The rain pattered down, gently slapping the long row of windows lining the left side of Ms. Chandler’s 5th grade classroom. Small desks filled the center of the room, perfectly placed into two rows of ten. A large bookshelf on the back wall burst with colorful picture books. Ms. Chandler’s wide desk sat in the front, constructed of hard mahogany and covered in assorted papers and assignments. A bright, red apple carved from wood stood erect in the center, a cartoon worm protruding from its side. On the apple, in black, bubble letters, read the greeting “Welcome to Ms. Chandler’s Classroom”.
I sat in the back of the class, taking in the scene. It was much the same as it had been for last six months. I always showed up early. I hated the idea of being late almost as much as being caught off guard. A classroom is like a small town, each classmate has a story and very often it takes a little work to get it out of them. I liked to think I knew them pretty well. So much for that.
The first bell at 8:30, a friendly reminder, the school day peeping up on the horizon. Chandler at her desk, a brightly colored blouse, a jangling wrist of bracelets, painfully uncomfortable shoes, a big steaming cup of Starbucks coffee, and that eternally hopefully smile.
A few of my fellow students start to leak in. Some talking and joking, some stoned-face and fighting off sleep, all less than thrilled at the prospect of another Monday morning.
Chandler gets up. She grabs a fresh box of chalk, carefully tears it open and pulls out a pristine white cylinder. “Today’s Plan, Monday, March 12,” she writes with perfect penmanship on the left side of the coal-black chalkboard.
The 8:50 bell rings, louder than the first. No fooling around this time. It’s time to get to class. The next bell will be the last, after that you are late. No if, ands, or buts. A small stream is now pouring through the door. Faces I’ve seen every day for the last six months, some for years.
First, it’s “Social Studies”, then “Reading”, then “Math”. It’s always the same but Chandler is a woman of routine. She is finishing up the day’s plan just as the chalk splinters, one half hitting the ground and skirting under her desk. A silent curse and a wave of frustration pass over her face. She takes a deep breath, composes herself, finishes the plan, and takes a seat at her desk, a big gulp of coffee seems to calm her nerves.
9:00. The final bell pierces through the room. A few stranglers burst through the door like it’s the finish line of a marathon. The screech of chairs legs on linoleum, the metallic zip of backpacks ripped open, the rustling of last night’s homework shoved into desks, a few stray giggles.
My best friend, Seth, late as usual. He rushes in, backpack sliding off his shoulder, just as Chandler moves to close the classroom door. He gives me a smirk and a nod, his devil-may-care attitude worn on his sleeve. Seth always wore that smile, and it always seemed to charm anyone in his path. Seth wore a wrinkled Sixers tee shirt, tan, fraying cargo shorts, big clunky basketball shoes, and a Roychester Little League baseball cap covering his head of curly brown hair. He sits down next to me, throwing down his overstuffed backpack and whipping off his hat.
We’d been friends since back in kindergarten. He is one of those outgoing kids. Easily likable. Even when he showed up late or forgot his homework or stayed out after dark, no one could stay mad at Seth. It was his skill and he knew it well. But I liked him for more than that. There was something about our friendship that worked. I stayed quiet and he did the talking but we were always on the same wavelength. We understood each other
Not long after Seth sat down Miss Chandler rang the bell sitting on her desk. It was a chime we knew well. It was time for the chitchat to die down. The class was starting.
“Quiet everyone, quiet please,” said Ms. Chandler in her precise voice.
A stray conversation here or there kept a little chatter going in the room. Chandler wasn’t stupid, at least not for a teacher, she knew it would take a few tries to shut this group up.
“Listen up. I have a bit of an announcement to make.”
She made sure to put an emphasis on this last bit. Chandler wasn’t a yeller. She was no Chen or Englehart or even that little fiery 6th-grade teacher we all heard about. She was quiet and composed and raised her voice only when she had something to say. I respected her for that. All it took was a little shift in her demeanor and we all knew something was up. This was not your typical pre-class announcement.
“Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that we may have someone who is…” she stumbled, shifting in her stance uncomfortably. “…how should I say this, doing something dishonest.
