Never Slow Dance with a Zombie
Author:E. Van Lowe

chapter Five

Sybil gave me a detailed schedule of Dirk's whereabouts throughout the day. His first-period class was in room 101.1 needed to be standing just outside his door when class let out. But there was one problem. My first-period class this morning was Geometry-- yech! -- in room 334. If I stayed in class until the bell rang I'd never make it down three flights of stairs and over to the other side of the building in time. I needed to be let out of class ten minutes early.

My Geometry teacher, Mr. Porter, reminded me of a drill sergeant from an old army movie. He was trim and proper, and wore crisp white shirts and khakis. He strutted around the room like he was God's gift to geometry, spouting all kinds of postulates and theorems to let us know he was smarter than we were. Hello! You're the teacher. If you're not smarter than a bunch of eleventh-graders we're in trouble. He was the kind of teacher who could listen to himself talk all period long, which normally was okay with me. But today I had to interrupt. I raised my hand, catching him mid-drone.

"Um, excuse me. But can I be excused?"

He looked at me, annoyed. "I'm sure you can hold it for ten minutes, Miss Johnson." He was about to drone on.

"Actually, sir, I can't. You see, well, it's kind of personal But if you must know, I can come up and explain it in private." I held my stomach for effect.

Mr. Porter's cheeks began to redden with embarrassment. "Are you going to be all right?"

"Yes," I said softly, still holding my stomach. "I just need..." I let the sentence hang in the air.

"Yes, yes," he said quickly. "Of course. And don't worry about the homework assignment. I'll have one of your classmates get it to you."

"Thanks," I whispered as I gathered my things.

Male teachers are so easy. All a girl has to do is hold her stomach and use the P word and they'll hustle her out of the room so fast her head will spin. A teacher is an authority figure. You'd think he'd want to know what's going on. But not when we use the P word. Teachers hate looking dumb, and all men become babbling idiots when a female says anything about that area south of her belly button.

One time my mother hinted that my father should pick up a feminine product for her while he was at the store. You'd have thought he was having a heart attack. His face turned a deep crimson and he began stammering and stuttering as if he'd lost the ability to form a coherent sentence.

I don't get it. It's as if we had the world's most complicated jigsaw puzzle below our waists, or a whole season's worth of Jeopardy questions. Anyway, the P word is a girl's most powerful weapon against male teachers, and I used it with impunity.

I reached room 101 just as the bell rang, and waited, holding

my breath until I saw Dirk exiting the room. Then I zoomed forward, barreling straight into him. My books went flying.

"Oh, my goodness," I said.

"Sorry," he said. "I didn't see you."

What a gentleman. It was obviously me that ran into him.

"Oh, it's you,"I said.

"Yeah," he said.

"Wow," I said.

"Yeah, wow," he said.

"Go figure," I said.

"Yeah," he said again.

Okay, I know, normally I'd say this was an insipid conversation suited for three-year-olds who'd been dropped on their heads one too many times. And yet that day it was poetic. He helped me gather my books.

"The carnival's tonight," I said.

"Yeah," he said for the fourth time in like thirty seconds. "Should be fun."

"I agree " Did he just ask me on a date? Was that some

kind of cool boy code for "I want to go out with you"? Face it, no boy as cool as Dirk is going to come right out and say "Come to the carnival with me." And since I'd never been asked on a date before--at least, not by anyone who counts--I didn't know what he was supposed to say. Dirk handed me my books and moved away, leaving me staring after him confused.

"What do you think?" I asked Sybil, who was in my second-period class.

"Sounds like he helped you pick up your books."

"I know that. But he said 'Should be fun.' Why would he say that if he didn't want to go out with me?"

"Margot, are you listening to yourself? Since when does 'Should be fun' mean 'Let's go out?"

"How many boys have asked you on a date?" I snarled. "And your cousin Thomas and that runny-nosed seventh-grader don't count!"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means cool boys don't just come out and say it."

"Margot, I don't want to argue with you. I want this to happen as much as you do."

Her words stopped me. She was being nice again. I looked into her earnest, blue eyes. They were filled with concern.

She is truly from another planet, I thought. Even Mother Teresa wasn't this nice.

I sighed. "The carnival's cool and all, but it's really no biggie."

And now a brief note about lying to your best friend: A girl's best friend is rarely her best friend. That's because she's the last person a girl can trust with her innermost feelings. Best friends are the people we're most vulnerable to. And since we girls spend half our time snarking at and attacking each other, our best friends are the last people we want to trust with personal information they can drag out of the closet and use against us one day. Face it, we'd give some of our most precious information to our enemies before we gave it to our friends. And that's sick' Boys don't have this problem.

Back to me and Sybil.

"Margot, before we jump to any conclusions about Dirk, let's be sure," she said patiently.

Sybil was right. I was getting ahead of myself. There was only one way to get to the bottom of this. I needed to run into Dirk during next period and continue the conversation. I consulted his schedule. I noted that Dirk stopped by his locker between third and fourth periods at precisely 10:51 a.m. Sybil

and I synchronized our watches. Today we'd be there waiting for him.

" What are you going to say?" asked Sybil. We'd rushed to our lockers as soon as the bell rang.

"I don't know." My mind searched for an answer. "If I ask him 'What should I wear?' and I'm wrong about the date, hell look at me like I've just grown two heads and never speak to me again. If I say, 'Were you asking me out?' and he was asking me out, he'll think I'm such an idiot geek he'll change his mind about dating me forever."

"Margot, calm down. You're over-thinking this."

