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Fifth period United States History. Nothing and I mean nothing could be more boring than that class. The teacher was about eighty years old and the administration had been asking her to retire for years, but she kept right on teaching, giving out tons of group projects that her eyes were too bad to read and her hearing was too bad to actually hear. Which I guess was good for us, thinking back on it, but still, if the teacher's going to make you do work, he or she should at least have to suffer through it with us'
I remember the first time I saw Alexandra, during fifth period US History. There was only about a month left of school, and most of that would be spent doing group projects and preparing for the regents, with the AP exam already long finished. All of Ward Melville was buzzing with an excited energy, the kind that only comes with the anticipation of another summer vacation, of freedom. That's what I was admittedly thinking about while Mrs. Sumner, my US History teacher, was explaining our final group project; I was thinking about getting out and not seeing most of these people again for two and a half months. Don't get me wrong- I get along great with all the people here, but seeing the same sixty or so faces for almost ten months straight'well, let's just say I'm not going to cry myself to sleep at night.
Anyways, I was sitting in the back of the room, half-listening to Mrs. Sumner, when there was a knock at the door, and a girl walked in, holding out a green late slip in front of her. At first Mrs. Sumner didn't notice her, even though everyone else in the room had, and the girl had to walk almost in front of her.
'Excuse me. I'm Alexandra Newbury. I was just transferred into your class?' Mrs. Sumner looked up from the paper she was reading from and squinted at the girl, leaning back a little as if that would improve her vision. She held out her hand and the girl handed her the late slip, glanced serenely around the room and looked back down at her feet. At first I didn't pay much attention and went back to texting one of my friends after she first came in, but when I heard the whispers and my friend Tim nudged me in the ribs, I put my phone away and got a better look at the girl.
The first thing I noticed about her was her style: it was different than most of the girls here, but was neat and attractive all the same. Her skirt fell a few inches below her knees with lots of little blue and purple flowers, with black satin trim on the bottom, and a purple satiny top with ruffles and buttons down the center and a wide black belt sitting on her narrow waist. She had a matching knit hat on her head and simple black sandals on her tiny feet.
The second thing I noticed was that she was strikingly beautiful. Her skin was smooth like porcelain and created an intense contrast with her long, wavy, dark chestnut brown hair. She had full rosy lips and long dark eyelashes that framed her brooding dark eyes when she looked up at the class. I noticed several of the guys raised eyebrows at each other and a few of the girls smiled politely at her, but a lot more gave her dirty looks while whispering behind their hands.
'Yes, yes, Alexandra, right. I got a letter about you'.right'here!' Mrs. Sumner pulled a letter off her desk and waved it in front of Alexandra's face. Her expression remained placid, almost stoic. 'You're new, just moved here, correct?'
'Yes, ma'am.' A few of the girls in the front right corner did a horrible job at hiding their snickers.
'Very good. You can take a seat any where you'd like, there's no assigned seating. I was just explaining your final project, so you'll be on the same page as everyone else soon.' I watched Alexandra as she nodded and walked at a leisurely pace to a seat in the back on the opposite side of the room from me. 'Okay, so as I was saying, each of you are going to pair up with one of your classmates and will be assigned a specific topic from American history and write a 5-10 minute play about it, using as many relevant facts as you can. Any questions?' Mrs. Sumner looked around the room to blank faces and empty stares. 'Alright then, go to it!'
The class broke out into a quiet murmur as people negotiated partnerships. My best friend Tim tapped me on the shoulder.
'Hey, Seth, partners?' he asked, more as a statement than as a question.
'Um, I was actually thinking of pairing up with Alexandra. You know, with her being new and all.' Tim looked at me, thoroughly unconvinced by my claimed motive, but he said nothing, shrugged and walked over to Sam, who I saw agreed to be his partner which made me feel decidedly less guilty. I picked up my backpack, slung it over my left shoulder, and walked across the room. I stopped and plopped myself down in the empty seat in front of Alexandra and turned to face her with a bright smile on my face. 'Hey, I'm Seth. Want to work with me?' I watched her face as she mulled this decision over in her head, completely void of emotion. I heard a slapping sound and looked down; Alexandra was pulling at a rubber band around her wrist, letting it smack back against her skin.
'I guess so.' Well, that wasn't exactly the reaction I had been hoping for'
'Great! I'll go get our topic from Mrs. Sumner.'
'Okay,' was her monotone reply. I returned from Mrs. Sumner's desk a few minutes later with a slip of paper reading Urban life in the late 19th century.
