'The Julia Page' - New Fiction from Andrew Worthington
Most of the guys wanted Samantha Terry, as I had expected from the start. Initially I was intrigued to hear them vocalize it in a really roundabout way, through games of truth-or-dare and other recess excuses for gossip and disclosure, although...
Andrew Worthington was born in 1987 in Akron, Ohio. His first novel Walls comes out on Wednesday from Coping Mechanisms. He lives in New York City with his girlfriend. What we like about his writing is that it feels honest. He doesn't ham it up, or try to capitalize on his idiosyncrasies. He also has some weird affects that would have been beaten out of him in a creative writing class, or by a New York City book editor, if he'd been in contact with one. He uses big words and is occasionally unguarded. In short, he's a natural writer, telling a story because he has to—he's not somebody reading the latest so-and-so and seeing a reflection of his own life, and then copying the so-and-so's shape.
I spent most of the time during that week thinking about those things. We split into groups to follow one of the instructors on hikes, and when Julia wasn't in my group I waited at the intersections of trails hoping to glimpse her baby-blue jacket. I sat in my top bunk in the camping lodge, slowly humping the mattress. I had seen it in the movies. Wet patches showed up on my underwear. I noticed in the morning, but I was too tired to care, because I hadn’t fallen asleep until two hours before.
Most of the guys wanted Samantha Terry, as I had expected from the start. Initially I was intrigued to hear them vocalize it in a really roundabout way, through games of truth-or-dare and other recess excuses for gossip and disclosure, although eventually I became annoyed for the same reason. It was also almost exclusively guys who announced their likes. Brian, the most talented basketball player and the presumed prince of our grade, had pronounced his like for Samantha Terry, the presumed princess of our grade. Unfortunately, his best friend, Kyle, had the same crush, and he decided to announce it soon after Brian. I offered what I considered to be risky hints about Julia Darrows, but everyone was so lost in their dawning pubescent terror that what I considered a big deal didn’t even register for them.
They had us play a game every day during free time. It was called scouting. It was like hide-and-go-seek, except that the seeker had to stand in one place, and the hiders could only hide in a certain area. Most of us hid behind trees, and the goal was to sit still and not be seen. I don’t know how any of us lost. CVEES was the week that we learned more than ever before about nature: our own nature. None of us went home that week feeling that we had gotten what we wanted.
In the weeks after CVEES, I began writing my first journal. At first, it consisted mostly of inane lists, and poems inspired by Will Smith. Eventually, I dedicated a page in my journal to Julia Darrow. I titled it “The Julia Page.” It was actually three and a half pages long. I wrote about my previous likes, including one to our fourth-grade teacher the year before, as well as a detailed history of my thoughts on Julia. It restated much of what I have already said, but as I saw those thoughts on the page—“The Julia Page”—they stopped bouncing around my skull. I kept the journal under my mattress, but I knew I would let someone see it. I showed it to Nicole Delmedico, who worked the same crossing-guard shift that I did, and whom I considered to be a close, nonsexual friend. I approached her locker, where she was putting on her crossing guard uniform.
“What is this?” she asked.
“It is something I wrote,” I said, “I would just like to hear what you think about it.”
She stood there reading it. She didn’t make a facial expression the entire time. She seemed to be concentrating. I wanted her to smile or frown or raise her eyebrows or grunt a laugh, I didn’t care which, but I couldn’t stand the blankness. When she finished she folded the pages and held them at her side.
“This is crazy,” she said, and she placed the pages in her hoodie pocket.
“Give it back.”
“What are you doing?”
I grabbed at her back pocket, but she shifted away. I kept trying to reach it, and she kept moving away. Our old second-grade teacher, Mrs. Black, came out her classroom.
“What are you people doing?” she asked.
“Nothing,” said Nicole, and she began walking away.
I smiled mechanically at Mrs. Black and began walking backward, before turning around to follow Nicole. She was outside, telling the other two crossing guards about it as they walked to the four-way stop. I ground my teeth. When I said hello to the other two, it was evident that they knew that I knew that they knew something I didn’t want them to know. I hoped that Nicole wouldn’t do anything more with “The Julia Page,” but I also knew that wasn’t likely, and I was right. She gave it to Kyle, who shared it with Brian, who shared it with my close friend John. I sat next to the three of them at the lunch table as they talked about me in the third person. They were making plans to type it up and print out copies, and then sell those copies. I realized I was faced with a choice: Either I could tell on them, and lose their friendships, or I could go along with it, and lose my dignity. I decided to go along with it. John was the only one of them with a computer at his house, and so his parent’s dining room became the headquarters for the operation. At first, they seemed surprised with my willingness to help them with the project, but I acted like it didn’t matter.
“Are you sure you won’t get in trouble?” asked John’s mom. We were huddled around his family’s computer.
