Perfect Couple


Page 1


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1
FAMOUS PHOTOGRAPHS WALLPAPERED MR. OAKLEY'S journalism classroom. Behind his desk, Martin Luther King Jr. waved to thousands who'd crowded the National Mall to hear his "I Have a Dream" speech, with the Washington Monument towering in the distance. Over by the windows, a lone man stood defiant in front of four Chinese tanks in protest of the Tiananmen Square massacre. On the wall directly above my computer screen, a World War II sailor impulsively kissed a nurse in Times Square on the day Japan surrendered.
Mr. Oakley had told us a picture was worth a thousand words, and these posters were his proof. He was right. Descriptions in my history textbook read like old news, but these photos made me want to stand up for people, like Dr. King did, and protest injustice, like Tank Man did.
And be swept away by romance, like that nurse.
My gaze fell from the poster to my computer display, which was full of my pictures of Brody Larson. A few weeks ago, on the first day of school, our senior class had elected the Superlatives-like Most Academic, Most Courteous, and Least Likely to Leave the Tampa/St. Petersburg Metropolitan Area. Brody and I had been voted Perfect Couple That Never Was. Brody had dated Grace Swearingen the whole summer, and I'd been with the yearbook editor, Kennedy Glass, for a little over a month. Being named part of a perfect couple when Brody and I were dating other people was embarrassing. Disorienting. Anything but perfect.
And me being named one half of a perfect couple with Brody made as much sense as predicting snow for Labor Day next Monday in our beachside town. He was the popular, impulsive quarterback for our football team. Sure, through twelve years of school, I'd liked him. He was friendly and so handsome. He also scared the hell out of me. I couldn't date someone who'd nearly lost his license speeding, was forever in the principal's office for playing pranks, and had a daily drama with one girl or another on a long list of exes. And he would never fall for law-abiding, curfew-obeying, glasses-wearing me.
So I hadn't gone after him as my friend Tia had urged me to. I only found excuses to snap photos of him for the yearbook. For the football section, I'd taken a shot of him at practice in his helmet and pads. Exasperated with his teammates, he'd held up his hands like he needed help from heaven.
For the candid section, I planned to use a picture from my friend Kaye's party last Saturday. Brody grinned devilishly as he leaned into his truck cab to grab something. I'd cropped out the beer.
For the full-color opening page, I'd taken a close-up of him yesterday in study hall. His brown hair fell long across his forehead. He wore a green T-shirt that made his green eyes seem to glow. Girls all over school would thank me for this when they received their yearbooks next May . In fact, Brody had implied as much when I snapped the picture. He made me promise I wouldn't sell it to "a porn site for ladies," which was why he was smiling.
In short, he was the sailor in the poster: the kind of guy to come home from overseas, celebrate the end of the war in Times Square, and sweep a strange girl off her feet.
I only wished I was that girl.
"Harper, you've been staring at Brody for a quarter of an hour." Kennedy rolled his chair down the row of computers to knock against mine. I spun for a few feet before I caught the desktop and stopped myself.
Busted!
"You're not taking that Perfect Couple vote seriously, are you?" he asked. "I'll bet a lot of people decided to prank you."
"Of course I'm not taking it seriously," I said, and should have left it there. I couldn't. "Why do you think we're so mismatched? Because he's popular and I'm not?"
"No."
"Because he's a local celebrity and I'm not?"
"No, because he broke his leg in sixth grade, trying to jump a palmetto grove in his go-cart."
"I see your point."
"Besides, we're the perfect couple."
Right. I smiled. And I waited for him to put his arm around me, backing up his words with a touch. But our relationship had never been very physical. I expected a caress now because that's what I imagined Brody would do in this situation. I was hopeless.
I said brightly, "If I was staring at Brody, I was zoning out." I nodded to the Times Square poster. "I get lost in that image sometimes."
Kennedy squinted at the kiss. "Why? That picture is hackneyed. You can buy it anywhere. It's on coffee mugs and shower curtains. It's as common in the dentist's office as a fake Monet or a print of dogs playing poker."
Yes, because people loved it-for a reason. I didn't voice my opinion, though. I was just relieved I'd distracted Kennedy from my lame obsession with Brody.
When Kennedy had bumped my chair, he'd stopped himself squarely in front of my computer. Now he closed my screen without asking. I'd saved my changes to Brody's photos, but what if I hadn't before he closed them? The idea of losing my digital touch-ups made me cringe. I took a deep breath through my nose, calming myself, as he scrolled through the list of his own files, looking for the one he wanted. I was tense for no good reason.
I'd known Kennedy forever from school. We'd talked a little last spring when Mr. Oakley selected him as the new editor for the yearbook and I won the photographer position. Back then, I'd been sort-of dating my friend Noah Allen, which made me technically off limits. Kennedy was a tall guy who looked older than seventeen because of his long, blond ponytail and darker goatee, his T-shirts for punk bands and indie films I'd never heard of, and his pierced eyebrow.
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