Solving for X

The bell rang—yes!—and I turned to go inside to slump to my desk, but so fast, like a fire suddenly catching, his hand shot out and he grabbed my arm, hard, and pressed his fingers down, hard, and I bit my bottom lip, hard, so I wouldn’t shriek. It was an almost-delicious surprise of pain slamming all at once. Mr. Carson was heading to the door, the kind of teacher who loved locking you out for being late, especially if he heard footsteps clattering up the hallway. I love you, I said, whispery-quiet, how people talk in church.

I love you, Old Spice, he said. Say it that way, say it just like that.

His fingers pushed and pushed, bruising through muscle and bone, down to the deepness beyond. I was snapped into attention. Something important was happening. This was me living in slow-motion time. I was the alivest anyone or anything could ever feel, ever. Carson was a single step away from his door.

I love you, I said, Old Spice. He caught his breath with a tiny, pleased gasp, then released my arm which throbbed and pulsed. I glided ahead of him into the classroom, aware of the heat of his body behind me. Aware of Mr. Carson shooting his ridiculous arrows of condemnation our way and everyone else radiating what-stupid-shit-now boredom.

Jase caught up to me and said so low only I could hear, Later, I’ll make you say it like you mean it. Or maybe everyone heard.

I slid into my seat, my heart bouncing and thrashing. My fingers trembled when I reached for my pen. Ragged breath scraped through my lungs. My eyes jittered as I stared at the numbers my pen wrote on the clean white paper that somehow had appeared on this desk in front of me, as Mr. Carson led the class in solving for X. Still, I never believed for a second that I had been afraid.

Rather, I knew I wasn’t afraid of Jase demanding my love. It was his asking that scared me: his sincere desire utterly exposed. His demeaning need. Allowing me to see this weakness, as if offering a gift.




Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of the novel Silver Girl and the forthcoming story collection, Admit This to No One. Twitter/Instagram: @lesliepwriter. More info here.