Jenna watches Michael after the play. She’s scared to talk to him. One, she had taken the same exact thing that Jeremy had, because she felt so alone in that moment. Rich was in the ICU for his burns, Jake broke his legs, and she was in her car with Michael. She could have helped, but instead, she used it to gossip so people would talk to her. She knows Michael would have talked to her, no questions asked. Talked about anime, Stingy, anything.
One and a half, she had taken a SQUIP. In Jenna’s mind, that is equal to telling somebody to burn in Hell. She hurt Michael. She hurt Michael. Jenna remembers his face when she had come out, under the influence of the SQUIP. The look of pure hurt and horror struck doubt into her, but it was too late at that point.
Two, the play was more human interaction in ten minutes than Michael usually has in two weeks. And not positive interaction. Beating, belittling, and she can vaguely recall the synced SQUIPs trying to put one into Michael himself. Jenna doesn’t know if Michael is seeing anybody, but that whole experience couldn’t have been good for his mental health.
Three, he hadn’t talked to Jeremy yet. Jenna isn’t dumb or apathetic. She knows Jeremy hasn’t woken up from the amount of electrical shock that went through his body. She knows Michael wants closure. In her mind, Michael’s talk with Jeremy must come first, for his own sake.
So she watches. Not creepy “I-know-every-minute-of-your-day” watching. Just, if they’re in the same class, or at lunch, she looks for him to make sure he’s okay. Reads his body language, facial expressions, etc. to gauge everything.
Jeremy comes back to school on Tuesday. Michael is there, too. He looks, better than he had in awhile. Not good, but better. That’s something, that’s progress.
Jenna finally decides to try and talk to Michael a few days after that. Friday. She sees Michael talk to Jeremy as they walk together in the morning, and during lunch. He gives passing hellos to those who wave to him in the halls, mostly those from the play. He occasionally puts in a comment here or there during lunch.
Michael is alone at the end of the day, and Jenna walks up to him while he’s at his locker. He closes it, and jumps as he turns to see her, clutching his red hoodie right above his heart.
“Jenna!” He coughs, the sharp intake of breath having had irritated his throat. “Jenna, what the hell?” He fixes his glasses and pushes his hair out of his eyes. Michael looks surprised, and confused, at her presence, but not upset.
Jenna shrugs with a smile. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.” She admits. “To catch up, maybe play a game?” She doesn’t mean for the tinge of hopefulness come through with her words, but it does. Michael was the first person to notice Jenna. To truly notice her, and that means more than the world to her.
Michael’s face is graced with a smile, a full smile, one made up of happiness and excitement. “Of course! Do you wanna do it now, since like, school’s out already? These things have always been sorta spontaneous.”
Jenna nods with enthusiasm. Michael walks off to one of the exits, waving for Jenna to follow him out, which she does. They walk to Michael’s car, which Jenna still can’t believe works to this day.
“This thing is three steps away from becoming scrap, I swear.” She mentions as she gets into the car. Michael laughs at that, buckling up and starting the P.T. Cruiser. “And yet, here we are. Driving to who knows were. Any recommendations?”
Jenna thinks. Nobody’s really asked her where she wants to go. She hasn’t even thought of it herself. Where does she want to go? What place does she feel at ease?
“Idaho.” She says suddenly, then covers her face with her hands. “Oh my God. I really just said that.”
Michael looks at Jenna, then at his dashboard. “Uh, gotta be honest with you, I don’t think this thing can handle a trip to New York, much less Idaho. Any local place, perchance?”
Jenna shakes her head. “I dunno. I don’t go out on my own often. Is there any, like, decent fast food or something?” She asks, and Michael pretends to look offended.
“Oh. My. God.” He says in a voice coated with sarcasm. “Linda, Linda, Linda. Listen to me. I’m going to take you to the best fast food restaurant in all of Middleborough. Just you wait and see.”
“Alright. Let’s see this ‘best fast food restaurant in all of Middleborough’ shit.” Jenna crosses her arms in mock frustration. “I bet it doesn’t even exist.”
Michael grins. “Bet.” He spits out, and they stare at each other for a few moments before bursting into giggles and laughter. They both sit in a dinged up P.T. Cruiser in a near-empty high school parking lot, laughing their hearts out.
Both Michael and Jenna need to take a minute to regain their breath after that. “What, what the Hell?” Michael gasps. “Why was that funny?”
Jenna shrugs. “I dunno, but let’s get going before we split open from laughter.” She urges Michael on, and he smiles.
“Wow, Alien much?” He shakes his head, driving out of the parking lot and towards wherever he claims the best fast food is in the small town.
It doesn’t take long for Jenna long to see that it’s simply a Wendy’s. She gives Michael a look of “are you kidding me?”, but he shrugs her off. “What do you want?” He asks as he pulls up to the drive-in.
“Uh, why are we here?” Jenna asks Michael, still very confused. This is a generic fast food place, nothing special.
“Just tell me, this isn’t the place I’m talking about.” Michael scoffs, looking at her as if trying to read her order with his mind.
“Just a normal cheeseburger with no pickles or mustard.” She huffs, admitting defeat to the Wendy’s order, and Michael smirks with his victory.
“One cheeseburger with no pickles or mustard, a large fry, and a large chocolate shake.” Michael orders, and pulls up to the window to pay and get their food. Which takes no longer than three minutes.
Michael hands Jenna her burger, telling her to not eat yet “lest you be attacked by zombies” as he put it. Jenna huffs again, wanting to eat so badly, but being forbidden by the driver. The very stupid driver.
This time, Michael seems to be driving out of Middleborough, going past all the small, run-down shops that became mostly forgotten as time went on. Past the houses built decades ago with faded paint and broken porches. Past the old car scrapyard. Out until he pulls onto a small dirt offroad.
