Raindrops pelt your umbrella like pebbles. It’s October, late afternoon, a charcoal sky. We’re standing an inch apart; you’re shivering. “Isn’t it embarrassing to remember your umbrella but forget your coat?” I ask.
You smirk, poke my arm, “Isn’t it humiliating to remember your coat but forget…”
A voice hollers, Hey! What are you doing with that loser?
Another yells, Yeah! Get over here! Tell us what she does to get you to hang out with her!
The short one stands, hand on hip, purse flung over her shoulder. The tall one in pale jeans pinches a cigarette; smoke rises from her fingertips.
“I don’t need your umbrella.” I step back.
You stretch, hold it over my head. Shoot me a helpless look that says, Sorry, I hate this.
The rain spits sideways at us. A wet dog smell rises from my jean jacket.
Your bus chugs up, spews exhaust; the tall girl throws a butt under the front wheel.
You get on after the ones who, like me, want you with such ferocity they don’t know what to do.
Then my bus screeches into the bay. As I grip the strap, try to keep my balance, my hair drips down my back.
I imagine the short one saves a seat for you; you slide in, too shy to say you’d rather sit alone.
The tall one drops her hand on your leg. Laughs so loud it drowns out the rain nailing the roof.
Hey! You never told us your girlfriend’s name.
The tall one appears on your left, narrows her eyes at me as you pull the orange windbreaker off your locker hook.
You grin with teeth, dodge out of the way before she can grab you. We march down the hall in silence but aren’t quick enough.
The short one’s voice is like hucked gravel. So when are you going to tell her you don’t like her, you just feel sorry for her?
“Ignore them,” you say walking faster, giving the door a hard push.
I chew off my lip gloss and think, “God, I hate those two. What is wrong with them?”
We cut across to the library where, on wet days, I flip through Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs for a glimpse of our future and you hover, laughing quietly at The PreHistory of the Far Side.
Today is overcast; the cool air tastes like dying leaves. We sit on the curb near crow-perched cedars, unwrap our ham sandwiches.
You’re looking down when I say, “I need to tell you…I really, really like you.” Your cheeks and ears redden.
You look over, meet my eyes and say, “I like you a lot, too.” There’s sympathy in that look – it could also be terror or sadness.
I can’t say for sure. When you tell me you always want to be friends with me, I get up. Cross back to the school.
Notice a lone crow and think: How pathetic to not catch a live worm after days of rain.
“I remembered today.”
You lean on my locker, smile, hand me your picture.
Adorable, the way your mouth pulls up at the corner; the photographer caught you thinking of something funny, a sly secret.
I’m sure you can hear my heart – its accelerated beat is persistent as a steady rain banging down the drainpipe. Brash voices, high-pitched laughter, locks clicking open and doors slamming shut can’t conceal it.
You glance down, still grinning. Look away when I flip the picture over and register the word Love.
An indignant heat climbs my neck, spreads over my chest like dread. I know you don’t mean it, signing off this way.
Those girls are right; sooner or later, to whatever extent I have you, I’m going to lose you.
The bell rings. “See you at lunch! Let’s walk to 7-Eleven today.”
You straighten up, stroll down the hall. I watch you shrink until you’re as small as the picture I tuck in my pocket.
At home, I turn it over again and again to see if I can change what I know, but I can’t.
In a few months when it’s all over – your hurtling car, the parked truck – I’ll be the last to leave the funeral home. The other girls won’t show.
I’ll trace the cuts on your hands with my eyes, stitch us a different ending.
I step forward that October afternoon. Kiss you in the audacious downpour. You clasp your warm hand in mine. Walk me the long way home.