Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like without the presence of that one person in it? You know, the one person that just makes your day worse by being present in your field of vision? The person whose breathing around you annoys you just as much as them talking to you. You know of at least one such person, right? For me, that person is Vikram Sethi.
Unfortunately, he’s the first person I see on the first day of my senior year in school.
As soon as I get off the bus, he hops off his bike.
Not only is he lean and athletic, but, at six-one, he’s also the tallest guy in the senior class. Taking off his helmet, he combs his wavy, dark brown hair with his free hand. He has his earphones on and is dancing to the music only he can hear. Of course, he brought a mobile. Cell phones aren"t allowed in our school, but rules don"t apply to Vikram Sethi. Do they?
I know when his eyes spot me. Even through his sunglasses, I can see his brown eyes. He stops moving upon seeing me and smiles at me. God! I hate this smile.
I know, I know he"s hot, but any guy ceases to be attractive to me when he acts like s**t.
I don"t know why he"s smiling at me. The last indirect interaction we had was when he stole my English notebook from Mr. Jose’s desk, and I got accused of helping him cheat. I never confronted Vikram about it as —I didn"t want to deal with him. But I hadn"t forgotten.
I turn around and retrace my steps through the gate I entered. Peeping through the gaps between the gate, I see him frown and sit on his bike with arms crossed. I hope he"s not waiting for me to reappear, assuming I"ve left to pick up something from the bus. But, in a minute, he shrugs and moves on, no doubt realizing that I"m not worth the wait.
# # #
When I stumble into my class, I"m not surprised that nobody saved a seat for me. I sit with a new boy.
I wish, not for the first time, that my parents were not averse to homeschooling. I mean, what"s the point of making introverts go through a forced socially stimulating environment for more than half of the day when we can learn alone at home. And we"ll be happier that way. But this world, just like this school, is not cut for introverts.
That"s why when my English teacher, Mrs. Khanna announces, “This year you will have fun while doing your English project,” I pray to not let it be a group project.
“It"s a group project. You have to make a group of three. All the members of the group have to read a book, a classic, and have to discuss their opinions on different aspects of the book. I will give you the list of points you have to discuss later. You have to submit the report before the half-yearly exams. And I reserve the right to switch the group"s members.” Mrs. Khanna ends with a smirk.
Reading a book doesn"t seem like much of a task, but discussing it in a group? Ugh. Plus, I need to watch academics and extracurriculars both this year. Soon, I will be filling out college applications. It should be impressive enough to get me into New York University because it has the best creative writing course.
Looking back at my class of thirty-one, I start picturing the groups of threes and find myself standing at the end, the thirty-first student. These stupid kids would rather g**g up with their friends than with someone who would actually do some work.
For the first four periods, I don"t have to change the classroom. It"s the third period, and I haven"t said a word to the new boy sitting next to me.
Turning towards him I say, “Hi, I am Mishti Ahuja. Wanna be my partner?”
“Yeah, sure, I am Saahil Mahajan.” He smiles.
Ah, dimples. I"m a sucker for dimples.
“Okay, Saahil, who do you think in this class can work with us?” I look around the class and mentally cringe at the faces I see.
“I don"t know. I"m new.” He shrugs, following my gaze.
“As if that makes a difference. I have been studying here all my life, and I still don’t know.” There is no point in trying to hide my social ineptness.
“Come on. There must be someone you like in the class.” He bumps his shoulder against mine gently. He is cute.
“Yeah, yeah. There’s Mrs. Khanna. But not right now, because she gave us a group project, and I hate working in groups.”
He shrugs. “Well, I think they are fun. And it’ll give me a chance to make friends.”
“Friends are overrated.” I snap.
He looks like a sweet guy. I don"t know why I am trying to scare him off. I used to have a best friend in junior high school, but she dropped me like a pile of garbage when she became friends with popular girls. She ignored my calls and texts, and one day, when I confronted her at school, she said I was boring because I didn"t want to do girl stuff like shopping and makeup. How could I tell her that shopping was a nightmare for me because I could never find anything in my size?.
“Maybe, but having one is not. You can use one, I can see.” Behind his glasses, his eyes reflect humor.
“Don’t make me look more pathetic than I am.” I turn away from him. My long-ingrained feeling of inadequacy surfaces.
“You are interesting, Mishti Ahuja, not pathetic,” he whispers, leaning forward and looking me in the eyes.
Oh my God! Is he flirting with me? I look away. I don"t know what to do. My heart starts thumping, and I wonder if Saahil can hear it too.
“We’ll have to inform Mrs. Khanna that we need a partner,” I blurt. Dimwit that I am, I run to the teacher. Seriously, what is wrong with me? No wonder I am seventeen and have never had a boyfriend.
Mrs. Khanna is witnessing an intimate conversation between Vikram Sethi and Siya Sharma with narrowed eyes. She calls out, “Vikram, please come here.”
He whispers something in Siya’s ear that makes her blush and gets up slowly, unfolding his long body, a mischievous smile on his lips. Oh, that smile again!
I shake my head and mouth “NOOOOO” to Saahil. He frowns.
Vikram strolls toward us. “Yes, Mrs. Khanna,” he says, looking right at me.
“Vikram, I want you to join Mishti and Saahil’s group,” Mrs. Khanna says.
“But why? I am already a part of a group.”
“Don’t worry. Ananya is absent today. She"ll join that group.”
“But you can put Ananya with them.” He points at us.
Mrs. Khanna replies, “I’m the teacher. I gave you an option to make the groups. I can take that away from you if I want. Unless you have a valid reason, you are doing the English project with them.”
Vikram tilts his head, gives me a once-over. “Okay, Ma’am,” he says with special emphasis on ‘Ma’am’.
As if he is doing me a favor.
I don"t need him. I"ll get rid of him.
As we go back to our seats, I hear him muttering, “Sorry, Siya, someone else got lucky.” He has the gall to wink at me.
I look at Siya, who is blissfully unaware of her misfortune.
Vikram stands for everything I hate about boys. In middle school, chubby girls like me were a source of entertainment for him and his friends. I have never wanted their attention. Not even now, after I"ve been working hard to lose weight in the gym and eating nothing but boiled vegetables. In tenth grade, my gynecologist and my mother bullied me into making lifestyle changes after being diagnosed at the risk of PCOS. It changed my dress size, but it didn"t change what I was inside. I still don’t want their attention.