Mutual Benefits Ch. 01

tagFirst TimeMutual Benefits Ch. 01

I would have traded anything in the world for another life, one where I wasn't known by everyone as nothing but a nerd.
People kept telling me there were going to be all these benefits later on in life – "think of how easily you'll get a job," "you'll get to be the boss of all those people that bullied you," "you'll be set for life." What the hell kind of life was I set for? They say that high school shapes you and these four years make you who you become later in life. I was on a perfect course to become a walking stereotype – the quintessential Asian nerd who had more conversations with teachers than his own damn classmates.
'Quintessential.' I smirked to myself with my eyes glued to my math paper. There was a joke in there somewhere if I could think of it. Quinn Shen. Quinn-Shen-sential? Nah, that was just stupid. Then again, even my name was stupid. Quinn Shen. The bog-standard American first name, Chinese last. Short-cut dark hair, dark eyes, well-dressed (a clear sign of strict parents), and a grade of 99 in my Data Management class.
Whatever. It was Data Management. It sounded all fancy, but once you figured out what to do with a number that had an exclamation mark after it, you were guaranteed at least an 85 in that class, especially in Hazelwood High, a school not afraid to pump up its grades to look good to universities.
I sighed, looking over my answers one last time before standing up and handing my paper in to Mrs. Li. Unlike me, she wasn't Chinese at all, hell, she looked whiter than most of the kids at Hazelwood. She just married a Chinese guy and thought it cute to talk about how 'alike' we were on the first day because we shared a last name.
Mrs. Li smiled at me and thanked me as I handed in the paper. As I walked back to my desk, all eyes in the room were on me. As usual, I was the first one to hand in my test. I almost wanted to tell these people, "Hey, I waited this time." I could feel my heart rate slightly quicken from even the daring thought of wanting to say that. Instead, I quickly found my seat again and ran my hands over the back of my head.
A sound took me out of my own head. The door opened, and in walked a very frazzled Taylor Wise. Taylor flipping Wise. See, if I was the male equivalent of her or something, I'd be set.
Taylor didn't need to be a nerd to succeed. She had the greatest gift God could have given anyone in high school – looks. And I mean looks. She was unquestionably not just the hottest girl in our grade, but the whole school. She wasn't a cheerleader – she was the type of girl that looked so good, she didn't even need to be a cheerleader. It was hard to describe her sheer appeal because it didn't really begin in one place – she not only had amazing brown eyes, but the eyelashes to go with it. It was both so consistent that it seemed unlikely that the lashes were fake, and yet simultaneously so gorgeous, it was hard to believe it was actually real. And her-
I turned my head away. Jesus. What the hell was I on about? I was staring at her for longer than five seconds, which already felt creepy, but more importantly, there was absolutely no chance in hell she even knew my name. Even though some part of me knew the whole "out of your league" thing was childish, it felt wrong to even notice the hottest girl in school when I was… who I was. A nerd.
Taylor scrambled to her desk, her 5'3 frame quickly molding into her chair.
"Hello, Taylor," Mrs. Li said with a little bit of that condescending teacher patience to her voice. "You should have come on time, you know. I already sent down the attendance."
Taylor gave a little puppydog smile with her trademark innocent chipmunk face. At least the teacher was talking to her so I had an excuse to look at her. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Li," she offered. "I got caught up in something, it won't happen again."
Mrs. Li placed a test on top of her desk and scanned the other desks until she arrived at mine. "Quinn," she piped up, heading back to her desk. "Could you please go to the attendance office and let them know Taylor Wise showed up?"
"Yeah," I replied with less confidence in my voice than I wanted. I guess I should have felt grateful that my voice didn't crack. Wordlessly, I slunk out the door and made my way to the office, wishing I was anyone but me.
***
"'Anyone but you?' Sounds a bit dramatic, don't you think?" Kevin asked me. Kevin was, possibly, the only other Asian in the whole school, and by all accounts, my closest friend. Of course, he was also considerably more popular than me, and of course, my biological twin. It was a blessing and a curse knowing that it wasn't pure genetics that left me to my fate as a nerd – clearly I screwed up somewhere along the path in life where Kevin hadn't.
I shrugged. "I just think that." I sucked at speaking in lengthy sentences. I never really said much to anyone, even those I trusted.