“Now I won’t go into specifics, but all I will say is that something has gone missing,” she paused for effect, making eye contact with everyone, making sure they each felt a little guilty, regardless of their innocence in this particular case. “I’m not accusing any of you, but, if anyone knows anything I encourage you to come talk with me after class. I assure you, punishment is not my main concern. Everyone makes mistakes.”
There was a long pause. No one dare make a noise or snicker or do a damn thing. This was more serious than even Chandler was letting on and we all seemed to recognize it. I noticed a few odd looks around the room, everyone trying to detect something. We were all friends at recess and lunch, but when the chips were down, I’m not sure anyone trusted anyone else, not entirely. We were all playing our cards close to the chest. Only Seth raised his hand. God bless him.
“Yes,” said Chandler.
“You mean, they’re not gonna get in trouble?”
“Well, I didn’t say that exactly, Seth,” said Ms. Chandler. “All I mean is that it won’t be the end of the world. Whoever it is may miss a few recesses or have to stay and help me clean the chalkboard, but believe me, you will feel better for owning up. I promise.”
No one bought it. I scanned for the most nervous-looking sap out there but all I could see was that same look of disbelief. Yeah right, Ms. Chandler, yeah right. Trouble awaited whoever committed the crime, and we all knew it. No sense pretending otherwise.
Just then, Seth passed me a note.
Kids have passed notes in classrooms all over the world since the beginning of time. Since the first teachers droned their way through boring lessons students have found a way to communicate, some slicker than others. But in all the centuries of note passing, no duo mastered the technique quite like me and Seth.
We took particular pride in the flawless way we performed this feat of secret communication. It started with Seth, the catalyst. First, he would rip out a piece of notebook paper. Simple enough. The key was how he tore it, loud enough to alert me that the game was on, but quiet enough that Chandler – or any of the other teachers we shared throughout the year – would have no reason to get suspicious. From there he would scribble out his message, fold up the paper and drop it to the floor, where he would quickly stamp it down, leaving nothing to see but a pair of dirty Nike’s.
Then he would sit, quiet, hands folded and the winning grin on his face. Sometimes for a couple minutes, sometimes longer, but the key was the waiting. We were stalling until any lingering suspicious scent dissipated completely. Getting away with it wasn’t enough, we wanted to be invisible. If word got out about our technique than everyone would try and no one would have the deft skill we’d mastered. They’d butcher it and the whole thing would be shot.
So he waited, scanning the room to make sure of a clear coast. Then he carefully slid his foot ever-so discreetly beneath my desk, before letting out one, almost imperceptible cough. One cough and it was on, my turn to time to take the reigns. I would, with nonchalance and grace, knock something from my desk to the floor, giving me the proper cover to bend down and pick up the note. It was important, though, that I change it up. It was never the same thing twice. It would be a pencil, then a pen, then an eraser or a notebook, or I’d have to tie my shoe. Whatever it was I did it with subtlety. I was the good kid, one who never so much as got a stern talking to. Seth had no reputation to keep up, but mine was pristine. This assured me invisibility, and I wasn’t about to trade that for nothing. So, above all, I had to be careful. We had to get away with it.
It went as smoothly as ever that March morning, Chandler none the wiser, even with her heightened awareness. I gave an apologetic look as my navy blue pencil case went crashing to the ground and scooped up the note with ease. Chandler bought it hook line and sinker, giving me that, “it’s okay” look at she got up from her desk, apparently finished with her announcement.
I had a sense of the subject of the correspondence even before I slowly unfolded the note.
“WHO?” it said in big, sloppy letters. My suspicions confirmed.
I had a feeling that Seth wasn’t the only one with this question rattling around in his melon. It was going to be the talk of every conversation, every recess pow-wow, and lunchroom cut-up. Every wise guy was going to have a theory, each more hair-brained than the next.
