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Come and Gone
“Have you seen the new kid?”
“No,” I replied.
“Me either! I kind of hope he’s cute,” Ellie said.
“So what did you get for Christmas?” she gurgled.
The bell rang, and people around us were all suddenly moving in every direction.
“I’ll see you later,” I muttered as I allowed myself to be swept into the stream of bodies.
A pile of tatty novels sat on the front desk, the one and only empty in my English class. I grabbed a copy and sat down. Perusing the book, I noticed how it got too quiet, too soon. I knew Mrs. Hollein couldn’t command the class’s attention so quickly. I was looking up in curiosity when the wave of murmurs hit. It was the new kid. He was talking to the teacher at the door. He was holding a schedule. Every girl began to crane their neck. Was he cute? Was he cute?
Doubt it. I flipped Hamlet back open and continued to flick through the pages. It was too dense to actually read, but it gave me something to do other than stare. “You can just sit at the one with the books on it,” Hollein told him, pointing.
He walked in, and he was… Not bad. Brainy cute, I thought. And as I thought it, I silently chided myself, feeling ridiculous for even coining that phrase in my internal monologue. Brainy cute? I glanced sideways, Mini-Skirt Megan was already eyeing him up. Fake Blonde Ashley was batting her raccoon eyes at him. Brainy Boy was just looking into his bag like it was fathomless. There couldn’t be enough stuff in there to keep him occupied for more than a minute, but Brainy Boy didn’t stop digging until Mrs. Hollein was in front of him, passing out the remaining copies.
“Hamlet,” she began. “Who ever thought they would be reading Hamlet?”
One hand, two hand. SAT Sam loved to show off.
“Who here thinks they won’t enjoy Hamlet?” Mini-Skirt Megan nearly fell out of her chair in the rush to respond.
“Who here doesn’t care?” she asked, looking directly at me. I stared at my book, but my fingers twitched. Brainy Boy’s arm jerked but didn’t go up.
Mrs. Hollein eulogized for another thirty minutes, assigned Act I, gave us an SAT vocab quiz, then set us loose. She caught my gaze as F-B Ashley and M-S Megan converged on the center of the room where Popular Sarah and I sat. She waved me forward, but I was out of my seat before she could vocalize her request.
“Emily, would you mind writing an editorial for the Gazette? The editors seem to like your style. Perhaps it’s your wit,” she glanced at me with a smile. I gave her a tight smile in return.
“Yes, I’ll write for them.”
She winked, “So what about the new kid? All the girls think he’s cute.” I stared at her, my face expressionless. “Do you?”
I continued to stare, then broke out laughing.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Hollein,” Brainy Boy said, a mere foot from her desk. I straightened up, backing away. “Can I talk to you about matching work from my old school?”
She checked my face for a blush. I rolled my eyes. She winked at me, but I pretended not to see.
“So, he’s cute!” Ellie cried, accosting me at lunch.
“Totally. A babe, for sure,” I replied.
“I wouldn’t say babe exactly.”
“It was a joke.”
“Oh right. Hah hah hah,” her laugh tinkled like a bell. “He’s intelligently good-looking.”
“Exactly,” I replied.
“I hate cafeteria salads,” she said, sighing.
I walked down the hall, Hamlet in my face, looking up every two or three seconds, checking for collisions. People steered clear, or wove past. I slipped through unnoticed.
“Excuse me,” he said.
I looked up, my eyes wide. Not so unnoticed after all, shoot.
He grimaced, “Where’s the gym?”
I looked at the ceiling, thinking. I pointed, “That way.”
“Thanks,” he said, “I’m David.”
“Nice to meet you,” I replied, walking away.
“Nice to meet you, no name.”
I turned to him. The hallways were beginning to empty, and I was late for art. “Emily,” I replied, still turning. I faced forward and waved back as I walked away, still reading. He didn’t see me, because he had turned when I did. I waved to his back.
My cell phone was a block. It did not flip. It did not slide. The screen was not color. But that didn’t stop it from lighting up as I carefully sketched in charcoal.
I glanced at my phone, tapping the green button.
“Merry Christmas.” It was Mark.
“It’s January,” I replied.
“I have a present for you,” he sent back.
“It’s January,” I replied.
“Don’t you want to know what it is?” he asked.
I didn’t know how to respond.
My phone lit up as I thought, “?”
“What is it?” I asked.
“Look outside the window.”
Guess who was standing there. I looked for a second, and he was gone.
“Ms. Allister, bathroom?”
She nodded, not looking up from a spinning pottery wheel.