Kevin shook his head. "So what, you're asking for advice? It's senior year, don't you think you're a bit late?"
"It's not advice, it's lamenting," I clarified.
He chuckled. "You're cheerful today." He lay sprawled out on his bed as I sat at my desk, petting Nuo, the family cat. "Look, bro, when I get down, I look for opportunities. Even stuff where I'm maybe a bit uncomfortable, maybe it's not my usual-"
"I already said I'm not looking for advice," I interrupted.
He sat up and rubbed one of his eyes. "Right. Well, tell you what. If you're telling me 'it sucks I became a loser,' and you're not looking for any thoughts other than your own on the matter, why don't I just agree? Yeah, Quinn, it sure sucks you became a loser. If only you could do something about it. If only someone was willing to suggest stuff for you."
"You know how to operate your life. I'm not you," I offered with a shrug.
"I get that. I know 'try being more outgoing' to a… well, to you is like telling a person with depression 'just stop being sad.' But, good news, feeling like life is boring is not a friggin' mental disorder." He got up off the bed and left the room, presumably to get a snack or something.
I huffed and looked down at Nuo, who just looked back up at me, content and purring. Maybe it was time for a change, but what the heck was I going to do about that? If I had the power to actively change my life and go from a nerd to a jock who had control of my life, I would have done that in my freshman year. Besides, was a 'jock' really what I aspired to be? I enjoyed my own feelings of deduction. I didn't actually want to be someone else, I just wanted to be… recognized. Respected. Something like that.
It would have been nice to walk down the halls with my shoulders out as opposed to in. It would have been nice to have anyone say "Hey, Quinn!" when they saw me walking. Kevin occasionally did that, but we were family. If we weren't family, would he have cared? Probably not. Hell, if he were more popular, he might have felt I could be a danger to his reputation and not said hi to me at all. I guess there were worse fates than mine. I could have been gay. Being gay wasn't bad, but being gay in high school was, even if it was at Hazelwood, if you wanted to remain out of sight of any of the school bullies.
Well, 'bullies.' The biggest thing you had to worry about at Hazelwood was the fact that everyone looked out for their own interests and no one else's. Friend circles could eat each other in seconds, or so I was told. After the Double Down incident, the entirety of the Student Council inner circle collapsed and they had to remake their circle from the ground up. Even my own circle, 'the gifted students,' had a fight in sophomore year and now half of the group didn't speak to each other.
Maybe I could wait until college and reinvent myself or something… I sighed and picked up my PS4 controller, booting up Bloodborne and shooing Nuo off my lap. Who knew what could happen? Maybe an opportunity would just come my way. And if nothing else, I'd at least owe it to Kevin to consider it.
***
Data Management was easy, but it could get kind of annoying. We had some variety of quiz or test (I never knew what the difference between quizzes and tests were) every two weeks. I would always get to class ten minutes early regardless so even if I forgot, there was plenty of time to open my textbook and go over, let's face it, what I already knew. I wasn't a supercomputer of a human, so it was nice to get the refresher, but I was never worried.
One thing about patterns – once they're established, you never really notice they're there until they're pointed out to you. If you had pointed out to me that Taylor wasn't there once the quiz started, I would have wanted to tell you, "Well, duh, she's never on time for class," but it still came as a shock when the door burst open and she entered.
Upon seeing her enter, Mrs. Li got up from her desk and placed a quiz down on her desk. Taylor looked at the quiz in slight confusion, then slight panic. "The quiz was today?" she whispered to Mrs. Li as the others worked.
Mrs. Li patiently nodded.
Taylor responded by playing with her hands nervously. "I've been really busy lately and I was wondering if maybe I could, like, take the quiz another time." She was really good at selling her look, whatever the look was. The innocent girl look, complete with doe eyes and the pleading yet not pathetic look.
"I'm sorry, but you need to talk to me about those things in advance," Mrs. Li pointed out. "Now, if you could take your seat please…"
"But Mrs. Li," Taylor pleaded, "I'm already behind in this class and, I'm not gonna lie, I have no clue what unit we're even on. With my job I've been so busy and-"
"We can talk about this later. For now, please take the quiz," Mrs. Li insisted.
