Peter looked up at the clock, blinking the bleariness from his eyes after an hour of sleep.  The fuzzy lines resolved into the hour and minute hands and the blobs into numbers: 2:23 PM.  Ms. Jackson was barely breathing between words, trying to finish the lesson plan before school let out.

"In the passage the author actually show us her pain as she—" the last words of her lecture were cut short by the ringing of the final bell.  The sound of desks scraping across the linoleum and the shuffle of feet echoed off the walls and filled the hallway with sound as the class squeezed through the door.

"Dude, Peter, what the fuck was that shit?"  a tall boy with glasses worked his way through the throng.  "She's seriously got to quit with all that feeling bullshit."

"It is an autobiography," Peter said, "what do you expect?"

"Autobiography my ass.  I know why the caged bird sings: because she's got no fucking talent at anything else!"  Dennis was starting on another of his tirades about English class. It's not that Peter liked English: the class was basically an hour a day of pretending to care about some overrated book that won a lot of awards it didn't deserve.

"Seriously man, I can't believe the shit we put up with here.  I swear to God, once I get to college I'm never taking another english class."

They walked through the double doors into the stairwell and began to walk down the stairs.  Dennis skipped a step and got ahead of Peter.  Peter then skipped two steps down to the landing and worked his way in front of him.  Dennis grinned and rushed in front again, taking the stairs two at a time while Peter took them in threes, trying to catch up.  They flew down three floors until the twin slams of their feet reverberated up and down the cinder block column as they jumped the last 6 steps, laughing like madmen.

Peter panted and said "We've still—got two years left—until then."

"Huh?" Dennis replied as they walked out the doors, squinting from the transition of flourescent to natural light.  Peter stared ahead towards the other side of the building.

"Hey, what's up with you?"  he said, following Peter's gaze across the campus, "Oh."  He began to laugh; a loud chuckle that filled the emptiness in the hot summer air.  "Go for it man; see ya on Monday," he said as he slapped Peter's back and walked the opposite direction to the parking lot still chuckling.

His slap shook Peter out of his stupor long enough for him to remember to keep walking.  He started to take longer strides, rushing to get to the single strip of concrete sidewalk away from the school at the same time she did.  He watched her out of the corner of his eye while he walked.  She was chatting with her friends, waving her hands very animatedly as her story reduced the three of them to giggles.  Peter's stomach clenched when she said goodbye to both her friends and began walking alone to the same sidewalk, a smile still on her face.

He made it there first and then slowed down slightly to let her catch up.  The only sound she made while she walked was the soft swishing sound of her bluejeaned legs rubbing together.  As she drew level Peter barely shifted his pace to be in step with hers.

“Hey Amy,” he said as nonchalantly as he could manage. His throat had mercifully waited to clench until the moment after he'd finished talking.

“Hey. . .” she said, trailing off the way people do when you know their name but they don't know yours.

“Peter,” he supplied. They walked in silence for a few more steps. Peter turned his head slightly so he could talk in her direction without having to deal with the terror of eye contact:

“How're you doing?”

“Not bad.” The finality of her statement allowed no follow up question. They walked in silence a bit longer, past the fire hydrant at the corner painted with the dalmatian spots.

“You like monosyllabic words?” he asked without thinking. Peter mentally kicked himself for using a word like 'monosyllabic'.

“What?” She had a confused look on ther face, bordering bewilderment.

“Monosyllabic,” Peter repeated as if saying it again would make it sound less like a geek word. “It means words that have one syllable.”

“There's a whole section of them in rhyming dictionaries,” she said. Now it was Peter's turn to be bewildered; could his slip have actually helped him?

“I didn't know that,” he said quietly. More silence, broken only by the occasional scuffle of their feet on the concrete.

“You write poetry?” he eventually said.

“A little bit,” Amy replied, trying to hide her blushing by repositioning a stray lock of hair that had worked its way from behind her ear.

“Cool. I write some poetry from time to time. It's pretty bad,” he said. She looked at him instead of through him for the first time: “It can't all be bad.” They walked past the playground, vacant until the elementary schools let out in an hour. Peter stared at the jungle gym as they walked, trying to remember the simpler days before puberty.

“Pushing daisies above the ground/ here lie people never found/nameless graves, forgotten souls/we, the dead, known only to moles.” He finished with a squeak as his throat constricted again. She laughed softly, not a vacuous giggle but a real laugh from the chest. He felt hot in his cheeks as his stomach dropped.

“That's pretty bad,” she said, still smiling, “But you can make it better if you use another final line.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno, 'the River Styx' unknown shoals'?” The awkward silence returned. He knew her house was coming up soon.  She didn't say anything more.  Eventually they came to a brick house with white siding.

"This is my house," she said, slowing down.

"All right," he said, "Guess I'll see you around."  Peter waved goodbye even though they were only seperated by about 3 feet.  He mentally kicked himself.

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