“New Guy Smell,” by Evan Purcell

Aug 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Homeroom just ended. Me and Veronica were talking about prom stuff. She wanted to wear that red dress, even though it was cheap and store-bought. I guess it complimented her hair, which was also cheap and store-bought. Ever the diplomat, I tried to persuade her to stick to solid black. It’s slimming, especially in the hip area. But I couldn’t exactly make any hip area comments to her face. I mean, could you imagine? I would totally sound catty.

So I told her that wearing red would only jinx her into breaking out beforehand. That kinda struck a nerve, because when we were freshmen, she had skin you could plant crops in. But now her cheeks are better.

She was about to ask me something unimportant when the new student walked by. I didn’t know who he was, and I didn’t know his name. He was perfect and lumbering with amber eyes, like wolf eyes. He checked me out and Veronica was just oblivious. As usual.

So he gave me this “What’s up?” head nod and Veronica kept prattling about earrings. When New Guy was gone, I asked Veronica if she noticed his eyes, or his perfect everything. She shrugged, and went back to God damn earrings.

The bell rang and we dispersed. Veronica went to her Egghead Math because she’s freaking studious and shit. I was off to nutrition.

When I got to class, I was like half-a-minute late and Miss Phelps looked at me like I had punched her in the neck. She’s such a hyena sometimes and I doubt she’ll ever marry. She told me to sit in my usual spot and I did. Only my usual spot was a little different now. New Guy sat right next to me. I could hear his breathing.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What about my boyfriend? What about Dave Johnson? I mean, admittedly he’s a catch. And I’ve dated him for—what?—two years or something. And he’s a great boyfriend, mostly because of his scholarship to Cornell and, you know, his ass. But a girl wants a little more from life than Dave Johnson. Besides, New Guy seemed totally interested.

Halfway through class, I dropped my pencil and let it roll toward New Guy’s sneaker. He picked it up, slid it through his thick fingers, and handed it back to me. “Hey,” he said. And I said “Hey” back.

Miss Phelps glared at us. She’s totally going to be an old maid in a few semesters.

We didn’t get to talk—me and New Guy—because of all our crappy-ass busy work. But I was able to scooch my chair closer to his and flick my hair in that perfect slo-mo way.

So I sat there, supposedly learning about stuff, breathing in the New Guy, and I noticed something wonky. New Guy smelled like my dead grandma.

I mean, he didn’t smell like she did after she died. I didn’t exactly go around huffing her coffin at the wake. But before she died, Nana Weiss smelled like old paper and hair spray and soap. Whenever I smelled her, I thought about going to the beach as a kid, and trick-or-treating in her neighborhood, and getting scolded for breaking her cookie jar with a cow on it. She loved me so much, even after the cookie jar shattered. I’m not the nicest person, but Nana always understood me. I called her every Sunday.

And now New Guy, this amber-eyed Calvin Klein poster, had that smell. It seriously gave me the wiggins. I almost had to stop breathing.

A few hours later, I met Veronica for lunch. We sat at the usual table, close enough to the band geek table so we could trip them as they passed. I was about to spork into my meatloaf and play around with the ketchuppy goo, when New Guy waved at me and sat at our table.

“Wazzup?” he said. God he was hot. He had a scar under his eye that he probably got from, like, saving someone.

“Hey,” me and Veronica said at the same time. Veronica looked at me, her eyes big and bulgy. I knew what she meant: Damn.

I asked New Guy about where he came from and what kind of music he was into. For the record, Kansas and rap. He was god damn perfect. And the best part was, he didn’t even look at Veronica. Just at me. Like I was the hottest girl in a ten-mile radius.

I brushed his shoulder a little. My signature move. And I laughed needlessly. My other signature move. Veronica was being real helpful too. She kept talking about how pretty I was and how I used to be head cheerleader until Mrs. Ryan got all anal. Veronica is such a friend. I’m glad she’s dating Raj, because even though he’s kinda ethnic, he’s good for her.

