“You let her read it yet?”
I look up from the sidewalk, watching as Hector shakes his head to answer Octavio.
Read what? That’s what I think, but only an idiot new guy would ask. Instead I walk a little faster so that I’m beside Felipe. Octavio laughs dryly and chews on some leftover ice from his foam cup. Hector has a folded paper in his hand, holding it like a glass menagerie or something.
We walk down the narrow pathway between the library and the main building, Hector maintaining that easy shuffle walk with one hand pocketed. No one really talks.
Octavio crunches like a machine, swallows, and spits. He gestures for the note, and Hector passes it over. Felipe glances at it with a small and kindly indifferent smile.
“To my dearest,” Octavio calls out, unfolding the paper and scanning it almost gleefully. “Haha, fucking beautiful.”
The next part he reads is in Spanish, and I listen intently.
“I see you there, and I can’t just be me. I see your flowing hair, and I’m flying free.” He pauses to half keel over, suppressing his laughter as he hits his thigh with his hand.
“Alright. Yeah,” Hector says, barely smiling as he takes the poem back. “It’s a work of the finest literature and diction around.” That gets Felipe and Octavio cracking up even more, and I laugh too. I can’t help it.
About three-quarters of our way to the spot, Octavio stops to talk to some other friends. The three of us keep walking.
“Hey,” Hector says suddenly, leaning over to Felipe and talking hushed. “Peh-deh-ah.”
“Huh?” Felipe furrows his eyebrows. But I catch it.
“P.D.A.,” I say with a grin. “Public display of affection.”
Hector nods with a wry smile and jerks his thumb to our left. Felipe and I look, but I don’t see anybody close together at the benches or by the science building. No guy-girl kissy-kissy.
“Like it matters,” Felipe says, smiling but kinda resentful too. “It’s all physical for them, man.”
Hector chuckles, and I think about what Felipe means. Felipe, who used to talk and laugh a lot with a friend of mine. He looked happy and glad when words flowed between him and her. Now that I think about it, I think she’s his number 6 or 7 on Myspace.
Even after she got a boyfriend.
When we get to the tree, Octavio swaggers over and stares at Hector like a cat.
“I see her dude,” he says, looking back the way we came. “There she goes, already. And still you have that paper.”
“Yup,” Hector says. His voice is far away.
“Imagine dude,” Octavio says to Felipe, “the ways he could do it! Singing on the intercom so that her whole class hears, hehe. Or I could take it, all smooth, and pass it to her in a book in the hallway. A bookmark of love. Hah, but then she’d probably think it was from me. Y’know, since Hector doesn’t have the balls to write his name on it.”
Hector just shakes his head slowly.
“Fucking pussy, man,” Octavio grumbles. “Girls don’t go for guys who’re scared.”
I watch Hector, then try to follow his gaze as my stomach churns. Octavio is a junior, and we’re seniors. Why’s Hector putting up with his shit?
Hector, who got me with this group, and asked me to be his friend, word for word. Nobody really does that, openly speaks of forming a friendship. Everything is just kinda automatic… and making friends is something most students just want to keep subliminal. But Hector showed me that it’s not a forgotten art, one I haven’t seen since elementary. Just a simple gesture of brotherhood.
I wish I could get him to take that one step and talk to her. That’s what friends gotta do.
I don’t really listen as Octavio tells Hector that it’s his senior year, that he’s got nothing left to lose. I breathe in relief, realizing how much easier it feels to not worry about myself. I’m not asking myself, ‘What if?’
The bell rings, and I find the voice to say, “Just do it, man. Her answer doesn’t have to be the end of your world.”
Hector glances at me and then looks her way again. “Nah, dude,” he mutters, and turns away to grab his backpack.
I sigh and kick the grass.
Not today. Probably not tomorrow either, or anytime soon.
And I still can’t see who she is.
The Wednesday before prom weekend, I take a small detour after school.
I leave practice with my head up, feeling stronger through my fatigue. The sky is half hazy with dirt these heavy winds have kicked up, and half deep purple with rolling storm clouds. Far off but still approaching.
I’m pretty tired because practice was actually tough, and I helped Mark with his journals last night for about three hours.
And now I’d like a break.
Pulling off the highway, I drive over to Barnes and Noble and head in. The place is cool and downbeat, and the smell of packaged music and crisp pages hangs around. No CDs interest me, so I mosey over to the young adult novels. I let my fingers flow across the alphabetized selection. M’s…K’s…G’s…ah, C’s.
I skim past Fade, The Chocolate War, and more of Cormier’s works, most of which I’ve read and fallen in love with. He’s who I go to when I have nothing else to read or can’t find a satisfying story.
Then I find one. The smallest book I’ve ever seen by him. Tunes for Bears to Dance To.
I flip it over and read the back. About Henry, and the friendship he makes with a frail Holocaust survivor by the name of Mr. Levine. But Mr. Hairston, Henry’s boss at the supermarket, tempts Henry into getting the right thing for his deceased brother…at a devastating price. I like the sound of it and head to the cash register.
Mom calls me as I’m on my way out. Her voice is a little weak, but she’s never been one to own up to it.
“Baby, I can’t find your nice striped blue dress shirt that you bought last month. You know, the one you said you might wear to the dance.”
I press my forehead against the driver side window, closing my eyes. “I dunno if I want to go to prom, mom. I just don’t feel like myself right now.”
She has this way of lifting herself up and making herself firm in the wake of pain. “Oh, baby, you know you’ll do what’s best for you. Prom or not, this is your year, and I’m glad you can make it so special.”
I can almost feel her standing in the doorway of my room, looking at my swimming medals as her eyes water. “I know, ma. It has been.”
So much hidden pain. Like sitting in my car and having thousands of people walking around me, but never stopping to make eye contact. Not even once.
One last thing happens later on, when I’m lying awake in bed reading my new book. It turns out that Henry’s brother was a young and athletic kid.
His name was Eddie, and a car hit him. Sent him flying, breaking his neck, before hightailing it. Eddie was a good sport, loved baseball. He was stronger than Henry…and more outgoing too. Now Henry, his gambling father, and his heartbroken mom live in another town, but the aching memory of Eddie still haunts them.
I stop reading around 10:30 and turn out the lights, standing like that in the dark with the slim book in my hand. I’m so still, like I’m paralyzed. Thinking of Henry, and how, “eleven months and three days after,” he could go three or four hours without thinking of Eddie. Young Eddie, wonderful Eddie. Like one in the same. Once a carefree baseball and basketball player, now a ghost that only I can see.
I feel chills and dive into bed, tossing the book away into the dark. This Thursday night, after another routine school day, everything feels like it has eyes. And I can’t fall asleep, awake with questions that circle my mind.
Are you really not going to your senior prom?
Are you really satisfied with sitting next to Eddie every day and envying him and giving him the time like that’ll fix things?
What can you do for this love? Nothing? Everything? Or…just one thing.
Headlights sweep across my ceiling and the spinning fan. I feel the dark mingle with my dreams and passions. But not like the boys of Cormier and James Joyce, who have make-believe love and self-fulfilling pleasures underneath their sheets. No, I can’t express love just with that.
Tossing and turning, though, I feel an aching incompletion. The other side of my bed is so empty.
And as sleep tranquilizes me at last, I become resolved to do just that one thing. Tomorrow.