Today Tonight Tomorrow(7)

His face, though—his face is the worst part, his lips bent in a smirk he perfected after winning that ninth-grade essay contest.

Before I can respond, he reaches inside his jacket pocket and tosses me a travel pack of Kleenex. Thank God I catch it, despite a serious lack of hand-eye coordination.

“You shouldn’t have,” I deadpan.

“Just looking out for my copresident on the last day of our term. What brings you to the office on this stormy morning?”

“You know why I’m here. Just give me a pass. Please.”

He furrows his brow. “What kind of pass, exactly, do you want?”

“You know what kind of pass.” When he shrugs, continuing to feign ignorance, I lower myself into a deep, dramatic bow. “O McNair, lord of the main office,” I say in a voice that oozes melodrama, intent on answering his question as obnoxiously as possible. If he’s going to turn this into a production, I’ll play along. After all, I only have a few more chances to mess with him. Might as well be ridiculous while I still can. “I humbly ask that you grant me one final request: a fucking late pass.”

He swivels his chair to grab a stack of green late slips from the desk drawer, moving at the pace of maple syrup on a thirty-degree day. Until I met McNair, I didn’t know patience could feel like a physical piece of me, something he stretches and twists whenever he has a chance.

“Was that your impression of Princess Leia in the first twenty-five minutes of A New Hope, before she realized she wasn’t actually British?” he asks. When I give him a puzzled look, he clucks his tongue, like my not getting the reference pains him on a molecular level. “I keep forgetting my great vintage Star Wars lines are wasted on you, Artoo.”

Because of my alliterative name, he nicknamed me Artoo, after R2-D2, and while I’ve never seen the movies, I get that R2-D2 is some kind of robot. It’s clearly an insult, and his obsessive interest in the franchise has killed any desire I might have once had to watch it.

“Seems only fair when so many things are wasted on you,” I say. “Like my time. By all means, go as slow as humanly possible.”

Sabotage has been part of our rivalry nearly since the beginning, though it’s never been malicious. There was the time he left his thumb drive plugged into a library computer and I filled it with dubstep music, the time he spilled the cafeteria’s mystery chili on my extra-credit math assignment. And my personal favorite: the time I bribed the janitor with a signed set of my parents’ books for her kids in exchange for McNair’s locker combination. Watching him struggle with it after I changed it was priceless.

“Don’t test me. I can go much slower.” As though to prove it, he takes a full ten seconds to uncap a ballpoint pen. It’s a real performance, and it takes all my willpower not to dive across the desk and snatch it from him. “I guess this means no perfect attendance award,” he says as he writes my name.

Even his hands are dotted with freckles. Once when I was bored during a student council meeting, I tried to count every freckle on his face. The meeting ended when I hit one hundred, and I wasn’t even done counting.

“All I want is valedictorian,” I say, forcing what I hope is a sweet smile. “We both know the lesser awards don’t really mean anything. But it’ll be a nice consolation prize for you. You can put the certificate on your wall next to the dartboard with my face on it.”

“How do you know what my room looks like?”

“Hidden cameras. Everywhere.”

He snorts. I crane my neck to see what he’s writing next to “reason for tardiness.”

Attempted to dye her dress brown. Failed spectacularly.

“Is that really necessary?” I ask, pulling my cardigan tight across my dress and the latte stain that shouts here’s where my boobs are! “I was stuck in traffic. All the lights in my neighborhood were out.” I don’t tell him about the fender bender.

He checks the box marked UNEXCUSED and tears the pass from the pad—ripping it down the middle. “Oops,” he says in a tone that suggests he doesn’t feel bad at all. “Guess I have to write another one.”

“Cool. I don’t have anywhere to be.”

“Artoo, it’s our last day,” he says, holding a hand to his heart. “We should cherish these precious moments we have together. In fact”—he reaches inside his jacket pocket for a fancy pen—“this would be a great time to practice my calligraphy.”

“You’re not serious.”

Unblinking, he peers at me over the top of his thin oval glasses. “Like Ben Solo, I never joke about calligraphy.”

Surely this is my villain origin story. He presses the pen’s tip to the paper and begins forming the letters of my name again, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. McNair’s Concentration Face is half hilarious, half terrifying: teeth gritted and jaw tight, mouth scrunched slightly to one side. The suit makes him look so rigid, so stiff, like an accountant or an insurance salesman or a low-level manager at a company that makes software for other companies. I’ve never seen him at a party. I can’t imagine him relaxing enough to watch a movie. Not even Star Wars.

“Really impressive. Great job.” I say it sarcastically, but my name actually does look good in that delicate black ink. I could picture it on a book cover.

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