Hola! For chapter 11 I rewrote almost the entire first interview, changing the location and the introduction. I still feel like it’s not at its best, but I know some kind of epiphany will hit me soon.
Also, my interview at UNT went well! I felt professional and made sure to talk about my job experience and research work without taking up too much talking time. In about a week I’ll find out if I’ve been accepted to the master’s program!
Chapter 11: Zach Ramos
“There’s no way you listen to the Deftones.”
The guy standing next to me in line at the CD store tilts his head, studying the album cover of one of my favorite band’s fifth record, Saturday Night Wrist. I look it over, noticing the finer details: the pale girl on the front, her milk-white skin and the two moles on her bare neck; the eye superimposed over her, its green iris also looking toward the sky; the dark green forest in the background. You can tell she’s naked from the shoulders up, and judging by the way she’s thrown her head back, she’s doing something sexual. I look at the brunette guy next to me, his shaggy hair and pale face somehow fitting in this mall CD store, and wonder if he knows that appearances can be deceiving. Especially when it comes to tastes in music.
“I just started like three weeks ago,” I say, passing the cashier lady the CD, “after I heard ‘Be Quiet and Drive.'”
“Ah, so you broke in with Around the Fur. Good choice.” I see that he’s got a CD with a skeletal raven standing on top of a clock half-buried in the ground. Probably some deathmetal band. Then I really look at this guy, who’s my age, and notice that he’s wearing a black and red track shirt from two years ago. That chill approving smile makes me remember.
“Zach! Dude, where have you been, man?”
He laughs as we hand hug and bump shoulders. He’s still as scrawny as the last time I’d seen him. “You know, around. I got into CMOB after I left track last year.”
“Ah, nice. Yeah, I remember you were really into computers.” CMOB, or Computer Maintenance of Bishop. Most of my tech friends scrambled to get into that class this year, since it’s only offered first and last period.
“That’ll be $15.60,” the cashier with Lisa Loeb glasses says, glancing at Zach before snapping her gum. I hand her a twenty and watch as she fingers the change out of the cash register like she’s picking ants off a table in disgust. I see the pen clipped to her collar and remember that I have my own, along with a folded piece of paper in my pocket.
We walk out of the store, passing the game court with the miniature carousels and train rides playing their tunes. I find a bench nearby and we sit, Zach talking about his latest computer rig build. Though I’m no computer techie, I can still keep up with what he’s saying and show my amazement at the right moments when he talks about his video card and Core 2 Extreme processor.
“How’s the team?” he asks me, taking a sip of his Sprite. Coach’s announcement about our groups and Districts comes back to me.
“The same. Coach is having us practice in groups, but in all honesty I doubt it’s gonna make a difference, y’know?”
Zach grins to himself. “Sounds like Lara. Any new Goliad guys on the team?”
I tell him about Johan and Jeb, admitting that they’ve made a lot of improvements these past couple of weeks, but in the end I don’t praise them any more than that.
“Well, at least you guys have some backup,” he tells me, smiling like he hates to admit it. “Against McHi, everyone counts.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
We both look up as Mal walks around us, giving us a little wave. Zach’s eyes just light up, even under that shaggy hair of his. “Zach, this is my friend Malerie.”
She holds out her hand, and he gives her a feeble shake. “Hey there.”
“Nice to meet you. How do you know Ross?”
He tells her about how we were in track since freshman year, and she folds her arms and smiles in admiration of our history. When Zach scoots over for her, she thanks him without offering the more than friendly smile I’ve seen so many girls pull out, as if manners were always tied to flirting. She also gives him space without giving off a sense of a rigid need for personal space, nodding and looking at him as they talk about the hurricane and her first few days at Bishop Lynn. It’s nothing reassuring, being on the outskirts of a conversation (even for a minute), but I take it in stride and watch the moms with strollers and little kids walking by, letting Mal get to know Zach. Whether it’s strictly for our first interview, as a segue to a romantic interest, or both, I have no idea, but I know it’s my place to stand by. And I’m okay with that.
“Ross and I just started this yearbook project,” she says, her voice turning toward me invitingly, “but I’ll let him tell you about it.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, we’re trying to interview people about dating. But also about romance and all the other emotions.” He watches me as I deliver my elevator pitch, which I’ve only worked on in my head between classes. “We know that not everyone’s in a perfect relationship, or dating, so we want to figure out where students are at. How they love, what they’re looking for in a partner.”
Zach raises his eyebrows and nods. “Wow, nice man. I always pictured you as the writer type. Sure man, I’d be glad to help. I don’t have to be home till 6:00, anyway.”
Though the mall’s not crowded, Mal suggests that we walk to the park across the street out back, and Zach is fine with that. We walk down the nearest side hallway, and Mal passes me a yellow legal pad and pen that she fished out of her drawstring. We pass a row of gumball dispensers and a vending machine, Zach glancing at them before smiling peacefully and looking down at his shuffling feet. “So you guys want to know how I feel about love, huh? I’m more of a lust kind of guy, though.”
Mal slows down by a fraction for just a second, but is soon back in step with us. I look at him first, noting the meekness in his face and connecting the dots. “It’s whatever you feel okay talking about, man.”
“I just…feel like haven’t changed much. You know how I was, Ross…”
We pass through the double doors and into the evening light, the smell of burnt food and chemical-soaked trash hitting us. Three dumpsters line the wall to our left, and Mal holds her nose as I hold the door open. Zach thanks me, and the way he wrinkles his nose and looks at the green containers takes me back to a day a couple of years ago in late March. A few of us were hanging out at the lake, and we had found a Playboy in the trash can behind the restrooms. Chris had been the one to fish it out, and he had passed it to Zach, Clint and LeRoy snickering and saying “Oh God” over and over. It clicked.
