Take my parents, for example: they were happily married for thirteen years until my mom stopped talking to my dad, started sleeping on the couch, and finally left him. And then, chaos: angry phone calls, fights, lawyers, all while I switched between parents like a disoriented particle.
It all turned out okay, though; a few years later, my mom even found someone new, and I believe that my parents are much happier apart than they ever were together. She and her new boyfriend have a lot more in common: they both like living in the city, TV dramas, and Steinbeck novels, whereas my dad is more of an action movie-watching, suburbs-living kind of a guy.
Only, my mom has recently started sleeping on the couch again.
All couples break up; it’s been proven to me time and time again throughout my short life. So when Finn and Rora first got together in the eighth grade, I figured they would last for the approximate time it takes to turn on an oven.
Unfortunately, eleventh grade is almost over, and they still make out directly in front of my locker every single day.
It’s not like I mind my perpetual boyfriend-lessness. I think that the concept of entropy is kind of beautiful; I’m enjoying my current state pre-chaos. Besides, if all relationships end in heartbreak, I really don’t see the point. I’m not saying we should give up on love, I just don’t understand why girls my age get so worked up over whether or not they have a boyfriend.
Still, I try not to think about Rora’s back pressing up against my locker as she stuffs her tongue down a boy’s throat, and I wish that said throat didn’t belong to Finn, of all people.
Her hands slide into his back pockets as his face sinks into her neck. I dump my backpack to the floor as conspicuously as I can, but they don’t seem to notice. No one notices them, either; my fellow students stroll past them as if they were dust particles floating in the air. Hallway make out sessions are so common, nowadays. How did I miss the memo?
I clear my throat. They don’t budge. I clear my throat again, louder this time. Finn’s eyes emerge from the folds of Rora’s silky hair. They meet mine for a moment, sparkling strangely, before the flame is swiftly blown out and his face spreads into a smile.
“Hey C,” he says to me.
Jesus, he still doesn’t get it yet. I tell him that he’s blocking my locker, after which he pulls Rora out of the way and dives back into his girlfriend’s shoulder.
As I unpack my bag, throwing its textbook-shaped contents into the depths of my locker, I feel them next to me rather than see them. They are music and movement and sound waves undulating through the otherwise static air, and I am bursting patterns of heat. But they are slowly, slowly deteriorating, like every other couple in the known universe.
Everyone always talks about how being in a relationship takes so much courage, but saying yes is so much lazier than saying no. It’s weak. Besides, if, according to entropy, our natural tendency is toward chaos, toward heartache, then it must be instinctive. Love means believing it is possible to go against our instincts, against our natural tendencies, when it only ever leads us back to where we started. I don’t need to have faith in order when I’ve already embraced the beauty of chaos.
Mrs. Geoffreys chases after me today through the halls, begging me to please replace Jonathan, who has caught a very sudden and very mysterious cold, in operating Big Bertha at lunch. Big Bertha is basically the tech team’s biggest embarrassment, the bane of its existence: a kangaroo-sized block of buttons and levers concealed at the back of the auditorium that operates the entirety of the lights onstage. And she breaks down at every conceivable opportunity. No one ever wants to be in charge of her; everyone wants to run around backstage with the headsets or play with the sound equipment or the spotlight, so we normally give the lonely, boring babysitting Bertha job to the newest member. Last year, that was me. Luckily, Jonathan became involved this year, so I’ve enjoyed a bit of a reprieve. I see it didn’t last very long.
I say to Mrs. Geoffreys that yes, I will babysit Big Bertha during the drama club’s rehearsal at lunch. See? It’s always easier, lazier to say yes.
Only, when I show up, prepared to flop down, take out my sandwich, and get Big Bertha running, I see Finn swiveling around on one of the chairs, chewing on a chocolate bar. I pause. Since when has Finn been involved with the tech team? After a few blissful seconds of anonymity, he sees me.
“Hi, C. Where’s Jo?” he asks.
I explain that he’s sick, and that I’ve been given the unpleasant job of sitting through a stuttery performance of Macbeth. “What are you doing here?” I ask.
“This is sort of my hiding place,” he admits. “Jo normally lets me sit up here with him while he works. Do you mind if I, um, if I stay?” he asks. Smiling, he holds out a piece of his chocolate bar. “I’ll reimburse you, of course. I’ll even throw in an entire week where I won’t go anywhere near your locker with Rora.”
Great. This is going to be so awkward, I think. What started out as a normal lunch hour is turning into the most uncomfortable 60 minutes in teenage history. 59 minutes. Hooray. Still, I say that sure, he can stay, and take a bite out of his chocolate-flavoured offering.
“Sorry about this morning, C,” he adds. Funny. I didn’t think he had noticed how nails-on-a-chalkboard painful it was for me when I had no choice but to stand and wait while they made out in front of my locker.
It’s always been a little weird, with Finn and me. Ever since preschool, people have wondered why we never became friends, and I think that’s part of the reason why we never did. We like and dislike the same things, have the same grades in school, receive the same compliments and complaints. We’re both uncommonly average at just about everything, both so forgettable. Maybe if things had stayed that way, we would eventually have become friends.
Enter Rora, the most extraordinary girl that ever was. She played tuba in the school band, was team captain of the basketball team, won spoken word poetry competitions, and was both our class president and class clown. She was friends with just about everybody except Finn and me, and I suppose that’s why she set her sights on him. Now instead of being the forgettable average guy, he’s the memorable average guy with the girlfriend.
And he’s sitting next to me while I flip all the switches for the opening scene of Macbeth.