So we sat all lunch and had a great conversation about Kansas and how Mrs. Ryan is a ho-bag. And I had completely forgotten about his dead grandma smell. But then, I trashed my meatloaf, and the ketchuppy smell faded away. I could smell him again. I was instantly reminded of that time Nana helped me pick shells by the pier. She would grunt a little every time she bent over. I missed her a lot. I didn’t cry at her funeral, and I’ll always feel guilty about that.

I guess I had some weird scrunched up look on my face, because he was like, “What’s wrong?” I couldn’t exactly say that I was thinking deep thoughts, because I should’ve been listening to him talk about stuff.

His voice was so deep and smooth. He could narrate things.

We got up to leave.

I said “I’m fine. I was just looking at your eyes.”

He musta gotten that answer a lot, because he smiled and brushed his hand against my hand as we walked. We were about to clasp fingers when I thought of that time I broke Nana’s cookie jar. It said “Empty COWlories” on it and had a smiling cow. Nana was so mad. I pulled my hand away.

New Guy pretended not to notice.

We didn’t have any more classes together, so he asked me if we could meet after school. And maybe go to Denny’s or something. Veronica said “Yes” before realizing that she wasn’t included. She added, “You know what? Maybe next time.” God bless her. Raj was a lucky foreign exchange student.

New Guy looked at me, waiting for my answer. “Sure,” I said, trying to breathe out of my mouth.

We decided to meet at the bike racks. Then we split up. I watched New Guy walk away. His jeans were really tight. Before I could forget, I texted Dave Johnson and told him we were breaking up.

When the school day was finally over, I waited by the bike racks like I was supposed to. Veronica saw me standing by myself and came over to wish me luck. Raj had his arm around her. It wasn’t fair. Raj never smelled, and he was like Egyptian!

I reminded Veronica to go for a black dress. I gestured toward my hips by accident, and I think she noticed. She nodded solemnly. We planned a shopping spree for the weekend. They left in her nice VW bug with one of the hubcaps missing.

I waited and waited for New Guy. Like fifteen minutes, maybe. I started getting sweaty in the face. Finally, he showed up and he looked a little nervous. He kept fiddling with his hands before shoving them at his sides. He leaned in to hug me and I flashed back to the time Nana Weiss took me and my cousins to Disneyland. I got sick on that mountain ride. You know, the one with the Sasquatch thing? Even Natalie was there, my older cousin. Before she got all bitchy and stopped talking to me.

New Guy pulled away from me. “What are you thinking about?” he asked.

I guess I made that face again. I said we should probably get going, so we got in my Nissan and I drove him around town.

I made up some shit about local history and pioneers and Indians. He was really interested. I blared the AC, but it still didn’t get rid of the grandma smell. We stopped at the Dairy Queen to get shakes. He paid.

We sat outside and drank in silence. You know how sometimes when you’re on a date, the silence is comfortable and nice? And sometimes it’s awkward and painful? This silence was pretty damn painful.

After a while, when I had nothing left to slurp, New Guy asked, “Is there something wrong? When I first saw you, you seemed…interested. But now you keep making these faces. Did I do something?”

What could I tell him? It’s not you, it’s your stench? You remind me of a recently deceased 90-year-old woman? I giggled and brushed my hair and didn’t say anything at all.

“Seriously,” he said. “Are you okay?”

I giggled a little louder. That was probably not the right thing to do. He waited for me to say something.

Now the silence was ten times more painful and I kept thinking about that one Halloween when Nana took all my Reese’s and told me they were bad for my teeth but she really wanted them for herself. She gave them back, though. She loved me more than anything in the world. Until last June. When she died.

“Kiss me,” I said. I wanted to stop thinking.

“Sure,” he said and leaned over the table. My cup clattered to the cement. He put his rough, farmer hands on my neck. His lips were soft, moist, warm. He had stubble on his chin. I felt myself collapse closer to him. We fit together, you know. Not like me and Dave Johnson. More like Sonny and Cher. Romeo and Juliet. Samson and Delilah. All those couples that end up together, happily ever after.