“Yeah man, but that’s what all guys go through. Even if you still do it now…”
Mal looks at us, her bewilderment in check as she tries to just listen. Turns out Zach watches porn regularly, and that it kills him, knowing he’s on a substitute that’s distracted him from real love.
“It’s so easy, you know? When you don’t even have to talk to a girl to feel close to her…”
I stop with Zach when he takes a second to shake his head and let out a shaky breath. Lines of cars circle the parking lot, looking for a spot, and we are followed all the way across until we reach the grassy area by 10th Street. He goes on to say that, for a long time, like months, he was never even interested in any girls at school. “It was just filler for me, and I didn’t even care if girls weren’t interested in me. So I told myself to get a grip, and start looking again. That’s how I met Larissa.”
Mal and I look at each other before I jot her name down as we wait at the crosswalk. When we’re clear the three of us dash across the road, and I hope that no one decides to check their phones while they’re waiting at the red light or take the right turn because they’re starving for some fast food. When we get to the park, dog owners and joggers out and about, we find a table under the pavilion and get back on topic. Now Zach’s smiling, and I can see the hope he has in Larissa.
“I’ll write,” Mal says, nodding for me to keep doing what I’m doing as I hand her the legal pad back. Then she smiles at Zach and asks, “So Larissa’s better than any of that other stuff?”
“Definitely,” he says, and his smile is spreading. “She’s a sophomore in cross country. I met her through another one of my friends on the team.”
“So how long have you liked her?”
“Aw, for a while,” he says, jumping on top of the table and rocking his head to a song in his head. “A couple of weeks, I think.”
“That’s good,” I smile, rubbing my chin. “You thought about asking her out?”
“Time to time,” he replies, lowering his eyes but still smiling just a little. “But…I don’t know dude. Sometimes I feel like she doesn’t know me enough, and we’re always gonna just be friends.”
“I’ve been there. Do you guys talk a lot, hang out?”
“Yeah, she invited me to a couple of parties, and I went to one at Karla’s house. She was glad to see me show up, and I had a good time. But that’s been it.”
“Yeah, that seems like a good start.” I look at him with sympathy, knowing I have to break a harsh truth to him. “But if you want her to become interested in you, man, you need to spend more time with her. Get close and be honest with her about how you feel.”
“I know, but it’s tough!” he says in a slightly raised voice, grinning with a little bit of subtle fear and lowering his hands. “She’s got a lot of friends, and they’re always talking. I…can’t get the words out when we’re alone and it feels like the right time.”
“She’ll understand that,” Malerie says, looking up from her writing. “Girls feel special when a guy gets scared over them.”
Zach nods and looks like he’s digesting that.
“So what do you like most about her?” I ask, prodding as gently as I can. Zach pauses to look down and think. A few seconds go by.
“She’s hot, first off,” he says, grinning like a fox. I just laugh and raise my eyebrows to ask for an elaboration. “Okay…well, she’s really pretty. I like her eyes, and her face is kinda small, but cute. She can kick my ass running any day. On top of all that, she always makes me laugh and feel like I don’t need to worry about anything.”
I briefly let a few words pass through my head before deciding on one. “Hope. She gives you a lot of hope.”
“Yeah,” he nods, tossing his Sprite bottle into the trash before looking off. “Some kind of hope. She’s a lot of happiness.”
That I can understand and appreciate. “I’m glad. Do you think you’re the same kind of person to her?”
“I really don’t think so, dude,” he says, his face drooping. “I mean, I still feel those urges sometimes. And I know I’m just weighing her down when I go to a party with her and don’t talk to anyone. But she still talks to me.”
“That,” I tell him simply, “is a good thing.”
“It’s a great thing,” Malerie says, dropping her pen to pop her back. “It means you’re different from everyone else to her. I don’t know Larissa, but from what I hear I think she’s interested in you. She thinks you’re special, so think about that the next time you go up to ask her.”
“Next time, huh,” Zach says, grinning like he’s not sure about that.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “There should always be a next time, if you want it to be.”
There’s a moment of silence. Zach, with his arms propped up on the table, looks like he’s scanning lines in the bible, trying to discover himself in one of the parables. His next step, his smooth entrance into Larissa’s heart.
“Okay,” he says, sounding relieved as he looks at me. “Thank you too, dude.”
“Hey, anytime,” I say, thinking of the future, when Zach will definitely need help with Larissa. “We’ll keep you posted about the project.”
We walk back with Zach to the parking lot, and I thank him for the suggestion about another band like the Deftones. After he pulls out in his beat up Honda and drives off, Mal sits down on the hood of her car and sighs.
“That took it out of me.” Then she looks at me for a long time.
“You look better,” she says, patting me on the shoulder, “in a confused sort of way.”
That gets a snort out of me. “Just looking for a sense of direction. Thanks for taking notes.”
“Thanks for asking the questions,” she responds, looking appreciative. “I didn’t think Zach would open up that much.”
“It was good for him,” I say, the two of us approaching my car. “I don’t think he’s told his parents, even.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so either,” she says, watching me as I open the door to mom’s car and toss my CD in the seat. “You guys seem really close.”
“We didn’t grow up together, like him and Chris, but yeah, we’ve been through some stuff. Even the porn.”
Malerie sighs and closes her eyes. She reaches over and gives me a great big bear hug. Surprised, I reach up an arm and hug her back, not believing that a smallish girl like Malerie can hold on so tightly. And just as suddenly she lets go and flashes me a half grin. “I’ve found some honest boys. Don’t you ever change.”
After she’s gone, I sit in my car and listen to the CD whirring in the player without any volume on the music. We did good for our first interview. We really did.