Robert Lincoln is 15 years old. Practically everyone calls him Lincoln. Even his mom.
He loves Bob Dylan but no other musicians. He likes Henry David Thoreau but no other authors.
Robert Lincoln just started smoking cigarettes. He likes the way he looks leaning against a wall outside of the mall with his friends, Jared and Stephen. He likes how girls from school walk by and sneer at them and tell them smoking is gross. But something deep down in Robert Lincoln tells him that smoking makes the girls want him.
Robert Lincoln is a virgin.
He doesn’t drink, and he doesn’t do drugs. One time his uncle gave him a beer but he didn’t like it.
Robert Lincoln doesn’t keep a diary. The thought of keeping a diary has never even crossed his mind. But maybe it should.
Robert Lincoln’s bedroom is in the basement. His parents set it up really nice and put in carpet and a space heater so he wouldn’t get cold. He liked it because he could prop open his window and smoke late at night. And he liked it because he was always alone down there, except on Sundays when his mom liked to do laundry.
Some nights he couldn’t sleep. He just lay in bed in the dark, his mind going nuts thinking about things like Catherine Smith and skateboarding and the older girl who works at the pizza place in the mall. The older girl with the pink hair and pierced tongue. He wonders what it would be like to kiss her. He imagines that her mouth would be warm, but the barbell stuck through her tongue would be cold. And no matter how long they kissed, it would never warm up.
It was January 8, a Thursday morning. It was 5:38 a.m. and his alarm clock was set for 7:10. He usually caught the bus at 7:35. The first bell would ring at 7:55. Classes officially began at 8 o’clock, on the dot. The late-night radio disk jockey had said it would snow later that day. Around one in the afternoon.
All that information ran through Robert’s head. He processed it. Thought about time and numbers. Minutes. He thought about how cool it would be to be a radio DJ. He thought about how unsurprised he would be if it didn’t snow that afternoon.
At 6:47 Robert Lincoln got sick of waiting for his life to happen. Sick of basing his entire daily routine around bells.
At 7:08 in the morning, Robert Lincoln was sitting in a snow-covered field facing a long road that went into his neighborhood. Every morning his school bus passed it. The field was on the left side. The sun was rising on the right. Every morning Robert thought about sitting in that field instead of sitting on the bus. Watching the buses pass, watching the sun rise.
At 7:10 his alarm clock went off. And it went off until 7:15. Then his mom yelled down. At 7:20 she walked down the basement stairs, loud and angry, and found that her son was not in his bed. Or in his room. Or in the basement. Or even in the house.
She called the cops.
Around 7:42 the buses started rolling by. The buses from Meadow Brook and Aspen Park and his neighborhood, Lake Point. He never understood why they called it that, because there wasn’t a lake. Just a pond. With a fountain in the middle. And snapping turtles in the summer time.
He smoked his cigarette and grinned. From inside the buses, faces peered out at Robert Lincoln. Sitting in an aluminum lawn chair. Smoking and looking cheery.
The kids made such a fuss about it that the bus driver notified the school. The school notified his mom. His mom walked into the field in a bathrobe and snow boots and yelled at him. And took his cigarettes. And his lighter.
As she stood there screaming, a police car pulled up. Two officers got out. Another bus drove by.
He got to school late that day, and was grounded for six weeks. But the sun rose over the trees and lit up the field and Robert Lincoln inhaled smoke and cold air. All day long kids asked him about that morning in the field. Even Catherine Smith asked him what was up.
And he smirked all day long, feeling rebellious and smart and like Henry David Thoreau, only cooler. Like Henry David Thoreau and Bob Dylan combined. He imagined that if the two had merged to become one person, his name would be Robert Lincoln.
By 2:53 it still hadn’t snowed. Robert stared out the window into the gray sky and anticipated the last bell. Everyone was disappointed that the weather prediction had been false.
Robert Lincoln was not surprised.
Robert Lincoln lives in his denim jacket.
He can’t remember where it came from or when it entered his life, but it was always on him. Like his second skin. He even slept in it some nights.
In art class one day, while working with stencils, he painted a big red heart on the sleeve. All class period he worked on drawing in wings and a dagger through the middle of the heart with a thick black magic marker. When he was finished with his masterpiece, he frowned and realized he had made the biggest mistake of his life. He had defaced his beloved denim jacket.
His head hung low with regret.
Until Catherine Smith said she liked it. A lot.
And she traced the outline of the dagger with her index finger. Robert felt her push a little harder as she closed off the heart on his sleeve. She smiled. And walked away.
Catherine Smith is 15.
She sits next to Robert Lincoln in third-hour art.
Catherine Smith likes rock and roll. But Robert Lincoln doesn’t really care much about that.
What he cares about is how Catherine Smith is taller than he is by about three inches. What Robert Lincoln cares about is how she calls him Robert. Not Lincoln. Or Rob. Or Robbie, Bob. Bobby. She says his name. She calls him Robert.
What he likes about Catherine Smith is how she has dark brown hair and pale blue eyes. He likes how her hair is always in a ponytail and he’s never seen it any other way. He likes how she smells like something you can eat, even though he’s not sure what. It’s just sweet and nice.