But there was a reason Seth asked me, beyond our close friendship. There were plenty dopes out there who would claim to know the truth of what happened, but I was one who could really find it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I wasn’t so easily taken out. As far back as I can remember, I had a nose for the truth. They feed you a lot of lies in Highland Elementary and sometimes it seemed like I was one of the only ones who could wade through all the crap. If ignorance is bliss I was proud to be one of the most miserable 5th graders you ever met.
I took a look around the room. Chandler was taking roll, reading those same familiar names she did every morning. I tried to sense some hint in her voice, hoping she might betray her own suspicions.
Archer, Alderson, Berrington, Bilson, Carey.
Nothing but that same chipper smile. This broad wasn’t giving anything away if she had anything to give in the first place.
Del Vecchio, Diamond, Eckstein, Garrison, Guaripolo.
Hands shot up quicker than usual, each eager to announce their innocence. I saw some fidgeting, but nothing more than some plain old curiosity.
Harlowe, Jackson, Lazuli, Mitchum, Newman.
I felt eyes on me as I raised my hand. Let them look. I was the one person in the class I knew had nothing to hide.
Rizzonato, Romero, Rothschild, Steele, Valencia.
This was a class filled with your usual tough guys, dweebs, charmers, goody-two-shoes and too-cool-for-schoolers. One of them did it, that was certain.
I looked down again at the crumpled note in my lap. “WHO?”.
Our lockers line the hallway outside the classroom. The high, phosphorescent lights glow down from the ceiling, giving the whole scene a cold, doctor’s office vibe. Highland Elementary is an old school and it shows. The hard, stucco walls are plastered with worn, moss-green paint. Every couple feet or so a thick crack pierces through the facade. The older fissures already covered roughly with caulk filling. The linoleum floor is tiled with tans and white, arranged in a pattern that betrays hasty replacement.
There are always a few kids in every class whose parents walked these same halls as children, back when the school was one of the newest in the area. Now there is the almost constant talk of the need for renovation. Fundraisers and bake sales and book fairs always with the goal of raising enough money to fix this cockroach-infested schoolhouse. It was never enough I guess because with each minor restoration sprung up three more problems that cost ten times as much. Time was winning and it was only a matter of years before Highland Elementary was a pile of rubble beneath a bulldozer’s wheels.
I wasn’t worried about that, though, as I stood with my face buried in my locker on the morning of March 12. They call them lockers to make us feel more like the teenagers we’ve seen in countless shows and movies, but they couldn’t fool me, these were no more than glorified cubby holes. You can’t go and call something a locker if it doesn’t have a lock. I wouldn’t so much as put my lunch money in there without expecting it gone by recess. You’d be surprised at the underhanded stuff going on around here.
I tried my best to keep my head down, rooting through my school bag for last night’s homework, one word bouncing around my head. “WHO?” I like to think I got a pretty good handle on this school. I may not be the most popular kid or the most athletic or the smartest but I got a good head on my shoulders. I know which way is up and no one’s gonna convince me otherwise. There were your usual suspects and your usual patsies but something told me this was different, otherwise, Chandler would have just dealt with this quietly.
Luckily we had a little break before we started math, a break we spent in the hall cutting it up. Little groups formed quickly, the chatty gossips and the dopey jocks, the pretty girls and the saps following them around like puppy dogs. I stayed by my locker. pretending to pour over my homework. I was taking the temperature of the room, feeling the heat bounce off the walls of the dank hallway, the warmth of fresh gossip as it stoked a small flame in the morning conversation.
I caught some stray chatter. Lindsay thought it was Kenny. She was sure it was Kenny actually. She had no evidence when pressed by the small group of friends surrounding her locker, but her certainty held strong.
“He just looks guilty,” she said staring at her prime suspect. “and he is just like so annoying.”
So annoying Linds, so annoying? You didn’t think he was annoying when you two were trading spit behind the swings a couple weeks ago.
I didn’t say this, of course, I don’t think I needed to. I could tell her friends were throwing off her accusation. They knew it too. She was nothing more than a cranky dame with a score to settle, a score that had nothing to do with whatever was stolen from Chandler’s desk.
Angel, on the other hand, thought he had a real lead. I heard him talking in a whisper behind the opened door of his adjacent locker.
