A moon. A beachball. A simple circle, which can turn into any number of scribbly things penciled into the margin of Colt’s planner. He has no purpose or plan for the doodle, just something to pass the time until the homeroom bell rings. Tilting the planner, he squints at it, a few pieces of his honey-blonde bangs sliding towards his eyes. Maybe it’s Saturn? More likely a trip down the rabbit hole of artistic interpretation.
“Mr. Daniels, you are supposed to sit in your chair, not on top of it,” Mrs. Bentley, the homeroom teacher calls, as she scribbles something on a Post-It, which she then sticks to a stack of papers. A couple aisles over from Colt, Ricky Daniels slides from the curve of his chair to the seat with a huff, the desk creaking when his weight smacks against it. His friends laugh, and Mrs. Bentley thanks him without looking up from her next sticky note.
The room is a melting pot of conversation—after school plans, tips for the bio test, gossip about what happened at the party last weekend. Colt has his own topic locked and loaded for the person he’s deemed his homeroom hero, but it hasn’t gotten to leave his mouth yet. Sweeping away the tiny heaps of graphite shavings with the back of his hand, he checks the clock.
She’s normally here by now—actually, she’s usually in her seat by the time he walks in, humming some choir song under her breath or going over some complex math equation that he couldn’t even find the starting point of.
A minute before the bell is set to ring, Anya rushes into the room, her tan satchel bouncing against her burgundy corduroys.
“Hey,” Colt says as Anya slides into the desk beside him.
“What’s up fake farmer?” The greeting is typical. Of her witty go-tos, mocking his name ranks high on the list. One time early in the school year, she said that his name made him sound like he was cattle or a study ranch hand who packed a pistol. They both found it particularly hilarious, considering he looks like his body has more definition from bone than muscle, and he’s never laid his hand on a gun. Ever.
The joking in her voice falls flat, and her lips don’t pull into her trademark smirk. When she rakes her hand through her ashy hair, her palm stays pressed against her cheek.
“Not much,” he replies. “How about you? You good?”
“Oh, you know.” She lifts her purse into her lap, sifting through to draw out a pencil. “Grand.”
“Seems like,” he pans, but she doesn’t show signs of recognizing his sarcasm or even that he has said anything, so he decides to go to the story he was waiting to tell her. “My mom was flipping through channels last night, and Grease 2 was on, and she kept it on until we got to the part the guy faked an air raid warning from the Russians to try to sleep with his girlfriend. Apparently, it was too much not-at-all covert innuendo. Anyways, one of the characters made me think of you.”
It’s a side effect of having a massive crush on someone, along with temporary amnesia when they walk into the room, and bouts of gawking.
He tries to manage the symptoms as much as he can—oscillating between urges to full-on flirt and full-on bury his feelings depending on the day. From what he can tell, he’s succeeding, but at times, he wants to fail. He imagines Anya noticing him, and the spotlight of her theatre productions landing on him maybe for the first time, or just in a new color filter.
She looks over at him, her amber eyes a bit unfocused, until she squeezes them shut and all that remains is confusion when they reopen. “I’m sorry, what?” Another bright red tick in the “something’s wrong” column.
“I was watching Grease 2 with my mom, and you remind me of one of the characters.”
“They’re an interesting group of people, that’s for sure, but I don’t know if any of them are flattering,” she says.
“Well, I mean, some of them are pretty dumb and don’t have a lot to them, but I thought Michelle Pfeiffer’s character was good,” he says. “She’s sassy but nice, does her own thing, is cool without even trying.” As soon as he noticed it, he knew he wanted to tell her, not only just to share in her love of musicals, but so maybe she could see how he saw her and that spotlight would start to shift.
“Is that who I remind you of?”
He nods. “Yeah. Especially when she dances and sings out of the auditorium and into the parking lot even though people are around. It seemed like something you would do.”
“That’s accurate,” she laughs, but it quickly fades as she turns her head down towards the desktop, and her hand returns to her face. She speaks at a near-whisper. “I wonder if her parents ever dropped a bomb on her that they had to move, too.”
The words take a second to sink in before Colt understands that she’s not making a comment about the film, but one on her life, handing him the last piece of the “what’s wrong” puzzle.
“What? They—. You’re moving?”
Moving means leaving, and leaving means exiting his life, probably for good. But it’s the truth, with no uncertainty. He realizes that this is the moment, when he tells the story of life, that he’ll mark as his first heartbreak. When Anya tells hers, he’ll most likely be a footnote, the guy she talked to in homeroom, whose name she can barely remember without a glance at a yearbook.
“Yeah. They told me last night. My mom got a promotion, and they transferred her upstate. Three hours away. We leave in a month.” Opening her planner, Anya flips through the pages and presses her thumb to the edge of the paper, making them fan out below it. “It feels like someone snapped their fingers and transplanted me into another life that I can’t make sense of.”
Well, aren’t I a selfish asshole? Colt thinks. Here he is, worrying about his future with her when hers has been completely upended. Finding your footing in high school is hard enough in a place you know and people you grew up with. She has to go to a new city, to a new school full of new faces, and re-establish herself when everything she built一her ascending rank on the musicals totempole, her braniac status, her friendships一is two hundred miles away.
Somewhat hesitantly, he reaches over the thin gray carpet separating them to touch her shoulder. “Anya, I’m so sorry.”
She lifts her fingers to brush his hand, and her mouth pulls tight一a move that he thinks is a mechanism to keep herself from letting tears leak out. “Thanks.”
Colt has never been good with words, and right now, it weighs on him more heavily than the upcoming SATs. An apology doesn’t seem to be enough, and an “I miss you” doesn’t scratch the surface of everything he’s longed to say to her. Anything else his brain formulates seems lame and contrived.
The bell rings, taking away any opportunity in the moment for him to add something else, something that could make this better if that even exists. Above them, the P.A. booms with the morning announcements. Principal Henderson’s peppy voice seems wrong for the moment.
As she calls them to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, Colt stares at his drawing that he decides is an eclipse, and makes his own pledge, his new goal. Telling Anya how he feels and gauging her interest doesn’t matter right now. It’s pointless. What does matter is helping her decipher the topsy-turvy world she finds herself in, any way he can, and making her last 30 days in this town the best she’s ever had.