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Paul eased the door shut behind him as he slid into the classroom, cutting off the roar of the lunchtime tide rushing through the hallway outside.
Ms. Ellis’s last class of the day had just finished, and the pockmarked wooden chairs sat in haphazard groups of four on the mahogany tables. Some of them were painted in bright hues: ocean-water blue and night-sky violet and rich salmon, popping out from the others like stones in an unfinished mosaic. Paul navigated his way around the tables toward the back corner of the room, where a fuzzy avocado-green couch lay hidden behind a small bookshelf.
Jamie was curled at one end of the couch, wearing a light olive shirt that clashed horribly with the fabric behind her. A book rested in her lap and she held it open with one hand as the other reached for the large sandwich in a Tupperware container beside her.
Paul sat down next to her and she looked up, giving him a warm smile and leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. She closed the book and stretched her legs out across the couch. His fingers drummed a slow pattern on her dark jeans as he flopped back and closed his eyes.
“How has your day been?” Jamie asked.
“Not so eventful. I was just in the library for a while trying to study for the calc test, but I kind of gave up.”
“Mm… sounds like fun.” She stretched her head back over the arm of the couch, blowing a strand of auburn hair out of her eyes. “Do you wanna go for coffee after D Block? Or you know, after you finish the test? I bet you could get away with just leaving.”
“Yeah, that sounds great.” Paul looked out through the rain-streaked windows at an SUV roaring by along Buchanan. “You know, I can’t believe-”
His sentence was cut off as the door to the classroom opened swiftly, smashing against the inside wall and then bouncing partway back. A cacophony of voices rushed in like radio static, jarring and dissonant. Paul leaned forward to see who had entered, but the door closed again before he was able to catch a glimpse. He could hear a pair of angry voices just outside but couldn’t make out their words.
“Who is it?” Jamie asked, trying to prop herself up but failing as her elbow sunk between the couch cushions. Before Paul could answer, the door burst open again, and a boy and a girl entered, slamming it shut behind them.
“Ok, fine, let’s talk it out in here,” shouted the boy. “It’s not my fault you chose to bring this up now of all times! But go ahead, let’s continue, I’m really enjoying this.”
Paul raised his eyebrows and scooted toward the bookshelf, trying to go unnoticed. The girl stopped walking and turned to face the boy, waiting for him to finish.
“Look”, she said. “This isn’t your fault, it’s my fault, I’ve said that a hundred times and I can’t say it any other damn way. But it’s just not working. I’m not mad at you, this is my thing, and as much as you’d like, there’s no magic way for you to make it better. I need out, I need to take a break, and most of all I need to stop discussing this now. Please. Let’s just talk later, ok?”
The boy turned away again and his arm swung wide, catching a heavy wooden chair and sending it smashing to the ground. The sudden sound broke the fury of the moment, and they stood in silence, watching the chair wobble to rest on the floor. Taking a deep breath, the boy walked slowly out of the room. A minute later the girl left as well, stopping on her way out to replace the chair on the desk.
“Wow,” said Paul. “That was entertaining.” He turned to Jamie, chuckling, but stopped at the sight of her strange expression: it was thoughtful, almost solemn. “What’s up?”
“Have you ever realized how weird it is?” she said, looking toward him. “We go through high school obsessing over these friendships and dramas, I mean we spend so much time thinking about them, and worrying and freaking out when things don’t work out right. But next year we’ll be gone, we’ll be surrounded by new people and new places and all of these relationships, all this sh** that we’ve worked so hard at will start to fade. I mean right now we’re so controlled by all of it, but ten, fifteen years from now most of us won’t even know each other anymore. Have you ever thought about that?”
Paul paused and looked out at the street again, where the rain was beginning to pour down even harder. The fluorescent lights above seemed to brighten, becoming almost blindingly white, and for a moment he felt as though he were a specimen in a laboratory: raised there, controlled and trapped for his entire life, and now about to be released into the wild for the first time. He blinked.
“No,” he said. “I haven’t, really.”