By the following day, the final touches on the Spirit Week decorations were complete. The school halls looked like someone had barfed yellow and baby blue all over them. The varsity football players were wearing their team jackets every day until the big game, while their adoring girlfriends wore their away jerseys in creative ways to make them look fit and fashionable. There seemed to be more ruckus in the halls than usual—at whatever cost, students were measuring up to the school staff’s expectation of displaying school pride. It was hard to navigate the hallways between classes without hearing cheers or being blinded by school colors.
Jonah, however, was reliably donning one of three colors in his wardrobe—black, blue, or grey—as he mazed through excited students on his way to second period. He was wearing his usual grey hoodie, which Annie spotted instantly as she jogged up to meet him.
“Hi Jonah.” said Annie, shouting a little since the hallway was so loud. Jonah barely turned to look at her. She called him again, louder, following a stride behind as they approached the classroom door. When they crossed the threshold where the sound was quieter, Annie said for the third time, “Jonah? Hello?”
Annie didn’t expect the sharp turn or the uncompromising hiss that came from Jonah’s mouth.
“Stay away from me.” he growled, then proceeded to his desk on the far wall.
Annie was perplexed at this sudden change in behavior. Jonah had never snapped so viciously at her before, and it was all the more concerning after having friendly moments with him as recently as yesterday. Annie continue to follow him through the rows of desk, asking, “What? Why?”
“I’m dangerous,” came his menacing response. Jonah shot her an awful glare then stomped to his desk to sit down. Annie stood there for a second, unsure what to do with herself. Class was starting and classmates were starting to take their seats as well. Annie turned around and made her way slowly to her desk, feeling confused and dejected.
Annie spent the entire time in class rummaging over what could explain Jonah’s outburst. She hadn’t done anything to irritate him, she didn’t think. And even if she had, Jonah would give her the silent treatment or a cold shoulder or grumble or something else—not a nasty, unforgiving order. Had something happened that made him feel more reckless? Did he threaten her to increase the chances she would comply without asking questions?
She practically chased him down the hall after class. She needed an explanation, a real answer on why he demanded she stay away from him.
“Hey! Jonah!” she shouted. Jonah looked back, knowing full well who was yelling at him. A grimace crossed his face; he looked irked or concerned. Maybe both.
Annie caught up and asked, slightly out of breath, “Can I talk to you?”
Jonah reached into his hoodie pocket and pulled out headphones and slipped them on his ears. Ironically he tried to silence Annie with the very music maker he only had because she lent it to him. “I’m busy,” he proclaimed, now juggling his books to make a selection on the iPod.
“No you’re not.”
Jonah pulled the headphones halfway down his neck and huffed, “I told you to stay away from me. Do you know how to listen at all?”
“Why?” she demanded. “Where is this coming from all of the sudden?”
“I told you already.” When Annie raised her eyebrow at him, he continued. “Being around me is a ticking time bomb. It’s only a matter of time before you get hurt.”
Annie hesitated for a second. In that moment, it became clear to her that the encounter with the wily upperclassman at the lockers yesterday morning was the impetus for the abrupt change in Jonah’s behavior. At the time, Annie had written it off as an incidental confrontation. Her naivety had perhaps led her be feel invincible in most situations— like nothing bad could happen. She never really considered before that stepping into Jonah’s world could put her in harm’s way, so she quickly analyzed how she felt about that.
“… I’m a big girl.” she concluded. “I can handle myself and make my own decisions.”
Jonah became more indignant, “You never should have gotten this close to me in the first place, but you don’t listen to me.”
“ Jonah…” Annie started.
“Stop following me!” he yelled. Annie slowed slightly but kept her resolve to keep walking, which only made Jonah more irate. “Aren’t you supposed to smart? Go. Away.”
Annie replied gently, speaking only the truth. “I have to walk this way too.”
“Ugh! Fine.” Jonah grumbled, turning about-face. “I’ll go another way. Just, stay away from me, okay?”Continue Reading...