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'Tis the Season (Part 1)
“Who forgot their gift?”
The twinkling Christmas lights dim in my vision, as he repeats himself.
“Who forgot their secret Santa gift?” The soft music in the background comes to an abrupt stop, and the normally rowdy teens become abnormally quiet, their eyes shifting from the empty gift box to every other person in the room, as if they could find the person responsible by looking into their eyes. And then of course, their eyes rest on me, the victim of this terrible crime. I discreetly shield my eyes from view. If they saw them, they would know what I know.
I clear my throat. I felt everyone’s eyes on my back as I stood up. I clenched my teeth and gave a feeble attempt at a smile. “Barry, it’s okay. I don’t really need one.”
The kids let out a collective sigh of relief, and now that the miniature disaster has been averted, return to their previously abandoned conversations. Barry gives me a dubious look, but I wave him off. As the only teacher in the vicinity, he has more things to worry about that one missed present. As if on cue, a shoving match breaks out between two boys in the corner. He runs off to separate the fighting fourteen-year-olds and I am saved from an unpleasant conversation.
I stand up and walk to the opposite side of the unusually large math room and take a seat next to the unusually large fish tank. I smile at the plastic Christmas tree half buried in the gravel and the unusually large fish that swims around it curiously. I lean in closer, gazing at it intently. It swims lower and lower around the tree, as if it’s suddenly become aware of the prospect of presents at the bottom. It stops for a moment, staring at the empty underside, and then swims off, already searching for new things to occupy its time. How I envy that fish, I think. I truly wouldn’t have minded if it was a missing gift from any other person, any person at all, but of course it has to be him…
I duck as a red, green and white beach ball rockets over my head. I swivel my head to see two guys from another homeroom high-fiving each other. As Barry drags the two away, I see him looking at me.
He has brown hair, lighter than mine but definitely not blond. He’s ever so slightly shorter than me, but then again so are most people my age. A birthmark on his neck that some of my girlfriends see as a deterrent just makes him seem all the more amazing to me. I’ve never looked at his eyes close enough to determine their color, but somehow they always seem to know what I’m thinking. He’s just another classmate most of the time, he’s my best friend on school trips and the last period of the day, my fellow basketball devotee two days a week after school, the subject of my criticism on Friday art classes, my secret crush all of the time and the cause of my current heartache.
I lower my eyes almost immediately, though I feel his gaze linger on me for a few seconds more before he goes back to talking with his friends. I stare at the fish, who by now is facing me and ready to listen. I imagine it wearing glasses and holding a pen and paper, asking me, who by now is sitting on an underwater couch, Let’s begin with your childhood…
A tap on the shoulder jars me out of my fantasy and staring blankly at a welcome face.
“C’mon Sam,” Abby whines, pulling me up out of my seat by my arm, “There’s only fifteen minutes left until winter break; you might as well enjoy it!”
I grin. Abby always had a way to bring me out of my rare moments of depression. She was actually the reason they were so rare in the first place. I let her drag me into a small mob of our friends, who welcome me with a squeal of delight and instantaneous chatter about anything and everything. I quickly abandon my aforementioned depression and join in on the fun.
Throughout the next quarter hour, I see him a few times looking at me out of the corner of his eye, but then I blink and his back is to me. I blink again. It must be the colored lights playing tricks on me…