“I hate Fleetwood Mac.”
It was lunch, first day of eighth grade, and the boy had mustered enough strength to talk to the new girl. He’d fallen in love with her that morning, before he’d even seen her. Mrs. Crosby read her name from the homeroom roster and he knew. The boy had suffered years of torment due to his own name, so it was a relief to find someone burdened even more than himself with the imagination of her parents. Though most of their classmates would have been hard-pressed to name exactly what the inspiration for these names had been, they could still recognize the odd ring of them easily enough. And that was all it ever took in any school in America to arouse abuse.
“Lindsey Buckingham Palace?”
It quivered like a prayer, hit his ears like a balm he hadn’t known was needed. From somewhere within him came a sudden mandate: Speak with her.
There was a ripple of laughter, a couple of unmemorable remarks, a request to tell Princess Di hello next time she came by for the queen. A girl stepped slowly from the corner of the room. Her face didn’t acknowledge the jeers—clearly she was a battle-tested pro. And as she swept by him and moved toward the seat assigned and pointed at by Mrs. Crosby, the boy found it difficult not to reach out to touch her arm, to tell her he knew and that it would be okay. We need to stick together! But he was too weak to say anything. If they stuck together, they’d survive. Power in numbers, like his aunt said when she told her stories about protests and marches.
In actuality, he had no real opinion of Fleetwood Mac, even kind of liked when his aunt put on their records and danced around the living room. There were definitely some songs he disliked, but if Fleetwood Mac came on in the car he wouldn’t ask for the station to be changed. He merely assumed the girl had grown to hate them, having been named after their guitarist and thereby shoehorned into that horrible pun of a name. So he risked it, sat down beside her on the empty lunchroom bench, and waited for a response.
Lindsey took another bite of her sandwich, chewing slowly. After swallowing, she slowly turned her head toward him, looked him square in the eyes. There was a long pause before she spoke, the sort of pause and the sort of slowness he would come to learn were as much a part of her as her name. But it was a slowness that disappeared as soon as she opened her mouth.
“Is that meant to be cute or are you just an asshole?”
The boy imagined each word from her mouth was an arrow, none of them in any way related to Cupid. There had been no preparation for this response in all of his planning. When he’d daydreamed about it in Algebra, she laughed a cute, breathy laugh then spoke in a bemused voice, thanking him, telling him that she hated Fleetwood Mac too, hated her parents as well for having so foolishly named her as they had. At the very least, in more modest imaginings, she blushed, looked down at her food, and mumbled something adorable. But this, this gross deviation from the daydreams, these harsh words shooting at him, this was startling.
“What?” In the time since he sat down, it seemed, he had developed a stutter. It was exhausting just to keep his mouth moving. “No, I’m not. An asshole, I mean. I’m not. I just…” He gave up. His words sank into the milk carton suddenly at his mouth. He broke her stare to study the table’s graffiti.
“You’re the Nixon kid, right?”
He was. He was the Nixon kid. Richard Milhous Nixon Patterson. He answered mostly to Skip, in those few moments he could get people to stop calling him Dick or Tricks or Watergate. The political references mostly came from teachers and other adults. Kids just fixed in on Dick and went from there.
“Yeah. You can call me Skip, though.”
“Skip?” She paused again, this time cocking her head slightly to the left, as though making the shape of his name with her mouth had somehow injured her. “No, I don’t think I’ll call you Skip. I don’t think I’ll ever call anyone Skip.” She placed her sandwich down on the tray before her; he read Ozzy Rules! from among the table’s decorations. She stared hard into the side of his face for what Skip felt was much, much too long, then continued. “And why in the hell would you think Skip a better name than the one you’ve got? You’re named after one of the greatest criminals in the history of our young country and you’re going to mask that with a name given to idiotic characters on horrible sitcoms starring short Canadian heartthrobs? You’re a fool.”
Skip scanned the surrounding tables for faces staring at him. There were none and he was thankful. Surprised, as well, as he’d assumed, given the feel of her words, that she’d been screaming. This was all very new. He’d been beaten up a number of times since starting school (fourteen was his official count; it went up to twenty-two if he included occasions broken up before punches were thrown but after his face was against the ground and his arm hoisted up his back painfully toward his head or he’d been backed against a corner bank of lockers by his predator(s), but he didn’t count those occasions for many sound and obvious reasons). This feeling, however, this warm horror, this was unusual. There was no threat in her voice, none of that familiar contempt or angry confusion he’d faced nearly every day of his education. But there was nothing inviting in it either. Skip busied his fingers with tracing the carved letters of Duran Duran on the tabletop and busied his mind with plotting an escape. Eventually the bell rang and he was allowed to run away.
Skip fled to the instrument closet by the auditorium, a sanctuary he’d sought as a seventh grader mostly on dodgeball days. He liked that he could pull the door closed and there’d be nothing but quiet, dust, and his own distorted reflection staring dumbly out at him from the bell of a saxophone. He hadn’t anticipated needing the closet that first day of school. He hadn’t anticipated talking to the new girl, either. Yet there he was.