On Monday, Pidge intercepts me as I walk into school.
"Hey," she says. "Eliza, I'm stealing him."
"What's up?" I ask. The ground slopes, and there's this concrete ledge that curves around the courtyard. Parts of it are just low enough to the ground that it makes a kind of shelf for your butt.
Pidge avoids my eyes. "I made you a mix," she says, handing me a CD in a clear plastic case. "You can load it onto your iPod when you get home. Whatever."
I turn the case over in my hands. Instead of a tracklist, Pidge has composed what appears to be a haiku:
Wrinkled neck, gray hair
Sorry to say this, Keith
But you're fucking old.
"Pidge. It's so beautiful."
"Yeah, okay." She scoots backward on the ledge and leans back on her hands, looking at me. "All right. Are we cool?"
I nod. "You mean about..."
"About you guys ditching me on homecoming."
"I'm really sorry, Pidge."
The edges of her mouth tug up. "You're so freaking lucky it's your birthday."
And then she pulls a cone-shaped party hat out of her bag and straps it onto my head.
"Sorry if I overreacted," she adds.
There's a massive sheet cake at lunch, and when I get to the table, everyone is wearing party hats. That's the tradition. No one gets a cake without the hat. Hunk seems to be gunning for two pieces, actually. He's got a pair of cones strapped onto his head like horns.
"Keiiith," Allura says, except she usually sings it in this low, husky opera voice. "Hands out, eyes closed." I feel something nearly weightless drop onto my palm. I open my eyes, and it's a piece of paper folded into a bow tie and colored in with a gold crayon.
A couple of people from other tables look at us, and I feel myself grinning and blushing. "Should I wear it?"
"Uh, yeah," she says. "You have to. Golden bow tie for your golden birthday."
"Your golden birthday. Seventeen on the seventeenth," Allura says. Then she tilts her chin up dramatically and extends her hand. "Shirogane, the tape."
Shiro has been holding three pieces of Scotch tape on the ends of his fingertips for who knows how long. Honest to God. He's like her little pet monkey.
Allura tapes on my bow tie and pokes my cheeks, which is something she does weirdly often because apparently, my cheeks are adorable. Whatever the heck that means.
"So, whenever you're ready," Pidge says. She's holding a plastic knife and a stack of plates, and she seems to be making a point of not looking at Shiro or Allura.
Pidge slices it into perfect little squares, and seriously, it's like waves of magical deliciousness have shot into the atmosphere. Guess which table of A.P. nerds have somehow become the most popular kids in school.
"No hat, no cake." Melissa and Ana lay down the law from the other end of the table. A couple of kids tape pieces of loose-leaf paper into cone hats and one dude manages to wedge a brown paper lunch bag on his head like a chef's hat. People are shameless when it comes to cake. It's a beautiful thing to see.
The cake itself is so perfect that I know Pidge picked it out: half chocolate and half vanilla because I can never commit to a favorite, and covered in that weirdly delicious Publix icing. And no blue icing, Pidge knows I think it tastes too blue.
Pidge is really amazing at birthdays.
I bring the leftovers to rehearsal, and Coran lets us have a cake picnic on the stage. and by cake picnic, I mean drama kids hunched over the box like vultures shoveling cake by the fistful.
"Ohmigod, I think I just gained five pounds," says Amelia Evergreen.
"Aww," says Terra, "I guess I'm lucky I have a really fast metabolism."
Seriously, that's Terra. I mean, even I know people can justifiably kill you for saying shit like that.
And speaking of cake-related casualties: Lotor is sprawled out on the stage with his face in the empty cake box.
Coran steps over him, "All right, guys. Hop to it. Pencils out. I want you writing this stuff down in your scripts."
I don't mind the writing. The scene we're blocking takes place in a tavern, and I'm basically just making notes reminding myself to act drunk. It's kind of too bad these aren't the notes we'll be tested on for finals. That would really improve some people's grades.
We push through without a break today, but I'm not in every scene, so I actually have quite a bit of downtime. There are risers pushed to the side of the stage left over from a choir concert. I sit near the bottom and rest my elbows on top of my knees. Sometimes I forget how nice it is to just sit back and watch things.
Lotor is standing downstage left, telling a story to Allura and using lots of twitchy gestures. She's shaking her head and laughing. So maybe Lotor hasn't given up after all.
DATE: Nov 18 at 4:15 AM
SUBJECT: Why why why?
Oh my God, Blue, I'm so tired my face hurts. Do you ever have those random nights where your brain won't shut off, even though your body feels like five hundred pounds of exhausted? I'm just going to email you and I hope that's okay and I know this is probably going to be totally incoherent so you can't judge me, okay? Even if I fuck up my grammar. You're like the best writer, Blue, and normally I try to check everything like three times because I don't want to disappoint you. So sorry in advance for all the wreckage with your you're there their they're and everything else.
Today has been pretty freaking great actually. I'm trying not to think about what a zombie I'll be tomorrow. Of course I have five quizzes in the next two days including one in une autre langue that I suck at completement. LE FUCK.
So didn't there used to be a reality show where people had to date each other in the pitch-darkness? We should do that. We should find a room somewhere that's totally dark and then we could hang out and it would be totally anonymous. That way we wouldn't ruin anything. What do you think?
DATE: Nov 18 at 7:15 AM
SUBJECT: Re: Why why why?
I don't know what to say. On one hand, I'm sorry you're pretty much guaranteed a shitty day today, and I really hope you were able to squeeze in at least an hour or two of sleep. On the other hand, you're pretty cute when you're exhausted. And, by the way, you were very coherent and grammatical for four in the morning.
Hang in there today with the quizzes, though, and just power through. Bonne chance, Red. I'm rooting for you.
I have absolutely never heard of that show. I guess I don't know all that much about reality TV. It's an interesting concept, but how would we keep from recognizing each other's voices?
DATE: Nov 18 at 7:32 PM
SUBJECT: Re: Why why why?
So, I'm a little scared to read what I wrote to you last night. I'm glad I was cute and grammatical. I think you're cute and grammatical, too. Anyway, I don't know what the hell that was all about. Too much sugar yesterday, I guess. Sorry sorry sorry.
Yeah. I'm still so totally brain-dead. I don't even want to think about how I did on my quizzes.
Don't know much about reality TV? You mean your parents don't make you watch it? Because mine do. And I bet you think I'm kidding.
You bring up a good point about our voices. I guess we would have to use some kind of robotic megaphone to warp them so they sound like Darth Vader. Or we could just do other things instead of talking. I mean, I'm just saying.
-Your Zombie Red