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Tommy told me to make the list. He thought we should each make one and see who could finish the most things off their list before graduation. He wanted us to get together and share our lists, but I stayed home sick that day. No one ever found out what was on my list. I never started it either, since a few days later I tucked it away underneath my mattress along with my old dog’s tags and Winni’s friendship bracelet.
Tommy brought up the list at the mall earlier today, while we were breaking from prom dress shopping. Evelyn had gotten a gold floor length dress and Keyshia went with a red ball gown but Tina went short and pink with lots of glitter. I was wearing my sister’s old dress but went along anyway. My mother thought I was spending too much time in my room, doing “Lord knows what”.
“So, you guys.” Tommy was leaning across the table, pizza grease dripping from his chin. “How far have we gotten with our lists? Graduation is only two weeks away.”
Tina beamed. “I finished everything…except the car, anyway.” Her smile fell. “My parents are soo unfair. Oh and I never got to go on a date with Tony Cavanaugh.”
Evelyn giggled. “Ooh, that was my number one. There were, like, 4 things I didn’t get to do. Mostly ‘cause of my parents. Sky diving, NASCAR racing… The fun stuff.” She lifted her bandaged arm onto the table, a biking accident, or maybe skiing. Evelyn was a walking Band-Aid ad.
It went like that, in a circle. Sean confessed he only made it to number 6. Andy had maybe two or three left. Keyshia and Tommy had both finished theirs completely and there were rounds of high fives and demands of money. Then everyone turned to look at me. I lifted my face out of my pizza and lifted an eyebrow.
Tommy snorted at my ignorance. “Your list, Mona! How much did you get done?”
“Oh.” I scrunched up my face, pretending to think. “I, uh, lost it…freshmen year. Never even started, it, really. It was just too much work, between swim team and homework and babysitting I just didn’t have time.”
The group looked at me as if I’d grown a third eye suddenly. I gave them my best ‘is there a problem?’ look and continued to eat my pizza, but Tommy wasn’t done.
“We all had a deal, Mona, and you didn’t even try.”
“Tommy,” I snapped, “the list is dumb.”
He scooted towards me. “What did you write on that list, Mona?”
“Nothing important,” I replied, scowling. “It’s almost six, I gotta go home.”
The group hissed and booed but I mumbled my excuse over my shoulder, dumping my tray of half eaten pizza and shuffling out of the food court.
Back at home, I dig underneath my mattress in the dark. I grab onto the dog tags. They’re cold and faded. I toss them back under and go fishing again. Winni’s bracelet. I clutch it tightly; bring it up to my face. I remember the last day she wore it, before Ivan Winkler decided drunk driving on playgrounds was fun. I made it out, as most of us did, with a few broken bones and some bruises. Winni didn’t.
I slip the bracelet onto my wrist and kiss it, then dig deeper under the mattress until my fingers find crumpled paper. I unfold the list and bring it close to my face and squint, reaching over to turn on my bedside lamp. The curlicue writing I trained myself to do freshman year stares back at me in a rainbow of colors. Doodles line the side of the page. My wishes, my goals, everything I wanted at 14 stares back at me. It hisses at me, daring me to even think about all of the things I wanted to do, I want to do. I skim the list. It’s shorter than everyone else’s. One page, 10 things. Not one to check off.
I crumple the paper and shove it into my pocket, walking down the hall to my mom’s room. She’s weaker than yesterday and knocked out. Silently, I sneak over and kiss her leathery forehead, try not to gag. Minimal contact with my mother. I love her but the smell of sick scares me, even though I know it’s not contagious.
I slip the lighter out of the pocket of her housecoat and tip toe out of the house, down the street to the playground. I sit underneath the mangled metal of the jungle gym, dodging puddles from last night’s storm, still not repaired after eight years and extract the crumpled paper from my jeans. I read it again, not skimming but really reading. I laugh at how dumb I was only three years ago.
date Tony Cavanaugh
visit Winni’s grave
raise the dead
conquer my fear of roller coasters
find the cure for cancer
make cigarettes illegal
take ballet lessons
stop taking care of siblings
buy that one really cute purse from Macy’s
By the time I’m finished reading, I’m laughing hysterically. How could I have been so naïve?
Winni wasn’t coming back, and my mom was too far gone to do anything for. I can’t dance to save my life, and everyone in town knows I’ll be taking care of my brothers and sisters until they’re all of legal age, and Micki’s only four. When I catch my reflection if a leftover rain puddle, I laugh even harder. I hold the list between the tips of my index finger and thumb of my right hand and with my left I flick the lighter, once, twice, until it catches. I drop it.
I watch paper burn, slowly, folding into itself and disappearing bit by bit until every little ash is carried away by the wind and my list is no more.
On graduation day, Keyshia makes the valedictorian speech. I sit next to Tommy. We met in kindergarten because we both have the same last name, Harper. When Keyshia wipes a tear out her eye and exits, our principal Mrs. Underwood talks about how much she loves us some more.
Tommy leans towards me and whispers in my ear, blowing my hair around the side of my face. “Did you finish your list?”
I turn towards him and smile, sincerely. “The list is finished.”