He left it in class. She saw it, she saw her name and read it. She knew, then.
| It must be her.
She didn't see who else it could be. She made sure to see as clearly as she could, too, and she saw no other suitable girl. None that fit this description. None that had a name as close to hers as this. None that would be close enough to him for him to make her the center of this fictional whim. And, yes.
It must be him.
She didn't see who else it could be. She made sure to see as clearly as she could, too, and she saw no other eligible boy. None who wrote. And really: wrote, you know. A writer. Not even just a writer. A writer who wrote like--this. A writer who drowned the paper with the bleeding, unrequited passion of his soul, shed from his pen in that merciless choke of his she always saw--that untouchable clutch, the clutch that brandishes a weapon of war--the pen that is the sword--a sword scarring the paper like you scar a tree with a knife, or like a needle scars the skin, or like you scar the earth with a stick, branding it with your existence so you become eternal and you'll never die. Such was the way the words were woven onto this piece of paper: so warily woven, the writing bulged out on the other side, looking like the blue veins of a ghost. And the handwriting. That raw scrawling. That calligraphy. Yes.
It must be him.
But she didn't know what to do with it, and she could've done many things with it. She could've given it to the teacher. She could've given it to his friend. She could've even chased after him, herself, swimming against the slow blood flow of students, opened her mouth against the stream, and said something like "Hey! You forgot this!" But, she didn't know. She just knew what she didn't wanna do. She didn't wanna leave it here. She didn't wanna throw it away. And she didn't even wanna give it back. No. Not, yet, anyway.
She wanted to read it.
Word for word, letter for letter, cross-out for cross-out, from the first word to the last period. That's how she wanted to read it. Maybe it was wrong, though. She thought about that: it wasn't hers; it was his. And he lost it. He didn't even know he lost it, and he will discover that sometime. Yeah. Maybe she should give it back. It just wouldn't be right. She needed to--
Beth's head jumped up toward the voice, her eyes having idly darted about the paper while she thought. A girl, wearing some gleeful glare.
"Aren't you coming to lunch?"
She didn't know how to answer. She almost didn't even know what she'd been asked. It seemed strange. After taking impulsive peeps into this lost world, the world around her seemed a stranger.
"Uh," she glanced at the world within her hands, folded it, and stuffed it into the cramped black hole of her purse, "yeah." She walked away, out into the blood flow, ears flooded with that droning medley of countless voices, dodging.
The girl ran up to her side and walked with her, eyes locked on her purse with furrowed brows. "What was that?"
She didn't look at her. "What?"
"Oh." She shrugged. "It's nothing."
The girl's frown persisted but her will didn't. She shrugged it off in her mind, too, and looked forward as they both walked off to lunch.
* * *
He didn't know.
Not yet, anyway, she knew. Not yet. But, for now, he didn't. She could tell when she watched him from her library table, in her free period later that day--alone and distant in the home of some lonely serenity. His detached demeanor, his mellowness, his blank expression: it was the usual, and it was what she saw. So, he didn't know. When she thought about it, though, she never really saw the unusual: the elated, the dejected, the miserable. Maybe the usual was one or some of the three of those. She didn't know. She didn't watch him enough to know. But, this was the usual, so, he didn't know.
"You're quiet, today," said the girl she was sitting with, her head hopping back and forth between a Math textbook and her notebook.
Beth's frown grew but she stared at problem number thirteen to keep from looking up at her. To make herself look enveloped. Contemplative. Lost in the infinity of mathematics. Something like that. Something that would make her not have to answer that, because she didn't know how.
She didn't look up. "What?"
"No." She started copying the problem in her own notebook. "I was just thinking. Thinking on this problem."
Silence and safety, and she sighed on the inside. But, she figured she oughta work on this dumb problem, anyway. She needed to get something done. She couldn’t think on this all day. Then again, if she didn’t think on it all day the day would end before the debate in her mind would and nothing would get done. Then again, though, who says she has to think at all? All she’d have to do is approach him and say “Hey. You dropped this in Math,” or something like that. But--
“You still seem quiet, though,” the girl said.
She wanted to groan and grip her pen as if it were her neck. She really did. But, she just said, “Do I?”
“Yeah. You didn’t talk much during lunch, either.”
“You sure nothing’s wrong?”
