There are things you learn without knowing it. A really obvious example of this is math. Since my tutoring sessions started with Iris, I've been getting 70's rather than 40's.
I think I just benefit from the environment. I think I mentally check out when I'm in a classroom, but with someone sitting down and explaining the principles to me, I can follow along and retain it. Everything's a bit more clear. Iris is a very good tutor, although she's still sometimes awkward socially.
Before she was hired to be my tutor, I'd seen her around the school a bit. She didn't look like someone I wanted to know. It bothers me that I can be this superficial, but she's the textbook high school outcast who might grow into a beautiful woman but for now, is stuck with glasses and acne and an underdeveloped body. She's shy and doesn't have a great sense of conversation, but is also clearly unnerved by silences, leading her to ask every so often "So what's new? Seen any good movies?" I try to humor her.
I ran into her at the mall on the weekend. I hate how often I go, but there's not a lot to do in this town. I go by myself, I window shop and eat mall food. I watch the teenagers a bit, trying to figure them out. I wish I could've had a time in my life to be young and stupid. Well, I did end up being young and stupid, but in my own way.
I saw her across the food court. She smiled and waved and I nodded back and she took that as an invitation to come over. "Hey, how are you? How about that math test?"
I told her how well I did, how good she was as a tutor and she got a bit embarrassed. "It's not hard really. It's just my way of helping. What are you doing here today?"
I tell her I'm just here to hang out. She gets a bit disappointed, I guess because she thinks I'm about to shoo her away. She asks who I'm with.
"Nobody," I tell her. "I'm just here by myself."
"Really?" The idea seems completely impossible to her, that I could be alone willingly. "I thought you were friends with Emily and all them."
"It's... complicated. I'm friendly with them, but I'm not friends with them."
"Do you hate them?"
"No, they're good people, just not the kind of people I'd wanna spend a Saturday with."
"What kind of people would you wanna spend a Saturday with?"
"I like being alone," I tell her.
She admits to me, "I hate being alone. I'm alone all the time. If people wanted to be friends with me, I'd be near them all the time."
I don't tell her she sounds desperate. That the "cool" people don't cling to others so desperately. But I'm not one to pass judgment, because I was pretty needy in my youth.
"With the right people, you know exactly how much time to spend together," I tell her, seriously sugarcoating things.
"So you don't wanna date anyone?"
"I'm not really the dating type," I tell her. I've learned my lesson, especially in the hormonal tiger trap of high school, when you're a Trading Post person, relationships are... practically impossible.
"Is that why you didn't wanna date James Callahan?"
I nearly choke on my soda. James Callahan is a tall, all-American looking boy in our grade. I've had almost zero interaction with him. I've never heard my name mentioned in the same breath as his. After a moment I realize this is probably referring to something from before my time as Ellie. But I later found out it was still "current" enough that Iris had recently heard about it.
I didn't really know what to say, so I said "Not everybody always wants to date everybody else." This is the hard lesson I've learned lately, and perhaps the most blunt thing I've said to this naive young girl.
To my surprise she understands this. "Life would be so much easier if they did."
By the end of the meal, I think I could stand to spend a bit more time with this girl, so we ended up going around the mall together. When I was Sam, I was sort of a fashionista. I treated my first "new" body like a Barbie doll. Even when I was Max, I would go shopping with Tanya and Melanie and help them pick outfits. It changed when I was with Emily, though. I became less interested in the appearance and more interested in the girl herself. I became kind of a guy cliche of "Yeah, she's dragging me along shoe shopping." Even since I've been Ellie, I'm the least girliest I've ever been. I dress in tomboy clothes, jeans and tees and don't think twice about it, even though Ellie's got an impressive wardrobe for a 17-year-old, because I'm not interested in playing the game, not interested in putting myself on display, not interested in showing off this body. I feel strong.
Iris is someone who clearly doesn't know the first thing about the girly stuff, but what surprised me was that she seemed interested. This girl who dresses in corduroys and Converse shoes was eyeballing sundresses and even glancing in the lingerie store. I bit my tongue. I didn't want to say "You should try that on" because I don't want to make her into a project, I don't want to give her a makeover, I don't want to give her the idea that her entire identity is tied to her appearance.
See, that's the other thing you can learn without knowing you learned. I realized, when I was a guy, how much women do to look good for guys. Some of it's for themselves, and sometimes it's to get attention because the attention feels good.
I thought I was escaping. I thought I was invisible at school. But if Callahan has still been asking about me to Emily (and Emily to Iris, hence how she knows) it means I'm still visible, and that the tomboy thing isn't keeping the boys away.
On Monday, I saw Callahan in the hallway. I didn't talk to him, I acted like I didn't know anything about him. But knowing what I knew, I really looked at him. Handsome. Good body. I don't know anything about his personality, but I had him written off as a dumb jock and now I'm not sure. He could obviously date if he wanted to, so it's his bad luck if he's hung up on me... because I'm really not sure what to make of this.
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