but despite his popularity he seemed lonely. I knew the look, because it was the same look that I saw in my reflection every morning.

Adrien turned back to me when the teacher completed her explanation. He held the pieces and said what they were and then tried to show what we were supposed to do with them. One of the students mistook my boredom with the activity.

“Man, she doesn’t even speak French, why are you wasting your time?” I didn’t like the boy that sat next to me. He was always saying rude comments about everyone under his breath. He didn’t know that I understood French even though I didn’t speak it. I always tried to keep my expression neutral but every now and then I would frown or scrunch my eyebrows at the stupidity that proceeded from his mouth.

“Shut up,” Adrien said as he shook his head and returned his attention back to explaining what we were supposed to do. He did a decent job with hand motions and simple words. I even allowed myself to participate. His face lit up when I showed that I understood what to do. I couldn’t help but smile at his expression. When he returned the smile, I could see his front teeth were slightly longer than the rest giving him an almost bunny-like appearance.

The teacher walked over and patted me on the back saying, “good job, Valerie.” She had been trying to get work out of me for the last few months. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the information, it was just boring. Everything she was trying to teach me I already learned in the States.

She resumed her French, “Good job, Adrien. Maybe you can be her tutor.”

“Hmmpf,” I let it slip, but pretended to be looking out the window. Adrien followed my gaze, but found nothing. The teacher didn’t catch it, but he did.

When the bell rang, I walked to my locker to return this useless textbook. I never brought it home.

Adrien leaned against the adjacent lockers, folded his arms, and looked down at me. He was very tall.

“What?” I said exasperated by him silently staring down at me.

He nodded, then turned to respond to everyone that was telling him goodbye. One girl even came up to him, pinning him to the lockers. She curled her finger up at him, asking him to come closer so she could whisper in his ear. I couldn’t catch all of it, but she said something about her parents not being home. I closed my locker to face him as he raised his eyebrows and watched the jiggle of her behind as she walked away.

I cleared my throat. His locker was on the other side of the hall, so he must have had something to say to me. He finally extracted his eyes and turned them towards me.

“Do you speak French?” I shook my head. It was the same question asked of me by every teacher that immediately attempted their best to explain everything in English. When I heard them explain it in French, I realized how subpar their attempts were. He nodded his head. Then he asked a question no one had yet to ask me and I never volunteered the information. “But do you understand French?”

I paused. I was unsure of whether or not I wanted to reveal this to him. “Hmm?” He was still waiting for his answer. I nodded my head once. He smiled and said to himself, “I knew it.” He looked like he had just accomplished something. “Good, let’s go.” He took my hand and pulled me with him. The girl that just gave him an invitation to her place frowned, but I don’t think he noticed. I did along with the string of curses she voiced as her nighttime plans walked out of the building with the “stupid American girl”.

I didn’t pull back, I just followed him. Eventually our journey ended in a nearby park. He motioned for me to sit down under a tree with him. At first we sat there and didn’t say anything. It was a nice day, the younger kids were playing on the playground equipment as their parents watched them have fun. He smiled as a set of twin girls ran through the grass falling over each other giggling. They were dressed identically in yellow jumpsuits. I found it difficult to tell them apart, but it was clear there was a dominant one. She pulled her sister along to an area filled with flowers. She pulled one up and handed it to her sister. Their laughter was light and infectious causing me to laugh too. Adrien turned his face to me and once I pulled my eyes away from the two I found myself drawn into his gaze. A flicker of the sadness I had been accustomed to seeing in him passed through his features. He turned back to where the twins had been and found that they moved on.