“Uh-huh,” she said, jotting unconscious calculations in her notebook.
She was left inside of her own labyrinth of deliberation, juggling numbers and morals. Was it good that he didn’t know? The only reason it could be good is if she was planning on reading it and giving it back under the guise of an oblivious, friendly find. And she already knew that would be wrong. It wasn't hers. And, despite that, she wasn't asked to read it, so she had no permission. She couldn't read anything under those conditions. Not with a clear conscience, she couldn't. She wondered if she even cared about that, though. Her curiosity and her conscious clashed, and their stalemate made her simply sit in a standstill of contemplation . She hated that. But she couldn't do anything else. She didn't think she could, anyway. She just couldn't force herself to make a decision. She--
“Hey!” the girl said. “Did you do Chemistry?”
“Lemme get it.”
“You know people are gonna bug you for it.”
“But I won’t be buggin’ myself for it.”
She could imagine a smile on her face because she smiled a bit, herself. Philosophy like that humored her, so she gave it, sharing the treasure. She was beginning to feel better--she thought she was, anyway--until the bell blared like a terminating buzzer and the world around her suddenly wasn't numbers and periodic tables anymore; it was a world of atoms in permanent motion, repelling, attracting, composing and decomposing, and carrying on in an eternal chaos into the endlessness of infinity.
And so was he. Standing up, walking away toward the door, dismissed to a dismal day which would carry him to wherever his days usually did. And here she was: sitting, watching, sweating, thinking things so fast she didn't think she thought at all, gripping her pen and gritting her teeth.
"Hey!" the girl said.
She looked at the chair, but, in the hubbub of the bell, the girl vanished, so she looked up and saw her, wearing the fretful, downward glower of a mother. "What were you looking at?"
She looked back at the door but he had vanished, too, departed and submerged in the depths of yet another blood-let, so she looked back at her. "Nothing."
The girl kept her face for a few seconds before snorting. "You're gonna tell me later what's up." She started walking away, still facing her. "I gotta go to practice."
"All right. See you."
"See you," she said, walking off.
When she left, Beth stared at her purse like a bag of mysterious magic. A bag with a portal to another world she never knew anything about, with all its depth and breath. A bag with a bomb in it. And it was hers. But, she groaned, glanced out the window into the sunny, spring day, glanced to door, buried her mind in math, again, and made a mental note to keep her cell phone off for the rest of the day.
* * *
It was a story.
It was a story of a boy named Ron, narrated by him, too, with in-the-moment, stream of consciousness, present-tense stress. It was happening. Right then and there. As his heart beat, as his blood flowed, as time silently ticked away his insignificant nonentity of an existence. Yes. It was happening. She was walking--a girl named Bethany. She was walking. Walking toward him from afar, from where he could see her in a way and in a light better than perfect. He could see her: those varnished, raven locks flapping behind her with the slow solemnity and serenity of a drape in the breeze; those balmy, brown eyes looking forward, lipped in lush lashes, lips contracted in thought, neck like a pedestal of the piece of perfection that her face was, her face like the casing of the perfect mold her mind was; those long, nylon legs flowing in front of each other with a heavenly elegance he thought died with chivalry, an elegance that would've had him name her an angel if her graceful feet hadn't timed the battering beats of his heart every time gravity made them meet the floor. But, such was how she walked toward him. Such a wonderful walk. And how he'd love to walk by her. To walk with her. By her side. By her sweet-smelling side. How high would he fly. Yet, how he'd disgrace her essence--her insoluble essence diluted with the lanky, slouchy languidness of his own. Yet, how he would still love to. To have someone special at his side: that would be the best. And it could be. He wanted it to be. He wanted to try and make it be. He wanted to so bad. He thought he'd try. He almost couldn't believe that he'd think to try. But he thought he would, because he thought he could, and if he thought he could, he thought he should. He should. He should. Right now. She's going no where. She's doing nothing. It's the library. It's eighth period. It's a free. She'd do nothing but homework and homework isn't anything nobody can do any other time. Yes. And, if it is, then this would take up no time. None at all. It would be a minute or two in the span of the period and in their lives. Yes. He should. And he will. But he then couldn't believe that he'd even said that he will, because he might not, and he knew very well he might not, because he knew he couldn't trust his goddamn self, even past all the propaganda, because that's all it was. Propaganda. Sales pitches. Lies. He was his own son-of-a-bitch liar. He hated himself for that sometimes. But when you lie to yourself enough, you believe the lie, and if you believe the lie, it's the truth, so the lie becomes the truth. Turn the lie into the truth.