I slipped into the hall, grabbing a door stop along the way. I snuck outside, throwing the jam in the door.
Mark appeared around the corner of the sidewalk. “Merry Christmas, Emily,” he said, opening his arms. I allowed him to wrap me in a bear hug. “I got you something,” he said, grinning and pulling out a little green box.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the box. “I didn’t have time to get you anything. I didn’t know you were coming.”
“It’s okay,” He said, moving closer, “Just open it.”
My charcoal stained fingers slipped open the paper and pulled out a gold box. Inside a golden bracelet fell out. I held it up. It was a simple chain with a delicate charm on it. It was a tiny, intricate crown.
He kissed my nose.
I stepped back. “How’s Connecticut?”
“It’s good. I miss you though,” he said, reaching his arm out to stroke my cheek.
“Oh.” Our breathing showed in the cold air, and he pulled his hand back.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“Working,” I replied. “Does anyone know you’re here yet?”
“No,” he smiled. “I wanted to see you first.”
I smiled, but it didn’t extend past my lips.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said, leaning up on my tip-toes and returning the kiss. “I have to go back now.”
“I’ll text you,” he said as I walked away. “Or call!”
I shrugged, grabbed the door jam and went back to my drawing.
Mark was back. By the end of the day, everyone was talking about it. Brainy Boy David was old news. King of Cool Mark was back. Thank God, they said, now the parties can really start.
“I can’t wait to see you,” Mark messaged me as I sat down to resume my sketch.
I sent him a little heart back and continued my work.
At the end of class, I passed David in the doorway. We exchanged the briefest smile.
I sat on a stool behind the register in the Candy Palace. Mark stood examining a shelf nearby. “What’s Connecticut like?” I asked, my fingers idly picking at the frayed edge of my red apron.
“It’s cold, mainly.”
“How are the parties?”
He looked at me, holding up a Disney Princess pez dispenser. “How much?”
“About a dollar.”
He pulled out his wallet as he walked over to the counter,.
“I don’t have as much fun in Connecticut as I did here. They drink too much, and it’s not nearly as fun knowing that a certain girl isn’t waiting for me at the end of the night.”
I rung up the dispenser and gave him his change.
He handed me the dispenser, “I got this for you.” The little face of Sleeping Beauty stared back at me.
“Do you have a girlfriend back at school?” I asked.
“I can’t attest to some of the things I’ve done on account of gaps in my memory, but I haven’t got anyone like you, if that’s what you mean.”
He blew me another kiss, “I have to go.” He smiled at me until he had completely gone out the door. His BMW was parked in front of the store and I watched for a minute as the car in front of it suddenly shown from his lights. Little flecks of snow flew through the night as he pulled away.
“So, you like Hamlet very much?” David asked.
Ellie wasn’t in lunch the next day, so I was sitting alone. David had chosen to take his seat next to mine.
“It’s okay I guess.”
“You like Art?” he asked.
“It’s better than most classes.”
“Do you actually like art?”
“Museums are cool, if that’s what you mean,” I replied.
“Did your parents get you that for Christmas?” he asked, indicating the bracelet.
“No, my boyfriend did.”
“He used to go here, but he now he goes somewhere in Connecticut.”
“Wait, you’re dating Mark?”
“Do you know him?”
“I heard some kids in Physics yesterday saying that a guy named Mark was home from school. They seemed pretty excited.”
“And you immediately made the connection.” I scrutinized his face, “spy.”
He laughed, “Yes, I’m spying on you. Actually, the Feds planted me, just to watch you. I’m a nark.”
“How long you guys been dating?”
“I don’t know.”
He cocked his head, like a dog hearing a weird noise.
“We’re on and off,” I replied.
“Do you mind?” he asked.
“What is this! I feel like I’m doing an interview! Where’s the pen and pad?” I asked.
“Sorry,” he replied unapologetically. “I’m new. I was just trying to get a read on this place.”
The next night, Mark and I went to a party. Mark drank, smoked a little, and then he came and sat with me on the couch. I played video games.
I saw Ellie in the hall the next morning.
“How was that party last night?” she asked, winking.
“Well, I played Mario 3 all night.”
“With Mark. I heard you guys are back together,” she replied.
“Can’t we discuss this at lunch?”
Her face fell a little, “I got switched out. New term, new class, new lunch. It’s really stupid.”
“Bummer,” I replied.
“So did you guys kiss?”
The next day at lunch, Ellie’s absence was filled once more by David.