“Yeah,” said John. He stopped typing and turned to her briefly. “He’s sitting right here. He’s fine with it, aren’t you, Tom?”
“Yeah, I’m fine with it,” I said.
They typed up “The Julia Page,” and I also gave them my lists and poems to publish too. It was agreed that we would charge $7 per copy and would split all the profits four ways. I didn’t take into account the fact that I was both the author and a partner in their venture, and they didn’t either. We sold 13 copies that Monday before the AM school bell even rang: $7 a copy, $91. I had a feeling that it was selling too fast. I started making restrictions on whom it would be sold to, and, of course, that only helped to increase its popularity.
Word of “The Julia Page” spread across the lunchroom like the plague, and by the time recess came it had scandalized our playground, infecting even the introverts who sat by the fence under the shade. I should have quarantined myself the moment I put the pen to the page. Julia Darrow knew about it. I saw her reading it by the jungle gym. I only glanced at her a couple times, but I knew she was gazing at me with dizzy anger. I couldn’t think. The worst part was I didn’t care. I wrote these things, and there wasn’t any slander, and if there was, it was against myself. I looked over to the other side of the playground and saw Kyle fighting with Danny, whom I wasn’t friends with yet at the time. Apparently, Kyle had refused to sell a copy to Danny. Now Danny was ripping off Kyle’s shirt. Recess ended, and our gym teacher Mr. Guzman came over, and then he grabbed Danny’s shirt. I made my way to the lines that were forming for our return to class. Mr. Guzman escorted Danny and Kyle into the building. Our teacher Mr. Blair came out and opened the doors and we filed inside. I locked eyes with him, although his spectacles were in the way, which only intensifies the act of locking eyes with another person.
“Mr. Maddox,” he said, “Can I have a word?”
I shrugged. He pulled a copy of “The Julia Page” out of his back pocket.
“Can you explain this?”
“No. And I didn’t do anything wrong.”
He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. His face got red and he motioned for me to go to the empty art room across the hall. I looked at the art on the walls; it must have been from kindergarteners because they couldn’t even color within the lines.
A few minutes later, I was joined by John, Kyle, and Brian. Mr. Blair came in and slammed the door. “What the hell is this?”
None of us said anything.
“You wrote this Mr. Maddox?”
“And you let them sell it?”
“I am selling it too.”
“You guys never thought you were doing anything wrong?”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” yelled Kyle.
“How much money did you guys make?”
“About $168,” said John.
“Where is it?”
“It’s our money,” said Kyle. “We earned it.”
“Did you know it is illegal to sell materials on school property without permission?”
“That’s not true,” said Brian.
“Where is it?”
“It’s right here, in my pocket,” said Kyle. He pointed to a pocket in his cargo shorts.
Mr. Blair walked over and ripped the button off the pocket. He put the money in his shirt pocket. We were sent to the principal’s office. The principal must have gotten sick of seeing us in her office, because she left soon after we arrived. Mr. Blair sat in her office. He called us in one by one. I was last.
“I see a guy before me with so much potential,” said Mr. Blair. “But you’re just wasting it all away. You have no ambition.”
“I do,” I said. “I don’t know. Whatever.”
He shook his head. Whatever. I was glad when the day was over. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt embarrassed. We got detention. My parents got called. I got grounded. I didn’t care about getting disciplined, but what I did care about was that the topics in “The Julia Page” were discussed so abstractly and so remotely by the people who were telling me it was wrong. It was as if the problem was immediately evident and there was no need to discuss whether it was a problem, and why. Erections were never discussed. Romance was never discussed. It seemed like the problem was more in their own unwillingness to acknowledge what had occurred.***
The Columbine shootings took place a week later. I didn’t find out until two days after, because I was so distracted with the fallout from “The Julia Page.” Everyone wondered what could make anyone do that. Theories were postulated, but everyone wanted to just not think about it, to just make sure it didn’t happen in our town. For the next ten years, we had school shooting drills every month or so. During those drills, we turned off the classroom lights and sat in the corner and the principal spoke in code over the loud speakers.
Nicole Delmedico apologized to me for handing over “The Julia Page” to Kyle. She said she had liked him, and had hoped that would make him like her. It hadn’t. I called Julia 19 times one day until her father answered. I asked for Julia. He put her on the phone. I asked her if she wanted to go out. She said OK. We never went out. We never really even talked. I was dating her but nothing happened. The next fall I didn’t talk to her at junior high, either. She started wearing nicer clothes. She started putting on makeup. I wasn’t as drawn to her after that. One day at lunch someone asked me what had happened with us.
“We broke up,” I said.
“Who broke up with who?”
“We just broke up.”
“So she broke up with you, right?”
I looked at her across the lunchroom, but I didn’t stare.
I constantly had to find something new to look at, or else my eyes got sore.