That jolt of encouragement ejected him from his seat, and he sat up as she sat down. At her table. Alone. Yes. He willed himself to walk without thinking. Thinking fucks him up. Too much. When you think, you confuse yourself, and people think on the stupidest shit, so he didn't. He walked. He walked until he nearly bumped into the table because his eyes had been so immovably fixed on her, disassociating himself with his sensations and contemplations. Then she looked up at him and she said "Hey". A hey so breathy and soft it nearly knocked his stiff stick of a body over like a sapling in the breath of the wind. And she smiled. That smile. Oh God. He was making himself look like an ass. She asked what's wrong because he'd been so dumbfounded to greet her back. What was he doing here? Why did he go up to her? Why was he doing this? Why did he like her? He hadn't liked a girl since the seventh grade. He hadn't met a girl worth liking, among this sea of stupidity the state calls a school. She was worth it? Damn! Why was he thinking?
"Uh--" he expelled like a breath held, surfacing from the sea of his thoughts, "c-can--can I--talk to you about something?"
"I WILL NEVER FINISH THIS STORY" was scratched onto the remaining space of paper--scarred--scarring the paper like you scar a tree with a knife, or like a needle scars the skin, or like you scar the earth with a stick. It was a stick tearing the paper; it was a needle pricking and popping the bubble that this world had carried her away in; it was a knife stuck in her heart, stabbed in betrayal and left there by abominable abandonment.
Beth looked up from the deficient dimension in her hands, feeling the mundane sensations of the miserable, mortal world once more: the beat of her heart, the sweat on her skin, the weight of gravity suppressing her. And she looked forward. She didn't look at anything. She couldn't see anything. She could see nothing but the abysmal blackness of nothingness beyond this beautiful world. Beyond Ron. Beyond Don.
She mourned for it.
* * *
She thought the next day.
All throughout the day--even though she tried not to, or not to too much, anyway--she thought on a lot of things. She thought on them--them being her and him. She thought on the both of them. She thought on how big of a something she must be to him and what he was to her. She thought on how much of an amazing writer he was. But, she also thought on how she wasn't even supposed to read it and see it and know about it. She was never meant to see this. Nobody was ever meant to see this. It was forever meant to stay concealed in the closet of his heart: to never feel the breeze of the world, to never kiss its ground, to never bathe in the light of love. She thought on how he still didn’t know, from seeing him in Math again, but she thought on how immoral that was, and she thought on how little remorse she felt from this, and she thought on whether or not remorse even mattered. She didn't think it did but she didn't wanna think. Thinking fucks you up.
So, she tried not to. All throughout the day. She wasn't very successful. Her struggle between attention and reflection made her sway in a pendulum of pensiveness, from which either she or someone else pulled her out of, rendering her silent throughout most of the day. And all the thinking had come down to this period. This place. This free. And she saw him come in and sit at his table. Whether or not she decided to confront this (and, she figured it would be up to her and not him), she would have to give it back. It was inevitable.
She was gonna do it. Right now.
She stood up as he sat down and she willed herself to walk without thinking until she nearly bumped into his table. He looked up at her with his blank face as readable as a billboard.
“Hey,” she said.
“Hi,” Don said, glancing at her eyes and looking away. He could never keep good eye contact. Especially with her. He was probably sweating right now, she bet, wondering what she wanted because it’s not every year a girl approached him. But, he’d have his answer.
“Uh--” she said, “can I--talk--to you about something?”
His eyes had been looking downward at his binder but they looked upward in a frown which groped in the dark for something it knew was there.
When he found it, he looked at her and died.
* * *
He got the last words out a little before the bell blared like a terminating buzzer, ending Math. But, no, he said. No. This can’t be.
It won’t be.
And, with that, these were no longer the last words, so, when the bell blared, hammering the compact order of his class into a world of chaos, he scratched onto the remaining space of paper:
"I WILL NEVER FINISH THIS STORY".
He stood up, collected his crap, crumpled the paper, threw it in the garbage, and went in the stream.