'So I was thinking we could'' I let my voice trail off when she opened the text book and started writing purpose, completely focused and intent in her actions. Undeterred, I pulled a notebook out of my backpack and started writing down ideas for the play, and glanced over every now and then at Alexandra's perfect script that had already filled two and a half pages in her journal, but I wasn't able to make out anything she had written. 'So, what are your ideas for the play?' I asked, trying to get her to talk. Alexandra looked up from the textbook with a bored expression on her features, reached over to the rubber band, and started snapping it against her wrist.
'Don't worry about it; I'll take care of it.'
'I'll print you out a copy when I'm done.' She turned back to the textbook, making it clear that the conversation was closed. We worked like that for the rest of the period, her in diligent silence, while I took random notes from the industrial urbanization unit in the textbook, though I admittedly watched her take notes more than I took notes myself. There was something about her calm, distant, unaffected nature that I felt an instant connection to, that drew me to her and made me want to know more.
After class, Tim met me outside the classroom, eager to hear about my experience with Alexandra.
'So, tell me, how'd it go?' he asked, half smiling.
'It went well,' I lied. He shot me a look. 'Okay, so she's not exactly a talker, but that's alright. Maybe she's just shy; it'll be better once she gets to know me. After all, how many girls can control themselves around my irresistible charm?' Tim just shook his head and rolled his eyes, and I laughed, and we walked to our next class in comfortable silence. Alexandra wasn't in any of my other classes that day, but I couldn't get her out of my mind.
Over the next few days I made absolutely no progress with Alexandra. Everyday she would come into the classroom and sit in the exact same seat and I would go over to her and try different methods of conversation. First, I tried cheerful and talkative, but that crashed and burned fast, so then I moved on to quiet and brooding, but that didn't exactly take either. So, after about a week and with the encouragement of Tim and Sam, I decided to take a more direct, straight-forward approach.
'Hey,' I said to her one day in the beginning of class as I sat down in the seat in front of her. She looked up from the typed paper she was editing, stared at me for a few seconds, her deep brown eyes warning, and went back to making marks on the paper without a word. I swallowed hard. 'So, do you want to eat lunch with me today?' I waited anxiously as Alexandra stopped writing, started snapping her rubber band against her wrist, and thought over my request.
'I'd rather not, thank you.' Each word was perfectly annunciated and level, in order to make sure I got the message clearly I assume.
'Oh, ok, that's cool. Maybe another day.' This was not given a response, and I spent the rest of the class period watching awkwardly while Alexandra made corrections and changes to our, well her, skit. This was going to be harder than I thought.
The next day in history I sat in my old seat in front of Sam, still recovering from the rejection the day before; after having asked her to eat with me, I had even seen her during our lunch period and gave her a big smile, but she only gave me an uninterested glance as she passed on her way into the Commons, where she sat looking out into the little un-used courtyard for the duration of the period. I just couldn't figure out what it was about Alexandra that made her so different, but it was driving me crazy and I needed to find out.
That next day, the day after she refused my offer for lunch, was the first day I saw Alexandra create a stir in class, or anywhere really. She walked into the classroom as the bell rang, uncharacteristically late for her, and walked over to her usual seat, but slowed her steps when she noticed that Anne Tracey was sitting in it. I watched her subtly out of the corner of my eye and tried to figure out where I would sit when we worked on our project after she took the seat I usually sat in; except she didn't.
Alexandra stopped in front of Anne; her pale, thin frame was draped in a dark sun dress, and before she opened her mouth, she started pulling her rubber band back. The smacking sound it made against her wrist was loud enough to hear in the ensuing silence that fell when everyone realized Alexandra's presence. I watched as she snapped the rubber band with such intensity I thought it would break and hit Anne.
'Excuse me, you're in my seat,' Alexandra informed Anne in her usual monotonous drawl.
'Oh, well, you can just sit in front of me, that seat's open'' Anne answered her. A few people looked over at the scene, and I no longer cared whether or not I was openly staring.
'But, that's my seat. I've sat there everyday since I got hear. I'd like to sit there, please.' Shlap, shlap, shlap. The rubber band continued to hit against her skin.
'Alexandra, just sit in front of me, it's not a big deal. You can sit here tomorrow.'
'But that's not where I sit. I sit here,' she insisted, her tone becoming firmer if not less even.
'Excuse me girls, is there a problem?' Mrs. Sumner looked up from her computer, newly aware of the conflict.
'Alexandra wants to sit where I'm sitting, but there's an empty seat in front of me, and I don't see why she can't just sit there,' Anne answered quickly, as she had obviously become very flustered.
'Alexandra, take the seat in front of Anne.'
'But Anne's in my seat. I'd like to sit in my seat.'
