I reach the bridge a couple minutes later and sit down next to Kayley, who is staring into the water.
She doesn’t say anything to me, so after a while, I tell her, “I feel kinda like an ork, hiding out under a bridge.”
“A troll,” she says, and then sighs. “You feel kinda like a troll.”
“No, trolls are people. I don’t feel like a person. I feel like an ork,” I insist.
She sighs again, this time clearly annoyed. “Lauren,” she says. “You’re so stupid sometimes. Trolls are not people. Orks are not people. Only humans are people. Orks are from Tyrol folklore, and they live on mountains. Trolls live under bridges. And they have really long hair and big noses, and that’s clearly what you mean when you say ork.”
I reach over and put my hand on her shoulder and say, “Okay. Sorry. I meant trolls. Jeez, are you okay?”
“Yeah, Lauren, I’m splendid. Everyone in my entire class is trying to attack me with paintball guns, and I’ve officially been declared one of the two least-liked people in my peer group, and my best friend doesn’t know crap about folklore, and I’m dirty and sweaty and gross and just splendid.”
“Well, you don’t have to be bitchy,” I say. “It’s not my fault.”
She says nothing.
“It’s not my fault,” I repeat, and she says nothing, and then smaller, I say, “You think…”
She takes that as a start. “I think that sometimes you can be a little…I don’t know. Meek. And they prey on that. So they prey on us.”
I just stand up and climb out from under the bridge. Maybe what bothers me so much is the thought that Kayley might be right, but mostly I’m just furious with her for even thinking that, let alone saying it out loud.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“To the car,” I say as I walk away. I’m talking so softly she probably can’t even hear me. “All things being equal, I would rather be paintballed.”
I’m walking for about thirty seconds when I hear Kayley’s footfalls behind me. “I’m sorry,” she says.
I wheel around. “You know, you’re a total know-it-all. And it’s incredibly rude sometimes; I mean, you’re not perfect either, and you act like it’s my fault but it’s not my fault for being quiet or your fault for being a know-it-all. It’s not your problem or my problem; it’s their problem. They’re the demented ones, not us, so don’t take it out on me, because the only thing that holds anything together for me is having someone else on the Not Demented Team.”
Kayley just nods, and then we stand there for a second, and then she hugs me. She says, “I’m sorry,” and I can hear her crying in her voice a little, but then when we separate, she has her hands on my shoulders and says, “Back to the bridge for the trolls!”
We go back to the bridge and just listen to the water run. There is this phenomenon that Dr. Halfrecht taught us about in physics, about particle behavior, and I’m thinking about it while I watch the water rumble over the pebbles in the creek bed. When particles are suspended in water, they move around really weirdly, I guess, and one way to think of how they move around is that every time they run into another particle, they immediately forget everything about where they’ve been before. Fighting with Kayley is like this, thank God. We can completely forget our fights as soon as we run into each other in a not-fighty way, and I love that about her.
So after a minute, I say, “I still think trolls are people.”
“They aren’t human,” Kayley answers, friendlier now.
“Right; I’m not saying they’re human. I’m saying they’re people.”
“Dude,” she says, “I think you have a completely insane take on what constitutes personhood. For starters, people are real.”
“Oh, really? The Freakers strike me as pretty fake, but they’re still people,” I say.
“Ha,” she says. “Fair enough. Would they were clean enough to spit upon, as the Bard would say, but they are people.”
“And so are trolls.”
“No,” Kayley says, smiling. “Trolls are trolls; elves are elves; orks are orks; fairies are fairies.”
“I would say that trolls and elves are definitely people. Elves have to be people, because interspecies sex is gross, and there’s nothing gross about Aragorn getting it on with Arwen in Lord of the Rings.”
“Is the kind of thing someone would say,” Kayley scoffs, “if someone was basing their analysis on the movies, not the books. Doesn’t happen in the books!”
“Wrong!” I say. The burden of meekness has lifted. “They get married in the appendices! It’s a total symbol for the restoration of Numenor! Pwned!”
“We will have to continue this discussion,” Kayley says, realizing her defeat, “at another juncture. For now, let us return to your car.”