His tongue was warm too. God I loved Kansas.

His stubble, though. Maybe I could’ve done without that stubble. But oh well. It’s not like—

And I remembered Grandma again. She had old lady whiskers. She would kiss my cheek and nuzzle it, too, and no one ever told her about the long white hairs coming out of her chin.

I pulled my head back and almost got whiplash. New Guy’s tongue was in my mouth at the time, and I think I accidentally bit into it.

“What the fuck!” he shouted.

I apologized a lot. Until my face was blue. Until I could no longer taste his tongue blood.

He jumped up. I tried to calm him down. He started making this big nasty scene right in the middle of Dairy Queen. Sure, it was skeezoid and gross in there, but it was still a public place. I mean, people stared. And New Guy got all red-faced and blustery. He was slurring his words because of, you know, the wound. He kept on cussing and ranting about nice farm girls. It was very unbecoming.

Farm boys aren’t supposed to say “Jesus” and “shit” and “you Valley Girl fucktard.”

I said I was sorry one more time, but it didn’t work. Ooh, his eyes were wolf eyes now. The only thing I could do—the only way I could stop his neck veins from moving like that—was to come clean.

“I have to tell you something,” I said. “I have epilepsy.”

I wasn’t exactly 100% on what epilepsy meant. It was either the Michael J. Fox thing, or the one where you fall asleep all the time. Either way, he bought it. He hugged me and apologized for the outburst. I patted his back and said it was okay…

…and Nana Weiss grabbed me by the wrist and made me apologize to Mrs. Harris for running barefoot through her garden.

Crap. I tried to shake the memory loose.

“Sorry,” I told New Guy. “My epilepsy again.”

“Should I call a doctor?” He was bleeding through the taste buds and he was asking me about medical attention. So frickin’ gallant…

…and Nana whacked me upside the head for stealing Natalie’s Barbie and using markers to make her look Mexican. Even though she was lawyer Barbie.

I couldn’t get away with this. Nana wouldn’t let me.

“I’m not epileptic,” I blurted. “I just…think you smell like my grandma and it’s creepy.”

He asked if I was serious.

I said no.

Grandma made me wash her poodle Doris…

…And I said, “Yes. I’m serious. Sorry.”

Well, the good news was my pulling a Mike Tyson on his tongue was no longer the low point of our date. The bad news was he made some hand gestures and started walking home.

He left me very, very alone.

I collapsed back into my chair and some scary homeless man started winking at me from the next table over. Or maybe he had epilepsy too.

There was nothing left for me to do. Look, I know I messed up. A lot. I always mess up. Ad frickin’ nauseam. I guess this would be karma.

But I trusted Nana Weiss. She was like my favorite person. And now she went and jabbed her dirty old fingers into my love life. And that was unforgivable. So I guess this was my cue to stop missing her. I guess this was her telling me to just forget about everything.

And I was okay with that.

I went back to my car and sat there for a while, letting the AC pump its air right through me. I was the only car left in the lot. I tried calling Veronica, but she didn’t pick up. She was probably with Raj, letting him feel her up. She’s a ho sometimes. I tried calling back Dave Johnson, but it went straight to voicemail. Couldn’t he see that I didn’t mean to dump him? That we were meant to be together? I didn’t have anyone else to call, so I just sat there. If I sniffed hard enough, I could still smell the last traces of Nana Weiss. But the air was washing it away pretty fast.

After a few minutes, I couldn’t smell anything.


Defenestration-Generic Male 01Evan Purcell has written humor-based articles for Cracked.com and AfterElton.com. His stories can be found through Cleis Press, Sky Warrior Books, Far Worlds, and others. His first novel was published last month through Crimson Romance. He was also a finalist for the 3-Day Novel Contest and the LA Comedy Fest Screenwriting Competition. He is an American English teacher currently working in central China, and he uses the blog EvanPurcell.blogspot.com to discuss travel and to publicize his writing.

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