[Originally posted at Ana Mardoll's Ramblings.]
Jesse told me about a dance coming up in two weeks, and asked my permission to invite Shell, which seemed unaccountably weird to me. First off, why would he need my permission regardless? Didn't Michelle make her own decisions? Second, why ask me? Jesse had known Shell longer than I had, Jesse and Shell were around each other more than Shell and I were together. It seemed like the only time I was near Shell that Jesse wasn't was when Shell and I had a class together that Jesse wasn't in.
I didn't ask for an explanation, I just explained that had no objections whatsoever.
Then he asked, "Are you sure you don't mind," which did not put me in a good mood.
Yes. I was sure. That's why I said it. No, I'm not trying be sneaky, I said it's fine because it's fine and thank you so much for doubting my sincerity. At which point I think I realized that maybe I wasn't in the best mood for dealing with this kind of thing. Since I didn't actually say any of that there was just dead air that Jesse decided to fill up with another question.
"You weren't planning to ask her?"
Because I'd been here this long and never so much as asked someone to spend some time with me sitting in one place so I was definitely going to jump into social interaction with dancing, one of the many things that would give me a chance to fall flat on my face. In front of everyone. Or, if people were close enough together, knock half of the class over like dominoes. Obviously I was totally going to ask Shell if she'd like me to fall on top of her.
I said, "No, Jesse. I'm not planning on going at all," in as civil a tone as I could while concluding that it was going to to be one of those days, if not one of those weeks. I think that the fact I wasn't exactly happy came through, though obviously not the reason, because Jesse changed gears entirely.
"You should come," he said and he seemed sincere. "It'll be fun," in what I gather was his most encouraging tone. I recognized what he was doing, and I did appreciate it, but the fact was that it wouldn't be fun for me and if he couldn't figure that out then he shouldn't be trying. Things I don't like don't cheer me up, no matter how much the person suggesting them does like them. I wish people could understand that.
Still, I wished him well, and I tried to end the conversation thinking about that rather than the fact that he'd dragged it out to be painfully longer than it had any right to be by second guessing me when I said I didn't mind him asking Shell to the dance. So I said, "Then I hope you and Shell have a great time," while trying not to let any annoyance of frustration into my voice.
That was how the conversation ended, and I thought it was a good note to end on. Of course a big part of me wishing that they'd have a good time was based on the belief that Michelle would say yes. Turned out I was completely wrong about that.
The next day Jesse was not his usual self. Instead of his fast, nigh unstoppable optimistic chatter he was about as talkative as I usually am. Which meant that we ended up walking between classes in silence. I don't dislike silence in general, but when you've gotten used to conversation it can be quite awkward to have none. I didn't want to ask why because I was pretty sure of the answer and I didn't want to rub salt in.
At lunch Jesse sat as far from Shell as possible, but things seemed to improve for him somewhat when he got to talking with Erica. I didn't really pay attention to the conversation, but I noted the tone and tempo, and by the end of lunch Jesse seemed to be back to his old self, if completely ignoring Michelle. Shell was unusually quiet the whole time, though some of that might have been because without Jesse to talk to her usual amount of conversation would be impossible.
As we walked to class she was still quiet and the look on her face didn't portend good things. I had suspicions of what was going on, but I also had suspicions about the nature of dark matter, I was going to wait until the evidence was in. That came when we got to class, I was at my desk. She was at my desk. Edith was close enough I could reach out and touch her if I were the sort of person who reached out and touched people at random. The stage was set for an awkward conversation and Shell did not disappoint.
"So," Shell started, "Jesse asked me to the spring dance."
I took a moment to think about how to respond because the first things that came to my mind were no-gos. The very first thing was, Did he now? I had no idea. How did that go? Could it be that that's why the two of you appear to suddenly hate each other with a fiery passion and I have the sinking feeling I'm going to get dragged into the middle of it, which was a bad idea for a number of reasons not the least of which being that the passion wasn't that fiery. Unpleasant to be around, yes, fiery not so much. The second thing was an angry and standoffish, And you're telling me this why? Which also wouldn't work because angry and standoffish responses lead to angry and standoffish situations, and I already had a headache.
Finally I said, "That's nice."
Shell seemed to be searching for something in my response. I think I did a fairly good job of not giving off, 'I hate the world right now,' vibes. Of course hiding hostility when basically all you're feeling is hostility doesn't leave a lot to work with, so I suppose I can understand why she didn't know what do with it.
She said, "I told him I'd have to think about it." And suddenly Jesse's reaction made a lot more sense. He wasn't feeling down because he got rejected, he was feeling off because he didn't get an answer. He was having trouble dealing because there was, as yet, nothing to deal with. The uncertainty of whether he'd get a yes or no was being drawn out far beyond what he'd expected. He was in limbo and he didn't like the feeling.
I sputtered, "Wh-why would you do that?" It honestly hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't have an answer. I, and I presume Jesse as well, thought that she'd either say yes or no. Then again, maybe that's because I've always had an answer ready the moment someone asks me to a dance, that answer being, 'No.' I've never needed time to think and I never really thought about how it might be for others.
"I was wondering if you might be planning to ask me."
"Why not?" she asked in a way that made me want to shout, 'None of your fraking business.'
I ignored it and said what I'd been planning to say anyway, "You should tell Jesse yes or no. He doesn't seem to cope with uncertainty very well."
"Did you already ask someone else?" she asked while glaring at Edith.
"No," I said, then slowly, deliberately, followed her gaze, "Should I have?" and finally while facing Edith, "Did you have someone in mind?" And immediately felt guilty for several reasons. I shouldn't have brought Edith into it, I shouldn't have toyed with obvious insecurity, I shouldn't have felt a desire to twist the knife. She was asking for personal information she had no right to, but rejection is bad enough without me intentionally adding to the discomfort.
So I turned back to her and told the truth, "Actually, I'm not planning on going."
"Why not?" Again with the questions that were none of her business.
I probably should have said that, but I was still feeling not right about how I responded to the last question so I said, "Any number of reasons starting with the fact that I don't dance and ending with the fact that I'm not going to be in town that day," which hadn't been true until the moment I said it but the moment those words came unbidden I knew it was right because I had to get out of this place lest I go insane. Two weeks was a long time to wait, but if I didn't set a date I'd probably never do it, and that seemed like the perfect day to be far, far away. "I'm going to Seattle," because gas is expensive so I'd never make it to Denver.
"What about another weekend?"
And that's the problem with giving reasons, even honest reasons, that avoid the main point. So I said, "No." I was going to leave it at that, but then I added, "And you shouldn't leave Jesse hanging. It's rude." And now it was my turn to do the angry glare.
I assumed that was the end of having my books carried for me, but it was worth it if I never had to go through that again. I wasn't sure if I wanted her to tell Jesse, 'Yes,' anymore. Surely Jesse could do better. Then again everyone has their off days, and maybe Shell was just having a really, really off day.
After she left I turned to Edith and said, "I'm sorry for that."
Edith had apparently taken being used as a prop in stride, and told me, "I'll live."