“Why sad?” I decided to try to piece together the question that plagued me since I saw him on his first day of school. He looked like he lost his best friend or someone close to him died. After the first week, he hid it very well. Most students wouldn’t have described him as I would have, they saw the smile he put on everyday. But they couldn’t see the smile never reached his eyes. He flirted with the girls or rather flirted back. I couldn’t recall him initiating a conversation. The guys flocked to him, because the girls did. He could play basketball and soccer which made it easier to fit in. Still when he wasn’t engaged in a conversation or an activity, melancholy replaced whatever expression he had before. I was curious about what caused it. He shook his head.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said as he pulled on the grass between his legs. “Why do you pretend you can’t understand French?” He looked up and studied my face as he waited for my answer.

“Easy.” It was sad that I didn’t have the words to articulate exactly why I avoided revealing this to my teachers. I could care less about the students. Most of them wrote me off as stupid, unintelligent, and used “American” like it was a bad word.

“Yeah, it might be easier, but don’t you get lonely?” He looked down as he said the last word.

“Yes.” For some reason, his inquiry into my sadness brought it back to me like it was yesterday. A tear trekked its way down my face before another followed it. When he looked up, he saw the effects of his question.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry. Please, don’t cry, Valerie.” He gently wiped away the tears and smiled weakly. “Come on.” He grabbed my hands and pulled me up. He didn’t let go of my left hand as we walked down the street. We neared a bakery and I wanted a pastry. I pulled him inside.

When the lady asked if we wanted anything, I pointed to the pastry I wanted to try since the last time I was there. She smiled and handed it to me. I looked back at Adrien.

“Choose.” He looked uncomfortable. He pulled me closer to him.

“I don’t have any money,” he whispered into my ear.

“No need.” He looked at me as if to ask if I was sure. I nodded. “Choose.”

He selected the same one I asked for. I paid for them and we left enjoying the sweet flavors of our treats.

“Thank you,” he said simply and kissed me on my cheek.

That was the start of our friendship. When we returned to school he would say ‘hi’ to me in the hall. The guys looked at our interactions with curiosity wondering what changed between yesterday and today. The girls continued their taunting, but renewed their vigor and even upped their game by choosing new nicknames for me. The once “stupid American girl” upgraded to “ugly American cow”. I ignored them like I always did until one chose to put her hands on me.

In the girls’ locker room, the “daddy’s not home” girl, Laina, decided to push me against the wall. “I don’t care if you can’t understand me. I’m only going to say this once. Stay away from my man or we’re going to have problems.” I kept my face blank of understanding and let the anger that was building within me take over my face. I pushed her off of me. With a smug look on her face she walked away. “Just try me.”

In the only class we shared, Adrien switched seats with the rude boy. The teacher approved of the change especially after she declared him my personal tutor. He kept up the facade that I didn’t understand French, over enunciating words and using his hands to express himself. I laughed to myself as he did his best to explain the lesson to me as if I was 5 years old. “When you’re ready to stop pretending, then I can stop talking to you like a baby,” he whispered. I was enjoying the show, I shook my head and did my best to look attentive. The teacher was so impressed with Adrien when I turned in my first completed assignment.

After class he walked me to my locker. Laina decided to follow us. She turned her attention to Adrien.

“The invitation is still open,” she said seductively.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it.” She pouted.

“You sure?” She stepped closer placing her hand on his chest. “I was hoping to get to know you better.”

“I’m sure,” he said without hesitation.

“Well if you change your mind,” she said as she pulled out a piece of paper that must have had her number on it and held it out to him.

“I won’t.” He kept his hands in his jacket leaving her hanging. She looked unsure of what to do. I doubted if she was accustomed to being turned down. She looked in my direction.

“Well when you get tired of this one,” she motioned with her head towards me as she placed the paper in his pants pocket. “Let me know.” She walked away doing her best to jiggle everything she had, but he had already turned his eyes to me.

“Ready?” I nodded and we walked back to the park. Before we reached the tree, some kids were dancing to music playing on a speaker. His demeanor changed and I could see the desire to join them was strong.