“I saw somethin’. Well, I think I saw somethin’. It was dark and I wasn’t allowed to be there during recess either, but I saw something,” said Angel. “I don’t know, it was all quiet and they were whisperin’ and it just seemed like somethin’ gotta be up. I heard one of em say that their Dad would kill em, and if they said anything he’d never talk to the other again.”
Angel is, I should mention, one of the more unreliable sources I’ve met in my time at Highland. He is the kind of guy who always has a whole lot to say about nothing. He’ll start talking and soon enough you’ll realize he doesn’t have any kind of plan as to where he is going. Nothing better to Angel than the sound of his own voice. I trusted him about as far as my scrawny arms could throw him.
“But you didn’t see who it was?” asked a voice who I was beginning to make out as Kyle, Angel’s best friend and next door neighbor.
“Well no, duh, you don’t think I woulda said who it was if I woulda known,” snapped Angel. “It was two of them though. Like it was some sort of plan or something. They were schemin, that’s for sure. Never more sure of anything in my life. Got a few guesses myself as to who it was. I won’t say a thing though. No, no, Angel’s not gettin himself wrapped up in somethin like this. She looked mad, didn’t she, old Chandler? I bet they stole something of hers, something valuable. Maybe her iPhone or no, her laptop or no, her…
I stopped listening, nothing but a load of stink coming out of that chump. I needed something I could use. I could sense the high-pitched ring of that little bell on Chandler’s desk coming hot and fast. It was nipping at my heals and I had nothing to go off of. I was even further away than that dope Angel.
Then it came to me, I was a little embarrassed it took me so long. When you first hear of something shady going down you tend to try to find an honest voice. Lindsay and Angel were good for a story or two but I wanted something I could sink my teeth into. I don’t like to follow a lead unless I’m darn sure it isn’t driving me straight into a wall bigger than the brick monster we used for our chink court.
But honest voices are hard to come by in Highland elementary, especially when something like this goes down. Everybody wants to have something to say and they fill their ignorance with whatever little fantasy will impress the girl they like, or make them the talk of the town as they wait to get the slop dumped on their plate at lunch. Everybody’s got a reason to lie. The key is finding someone with a reason to tell the truth.
“Hey there, Riz, quite a lot of commotion this morning, huh?”
“Huh is right, Sammy, huh is right.”
Andrew Rizzonato, Riz or Rizzo as most people called him, was not, by any means a model student. Rizzo was, however, quite easy to get a read on, which is why I liked him. Rizzo was a small kid, about four or five inches shorter than me, with a springy head of curly red hair. Despite his slight figure, he had the mature, pimple-pocked face of a teenager and a mouth on par with your worst high school delinquent.
You know when you let a ‘damn’ or a ‘shit’ slip at home and your parents demand to know where it is you learned such foul language? Well, it was Rizzo. It was his mouth, and his propensity to take an extra lunch or recess away from class, that made him the most detentioned student in all of Highland. You’d swear this kid was terrified of recess the way he avoided it. I remember the first day of fifth grade I saw him out there swinging back and forth on the fake little tire swing they got out there. I swear I saw a ghost. Recess wasn’t Rizzo’s natural habitat and he looked as out of place as a teacher at the mall. Of course, that all ended that afternoon when he was caught calling Chandler a sexpot – a word we all frantically looked up in the library afterword.
“So you got any theories?” I asked him as we leaned against his locker.
“Theories? Hell, you know I got theories. I got theories that’ll make your damn head spin.”
“I bet you do Riz. My real question then, I guess, is whether any of em are worth a damn?”
I didn’t curse much, but when you get talking to Rizzo you almost can’t help it. It’s like a secret language you fall into, knowing the other speaks it fluently. I also wanted to make him feel as comfortable as possible. I’d dealt with Rizzo before, I don’t think he took me for no rat, but I still wanted to put him at ease.
“Eh, you know, some are, some aren’t. Depends on what it’s worth to ya.”
