I met Marie in the hallway after school. “The race is tomorrow,” I said. “We should sign up.”
“The three-legged race?”
Running the three-legged race together was what seventh-grade couples did on the next-to-last day of school, at the Outdoor Games.
For two months Marie and I had sat together at lunch, in assemblies, and on field trips. Being a couple was way better than her poking me in the back with her pencil in Algebra. I’d never been so happy. I had already prepared something to write in her yearbook on the last day of school – right after the morning movie, where I hoped to hold her hand for the first time.
“I’m sorry, Kenny.” Her big, brown eyes matched her words.
“You don’t want to race?”
“No, I do.”
“I don’t understand.”
I thought I saw her chin quiver, and she looked down. “I already signed up.”
“Oh, good. I didn’t know. Think we’ll win?”
I liked her blond curls, her sprinkling of freckles, and her smile, but she wasn’t smiling now.
“Not with you. With Bobby.”
Maybe my heart didn’t stop, but it started to hurt – for two reasons. The second one was, Bobby was my best friend.
“With … Bobby?”
She seemed relieved. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you.”
Later, I was glad that what I said next wasn’t angry or mean.
“Well, you told me.” I started to turn away, then turned back. “Um, good luck. You know. In the race. With, um, … you know.”
Then I did turn away. She said she was sorry again. I nodded without looking back.
I walked home in a daze, told Mom I was sick and wouldn’t want dinner, collapsed on my bed, tried not to cry, and thought about how much it hurt.
I must have fallen asleep eventually, and Mom or Dad must have pulled a thin blanket over me. It was dark when I awoke, and the house was quiet. I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Instead, I had daydreams. I figured they were still daydreams, even at night, because I was awake.
In my first daydream I cheered for Bobby and Marie, and they won. After they untied their legs, Marie ran to hug me, not Bobby, and we walked away, holding hands.
In my second daydream Bobby hugged April, the girl he had liked before. Marie kissed my cheek in front of everybody.
In my third daydream she hugged me, then pulled me away, and we went and sat under a tree. She apologized (tearfully) and said Bobby was nice (which I knew), but I was the boy she really liked. Then she kissed me on both cheeks. I dried her tears with the clean handkerchief Mom made me keep in my pocket, which I hadn’t pulled out at school since kindergarten, because it was embarrassing, except when I used it to dry a girl’s tears.
What actually happened was, in the morning I told Mom I was still sick. I didn’t want to eat, so she believed me. I watched World War II documentaries on the History Channel all day.
On the last half-day of school, I sat at the front of the cafeteria for the movie, Camelot, so I couldn’t see Marie sitting with Bobby.
Afterward, I picked up my yearbook, flipped through it, and decided not to stay for the signing. On my way to the front doors I ran into Marie. She was alone. Her eyes were big, and her voice was soft.
“Did you like the movie?”
I shrugged. “The first part was fun.”
“The last part was too sad,” she said.
“Did you win the race?” I asked.
“No, but it was fun. Are you okay? They said you were sick.”
“A little better today.”
We both saw Bobby approaching. “So, uh, see you later,” she said. “Have a nice summer.”
As soon as I was outside, I broke into a run.
At home I dropped my yearbook on the kitchen table – I wanted to throw it at the wall – and sat on my bed, updating my daydreams so that Marie visited me at home, since school was out for the summer.
I must have fallen asleep again. I awoke when Mom knocked and opened my door.
“Still sick, honey?”
“I’m sorry. You came home before anyone signed your yearbook?”
“A girl came by, while you were asleep. Mary? Marie? She wanted to sign it, and she seemed nice, so I let her. She left hers for you to sign. She’ll pick it up later.”
“She signed my yearbook?”
“Yes. Shall I get it?”
She brought both yearbooks and a pen, then stood in the doorway, watching me.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll sign it later.”
“Did you read what she wrote?” I asked.
“Not without permission. It’s not my yearbook.”
She finally left.
I sat up and tried to invent a daydream about Marie being my eighth-grade girlfriend. I couldn’t make it work. Finally, I reached for my yearbook and opened the front cover.
There it was.
“We had a fun year. You’re nice. Sorry I made you sad. Please don’t hate Bobby. Sometimes things just happen.
“I need to thank you for something. When you saw me today, you didn’t pretend I wasn’t there, and you weren’t angry or mean. You talked to me, and when I said have a nice summer, you said, you too.
“You’re a good guy. You deserve a great summer.
“Your friend, Marie.”
A week earlier, she would have dotted the i’s in “friend” and “Marie” with little hearts. Now they were just dots.
I opened her yearbook, didn’t look for what Bobby had written, found my picture, and wrote in the margin next to it, “Marie, it was a fun year. Have a happy summer. Kenny”
I closed the book.
It was over.
My daydreams were stupid.
And it hurt.
“Marie” was published in Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Poetry & Prose in 2019. The printed version may be out of print, but the e-book is available from Amazon.
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