“Wanna come with me to Kohl’s?” Michelle asked over the phone two days later. “I still have Ali’s gift card from my birthday.”
“Sure. I’ve got nothing to do.” Alex said.
At Kohl’s, they browsed through the clothes section, where she tried on a few shirts, but none really fit her preferences, so they moved over to the jewelry department. They were in the more expensive area, and Michelle nudged him.
“Oh, look at that one!” She pointed to a sapphire center with one white pearl on either side, placed on a thin silver band.
“That’s pretty,” he agreed. “But it’s not as pretty as you.”
“Aw, it’s $250,” her voice trailed, hinting she wanted it.
“Maybe medium. It’s so pretty. And it’s our birthstones combined, more the reason why I love it.”
“Hmm.” His gaze lingered on it, soaking in the details.
“Come on, I need to buy something.” Michelle grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the back of the store, where the candles were. She ended up picking out beach scented candles and a gold spiraling stand to hold them.
“Thanks for coming with me,” she thanked at his door.
“No problem. It’s fun being with you.” A quick peck and he was gone.
The leaves changed from green to orange, falling off the limbs and onto my head, where I sat under the tree one evening just before dinner. The sky was blushing pink and brilliant blue, how can I pass up an opportunity for pictures like this? I watched the clouds trickle by, wisps of it breaking off and moving on its own. I wish I could be independent sometimes. Just cut all the strings that are tied to people’s expectations and find my own self.
I pick up a leaf. It only has three seasons to live, and then it dies. Is that how it is with humans? We have a certain amount of time until we contract a disease or find a murderer. A leaf knows when it will go; we sadly don’t. I could die tomorrow and not have anything I want to happen in my life. It scares me.
Ben poked his head out the screen door. I got up without him having to say anything.
Dinner passed by quite quickly. Maybe because I actually talked this time. Lately I’ve got nothing to converse with, but school has actually been holding my attention. Well, Leadership, anyway. I usually found myself mentioning something about it every other day. Maybe because I’ve got friends in there.
One Saturday Grandma came over for the afternoon. She tends to do that.
At the table, she took a sip of her iced water and announced, “Grandpa is buying a new car.”
I couldn’t see where this was going.
“So, we’re giving you ours to make room for the new one.”
Then I squealed.
“Now I don’t have to buy one! Oh, thank you so much!” I looked over at Mom and her jaw was pretty much dropped. I got up and hugged Grandma.
“Are you sure about this?” Mom asked, still amazed.
“Yes, of course. We’ll fix it up ourselves and get everything checked, though I can’t imagine something’s wrong with it. I have been driving it, after all.”
“This is great! All I have to worry about is insurance and gas money.” My mind is racing and I don’t know who I should call first to spill the details.
“Wow, that’s very generous,” Mom said.
“We knew Michelle will be driving soon, so we figured, why not?”
“Not too soon, but it’s good to know we got the biggest thing covered.”
They discussed all the little things while I texted Mikayla and Alex. They’re the only ones I want to know for now. I’ll broadcast it on Facebook later.
Alex responded first. “You can drive me everywhere, haha.”
“You wish! Just kidding.”
“Wow, I’m jealous. But I bet my dad will just buy me one.”
“I see that happening, ha. Oh I’m so excited!”
We hit a lull. That’s when Mikayla replied and we practically said the same stuff.
“I’ll be able to drive you to school halfway through sophomore year,”
“And we could go to Purple Berri whenever we want!”
I shut the phone and slid it back into my pocket. Grandma’s leaving.
“Thanks again,” I said.
“Be careful with it, alright? You won’t actually have it until we get the new car, which is maybe around Christmas.”
“Oh, I will. I won’t run into walls or text while driving or crash a mailbox like most people do.” She laughed.
I waved her goodbye and carried on the day with a huge smile. It’s not every day someone offers me a car.
Alex stepped inside the theater room and scanned the board. Pantomimes. He remembered his first day in theater and how he had to do a pantomime. Seemed like years ago, but only two months. Michelle came in and sat behind him.
“Oh, it’s Alex’s favorite type of acting,” she teased after she examined the board.
“I wonder how it’s going down this time.”
“I bet pairs. Or in a group. We haven’t done that yet.”
Mrs. V strolled in and explained. Michelle was right. There would be five groups with a captain in each. Of course, Michelle was one. She picked Alex and three sophomores, Rachel, Tori, and Jojo. He saw her hang out with them several times. He thought that Rachel was too bossy and Jojo was obsessed with makeup, literally spending forty-five minutes of class applying mascara and gray eye shadow, but deemed Tori as a very sweet girl. Tori was funny and great at keeping a straight face.
They had one week to write a small script based on their music’s mood. Of course, it was a slow, sad, funeral-type tune. Immediately, though, Alex had an idea. Michelle concurred quite well. The others barely said anything because their concept was already really fantastic.
When it was the day to perform, his group was last to go on.
Michelle, Tori, Rachel, Jojo, and Alex positioned behind the curtains, waiting for the music to start. He gripped Michelle’s hand, assuring her to not be so nervous, because he could tell by the way she was squeezing her fingers.