I think that I can’t be the only one sensing the solidifying wall of awkward setting between us. I cross my legs lotus-style on the swivel chair and take a bite of my sandwich. Below us, the actors scratch their heads, trying to remember their lines. I’m thankful for the pane of glass and several meters of empty air between me and the stage; I really don’t feel like commenting on the portrayal of Duncan’s character right now. If boys even do that sort of thing. Why is this so hard? Since when has it been this difficult to talk to someone? Finally, I settle on the one thing I can think of: I ask him what he’s hiding from.
“What?” he says through a mouthful of brownie.
“You told me this was your hiding place,” I point out, slowly pulling down a lever to lower the lights below. “You’re obviously hiding from something if you’re in such dire need of a hiding place.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he says. “It can just get kind of loud in the cafeteria. Don’t you ever feel like you need some quiet time?”
“Big Bertha’s pretty loud.” She whirrs like a happy cat. “One of the many reasons why I hate this job.”
He laughs, dusting off the brownie crumbs on his plaid shirt. It’s crumpled in all the right places, a balanced seesaw of tight and loose. “Fair point, C. It’s not that bad, though. Not like down there.”
“It’s not like there are people looking for me down there, though. They don’t really notice if I don’t show up. Not like you.”
“Me?” He swallows before answering. “I bet no one knows I’m gone.”
“What about Rora? She must know.” I turn away from him and stare intently through the pane of glass. One of the actors is waving a sword around, although I’m not sure if he’s in character or just irritated.
“Especially not her,” he says. “She has friends of her own.”
I look at him out of the corner of my eye. “But only one boyfriend.”
“If you must know, she does have several boy friends. I do, however, have the immense honour of being her one and only boyfriend.” He smiles in my direction, although it could have been at Bertha. “Sometimes, though, I feel like she only knows me when I’m right next to her. Like the moment I leave, she forgets about me.”
“Like you said, she has a lot of friends. She can’t forget you completely, though.”
“I’m always the one to call her, to text her, to suggest doing something together.”
The director is gesticulating angrily in our direction, and I realize that he wants me to turn down the lights to redo the scene. Stupid actors. They can never rehearse the play in order, can they? I glance down at my list of cues and readjust the switches.
“She’s a busy person,” I say, “what with student council and basketball practice and school paper and stuff.”
“I know. I guess I just thought… never mind, if it sounds bad in my head, it’ll sound worse out loud.”
“What is it? It’s not like I’ll get mad or anything.”
He’s quiet for a minute. When I turn to look at him, he’s avoiding my eyes. “I thought that girls wanted that sort of thing,” he says. “Having a boyfriend, I mean. See? Now I sound like a self-important jerk.”
“Nah, not a jerk. Just self-important,” I laugh.
“C, if I ask you something, will you not take it weirdly?” He swivels his chair so he’s facing me and leans his elbows on his knees. His eyes peer up at me, dark and sparkling and smiling through adorable embarrassment.
“Depends what it is. And what you consider weird,” I add.
“Just… Let’s be two people sitting in a closet-sized Bertha nursery and nothing else for a minute.”
“Do you want a boyfriend?”
Oh. “So I’m supposed to be answering this as a typical girl and not as myself, then? And as if you’re not the one asking, but a random guy.”
“Well… Do you know about entropy?”
“Um, something about chaos. What does that have to do with anything?”
“Uh, never mind.”
He’s looking at me as if I’m in the middle of a spotlight, which reminds me that I should be paying attention to my cues as opposed to the boy staring into me as if struggling to read my mind. “So?” he finally asks. “Do you want a boyfriend?”
“I think that most girls do.” I say over my shoulder, trying to decipher Mrs. Geoffreys’ handwriting that is supposed to help me navigate the wonderful world of lighting design in Macbeth.
“But do you?”
I tell him that I think we’re straying from the conditions of the question.
“Why do you call me that?” I turn back to him and cross my arms. My sandwich crumbles into Bertha’s many gaps, long forgotten. “Everyone else just calls me Cassie.”
“Yeah. Aren’t nicknames for people who are really good friends? Like, I think this is the longest conversation we’ve ever had.” It’s true. Our only other conversations included me clearing my throat and him saying sorry and me saying thanks when he moved his girlfriend out of my way.
“Are you taking French?” he asks.
“Um, no. I take Spanish. Why?”
“Oh. Well it’s just that in French class, Madame Merseault taught us that ‘si’ means ‘if’, and I just think that it’s so much more beautiful in French. ‘If’ kind of sounds like someone spitting. It’s sounds more like a restriction than a possibility.” His eyes stray to the stage for a moment, at the actors pretending to be people they are not. Funny that only a couple of meters up, we’re trying to do the exact opposite. “I guess what I’m saying, C, is that you’re my ‘si’. You’re my ‘if’.”
“Like, if Rora and I weren’t together… no, never mind.”
That’s when all the atoms in the world rearrange themselves into one word, one IF bursting like fireworks in front of my eyes. That’s when I realize that he’s right. I’m one big IF, an IF I always choose to ignore. In my life, I’ve planned everything out so perfectly, analyzing every possible course and its consequences. But it’s always been so risky that I constantly choose to do nothing, to remain in my safe, planned state of calm before a storm. This is the moment when I see every possible pathway, the one where I leap into Finn’s lap and kiss him, the one where I tell him I my feelings for him, the one where I shut off Big Bertha and all the lights in the theatre and reach for his hand, holding it silently in the dark. And those choices suddenly seem so chaotic, so beautiful. I see how love makes us crazy, how it makes us do crazy things and think crazy thoughts. Even if it only leads to chaos, in the end, to heartbreak and to disappointment, I want to spell the word YES in the air with a dusty finger; I want to embrace the fall.
So I tell Finn yes. I tell him that he’s my IF too, and it doesn’t change a thing except that it changes everything, because an IF carries consequences, and for the first time, I’m ready to face them.