by Chris Eng, illustration by Karlene Harvey
For the third day in a row, Jenn stood across the street and stared. She was trying to be as nonchalant as possible about it, but wasn’t sure how well it was working, mostly because she was studying each of them carefully, in turn.
A couple of them were new, but several had been there all three days, and it was them she spent most of her time watching. There was the black girl with the foot high crimson mohawk who punctuated her conversation with vicious jabs of a cigarette. She’d worn the same denim skirt/vest combo every day and made it look like a uniform. The guy she was jabbing the cigarette at was average height but wide and beefy, hair shaved close, with a faded shirt for some band called the Cromags tightly adhering to his muscular yet slightly chubby chest. He looked Mongolian, she thought—he was certainly built like he was born to conquer Asia on horseback—and he grinned a lot. There was a blonde girl no older than her late teens wearing sunglasses and a black, one-piece dress possibly made by Prada. At her side she carried a Louis Vuitton handbag with an air which suggested she didn’t have time for knock-offs. She was talking to a woman in her early- to mid-20’s whom Jenn had dubbed Queen Bee, because if she wasn’t the Queen of this small community, Jenn wasn’t sure who was. There wasn’t anything specific in her appearance that led Jenn to that conclusion; she matched a pair of skin-tight, ripped blue jeans with world-weary black Chucks and a Black Flag “Jealous Again” shirt she’d cut a v-neck cut into. Her hair was greasy and dishevelled and she looked like she hadn’t had a shower in a week, but there was an air of control and authority coming off her as unmistakeable as Prada Girl’s grasp of fashion.
And then there was the boy ignoring them all, back to the wall, and reading.
He’d been reading the same thing every day—a huge, hardcover volume that looked like a textbook. She’d been trying to get a good look at the cover, but that hadn’t worked out well from across the street, so the day before she’d taken a picture of it with her phone’s camera and used every photo enhancement the internet could come up with to zoom in on the title. After a half-hour of work, she got it: An Introduction to Quantum Physics. This guy was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk reading a textbook on quantum physics for fun. Standing, he wandered over to Queen Bee and Prada-Girl. He was tall, almost a good foot above Jenn, maybe 6’5” or 6’6”, and gangly in an awkward but endearing way, like Joey Ramone. A mop of dark brown hair hung in his face, almost obscuring his eyes, and an all-weather navy RCMP coat hung limply from his shoulders. It was the beginning of fall and still kind of hot outside, so he should have been roasting in it, but he didn’t seem to notice. A pair of straight-cut black jeans complemented some worn but polished army surplus combat boots. He was laughing now and the sound of his laughter carried over to Jenn’s side of the street. It was a rich, full-timbred laugh and it had him going so hard he bent at the waist and put his free hand on one of his knees to steady himself. He was, Jenn thought to herself, probably the most intriguing, charming and goddamn handsome boy she’d ever laid eyes on.
But he belonged to the punks who hung in front of Pete’s Burgers, a group she had no connection to. She couldn’t talk to him, she could only watch him from across the street, letting the ache grow until she had no other option but to walk to the bus stop, turning her frustration over and over in her mind while she waited for her ride home, just like she’d done on the previous two days.