Epic Fail

By: Claire Lazebnik



“Good, good, keep it going.” Cantori’s eyes fell on me. “You got one?”

“I know a quote about stars,” I said.

“Let’s hear it.”

“‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’”

“One of my favorites.” Cantori peered at me. “What’s your name?”

“Elise.”

“Good job, Elise.” He looked around the classroom. “Anyone know who said that?”

“She did,” said the boy who had said the Starbursts thing and was clearly gunning for the title of class comic.

Cantori heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Yes, Billy, but someone else said it first—”

“Oscar Wilde,” said Derek Edwards abruptly.

“Score one for the big guy!” said Cantori. “You kids are impressing me more and more. Care to tell us what Wilde meant by that, Derek?”

I couldn’t see Derek’s face, but his shoulders twitched slightly in what looked from the back like an irritated shrug. “Basically it means the world’s a giant shithole, but some of us are capable of imagining something better.”

A lot of kids laughed. I wondered if Derek would get in trouble for swearing—no one at my old school would have dared say “shit” in front of a teacher. You could get suspended for that.

But Cantori beamed delightedly. “Exactly right, Derek.” So this school was more easygoing than my old one—or maybe it was if your mother was Melinda Anton.

Webster tilted sideways toward me. “Don’t be too impressed,” he whispered. “You know why Derek knows that?”

“Why?”

“Because his dad played Oscar Wilde in a movie. Bet you that line was right out of the screenplay.”

“Oh.” I felt slightly disappointed for a reason I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I slid down in my chair as a kid near the window called out to Cantori, “StarKist tuna!”

Sylvie, the girl who had said the “Stars and Stripes” thing, lingered by Derek’s side after the bell rang. As I passed them on my way toward the door, I heard her say, “So how many classes do we have together? There’s this one and English, right?”

“That makes two,” he said shortly. Then: “Hold on.” I felt a tap on my arm and realized with surprise that the request was directed at me, not her.

I stopped and said, “Hi.”

Sylvie said, “See you later, Derek?” He grunted noncommittally and she flounced off.

“You guys coming to get pizza with us?” he asked me.

“Yeah. Is that okay?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” he said, like I was insane to think he’d ever been anything but warm and welcoming.

“I don’t know.” An awkward pause. “You knew the Oscar Wilde quote,” I said.

“You like Wilde?”

I shrugged. “He was tortured, brilliant, funny, gay . . . basically my dream guy.”

“Even the gay part?” he said with the ghost of a smile—which for all I knew was what passed for hysterical mirth with this guy.


“Especially the gay part,” I said. “I’m weird that way. “

“How’s that working out for you?”

“I’m beginning to think it’s not a good long-term romantic strategy.” I shifted my messenger bag so the weight fell more comfortably over my shoulders. “Seriously, he’s an amazing writer. I had to read The Importance of Being Earnest for English last year, and then I just kept reading everything he wrote. He’s funny and sad at the same time.”

He leaned his hip against one of the desks, relaxing into it like he was in no hurry to move along. “Funny and sad. That’s exactly it.”

“Webster said your dad played him in a movie?”

His face tightened in a way that made me sorry I’d brought up his father.

On the other hand . . . was it really so awful to mention his parents?

“Yeah, a long time ago.” He glanced at his watch.

You know, it was lucky for him he was so good-looking. Made you want to connect with him despite his lack of response. So I worked to keep the conversation going, steering us back to Wilde. “They did Earnest at my old school a few years ago, and people were actually laughing like they were at a Will Ferrell movie or something. It was pretty—”

“Oh, good, you waited!” Webster suddenly materialized at my side. “Sorry I took so long—shoelace cooperation issues. Let me take you to your next class. Don’t want our new girl to get lost,” he said to Derek. He extended his fist for a bump. “How’re you doing, big D? How’s the family?”

Derek stared at Webster’s outstretched hand for a second, breathed in sharply, then, without saying a word, pushed forward right past us, with a brief cold nod in my direction. It almost looked like he miscalculated the space because he knocked his shoulder hard against Webster’s—almost looked like that, like it was an accident, but it wasn’t. I could tell he had done it deliberately, had angled his shoulder forward so the hardest, sharpest part knocked Webster right into the desk behind him. Then he just kept going out the door.

I stared after him for a stunned moment, then spun around on my heel to check on Webster. “You okay?”

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