I guess Taylor noticed she really had no leverage in that moment, because that's when the tears started. I didn't know if they were real or if she had trained herself to cry on command, but I was willing to bet money that it was the latter. At first I was kind of surprised, more so when I looked around and realized no one else was looking at this conversation like I was. Was this a normal occurrence for them..? Did Taylor do this in all of her classes, was this her way of getting what she wanted?
Whatever it was, it sure as hell worked. Mrs. Li sighed and conceded. "C'mon, let's go into the hallways and talk it over," she insisted, and the two promptly left.
So, the classroom had two doors – the front and back doors, both on the left side of the room, both leaving into the 'second story' hallway. The pair left out of the front door, but had walked to the section in the hallway in front of the back door, and it was ajar, enough at least for me to see the full effect of their conversation. I hated to admit it, but I felt sorry for Taylor. Either she was good at acting beyond whatever Salvador could teach, or she was genuinely going through some struggles right now.
I tried to focus mainly on my test, but I could see her tearfully explain how burnt out she was with her job as well as all of her classes, and the fact that the course material was clearly not sinking in. As a less popular nerd, I feel like I was conditioned by my nerdier friend group to kinda hate the preppier more popular kids, but I did feel for her situation. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was the hottest girls in school and I was just another guy that fell for her charms and wanted to see her do well as long as she'd notice me, who knows.
I finished my test by the time the two had returned, clearly with an understanding, given Taylor sat down at a desk with no quiz on it, and Li just walked back to her desk sighing and shaking her head. No sniffles came from Taylor after that – clearly she either was faking it, or the two had reached some kind of deal that made her immediately happier.
Not that it was any of my business. I got up from my desk and handed my quiz to Li, giving her a polite half-smile before making my way back to my desk. She stared at my quiz after I placed it on her desk, and when I had sat back down, she was now staring at me.
Finally, after a few more seconds of staring, she cleared her throat. "Quinn, could you come to my desk please?" she whispered to me. Everyone else, save for Taylor, was still taking their tests. Diligently, I walked up and walked over to her desk.
She paused, formulating her words for a few moments. "Quinn, would it be okay with you if I asked you to tutor one of the students in this class?" she asked. Immediately, I shot a look at Taylor, who met my eyes with hers. For the first time, I looked at someone and didn't look away when they were looking back. Her eyes were a deep, enticing shade of brown, her face cute and innocent, even though it was clear that with her just figuring out now what Mrs. Li was planning, she wasn't sure she was on board with this.
Mrs. Li continued. "Of course, this depends on your schedule after school," she thought to herself. "You see, Taylor… Taylor Wise, I'm sure you've met… she feels as though she may benefit from exterior resources to my class and, well, since you have such a strong grasp on the material…"
I broke my gaze away from Taylor and looked back at Mrs. Li. "My schedule is open," I told her.
Li took that as my consent and motioned for Taylor to come to the desk. Hesitantly, Taylor walked over to the desk and joined us. "Taylor, this is Quinn Shen. He's agreed to help tutor you for this class and according to him, he's got an open schedule."
Taylor was hot, but I had to be honest, the idea of me spending God knows how long to re-enact Million Dollar Baby but with the exciting theme of boxing replaced with math wasn't exactly exciting for me. I didn't recall saying I'd do it, Mrs. Li just assumed. Of course, I had my own awkwardness to thank for me not piping up to correct the record.
Taylor didn't exactly jump for joy either. "I, uh, I guess that could work," she stumbled over her words. "Quinn, right? Hi."
I nodded at her, not saying a single word. God, this was awkward.
After no one said anything for a stupidly long time, Mrs. Li gave one of those polite teacher smiles. "So! Maybe you two could figure out where it works best in both of your schedules to meet up and go over the course material." She turned to me. "Thank you for this, Quinn. This can count towards your community hours, by the way."
I guess that was nice. Every student needed to put in about forty or so hours of community service to graduate at Hazelwood. Some kind of hippie 'help the community' initiative. Either that, or it was the case for all high schools in Massachusetts, or at least the area. I had no clue.
"Okay, thank you," I replied, thankful to not have stuttered, before making my way back to my seat. I sat there, going over my notes and trying to not think about the fact that somehow, I was asked to spend one-on-one time with the hottest girl at school. Me. The loseriest of losers.
I guess that was what made it okay. After all, the most surefire form of birth control was abstinence, or so the gym teacher drilled into us. In the same way, the best person to spend one-on-one time with the popular girl and not have her be in danger is the one kid who couldn't talk to girls if he tried.
