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While he was sleeping, there was a tap at the window. He turned away, pulling himself deeper under the covers as he did so, thinking it was the wind; but it persisted, until finally he sleepily opened his eyes to glare at the window, and was surprised at what he saw.
There was Rose. She pointed at the latch, mimed opening it. Uncertain whether or not this was a dream, he stumbled out of bed, followed her instructions, and let in the cool night air of summer, smelling faintly of flowers.
She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her to it. "What're you doing here?" He couldn't stifle a yawn.
"I'm going," she said. He looked down; she was fully dressed, sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers.
"Really?" His voice was quieter.
"Oh." He looked around. It was almost the full moon, so it was easy to see in the night. "You wanna come in?" He didn't know what else to say.
She shook her head. "Nope. I just wanted to say bye."
"Oh." He bit his lip, looked around again. "Hang on a minute." He clambered out the window in his Muse t-shirt and long PJ bottoms, and she backed away. He landed barefoot on the well-manicured lawn. He was awake, now, sleep forgotten, and the stars shone bright. He stood, put his hands in his pockets.
"You tell your parents?" he asked.
"I wrote a note," she said. "I think they knew anyway."
"Ah," was all he could say.
"Anyway..." She shifted uneasily. "I wanted to say thanks. For sticking with me."
"You don't have to thank me." He felt awkward. "You're the one who came up to me in Kindergarten. Remember?"
She thought about this for a moment. "No. Not really."
"Yeah, me neither. That was a long time ago."
"Really long." She nodded. "I just remember you were the scrawny kid with glasses."
"And you were the one who kept getting in fights. With the boys, too."
They laughed together. It wasn't that funny, but they did it anyway.
"Aw, geez..." He leaned against the house, and she copied him, almost coming to his height. "How many people have you beat up, anyway?"
It took her a few seconds to answer. "30, give or take. But they all had it coming. You know that..."
"You remember Bryan?"
"The kid who moved away?"
"Hope he's happier now. You know where he went?"
"Michigan, I think."
"They beat him up after school sometimes. I watched."
"We all did. I was just stick of it."
"Yeah..." He looked up; a cloud was drifting lazily near the moon. They were quiet for a little while. Then, he said, "Where you gonna go?"
"Dunno." She shrugged. "Bus station. From there--" She waved a hand vaguely. "Somewhere. As long as it's not here."
"Not really." That was probably a lie.
"Well, you did it. Made it through all 12 years of the educational system."
"Yep." She let out a long breath. "Good grades and all."
"Sure you don't wanna go to college?"
"I thought so." He stretched his hands out in front of him, and his elbows popped audibly.
"I'll probably come back, though. Christmas, and summer. You'll see me."
"I know." He doubted it. "My parents didn't want me to hang out with you," he couldn't help but remark dryly. "They called you a bad influence."
Rose laughed at this. "Was I?"
"Don't think so, no."
And it was quiet. Not even the crickets were chirping. A car sped along somewhere.
She straightened up. "I better go," she said.
He walked her to the front of the house, grass prickling his bare feet.
Right by the sidewalk, she hugged him. "Good-bye, James."
"Good-bye," he could only say. He felt her warm body press against him for a long, drawn-out moment that seemed to last forever, but was still over too fast. And he wanted to say "Don't go," but he knew he couldn't. She was too young to hear him say anything and he loved her for it.
"See you," they both said. And he watched as she walked down the street for a long time, even when she didn't look back. And he almost ran after her, almost screamed "Wait!" He even started to walk forward, once. He was filled with the most horrible longing. But he didn't. And then, for the first time in a long time, she wasn't there anymore.