My heavy book bag thudded rhythmically against my leg as I walked side by side with Hunter down Town Avenue toward his house, a cookie cutter model just like every other house on the block. His was the one with the iron gate out front, and the weeping willow tree that we always used to play make believe under as kids. Hell, we still played under it. The only difference is that now we know there's no such thing as magic.
I glanced over at him as we turned into his front drive. The whole way home he hadn't said a word to me; just timed his steps to the heavy metal playing in his ears, his eyes lost in thought. It didn't surprise me, though. He was probably just planning out his next work of art.
"Hey, you all right?" I asked him quietly, lightly touching his shoulder. His eyes flicked to my face, and guiltily he tugged out one of his earphones, filling the air with the tinny sound of his iPod blasting metal at full volume. "Sorry, what?"
"I was just wondering if you want to talk about anything. You're super quiet."
He sighed and dug his iPod out of his pocket, tapping the pause button to stop the barrage of music. "Yeah, I'm all right. I'm just kind of pissed because that psych field trip got cancelled."
I shifted my book bag strap up higher on my shoulder. "What? That sucks. You were really looking forward to that, too."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, I guess there wasn't enough money to take a bunch of angsty teenagers to a mental hospital. I mean, I'd donate to that cause, wouldn't you?"
We laughed together, mine a quiet giggle and his a forced chuckle. I had known him long enough to tell when he was upset, and it was obvious to me that he was pretty torn up about this. Unless there was something else.
Suddenly there was a tearing sound of ripping fabric and the heavy load on my shoulder lifted as the seam of my book bag ripped apart, spilling all my school books onto the ground.
"Damn it!" I groaned, kneeling down to gather up my books and assess the damage to my bag.
"Oh, hell. Here, let me help you," Hunter said, taking the books from me as I struggled back to my feet. "Thanks, Hunter," I said gratefully as I took them back and hugged them awkwardly to my chest. Our hands touched, and his face went red as he quickly pulled away from my touch. "I'll get the door," he said awkwardly, flashing me an apologetic smile and then hurriedly turning away to unlock his front door.
I smiled and, cradling the heavy stack of books in one arm, slung the ruined bag over my shoulder and stumbled up the front steps to where Hunter held the door open for me. "Thanks," I said again, and he bowed and gestured me in. "M'lady," he said in a deep voice, and I couldn't help laughing as he swept the books out of my arms and deposited them on the front table with another exaggerated bow. Then he linked his arm in mine and led me to the kitchen, where a plate of cookies stood ready and waiting. My mind was put at ease as we talked and laughed together, and after a while I forgot all about the strange way he'd been acting earlier. I didn't even notice the far-off look in his eyes during the pauses in our conversations, nor the guarded way he smiled. Maybe if I had, our story would have had a happy ending after all.