It was February 28, a Saturday night. It was the first weekend that Robert could go out since the morning in the snow, with the cops and the cigarettes, so he, Jared and Stephen were having a celebration. The celebration consisted of leaning against a wall at the south entrance of the shopping mall, smoking, pretending it wasn’t as cold as it really was, and bickering with all the girls from their school who walked by and made faces.
Ashley Manning and Jessica Lee stopped to talk. Briefly. They were on their way to a movie. They were going to meet Catherine Smith, who was on her way from practice.
Robert didn’t know she had a practice.
Guitar practice. She plays guitar. She gets lessons from a man with a goatee and holes in his jeans.
She plays guitar?
What’s his name? Sean? I don’t know. But he’s weird.
Robert thought about Catherine Smith hunched over a guitar. Her fingernails painted blue and chipped, running over strings. Her face wrinkled in concentration. He imagined her getting frustrated, since she does so easily, and screaming and pushing her guitar from her lap onto the floor.
Then bending over a few seconds later to make sure she hadn’t damaged it.
Ashley and Jessica went into the mall. It was 7:45. The movie started at 8:30. Robert had just enough money to get into the movie. His friends had none.
You guys can sneak in.
Dude, no. We’re just gonna hang out. We’ll see you tomorrow.
No, dude. It’s cool. We know you have a thing for Catherine.
No, I don’t.
Yeah, whatever. Let’s go inside. It’s freezing.
I wanna have another smoke. I’ll meet you inside.
He leaned against the wall and watched his friends leave. At 7:58 the most amazing thing happened. Robert Lincoln stopped breathing. The older girl who works at the pizza place came outside. She was wearing a sweater that buttoned up the front. It was leopard print with patches on the front. She burst from the doors and looked around, like she was lost. Then her eyes fell on Robert. She grinned and walked straight toward him.
Can I bum a smoke?
Robert gave her a cigarette. If he had thought about it, he would have offered her a light, too. But he was surprised. He shoved his hand in his pocket and smoked and tried not to look scared. She stared at him, shivering.
Can I have a light?
He pushed his lighter into her cold hand. If he had thought about it, he would have held up the lighter and lit her cigarette for her. That would have made him a gentleman. She would have liked that. But he was scared.
She gave it back to him. But didn’t leave.
I’m on break.
Yeah. I needed a smoke so bad, you’re a lifesaver.
Robert laughed a fake laugh.
What’s your name?
Your parents named you Lincoln?
No, but that’s what everyone calls me.
They were quiet for a moment.
Don’t you want to know my name?
Oh, uh, yeah.
Robert’s cigarette went out. He stomped it into the ground and looked at her.
Well, I guess I’m gonna go.
He moved to walk away.
She grabbed him by the arm, the arm with the heart on the sleeve.
That’s so awesome!
Let me borrow it. I see you here all the time, I’ll give it back.
Robert was shocked. He never let anyone wear his jacket. Not even hot, older girls with tongue rings whom he had crushes on. He moved away.
No way, dude.
Come on, pleeeaaase, Lincoln ...
Robert fake-laughed again. She batted her eye lashes and stuck out her bottom lip. She looked stupid.
No, I can’t. I’m gonna go.
She didn’t say anything as he walked away. She just frowned. And then she never said anything to him again.
Robert got to sit next to Catherine during the movie. She smiled at him as they took their seats. Robert wanted to ask her about guitar lessons. And the weird guy who was teaching her. But the movie started and once a movie starts it’s not polite to talk. Robert gazed up at the bright white of the screen and realized he had no idea what he was about to watch.
Robert Lincoln doesn’t like movies. He thinks they are mind-numbing. But the movie he saw that night was all right. He watched the light from the screen move across Catherine’s profile. He fell in love with the slow way she ate her Snow Caps, as though she was too involved with the story to eat them properly. He even caught her missing her mouth once or twice.
Sometime during the movie, Robert wasn’t sure when (he wasn’t exactly watching the screen), Catherine leaned in close to him. He could smell the chocolate chips on her breath.
She leaned in closer.
Do you think I could wear your jacket? I’m cold.
Without thinking, Robert Lincoln took off his denim jacket and handed it to Catherine. She smiled and wrapped it around her.
Robert walked home alone that night, after he said good-bye to Catherine. She climbed into her mother’s sedan and waved.
See you Monday at school!
She smiled and waved. And Robert tried to look cool, standing, smiling, his hands shoved in his pockets. He stood outside the mall’s north entrance unaware of the cold. The denim jacket was tucked under his arm, still warm from Catherine’s shoulders. As she rode out of sight, a left at the stop sign and then behind the trees, Robert pulled the jacket on, one arm at a time.
He could still smell her on his jacket. That sweet smell that’s like something you could eat. He adjusted the collar, smiled to himself and walked home in the cold. He walked home to his basement room and his Bob Dylan CDs. He walked home to his mom who called him Lincoln.
In his mind, he walked home with Catherine holding his hand, leaning in so close that he could smell her warmth and her hair and her skin.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the March 2006 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.