They stepped out of the shadows and into the bright spotlight. Every pair of eyes was trained on them. The grip grew tighter now, on his part. Why should he be nervous? He liked being onstage. But when it comes to being with Michelle, something just strikes inside him. Just knowing that some people will be raising their eyebrows at the sight of them being romantic, even if it’s just for show, is enough to set off violent butterflies. They are an unlikely couple, after all.
Alex picked up his green plaid suitcase and very slowly loitered to the center of the stage, their hands entwined, Michelle’s tears poised to drop. He knows it’s all fake, but she looked for real. Maybe she’s imagining he’s going off to war like his character is.
Continuing the scene, a final strong hug is in place and he mouthed the three words every girl wants to hear, and got on the ‘bus’- really a rolling chair- waving sadly and blowing Michelle a kiss. This time she’s actually crying. The crowd is sympathetic, sighing “aw”, which makes her cry even more. The light flashed off, and they both exited. The light returned and their ‘children’, Rachel and Jojo, were skipping up to Michelle. Bad news is given; Jojo stormed off with a disgusted look. Rachel kneeled down with Michelle on the floor, sharing her same actions, weeping loudly, but she’s not actually crying. In fact, her eyes seemed to ask if she was okay. Michelle shook her head.
The light changed. Alex was writing his final goodbye letter to his wife, not knowing he’s going to die in the next scene. Hesitantly, she wandered out when Rachel pushed her after he actually died. Tori came up to her with Alex’s fallen military helmet and announced that her husband is dead. She turned to the kids when Tori left.
“Your father’s gone,” she uttered. Jojo jumped on the table and laid there- apparently it’s a bed- and Rachel kneeled like earlier. Michelle went down as well, looking up and seemingly yelling.
The class clapped deafeningly, whooping and cheering when the music ended. Alex’s hand is back in Michelle‘s, his other getting rid of the wet stains on her cheeks.
“You were amazing,” he whispered.
They went back to their seats, away from everyone. Mrs. V stood down center, since they were the last group to go. She went over all the performances but mine got the best comments.
“That was the most dramatic skit I’ve ever seen in all my classes so far.” The kids all agreed and threw compliments to any in his group, but most were aimed at Michelle. “Michelle was excellent on crying. What made you like that?”
Heads are turned. She looked to Alex to help her out. He recalled how if she really does cry, her voice tends to hide for a while.
“She just thought of what life would be like without him, hence the title. It’s hard to be happy and live on without your loved ones.” He faced her. “Right, Michelle?”
She nodded numbly. Mrs. V went on about something else.
“You okay?” Alex murmured, his brown eyes steady on her quivering green irises.
“Don’t ever leave me,” she sobbed quietly.
“Never.” She rested her head on his shoulder, her inhalation slowing down. He wished she would quit crying; he hated seeing her unhappy.
Class wrapped up and he split from her, promising he’ll talk to her soon. The day can’t go fast enough for him.
The performance in theater really shook me. That could be Alex in a few years. The Iraq war is still going on, right? He could go. He may be forced to. I can’t imagine seeing him in camouflage, dirt caked on his face, blood staining his sleeves, trapped in a ditch with several other men just the same as him, wounded, dying… I just can’t see it.
Maybe lunch will make me forget about it. Miranda and Haley usually lift my spirits. Well, I do that to them. I’m more in charge of the inappropriate jokes and induce laughter.
But I guess when I first saw him, all attempts to put a smile on their faces stopped.
I never knew it could hurt so much to look at someone.
He’s innocently sitting there, in the perfect window for me to see him through all the people in the cafeteria. He smiled, fiddling with his fingers the way I do. His stupid hat was on backward, but it at least showed his face that I have known for a long time, but it seemed to be blank. I didn’t see the scar by his right eye, the braces that were on last year, the sparkle in his brown irises when he laughs. It’s all gone, just like he is.
It’s heartbreaking to see him glance in my direction a couple times. As if he knows I’m watching him, playing back a thousand memories of us. As if nobody is sitting in my spot, because I’m invisible. As if he wishes he was with me instead, chuckling and grinning like old times.
As if he never knew me.
A girl sat next to him and I instantly felt jealous. That should be me, I thought. It’s all my fault. Giving him more gum than Kalen and Baylee blew my secret, sending that anonymous message on Facebook saying I loved him. So stupid! I was so very dumb in seventh grade and still dumb now. I’m a fool, I’m a fool, I’m a fool.
He looked at me again. I wanted to smile, to be friendly, to show him I was fine without him, but instead I sighed heavily and turned my gaze to the brick wall behind him, pretending to examine the banners of school’s expectations. As soon as he stopped looking, I returned my gaze back on him, and so on and so on.
“Michelle.” Miranda’s voice broke my empty train of thoughts. “Spell ‘boondoggle,’” She and Haley cracked up, while I meekly smiled. I spelled it correctly the first time, and resumed my gaze to Grayson.