The Basic Tenets of Polite Human Interaction

Kayla wasn’t prone to snap judgments, but she took an instant dislike to the boy who introduced himself with three names.

“Matthew Ryan Jackson. Pleasure.”

As if “Matt” wouldn’t have been perfectly sufficient.   As he were Joseph Gordan Lovitt or Alexander Graham Bell.

“Kay.” She replied pointedly.



“Yeah, I got that. But what are you staring at, Kay?”

She realized with embarrassment that her eyes were glued to his long-sleeved, mustard colored shirt.  It was the ugliest shade of yellow she had ever seen. The fabric seemed to bleed onto his skin, creating a jaundiced effect. But, always quick on her feet, she replied without hesitating,

“I like your shirt.”

The corners of his mouth turned up smugly. “No, you don’t.”

“Yes. I do.”  She dug in, smiling politely through her discomfort.

“You don’t though.”  His glee was barely contained.

She took it as a form of aggression.  It was aggressive, this refusal to let her gracefully sidestep an insult. It was aggressive, the way he was smirking as if her adherence to social decorum was downright predictable.  She wasn’t predictable.  She wanted to make that very clear.  But all she could manage was a stutter,

“That’s … no …. that’s not …”

She continued stumbling over false protests, but he didn’t seem to be listening.  Visibly bored, he was holding air in his mouth, blowing out first one cheek and then the other. When he blew out both cheeks at the same time, he looked exactly like a monkey – a monkey in a hideous shirt.

“Just tell me you hate my shirt.”  He finally interrupted. “Go on. You’ll feel better.”

“I feel fine.”  She sniffed. He made her skin itch. Lacking all context to deal with this grievous breach in convention, Kayla was left with no recourse but to repeat once more, “I like your shirt.”

He seemed to have lost interest. He was staring absently over her head now and cracking his knuckles in slow succession.

“I do like it.”  She muttered stubbornly.

But it seemed that she had been dismissed. Glancing around the party for her friends, Kayla prepared to take her awkward leave.

Before she could move though, he suddenly lowered his face so it was level with her own.  She noticed his eyes for the first time, coffee-colored and not unkind.  She noticed that that he smelled like cotton and cinnamon gum.  And she noticed – she couldn’t help but notice – the fullness of his lips as they passed inches from her own on their way to whisper in her ear,

“At least consider loosening up. Please. Your repression is painful to watch. ”

Kayla stood absolutely still as he pulled away, transfixed by the unexpected softness of his voice and the exhilarating inappropriateness of his candor.

But then he came into focus again and there was that repulsive, mustard-colored blob.

“Fine. I hate your shirt.” She snapped. “Happy?”

“Very.” He grinned triumphantly. “Thus endeth lesson one.  Good progress today. We’ll re-convene, I’m sure.”

He threw the last sentence over his shoulder, unceremoniously ending the conversation and strolling away.

Her nose wrinkled.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had found anyone quite so off-putting. She couldn’t decide whether she was more repelled by his sheer arrogance or his total disregard for the basic tenets of polite human interaction.  And if, for a split moment, she caught herself perversely fascinated by what it might feel like to press her mouth against his, she was sure it was only because that would mean a temporary reprieve from looking at the eyesore that was his stupid fucking shirt.


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