Written: December 1st, 2007, 11:03 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
The novel continues here.
Toff chuckled politely. And, Orr joined her. Dan grinned at them.
"Anyway," he said. "What's your number?"
She told him, and he wrote it down, and grinned his grin again before saying to Toff, "I guess I'll be seeing you later, Toff!" and to Orr, "Bye!"
Both Toff and Orr said "Bye," the former as a twitter, the latter as a mutter. And, Dan turned and walked away.
"How ironic," said Toff, but before Orr could ask for details, she added, "I think that was a good meeting. Don't you?" and the two of them discussed the meeting until they reached Toff's room and took to studying.
As Toff began spending more and more time with Dan, Orr found himself one more study-partner-less. The beginning of this period also coincided with Orr's first quizzes since the midterms, and his increased socializing (along with the increased sleeping in which he took part upon the dozens of requests by both Toff and Sarah) had taken their toll on his grades. So, with hurt feelings and hurt ego, Orr resolved to redouble his scholastic efforts, and though he had experienced first-hand the advantages of sleep, he found little reason to spend so much time socializing with someone who obviously preferred the company of another.
So, Toff's occasional offers of company were rejected, though Orr tried to let her down optimistically ("I'm cramming tonight, but soon!" "Don't worry about me. Go hang out with Dan! I understand!") Orr's lies to satisfy Toff both helped heal his ego and also kept her largely out of his life. But, when he missed two Love Minus Art meetings in a row, after only attending one more and being so undone by Dan's and Toff's teaming polemics that he decided never to attend another in his life, Toff reverted to old methods for contacting Orr. She knocked on his door one day without warning.
Orr was, of course, studying, and he had hit a point in several of his courses (a point common to many courses, especially in mathematics and computer science) where everything was making sense to him. They were using the same strategies over and over again, and though the strategies were complex, he had finally gotten a hold of them, and could easily apply them to even new material. (This point is normally succeeded by stranger and stranger moves away from the main topic of the course, which make up the subject-matter of higher-level courses and reveal to the aspiring student that she does, indeed, still know essentially nothing of relevance.)
He had expected Toff and knew that avoiding her would be childish, so he opened the door when she knocked and let her in.
She said, "Hey, Orr!"
Orr said, "Hi there, Toff. How's it going?"
Toff said, "It's good. Things with Dan are still going well."
Orr said, "That's good..." He wondered if he should ask her to leave.
Toff said, "So, you've been missing LMA meetings lately."
Orr said, "Yeah. Sorry, I've been busy. I didn't do so well on my quizzes. I had some quizzes last week, and I really didn't do well on them. So, I decided to study more. To do better on the next quizzes. And on the finals. Too. Sorry."
Toff said, "Yeah, I guess I figured. If you want any help... you know that I'd love to have a study partner."
This sounded vaguely familiar to Orr, but the familiarity was drowned out by the burst in his lungs that accompanied the reminder that Toff already had a partner.
And, try as he might to hide his thoughts, as he said, "No, you hang out with Dan; that's perfectly fine," his voice broke and gave him away.
Toff's eyes widened. She said, "Oh, you're upset about Dan?!"
This mock, he assumed, surprise was too much for Orr. He started speaking too quickly for his consciousness to process what he meant. He said, "Obviously! You know that!"
Toff started, "I..." and then her eyebrows fell and her mouth tightened into a look for frustration.
Orr continued, still not fully processing his words before launching them, "And, you got over Tom in, what, a week? Two? After he defined your life for four years?" After Orr spoke, as he awaited Toff's response, and watched her consternation grow, and her eyes grow watery, part of him knew that he was hurting Toff, and on purpose, and that it was wrong, but the majority of him felt justified, that he was hurt and that what he was saying was both true and honest, and her insensitivity allowed him to be insensitive too.
Toff, her voice rising and falling like a metronome, said, "What do you think? I'm with Dan to get back at Tom?" She waited for Orr to respond, and he, though this was exactly what he thought, refused to do so. So, she said, "I'm with Dan because he makes me happy, and I'm still getting over Tom, and Dan knows that, but at least we both like each other. It's not obsession and... indifference!"
Orr felt ignored, like his real concern was so obvious, so out in the open, and it was her job to bring it up. So, he waited, fuming.
She, after waiting in vain for him to speak, said, "And, so what if I were getting back at Tom? That might be unfair to Dan or to Tom, but what does it have to do with you?"
Orr exploded for a second time, but now this time he felt more in control, and yet necessitated by the moment, as if he were an actor in his own life, because the moment was simply too perfect for him not to admit, in an over-the-top yell, "Because I like you!" And, that was what he did.
Toff, despite the tears brimming in her eyes, chuckled a little. She said, "Really?"
Orr wondered whether perhaps Toff liked him too, whether she had been waiting for him to say something, and whether now she would break up with Dan over him. He smiled and said, "Yeah."
Toff said, "Orr... I don't mean to be insensitive..." Orr's smile collapsed. Toff said, "I just... really?"
Orr said, "Yes."
Toff said, "I..." She looked away from Orr and frowned. "Isn't that a little... cliche for you?"
