Eighteen: 18

Page 6


It makes me sigh and I wander across the small distance that separates us and take a seat next to him. Not too close. He makes me nervous. That’s a new feeling for me. Usually I’m the one making guys nervous.

I rummage around in my backpack and pull out a cigarette, offering Alesci one. He shakes his head and leans back against the brick wall. I light up my cigarette and blow out a puff of smoke into the cold air.

The silence hangs there between us and I start shuffling my feet, unable to figure out what’s going on. Should he be offering me rides? Should I be accepting them? Should he be allowed to be so hot and my teacher at the same time? Does he always wear a suit under his leather jacket?

“I’ve known Bowman for a long time,” he says.

“That right? Did he ask you to be my teacher?”

“Called me up last month and said he had a job for me. I’m between jobs right now. Well…” He laughs. “Technically I’m supposed to be writing my dissertation for my PhD. I go to UCLA and after ten years of work, the shit is about to pay off. All I gotta do is write up my contribution to science and I’m on my way. But I figure you’re a good excuse to procrastinate, because while math might be my thing, writing is not.”

“UCLA, huh?” I say. Last semester I worked in the office at Anaheim because my school in San Diego said I had a ton of credits and only had to go to school half a day. So at Anaheim I worked in the library first period shelving books and the office second period sorting mail into little cubbies. One day a catalog came for the art school at UCLA and I put it in my backpack and took it home.

I’ve never thought about college. No one has ever talked to me about college. Not even my guidance counselors back home.

But that catalog was so pretty I had to have it. So I stole it. And I read it cover to cover that same night. I’ve always wanted to be an artist. That’s why I was in that alternative school back in Ohio. I was taking graphic design and learning Photoshop, and that’s the closest I’ve came so far.

But UCLA art school. God.

“What are you taking at UCLA?” I ask, genuinely interested.

He laughs. And it’s such a warm, hearty laugh, I want to bottle it up and keep it with me for all the days ahead that I will be sad. “Computer engineering with a concentration in physics,” he says.

“Jesus,” I say. “If they make me take physics, I’m quitting.”

He laughs again and this time I catch a little gleam in his green eyes. “It’s not really my thing, either. My thing is astronomy. But I have a plan that ties it all together. Now I just need to sell people on it.”

Astronomy. That is so cool. “Do you think you will?” I turn my body to face him and wait for his answer. “Sell people on your plan?”

But he just shrugs. “Dunno. I did my best, so whatever.”

“How do you know Bowman?”

“I was his first student when he came to Anaheim ten years ago.”

“You’re twenty…?”

“Eight,” he says, smiling at me like he’s hungry.

Jeeeesus. Why does my teacher have to be so hot? Ten years older than me. I almost can’t stop staring. I have to force myself to look away and take a drag off my cigarette.

“He helped me get into CU right after high school. I was sorta like you. Smart, but unmotivated. He motivated me.”

“CU?”

“University of California.”

“Oh. I’m not up on all that college stuff.”

“You should be.”

“Why? It’s not like I’m ever going.”

“Why not?”

“Um.” I laugh. “I’m broke, number one.”

“They have scholarships. But you have to apply.”

“My grades are terrible. And the occasional A in biology won’t cover that fact up.”

“There’s lots of ways to go to college, Shannon.”

“Maybe it’s just not for me,” I say, irritated.

“Maybe you have no idea what’s good for you.”

“And you do?”

He shrugs again. “I know you can do trig.”

“Like hell. I’m not sure why everyone thinks I’m so smart here, but back in Ohio I was nothing but average. So you people either have very low standards or you have no idea what mediocrity looks like.”

He laughs. “Mediocre people don’t use the word ‘mediocrity,’ Shannon.”

I sigh and take another drag. “I’m tired of talking about this. I’d rather just be invisible, thanks. Bowman should mind his own business and ignore me like everyone else.”

“Who’s ignoring you?” He chuckles. “I can’t imagine you get ignored much. You’re like a little explosion in a bottle.”

“You’d be wrong. Everyone ignores me at this school. Some girl started talking Spanish to me this morning. She just assumed I was Hispanic because I have brown hair. And I’ve seen and even talked to her at least half a dozen times, yet she never saw me.” I take a drag. “It pissed me off too. Invisible, that’s what I am. I guess I should get used to it.”

“Your call,” he says, standing. Just then a yellow cab pulls under the shelter and comes to a stop next to his bike. “Your ride’s here anyway.”

I get up and wipe the stones off my ass, but it’s no use. I’m still soaked. Alesci walks over to the cab and talks to the driver through the window. He turns to me, opens the back door of the cab, and waves me in.

“This is me?” I ask, dumbfounded. “I don’t have enough to pay for a cab.”

“I paid with a credit card online.”

“Oh.” He planned this pretty thoroughly. I start to slip the jacket off and give it back, but he stops me with a warm hand on my shoulder.

“Keep it on, Shannon. I can see your tits through that bra. And next time you wear a white shirt, check to see if it’s gonna rain before you leave the house without a jacket.”

My whole face heats up and I’m quite positive it’s bright red.

“You’re good for the jacket, right?”

I nod and swallow hard.

“I’m gonna be seeing a lot of you, Shannon Drake. There’s no way in hell you’ll be invisible to me.”

I don’t even know what to say. So I just slip into the cab and lean back against the seat and wonder why my heart is beating so fast.

“Mateo,” he says, leaning down into the cab, his face so close to mine I can feel the heat of his breath.

“What?” I whisper.

“My name,” he says. “Mateo Alesci. Happy birthday, Shannon. See you tomorrow.” And then he closes the door and pounds twice on the roof to signal the cabbie to leave.

I’m still repeating his name in my head fourteen blocks later when the cab pulls up in front of my apartment.

And then it hits me. He knows where I live. He knows everything about me because he has my file.

Chapter Five

Our building is a collection of one-story apartments in a u-shape, centered on a grassy quad. There are only about fifteen of them. There’s an alley on the other side of the laundry room building where people have small garages. The 5 freeway is less than fifty yards from where I stand on the curb, and less than twenty feet from my bedroom window.

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