Bob Marley floats through the speakers of the mostly silent car. Jenna watches out the window at the empty outside of Middleborough. Michael drives into a closed restaurant building obviously forgotten and abandoned. Windows had been broken but not repaired, spray paint drawings and words litter the walls, and weeds crop up every few steps.
Michael unbuckles and opens his door. “Here we are.” He says, sliding out with his fries and shake and walking to the wall hidden from their view. “Hurry up, Jenna.”
Jenna climbs out of the car and follows Michael to see a rusty ladder leading up to the roof. Michael’s already halfway up, fries in his pocket most likely, and shake in one hand. He’s climbing up with one hand, making it obvious this isn’t the first time he’s come here.
Jenna takes the bag, holding it in her mouth and following Michael. Michael gets onto the roof, looking down and laughing. “You look like a dork.” He points out, and Jenna wants to fire back. You’d know what that looks like .
Michael’s sitting down, eating his fries and looking out at the town. He doesn’t acknowledge Jenna getting onto the roof, and just eats his food. The sun isn’t close to setting, but it might as well.
It lights Michael’s hair, making it look lighter than it actually is. Part of his arm is illuminated from her perspective, and as she sits next to him, she can see his eyes have a shine in the sunlight that isn’t usually there underneath the fluorescents in school.
“You’re staring, I can feel it.” Michael snaps Jenna out of her daze. “Stop. Please.” He looks at her, and now she can see his expression. He’s tired. Michael is tired.
“Sorry. You just look different here. I have a habit of watching people.” Jenna apologizes, sitting down and opening her burger. She looks out, and sees almost all of Middleborough in her vision. “Oh wow.”
Michael laughs quietly. “Yeah. That was my first reaction.” He takes a gulp of his shake. “I, uh, actually wanted to talk to you about something.” He looks at the concrete beneath him, and fiddles with his hands.
Jenna stops eating. She looks at Michael, who seems to have an overload of nervous energy. “What is it?” She asks with a gentle smile, trying to ease Michael’s nerves. He looks at her, eyes glassy and glazed over.
He takes a breath. “Before I say anything. I want to tell you that I know I’m weird. I know I’m more of a social outcast and a loser. And I really appreciate the 7-11 run, and Halloween, and giving me some space after the play, and coming with me.
“You just listening to me like a person, and talking to me, and not going to everybody else telling them about how I’m desperate to make friends or something. Or that I’d seduce gum wrappers. It means a lot.” He sighs, leaning back onto his hands.
“I dunno, just, I don’t want you to look at me weird.” Michael laughs a hollow laugh. “Strange, I never really care about what others think. Guess you’re not others.”
Jenna looks at Michael, who’s obviously trying to not tell her whatever it is he wants to tell her. “Michael, you’re putting it off.” She whispers.
“I know.” Michael lays down, putting an arm over his eyes. “What I want to tell you is that I’m pretty sure I’m asexual.”
Jenna thinks. Asexual. The word bounces around in her head, sounding familiar. Biology? No, that’s dumb. That’s really, really, really dumb. Where had she heard that word?
And it comes to her. Christine Canigula. She had been talking to Jeremy about it as Jenna had passed the couple.
“No, not like snails. Asexuality means I don’t have sexual attraction.” Christine had been explaining to Jeremy. Jeremy was a dumbass about it.
“You don’t feel sexual attraction.” Jenna states after a moment of silence, and Michael moves his arm. He sits up, looking at Jenna, confused.
“You know what asexuality is.” He mumbles. Michael smiles a little. He looks less burdened than he had in weeks.
Jenna nods. “I don’t know too much, I just overheard Christine talking about it, but yeah, I got the concept. Kinda.” She shrugs, rubbing one of her arms. “Good for you for figuring it out, Mike ‘n’ Ikes.”
Michael beams. He gives Jenna a hug. “Does this mean I can spam you with all the random ace shit I have stored up? Because there’s way too much for me to hold and not share.” He laughs, and Jenna laughs and nods.
“You better. I need a break from everybody talking to me about sex with whomst they choose.” She sighs in mock relief. “But seriously, it’s way too much.”
Michael smiles. “Of course. Just axolotls and life hacks from me! Maybe some cursed images thrown into the mix.”
Jenna loses it, laughing so hard that she can hardly get in a decent breath of air. Michael joins in and they giggle until they need air.
Michael and Jenna sit up on the roof of the rundown restaurant for another hour, playing Seven Eleven and Seduce, Torture, Kill until they decided they better get home to finish their homework and not worry their parents.
Michael drops Jenna off at Middleborough High, waiting a little before leaving. Just before he starts to drive off, Jenna stops him.
“Want to come up with one more game before we head home?” Jenna asks, a shy smile gracing her features.
Michael shakes his head. “When don’t I, Jens?” He leans forwards. “I’m listening. Spill.”
“It’s called Pictures. Take a moment of the past, or in the present, that isn’t captured in photo. Caption it.” Jenna explains, and Michael bounces a little.
“That sounds like a really, really awesome game! And we don’t even tell others, it’s just like, Picture the rooftop.” Michael adds on, making hand gestures. “So it’s more of an insiders edition!”
Jenna nods. “So, Michael, Picture today on the rooftop.” She smiles, and Michael thinks. He doesn’t say anything for a little, before deciding the perfect caption.
“Good girl and shy boy have food during confession.” He decides, making a rainbow shape with his hands. “You?”
“Children tell secrets in restaurant.” She decides, and she and Michael laugh a little. “See you, Mike ‘n’ Ikes. Don’t die.” She waves to him.
“It’s bad for your health, Jens. See you.” He waves back, driving off to his house. Jenna watches the dinged up Cruiser leave the parking lot before going to her phone and searching Google for custom pins and patches.