Like I said, Rizzo was no saint, but this is part of the reason he was so valuable. Thing is, when you stay in for all those recesses and you miss all those field trips you tend to see some stuff. You can say a lot about Rizzo but he is nothing if not an observant little guy. He had the dirt on everybody, from the most goody-two-shoes little teacher’s pet to the toughest mug in class. At a certain point, you have to wonder whether his constant trouble-making was only a way to keep this insider source. Rizzo seemed to love nothing more than being the guy who knew things, and he was always happy to share, for the right price.
“It’s worth a little something I guess, depending on what it is you got,” I said, trying to feel him out.
“Okay, now we talking,” said Rizzo, turning his full attention from his locker to me. “See, I like ya Sammy. You know how shit gets done. Some of these other chumps come up to me with question after question and nothing to show for it. Answers can’t come free now can they? What kind of world would we live in if we didn’t have to work for the truth? No, you get it Sammy. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.”
“Yeah, yeah Riz, I’m the best back-scratcher there is, now tell me, do you have any idea who’s behind all this?”
“Alright, alright, straight to the point. You don’t screw around do ya, Sam?” I had a sense he didn’t know as much as he was leading on. He was stalling. “When ya want somethin, ya want somethin, ain’t nobody getting in Sammy Harlowe’s way. No way, you really…”
“Two cookies, a honeybun and one bathroom pass.”
“Well shit, that’s exactly what I’m talkin about,” he said, a little thrown off by my aggressive offer. I had no time for haggling. “Okay, so I don’t, strictly speaking, know who did what, but I might be able to push you in the right direction.”
“Push away Riz, we don’t got much time till the bell.”
“Right. Okay well, so I don’t know who stole from Chandler. Ballsy move to be sure, whoever it was, but I do know what was stolen,” he paused, Rizzo had a flair for the dramatic. “I saw it on Friday when I was in during that assembly thing, you know the talent show whatever?”
“Well yeah, so there I am, mindin my own business at my desk. I’m tryin to take a nap before Social Studies but I can’t you see, cause Chandler’s up at her desk yuckin it up with that 3rd-grade teacher, Mr., um, Mr., ya know with the beard, big guy?”
“Yeah, Waterson, that’s the one. Yeah, so they’re up there chattin away, interruptin my nap time. Seems to me that this Waterson guy is puttin the moves on Chandler, getting all flirty and stuff. Not that’s it’s crime or nothin, they both single and all. Seemed like she was feeling it too, gettin a little handsy.”
“The bell is gonna ring any minute Riz, give me something.”
“Oh sorry, my bad. You know me, I can get a bit off track. Well yeah, so they flirting and all and Chandler starts tellin this story. I don’t get any names or nothin but somethin about the way she telling it catches my attention like there might be some dirt I could exchange for say, three cookies, two honeybuns and two bathroom passes?”
“I’m starting to think you don’t have shit here Riz. Two cookies, two honeybuns and one pass, that’s the final offer.”
“Okay, okay. That’s why I like ya Sam. You’re fair. You don’t take no shit, but you’re fair. Okay so yeah they talking and she’s gettin all excited and then she reaches down into the bottom drawer of her desk, the big one on the left closest to the floor. She reaches down, unlocks it and pulls out the finest lookin slingshot I ever seen. This thing looked like it could take out a whole flock a pigeons. No kiddin, this thing was a work of goddamn art. That’s why she was showin it off. No matter how ‘awful’ she pretended her little troublemakers were, even she had to admit this was one impressive bit of machinery.”
“So you’re thinking this must have been what was stolen?” I asked, playing a bit coy.
“I mean, yeah, right? Must be. I’m just sayin, if I got that taken away from me, I woulda done all I could to get it back.”
The rest of the day moved slow. The rain slapped the windows like a second hand methodically ticking away the gloomy afternoon. The class was quiet and well-behaved, the usual trouble-makers were taking the day off. There were no outbursts, no distractions from the mundanity of lessons and worksheets and exercises. Everyone seemed to be moving through a sludge of uncertainty, not wanting to be the sore thumb.