On the walk there, circling back around the other side of campus, we find other debates: Do zombies bleed blood? What happens if a zombie attacks a unicorn? How can mermaids hook up with seamen if they have no legs to spread? Princess or Toad? Dawn or May? By the time we make it to the car, in the gray twilight, I’ve forgotten our fight entirely in a way that the Freakers never forget their fights, because their fights are all they have. The Freakers have gone home, their cars all disappeared from the parking lot.
There’s a single lipstick-red splotch of paintball goo on the front grill of my car. It doesn’t wash off for months, but I don’t mind. It is not my scarlet letter. It’s theirs.
John Green is the Printz Award–winning author of the novels Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. He is also an unabashed fan of underappreciated role-playing games, most particularly Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Game.
Text by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci. Illustrations by Bryan Lee O'Malley.
THE TRUTH ABOUT DINO GIRL
by barry lyga
Okay, follow me for a second: Guys are like dinosaurs.
We don’t know much about dinosaurs. We know a lot, but not nearly enough. Just like with guys.
Of the twelve hundred or so genera suspected to exist, we’ve only discovered around three hundred and fifty. There are huge gaps in our knowledge. When you go to a museum or watch a movie and you see a dinosaur with a certain color pattern on its hide, that’s just someone’s speculation. It’s informed speculation, sure, but it’s still just guesswork. Because we don’t know.
We’re guessing what they looked like based on patterns imprinted on petrified mud. We conjure their motions from the interrelationships of their bones, figuring that if they fit together this way, then they must have moved this way.
We’re guessing what they sounded like.
It’s the closest we can come to the sound.
But there’s not much difference between the two, and still that’s as close as we can come.
We know so much and we know nothing, absolutely nothing, nothing at all.
Again, like with guys.
I tried to explain this to Sooz. Sooz is my best friend.
Sooz is my only friend, really.
We were at Sooz’s house, doing our homework in her room. Other kids were out doing things, but we had no after-school activities. It was early in our freshman year and I had tried to start a Fossil-Hunters Club, but there were no takers. Sooz wanted to join the art club because she’s all about the art, but it was all poseurs, so she quit.
I was on the bed, reading. She was at her desk, madly sketching away. Part of her assignment was not using the computer. Which, to Sooz, is like saying, “Here. Draw this with your nose.”
“First of all,” I told her, “we know they definitely exist. We have proof of that.”
“And then, well…for guys and dinosaurs, even though we have evidence of them and their habits, they’re still a mystery to us.”
“This is about Jamie,” she said knowingly.
And it was.
See, there were certain things I knew for sure. I knew that the dinosaurs lived from 65 million to 230 million years ago. I knew that Compsognathus was the smallest dinosaur ever discovered—about the size of a chicken. I knew that the theropods were the only dinosaurs to survive the entire Age of Dinosaurs—first on the scene, last to die off. I knew that predators evolved early stereoscopic vision to aid in the hunt and that Troodon had the highest brain-to-body-mass ratio of any dinosaur.
I knew that they shook the earth when they walked.
I also knew that I was in love with Jamie Terravozza.
He was a junior and on the baseball team, while I was a mere freshman, and a geek. But it didn’t matter.
He sat across the aisle from me in biology. I felt out of place—it was all seniors and juniors in there because it’s an advanced class and there I was, this freshman girl. A Compsognathus among Carcharodontosaurs.
I remember the moment when it happened, when I fell in love. One day Mrs. Knight asked us why animals never evolve with three limbs instead of four or two or six or eight. I raised my hand. I was the only one. I said, “Bilateral symmetry” as soon as she pointed at me. Zik Lorenz—another baseball player—chuckled and said, “What’s this about bisexual?” My cheeks burned and everyone laughed but me. And then I noticed Jamie. He wasn’t laughing either. He just rolled his eyes.
I couldn’t believe it.
He flashed me a grin, then scribbled something on his notebook and slid it to the edge of his desk so that I could see it:
IGNORE HIM. HE’S AN IDIOT.
I loved him for that.
There were no other notes after that. Every time I went to answer a question, though—the too-smart freshman in a room of upperclassmen—he would nod his head a little bit, like it was okay.
The problem, of course, was that he had a girlfriend already: Andi Donnelly. A junior. Captain of the girls’ soccer team. Drop-dead gorgeous in all the ways boys like.