Mrs. Sumner looked thoughtful for a moment. 'Well, Anne, Alexandra is new here; if it would make her more comfortable, please just move up a seat. Thank you.' Anne shot Alexandra a weird look while she grabbed up her books and backpack and moved up the seat. Alexandra had a look of indifference on her face despite her victory as she slid into her usual seat. The rest of class went as it usually did, with Alexandra doing the majority of the work while I sat around doing nothing, but that day I couldn't get that simple passive act of opposition out of my head, and a part of me wondered what created that need for such stringent consistency in her life.
As the end of school neared I began noticing subtle changes in Alexandra. First I noticed that her rubber-band-snapping habit was increasing in frequency and intensity until it got to the point where she would pull against the rubber band with one hand while writing with the other. Another thing I'd started to notice was that she tended to read the same thing over and over; sometimes she would read the same thing every period, other times she would read the same passage everyday, as if she just couldn't process what she was reading. The layers of clothing she was wearing increased, even as the temperatures continued to rise, and she never complained of Ward Melville's obvious lack of air conditioning, or even really appeared red-faced from the heat. In addition to her bland temper, which I'd come to associate with her distinct personality, she also seemed more drained than she had been when she first arrived at Melville, her movements slower, more tedious. Everyday at lunch, although everyday I offered an invitation to sit with me, she would remain in solitary silence in the Commons, staring out at the courtyard, each day the expression on her face increasingly forlorn, though it would be difficult to notice without studying her.
There was only about a week left in school when Alexandra broke down. Everyone was starting to feel summer encroaching; teachers became more lenient about homework, fitting in their last few quizzes and assignments that really meant nothing, and seniors were running around with their yearbooks and cameras, capturing their last few high school memories. Even those of us who were due to come back next year were counting down the hours until we were free. All we really had left to do was study for finals and then we could forget everything we learned this year over the summer to make room for all the new information we would learn the following year.
I walked into history that day, about five days before classes were officially over, and sat down in the seat in front of Alexandra's, ready to read over the skit she had written so I would have some idea of what I was doing before we presented it to the class. The final bell rang, and no Alexandra. Ten minutes into the period; no Alexandra. Twenty minutes in; no Alexandra. For some reason this struck me as very wrong; I could feel that something was amiss. Alexandra was always her, always on time. I went over to Mrs. Sumner after having sat waiting for Alexandra for about a half hour and asked her for a bathroom pass, and I purposely bypassed the language wing bathroom so I could walk through the Commons to get to the band wing bathroom.
When I got to the Commons I immediately spotted Alexandra's figure in her usual spot, on the far end of the benches by the snack machines, her back to me. Her body was slouched as she sat gazing out into the empty courtyard that was overflowing with weeds, flowers, and cracks.
'Hey, Alexandra,' I called out while looking around me to make sure there weren't any security guards around. She didn't turn around or even flinch; she made no acknowledgement that she'd even heard me. I tried again, louder than the first time. 'Alexandra! Hey, Alexandra!' Still I got no response. I walked up to her, talking in her oversized sweater and long leggings while I did so, and stopped right in front of her, a little startled by what I saw.
Tears streamed down her face, but her expression was stoic and indifferent, as if she didn't even realize she was crying. She made no sound or indication that she was upset, just stared out the window, with tears making wet lines across her cheeks.
'Alexandra, are you okay?' I asked, immediately concerned. At first it had seemed like she didn't hear me, but after a minute of awkward silence, she turned and locked eyes with me for a single brief moment, and in that moment I saw pain, and secrets, and sacrifices, and I was almost breathless when she looked away. She turned back to the window without saying a word, the tears still fell from her eyes, and she let me stand in front of her for about five minutes of complete and utter quiet, a rarity in this school, the only exception being the snap of rubber band against skin, before I walked off in the direction of my history classroom. I told the first security guard that I saw that I had seen a girl crying in the Commons, and he thanked me and told me he'd go look into it.
I didn't see Alexandra again after that. Later that afternoon I found a copy of the skit she had written stuffed in my locker. I got Sam to fill in on Alexandra's parts the next day when we presented in class; the skit was amazing. Mrs. Sumner gave it a hundred.
Nobody seemed to know what happened to Alexandra. During finals week I found the security guard I had talked to that day, but he only said that the situation had been taken care of, and that he couldn't tell me anything beyond that.
Now during year, Alexandra still isn't back and I haven't heard from her; I don't really expect to. Still, it would be nice to know if she's okay. I've asked the main office if they have any information they could give me but they just shake their head disinterestedly and send me back to class. Most of my friends, whenever I mention her, forget who she was until I remind them, and even then I can tell the only have a vague memory of her, but I don't think I'll ever be able to forget Alexandra.