Even Chandler, who was usually a pretty engaging teacher, was off her game. She was fidgety, her lessons foggy and distorted. She seemed to sense that she was going to have to be the bad guy, a role she played rather poorly. Her lectures were sprinkled with sighs and the exasperated eye rubs of a woman at the end of her rope. It might have been my imagination, but I swear I saw her flash a few stray glances down at the drawer as if hoping the slingshot would simply reemerge, resolving the issue without the confrontation she so dreaded.
I, on the other hand, was getting antsy. I had a starving hole in the pit of my stomach, and not only because I gave half my lunch to that weasel Rizzo. I was famished for answers, ravenous for the next link in the chain. I didn’t let on to Rizzo, but his little tale about the slingshot was worth far more than the Honeybuns and cookies. It’s funny, how one little bit of info can change the whole game. I was interested before, but it was more a curiosity, something to pass the dull hours that fill a fifth-grade classroom. Now I was hooked.
Slingshot. Of course it was a slingshot. It was a few months ago now but there was a time when they were all the rage. The recess yard became a battlefield of flying pebbles, boys hiding under jungle-gyms, little armies and alliances forming and breaking. The aids, with their inch-thick glasses and debilitating limps, tried to quelch the fighting, chasing in vain after some little wise-guy with a pocket full of rocks and a grin taking up his whole face. The more serious they got about stopping the slingshot epidemic, the more covert the wars became. All out warfare subsided, replaced by more subtle, long-distance sniping. You’d see kids with quarter-sized welts on their arms, walking in shame back from recess, knowing they’d have to find a way to retaliate.
Of course, like anything else in an elementary school, everyone eventually moved on. Nothing stays fun forever. But someone, apparently, still had a need for a particularly impressive slingshot and so I knew exactly who I needed to see.
The bell mercifully came and we filed out. I still heard some grumblings about the morning’s announcement but I could tell it was already beginning to evaporate from my classmate’s minds. Tomorrow there would be some other bit of gossip to occupy them. Rinse and repeat. I, on the other hand, was not so easily distracted.
There were a few ways to get the perfect slingshot. Each person had their preference. Some of the more creative of my fellow students would make theirs themselves. I would see them scouring the baseball fields and thick hedges for the perfect stick, hoping to strike gold and change the balance of power in whatever little skirmish they were fighting.
Others would take the more wholesale approach and find a way to get a hold of their parent’s credits cards, ordering a whole bunch of specially made, faux-wood slings for their entire gang. This was practical alright, but looked at as a bit bush league. This was meant to be a game of ingenuity and craftsmanship. And anyway, those plastic slings turned out to pale in comparison to the real thing.
There was one way, though, to ensure you got nothing but the best of the best, the cream of the slingshot crop, and that was Delilah Diamond. Delilah was one of those girls who is more man than ninety percent of the snot-nosed brats running around this joint. She was tall and athletic and took no shit from anybody. That isn’t to say she wasn’t a pretty either. In fact, she was a downright knockout. Never flashed even a hint of a smile at nobody and we were all still in love with her at one time or another. She had a pretty face, sure, but it was the confidence that really roped us in.
Delilah’s family was one of those hippie types. Her father was famous among the students and parents alike for his rather impressive head of blonde dreadlocks, long, thick and twisting from his head to his butt. Her mother was short but had a personality that quickly filled whatever room she entered. She was the world’s most atypical PTO mom you ever saw. She’d always rush into school functions about a half hour after they started with organic brownies or homemade dreamcatchers, her wide, flowing dress whooshing around the room as she frantically apologized and set up her spot at the bake sale or the monthly flea market. Some parents hated the Diamonds, some loved them, but they all recognized they stuck out like a sore thumb.
Delilah had never been popular. She was quiet and unassuming and never seemed to play by the rules the other chumps adhered to so strictly. She never really found her group, never slid tightly into a single clique. Instead, she seemed to float above it all, in a way that could have come off a bit arrogant if she wasn’t so damn likable. She had a hard shell to be sure, but below was a girl who never had a bad word to say about anyone.
