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