“Go. Dance.” I pushed him in their direction. He hesitated, but when I pushed him again, he finally joined in. His movements were fluid. I knew he was athletic, but that didn’t account for the way he moved his body to the melody. The sadness that was always on the edges of his expression faded and joy took its place. That is until he looked to his side and disappointment dominated. I wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but its absence had to be significant. He walked back to me, his normally confident shoulders slouched. Water welled in his eyes, but he refused to let them breach his eyelids. We walked to the tree that we had chosen as our spot. After I sat down, he laid his head in my lap. I rubbed his head like my mother used to do me when I came home from school after a bad day. He looked off into the distance and became lost in his thoughts. I didn’t intrude, if he wanted me to know, I would listen. He grabbed my other hand and placed it on his chest.

My aunt called me. She rarely ever called me on my cell phone, but when I saw the time, I knew why. Usually I was home by this time for dinner.

“Valerie, are you okay?” my aunt asked after I answered the phone.

“Yes.”

“Come home, it’s getting late.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied.

She ended the call, but I wasn’t ready to end my time with Adrien.

“Come. My house.” He got up from the ground, helping me up as well. We walked the short distance to my aunt’s place. When I opened the door, my aunt looked like she was about to reprimand me when she saw I brought a visitor.

“And who is this?”

“Adrien,” I said as she turned her attention to him.

They greeted each other and Adrien told her we were classmates. He even told her how he became my tutor in math class. At that, she was especially happy, she and my teachers had been trying to get me to do work since she enrolled me into school. Whatever fears she had about me bringing a strange young man to dinner were relieved by his tone and mannerisms. He transformed in front of me into Prince Charming.

Prince Charming could eat though. He had at least three servings of what my aunt prepared. I poked his side when she brought back the third plate where she piled on another healthy helping.

“Where it go?” I said because I was truly amazed that he could eat that much. He swatted my hand away and smiled at my aunt.

“I’m a growing young man.”

“Okay,” I shrugged as I finished my first serving.

When it was time to go, my aunt welcomed him over again. She was so grateful that I was doing something in school she was beside herself.

“Where are your parents?” He asked as I walked him to the door. The look in my eye caused him to pause. I bit my lip, my usually confident demeanor was replaced by one he wasn’t familiar with.

“Mom no want me.” Again I wished I could explain better, but he put it together. I couldn’t wear my confidence when I spoke of her. She remarried after her divorce to my father. I watched her break down and wallow in grief over the loss of her first marriage. When her new husband told her he didn’t want me around, she shipped me off to her sister’s without hesitation. She didn’t want to be alone again, never mind how she made me feel. Unlike Adrien, I couldn’t keep my tears in. The mention of her, brought back the emotions I hadn’t dealt with. I was abandoned by the woman that was supposed to love me unconditionally and sent to a city with a language I rejected as a child.

He wrapped his arms around me and held me until the tears subsided. When I pulled away from him, he looked at me.

“If she doesn’t want you, I’ll take you. How else am I supposed to pass math?” I laughed thinking of how despite his attempts to look like he was tutoring me it was actually the other way around. Of course I intentionally made some of my answers wrong so he would look like the better student. He would get an ‘A’ and I settled for a ‘B’. Anything was better than the ‘F’s I was bringing home before.

He gave me a kiss on the cheek and left to go home. My aunt peeked from the kitchen.

“I like him, Valerie.”

“Me too.”

A few days later, Laina decided to escalate the situation in the locker room.

“I told you to stay away from my man. What am I saying, this girl doesn’t even speak French. Let me break it down for her. So it’s fair,” she was mostly speaking to her friends. Then she turned back to me. “No Adrien,” she said shaking her head. I raised an eyebrow, it was insulting hearing people try to talk down to me. “My Adrien,” this time she put her hand to her chest. I just shook my head and walked away.

When I got to math class, I was done. Adrien was at it again with his dramatically simplified explanations.

“What’s wrong?” he asked with concern.

“No pretend. Talk.” I waved off his concern. Laina got on my nerves and I was done being talked to like I was two.