"You're right," I said.

Time passed and Dirk didn't show. Just when we thought he wasn't coming I heard someone sing, "There she is, Miss Americaaaa."

I wheeled around. Baron Chomsky stood smiling at me.

Baron Chomsky wasn't the biggest geek at Salesian High. That distinction belonged to Milton Sharp, who had a 4.0 GPA and wore goofy T-shirts with cartoon characters no one had ever seen or heard of on the front. But while Baron Chomsky wasn't the biggest geek at Salesian, he was the only geek at Salesian who professed his undying love for me-gag!

I scanned the corridor hoping to discover it was Dirk who had been singing. No such luck.

"I'm busy, Baron," I said with as much disdain as I could muster.

"I know--busy being beautiful." His voice rang out loud enough for everyone in the corridor to hear.

Oh... my... God!

This was the kind of thing that made Baron's loving me so

intolerable. He couldn't do it in private. No siree. Baron was a first-rate exhibitionist who'd rather make a big public display of his unwanted affection than slip me a secretive note between classes. Posters, banners, and an oversized birthday card with a large photo of him on the front hung on my locker-- that was Baron's style.

Last February for Valentine's Day he had come into my English class dressed as a blues singer--dark glasses, a stingy-brimmed hat, and a guitar. He sang "Margot Done Stole My Soul," an original composition about me being a master thief who had snuck up on him in the middle of the night and stolen his affection. Total embarrassment.

"I don't think he's coming," Sybil said, rolling her eyes at Baron.

"I'm right here. How do you want me?" He leaned casually against the locker. "Shaken, not stirred," he said in a phony British accent that was supposed to make him sound like James Bond. It didn't. He sounded like a geek with a phony British accent.

Just then the first bell rang. 10:55 a.m.

"We better go before we're late," said Sybil.

"Yeah," I replied sadly. "Good-bye, Baron," I said, and we moved away. I again checked Dirk's schedule. "Looks like our next chance is right after gym class."

"Margot, if you want to go to the carnival with Dirk, we've got to do this today."

J 'I know," I said. "We will." I tried telling myself, You have lots of time. But I could feel my golden opportunity slipping slowly away.

In gym class my day took a turn for the worse. Mrs. Mars was waiting for me.

"Margot Jean Johnson, put on your gym uniform and get

ready to work out. Today you are mine," she rasped in her gruff, throaty tone.

"But I have a note."

"No notes today, remember? Today we work," I was so caught up in the dating drama I'd totally forgotten her threat.

"But I'm really, really not well."

She sighed. "What is it this time, life-threatening hangnail?"

Just then I swooned, my knees buckling as I almost dropped to the floor. I flung the back of my hand against my forehead for effect. "Oooh!"

"Oh, for crying out loud. Let me see the note."

She plucked the note from my hand and read:

Dear Mrs. Mars,

Please excuse our only daughter and heir, Margot, from participating in gym class today. She woke up with a 102 temperature. We sent her to school because we understand the importance of education. But we are concerned if she participates in gym her temperature may go even higher and that could cause brain damage, which would make it impossible for her to get into a good college.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Trudi Johnson

Mrs. Mars finished the note and chuckled. "Very creative. Tell your mother bravo." Her eyes turned serious. "Now get into uniform."

"But... but..." I took a few steps back. I couldn't work out-- not today. I couldn't risk sweating my hair into a frizzy poofball the day of my big date. "Feel my forehead," I demanded.

"No, thank you. I've been around long enough to know the old hot-water-on-the-forehead-just-before-class trick."

Hmm. I didn't know that one. I logged the info for future reference.

"But you can get in serious trouble for ignoring a note from a parent. And what if I die!" I was truly getting agitated.

"That'll be my cross to bear. Now get dressed."

I hate to waste a good note, but it was clear she wasn't giving in today. "Okay," I said with a resigned sigh. "What are we doing today?" I prayed it wouldn't be something athletic.

"Dodgeball," she wheezed.

"Great! I love dodgeball," called Sybil.

I shot her a look that could kill. "I'm sure you do."

In the locker room, as I slipped into my hideous green gym uniform, I noticed that Amanda was looking at me, not through me like she normally did, and gesturing as she spoke to the Twigettes. Then she started across the room.

Amanda coming toward me meant just one thing-humiliation. What could she possibly want with me? Then I remembered that we were playing dodgeball, I am not going to be her designated dodger, I told myself as she approached. But something in her eyes, the half smile on her lips, said that wasn't why she was coming over. My head started spinning as I shuffled through the reasons she'd be talking to me after all these years.

Was it to apologize once and for all about seventh-grade summer camp?

This was something that had haunted me ever since the incident all those years ago.

"Urn, Margot, right?"

As if she didn't know. "Yes. That's me. What's up?"

"Urn, are you stalking my boyfriend?"

My breath caught in my chest. "Boyfriend?"

"Dirk tells me you've been turning up everywhere he's been. I'm sure it's not a coincidence. You need to stop."

My body suddenly stiffened as though rigor mortis was setting in, I couldn't move.

"D-Dirk?" The name struggled from my lips.

"Dirk Conrad, my boyfriend!"

Somehow I forced out a tiny laugh. "Ha, ha. Dirk Conrad thinks I'm stalking him. That's funny."

She shot me an angry look. "Stay away!" she snapped, and then went back to getting dressed.

I kept an incredulous smile glued to my lips until Amanda and her crew exited the locker room. That's when I finally allowed myself to breathe. Humiliation.