Eventually, the quiz had finished its runtime, and Mrs. Li gave the class a small lesson, and assigned us a few textbook questions. I had mine finished before the bell rang. When it rang, everyone started filing out, myself included.
"Hey! Uh… Quinn!"
I froze. Someone called my name. Someone was asking for me. As stupid as it was, I didn't know how to react. Awkwardly, I spun around on my heels to face Taylor, who was at her desk.
"So, uh… what day works best for you?" she asked. She had some kind of day planner open.
My mouth went dry. I nervously coughed. I tried opening my mouth to speak once or twice, but nothing came out.
My fellow nerds had prepared me for this. This was the moment where the popular bitchy girl would lower an eyebrow, and call me a creep, or a loser for not being able to talk to her. I'm sure I was not being subtle – it was very clear I was nervous being around her because she was very pretty. Her beauty, after all, was downright intimidating – and I bet she could be intimidating herself when she wanted to be.
I was shocked when a smile began to appear on her face. Not even a smile of amusement, either… one of understanding. "Hey, it's alright," she coaxed. A genuine, dazzling smile danced across her face. It didn't even feel forced, it felt… understanding. "If you want, you can, like, point to the day that works best instead, you don't have to speak."
"I… s-should speak," I managed to get out.
"Fair enough," she replied. "So, what day works best?"
"The, uh… I…" I ended up just shaking my head, and pointing to Thursday on her planner.
"Um, okay, sounds good," she replied. "Do you have, like, a cell phone? We could just text the details if you want."
I nodded and reached for my phone.
***
It might seem pathetic to someone who talked to a girl growing up, but I never said a word to her the rest of that entire conversation. Kevin had talked to girls before, though he never dated, probably due to our parents. If I fit the stereotype well, my parents fit the stereotype like gloves.
After Kevin and I were born (and of course Kevin was born slightly before me), they stopped talking in Mandarin to set some kind of American example for us. I could speak the language well enough, even though there wasn't anyone to speak it with aside from Kevin.
Then again, that was the case in English too.
"You're shitting me," Kevin said in disbelief as we walked home. "Taylor?! Like, Wise. Taylor Wise."
"It's no big deal," I mumbled. "I'm tutoring her. It's just like a… it's just that."
"Holy shit, do you know how many guys in class would kill to get to be alone in a room with her?" Kevin asked, practically to the sky.
"I think that probably has something to do with why I'm tutoring her and they're not," I pointed out. "Why, did you want to date her?"
Kevin chuckled nervously. "You know me, I don't date."
"Why not, anyway?" I asked. "You're popular. If I were you, I'd want to, even if it's just to… know what it feels like."
"Wow, Quinn. Sad," Kevin laughed.
"Stop," I replied uncomfortably. "You're luckier than me."
"I stick my neck out more than you. You should try it sometime. I'm amazed you said enough words to her to actually get her number," Kevin fired back.
I could only sigh angrily and eye the ground. Kevin picked up on it immediately. "You couldn't say anything and she just gave you her number so you could make plans over text, huh?"
"Yes," I feebly replied.
Kevin mimed shooting a basketball. "Sunk the three," he celebrated. "Hey, that's still a step up for you. You have Taylor's number. Do I have Taylor's number, bro? No, huh? Whatcha think of that?"
"It's not like I can ask her out based on that," I replied.
"Yeah, she'd probably turn you down real easy."
"Do you want me to share her number with you? Wanna show me up?" I asked with a heat of annoyance to my voice.
Kevin laughed. "We already follow each other on Instagram. Plus, I don't date. Plus plus, if I did, I wouldn't try starting with Taylor. At that point, you have nowhere to go but downhill."
"Getting to talk to people would be uphill for me," I admitted as we neared our apartment building.
Kevin chuckled. "Well, if you end up dating Taylor, presuming she doesn't already think you're the world's biggest fuckin' creep, people are absolutely gonna talk to you. Mostly to ask how the hell you pulled it off, but, you know."
We walked in silence the rest of the way to our place, his words lingering on me. As soon as I was in my own room, I shut the door and pulled out my phone, thinking about impressions. I found her text – hey this is taylor 🙂 – that she sent me while we were still in the classroom together. I began to reply.

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