“Okay, but you need to tell me what’s wrong?” I shook my head, not to say ‘no’, but because I was fed up.

“Laina.” One word was all I could think of saying. I didn’t know how to express how this girl claimed him and was telling me to stay away from him.

“Laina? What did she say to you?”

“My Adrien.” I said mimicking her. He chuckled, but my serious expression cut it short.

“Don’t worry about her. I’ll talk to her. Now let’s get back to this math. I don’t understand any of it.” I spent the rest of the class helping him pick up the new concept for the day. With Laina off my mind, I could focus on teaching him. He was finally getting the hang of it when the bell rang.

I walked to my locker by myself as Adrien went to find Laina. I don’t know what he said to her, but her expression was lethal when I walked passed her to go outside. I found him at the bottom of the stairs.

“What you say?” I was curious.

“I told her to leave you alone.”

“And?”

“And what?” I just looked at him, that couldn’t have been all he said. The way she looked at me was scary. “I told her to leave you alone. What?”

“Umm-hmm.” I just shook my head. “She mad.” I tried to copy her expression and he laughed. I didn’t think it was funny until he copied me. We laughed together, until she walked down the stairs looking at us.

“You can keep your little American. When you’re done with her, you know where to find me.” She walked away with her friends.

“What you say?” I asked him again. He couldn’t have just told her to leave me alone, he said something else.

“I told her to leave you alone and I don’t want her because you’re my girlfriend.” I slapped my forehead. He threw me out of the frying pan into the fire. That girl already didn’t like me and now she thought I was his girlfriend.

“Why?”

“So she’ll leave you alone. Besides, now everyone else will leave you alone too.” He raised his eyebrows at me. Everything he said made perfect sense to him. It did make sense when I finally thought it over.

We walked to our spot in the park and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of laughter from the young children playing. Words weren’t needed unless it was to draw us out of our thoughts so we could rush to my aunt’s for dinner. Eventually her meals for two became larger to accommodate Adrien’s appetite. And since he became a regular, he had to wash dishes with me to earn his keep. On Friday nights my aunt let him sleep on the couch. She made me sleep with her those nights, but I didn’t mind. We usually woke up early to make her breakfast before we ran off to the mall or the movies.

One day, we saw those twin girls again at the park. They were wearing identical outfits again and the bossy one was pulling the other around. We always watched the kids play and smiled at them. But the twins evoked a different response from Adrien. Sadness took over and I was curious, if our friendship had grown to the point that he could finally share what was wrong.

“Adrien,” he turned to look at me, this time a tear escaped. “Why sad?”
He put his head on my shoulder and didn’t speak for some time.

“My mom sent me away too.” I was shocked to hear him say it. “She wanted my twin and me to be apart for a while.” I didn’t ask for anymore explanation. I took him in my arms and hugged him. I understood now why the two girls affected him, why he seemed to lose himself in his dance only to look to his side and find something missing, he was missing his other half.

We spent the rest of the school year and the summer together. Whenever one felt down, the other would pick up the slack. Even after a few months of us convincing her we weren’t interested in each other, my aunt still made me sleep in her bed when he was on the couch. Laina never got over the fact that Adrien told her I was his girlfriend. If she bothered to look closer she would see we were more like siblings than love interests. He filled a hole in me my mother ripped open when she chose her new husband over me. And I couldn’t replace his twin, but I could soothe him when the ache for him became too much.

When he left for Gonesse, I was beyond sad, but he called me every night he could. His math skills were suffering without me and he claimed he was calling for tutoring, but really it was because we missed each other. He promised to visit me when the summer came, but over time we lost track of each other. I will always be grateful for the tall, skinny boy with the sad eyes. He was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time.

by Angelique Grey

Author Note: I wrote and posted this story about 2 years ago. If anyone has read it, then you can see that the story has been changed from its original fanfic version.

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