“How’s it feel to date Mark?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“I was at the party last night, and I saw you,” David said.
“Yeah. You played video games the whole time.”
“Wait, who invited you?” I asked.
“You like her?”
“Oh you know, her skirts are a bit short, but she’s nice for the interim.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’ll do until I get some real friends to tell me the true story about this place.”
“What’s with you and stories?”
“Do you like her?” he asked.
“I don’t really judge people I don’t know,” I replied.
Mark and I watched a movie that night. I didn’t know what was going on but I’m sure Mark’s narration was just as good as the actors’ own lines.
“Where did you move from?” I asked the next day at lunch.
“You don’t have an accent,” I told him.
“I know, we only lived there for six months.”
“You move a lot?”
“Yeah,” David replied, sighing.
We went to Mark’s buddy’s house. They all went to the garage and came back with red eyes. Mark held me in his lap and we watched his friends play poker until midnight. Then Mark drove me home.
“Do you guys party every night like this all the time?” David asked.
I yawned. “We’re seniors, what else are we supposed to do?”
“Study? Go to theaters or museums or cinemas? Festivals or concerts? The symphony?”
“Do you see any symphonies in Greenville?”
David played Mario 3 with me at Keegan’s party on Thursday night. It was more fun with two people. Well, two mentally functioning people, anyway.
“Where did you live before Kentucky?”
“And before that?”
“San Francisco, Nebraska, Montana, Wisconsin.”
I whistled a low, appreciative whistle. “Where were you born?”
I shook my head.
David picked me up Friday night. I told Mark I had a headache, and he went out with his friends instead. David drove to the top of the mountain and we parked at the lookout. We listened to “Night at the Symphony” on public radio and watched the town sparkle and glitter below.
Saturday, I worked all day at the Candy Palace. Mark brought me lunch, but he couldn’t stay around to talk. Then David showed up and we chatted for a half hour while my boss was on break. Mark came back as David left. They exchanged an odd look, each intent on the other’s face, and my stomach twisted uneasily.
“Who’s that?” Mark asked.
“The new kid.”
“You like him?” Mark asked, his face pained.
“We’re friends,” I replied.
“I got you this flower,” he said.
He kissed me on the forehead and left.
On Sunday, I noticed a little brown package in the mailbox at the Candy Palace, addressed to me. Inside, there was a leather bracelet with a carved wooden bead and a note. It read, “From David.” David was playing a tricky game and he knew it. I put the bracelet on. Now I was playing the game too.
“Nice bracelet, babe. You make that back in elementary school?” Mark asked when he picked me up from work Sunday night.
“My mom gave it to me.”
“It’s childish,” he said, squeezing me close, “in a good way.” My shoulders stiffened.
“Thanks,” I said. He didn’t notice the chill at all.
I expected David to sit at my table the next day. He did not disappoint.
“Why did he get sent away,” David asked.
“Possession of drugs.”
“What sort of question is that?” I snapped.
“An honest one.”
“He got caught with muscle relaxers.”
He let out a low whistle. “Is he in reform school now?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “His parents paid a fine and he was set free. They sent him away to school for damage control.”
“So why’s he back?”
“He’s on winter break.”
“When’s he leaving?” I heard the openly eager tone, but it didn’t bother me.
“You think you’ll miss him?”
“Probably,” I replied, poking my wilted salad with a plastic fork. “When are you leaving?”
“Not for awhile,” he replied.
“You think so?”
“I hope so.”
I stared at my salad, contemplating throwing it out. Ellie was right, these salads were terrible.
“Will you miss me?” he asked.
I poked the salad, thinking, “Yes.”
Mark kissed me and I waved as the green BMW drove away one last time. His break was over. The week was up.
When he came back, he tried to start things back up, but I couldn’t. For one thing, I lost his bracelet. I couldn’t bear to show him that it was gone. Another reason was that I was dating David. But I didn’t really lose the bracelet, I left it near M-S Megan’s desk and made sure she picked it up.
Eventually, Mark stopped calling. He stopped tapping on the art window. He stopped buying me gifts and delivering my lunch to work. He stopped going to our parties, and eventually he simply stopped coming home from school.
I didn’t notice that he wasn’t at the parties because I stopped going too. And David began taking me to museums on the weekends in a nearby city. Sometimes, we would watch an old movie, and he would make popcorn and bring candy, just like in the cinema. And every Friday night, we would listen to the symphony in his car overlooking the town.
“This is nice,” I said one night, watching the town as a light breeze played through the open windows.
“I’m leaving in a month,” he replied.