Orr said, "Cliche...?"
Toff said, "Yeah... You were always so adamant about being different, about avoiding silly things like this because they just got in the way of a unique, meaningful life."
Orr said, "silly...?"
Toff said, "Yeah... And, it's so obvious. I'm a friend who disappears and suddenly reappears and looks attractive? And, I'm the girl who came and saved you from your life? Each of those accounts for, like, half of Hollywood's romantic comedy plotlines."
It took Orr a long time to come up with an answer that was longer than a single questioning word, but he resolved to do it and came up with: "But, cliche or not, I still like you!"
Toff said, "Really? I guess my point is, I've seen people who like each other, and though they might look different on some levels, there's an underlying sameness to how they act... and you don't act like that. You might try to spend more time with me, sure, but when we're together, you're content to study or eat. You know how much my grades have risen since I started studying with you instead of Tom? Now that I can actually concentrate? It's unbelievable."
Orr said, "Are... are you saying that I don't like you?"
Toff said, "No, that's not really fair of me to say... but... yeah, I guess that's what I'm saying anyway."
Orr said, "I see." And, he couldn't thinking of any way of continuing.
After a pause, Toff said, "It's just... I think you want to like me because... well... that's what you're supposed to do to someone of the opposite sex who helps you fix your life."
Orr said, "And, I can't both like you and have you be someone who helped me fix my life? And, since when do you think that you saved my life?!"
Toff said, "I... I don't know, Orr. Maybe that was presumptuous of me."
Orr hated that every time he got into a conversation with someone, they always somehow took control of the conversation. He said, "I think I want you to leave, Toff."
Toff sighed and said, "I guess that's fair... Can we talk later, though?"
Orr said, "Sure," but he was lying.
Toff smiled slightly. She said, "Thanks..." Then, she turned around and left.
But, before Orr could properly fume any more, he heard a muffled "Oh!" and a knock on the door.
He considered not opening it, but decided that she knew he was home and wouldn't leave until he did.
Toff was standing with a scrap of paper in her hand. She said, "I forgot. I really came by to give you this." And, she offered it to Orr.
Orr took it and looked at it. It was another riddle: "art - luv + val + ues = you"
Toff said, "Anyway, I'll leave you alone. I'm sorry, Orr." And, she walked away again.
Orr prevented himself from saying "Good bye" or "It's okay," and resolved to stop opening doors. This is your problem, he thought. You need a less predictable place to study!
Chapter VI: Whatever
Orr attempted to extract Toff, and the argument he had with her, from his consciousness, but never succeeded at it for long. Every time a thought of her would crop up, he dove headlong into the symbolic and abstract relief of his courses. When her accusing admissions replayed in his head as he tried to sleep, he hushed them with review or thoughts about studying more efficiently. He began studying in a dusty corner of the library, spending the walk there on a schedule and the walk back on review. He stopped answering the door unless he heard his sister's voice blasting from the other end. And, he spent Thanksgiving at NYU with her and her counter culture friends. This strategy worked for a week before Toff's voice first broke through his impregnable defenses and another week after that before it penetrated a second time. But, for the large part of two weeks, he studied Toff out of his brain, and did so with ever-increasing and ever-refining efficiency, so much so that his brain became once more accustomed to the exploration of creative solutions, and Orr began to grasp and excel at all of his material. So much had he improved in these two weeks that on the last pre-final tests, he scored the highest grade in half of his courses, and was in the top five in the rest.
The first event to break Orr's concentration happened at his sister's "Just Eat Shit, Then Rename Everything Tradition" (or "Jets Ret," which Sarah claimed means "Dead Light" in Spokane), and discovered that Toff's semi-pink hair was not a localized phenomenon; three of Sarah's friends had transformed their hair similarly: two men and one woman. Orr was seated next to one of the men, whose named it turned out was, "Thomas." Thomas considered himself an expert "in the art of Aphrodite" and upon seeing the "sad shell before him," decided that no person should look so beaten without being imparted with some valuable (and well-learned!) advice. And, though Orr tried to avoid hearing it, Thomas was adamant and soon subjected Orr to this veritable gem: "Listen, man. All you gotta do, what women really find irresistible, and trust me because I..." he pointed at himself to avoid any ambiguity, "... should know, the thing you gotta do is fucking create, create the fucking shit out of them; you gotta be a Goddamned Kerouac, brilliant and mysterious, spouting poetry out of your hand and fucking smoke out of your mouth." Thomas laughed. "Seriously, man. Pick up the guitar or some shit; paint in fucking Japanese on your chest. You just gotta do something, you know? Be the unique guy, the guy they remember, and they'll fucking pine after you." He laughed again and promptly turned to the woman across the table from him and started chatting her up.
Orr barely followed the inarticulate spew of advice, but the general idea, "be original" reminded him of Toff's accusation. After all, she had said that his experience of liking her was simply non-traditional and therefore false. Either the Aphrodite expert next to him was entirely incorrect (an obvious possibility) or originality could only be considered romantic if it took a predictable form: writing, music, art, and so forth.