Her popularity did grow, however, around the time of the slingshot wars, in part because of her parent’s sheer oddness. Every kid thinks their parents are strange, what with their hushed, tight-lip conversations and obsession with chores and schedules and all the other nonsense, but the Diamonds were strange even for parents. Instead of dragging their kids to T-ball and family cookouts and errands they would spend nearly half the weekends of the year in the woods. They would hike and fish, kayak and mountain bike, spending nights in their mangy little camper. I’ve never been able to get a read on whether Delilah enjoyed any of this but what it did do was open a whole new line of work for Ms. Diamond.
Spending every minute of your weekend deep in the Appalachian trail or off in one state park or another really gave Delilah an advantage over those pathetic little stick hunters trouncing around the heart of suburbia. Those saps would look for hours and come back with the most pathetic looking sling you ever laid your eyes on. Delilah, on the other hand, would return each weekend with a bundle of the best of the best. All different kinds too. You could have your pick. If there was the perfect slingshot floating around out there, you could be sure it came from Delilah Diamond.
It took a little but eventually, I found her. She was sitting on one of the long, rusty swings on the side playground. This was the original and oldest part of the recess yard and it showed. The rickety swingset sat next to a worn red jungle gym atop a slanted patch of lumpy woodchips. The sky was grey as the last remnants of the day’s rain drifted off. There was a soft wind blowing Delilah’s close-cropped head of dirty-blonde hair, covering the left side of her long narrow face like a drape over a window. She was looking down at her shoes as I approached, her eyes nothing but creased lids.
I sat quietly on the swing next to her, careful not to interrupt whatever deep thought was occupying her pretty head. I knew she was the only one who could give me the answer I needed, but a girl like Delilah Diamond can intimidate anyone, no matter how pure the mission. I sat for a long time, working up the nerve to enter a conversation. I always laughed at the nervous little loverboys who would trip and fall over their words like a bunch of dweebs and here I was, swinging slowly back and forth, thinking of nothing but giving up my hunt and running home all to avoid opening my mouth.
“My mom says it’s cause I’m tall,” she said without looking up from the burnt-brown wood chips at her feet. “But Shelly’s tall.”
I looked over trying to decode what internal conversation she seemed to be letting me in on.
“I don’t think it’s because I’m tall,” she said as she brushed her thin hair from her eyes, looking directly at me for what felt like the first time in all our years at Highland. “I go back and forth though. Sometimes I love it, sometimes it sucks. I enjoy the silence most of the time.”
She was burning a hole through me with those pale blue eyes. She still wasn’t letting me in on what we were talking about, but I’m not sure I could understand a thing anyway, my brain a scramble or hormones and fear.
“This is what I mean. You clearly have something to say but it takes me opening my mouth to even get you to look at me,” she shook her head, looking back down with a sigh. “And here I thought you weren’t as dumb as all these boys.”
She said that last bit the way you say a dirty word. Boys. Like there was nothing more despicable in all the world. I wasn’t going to argue with her on that one.
“So before I get up and leave and you sit there twiddling your thumbs, you have something you need from me?” there was an edge to her question, an edge that made me fall even deeper down the pit of infatuation.
“It’s not ’cause you’re tall,” I said finally. Yanking the words from my mouth like a loose baby tooth.
“No. Like you said Shelly’s tall, and ain’t nobody afraid of cutting up with Shelly,” the words came, one after the other, like any other conversation with anyone else, but I was still shocked at their presence. “I don’t know what it is exactly, but it is, it really is.”
“Hmm,” she said looking back up at me. “It’s not all bad though. Like I said, most of these boys aren’t worth the breath it takes to talk to them.”
“Most of them, yeah..”
“But not you?”
“No, I didn’t think so Sam.”
It didn’t feel like my name, and not only because she dropped the childish ‘m-y’. Sam. The way she said it felt like someone else’s, like it couldn’t possibly belong to me. Sam was some handsome charmer, Sam knew how to talk to girls like Delilah Diamond. I wasn’t sure who this Sam fellow was, but I couldn’t imagine it was me. It threw me off for a second and I feared the clamp of terror was going to lock back onto my brain. Luckily she broke the silence.
“So what is it Mr. Sam Harlowe has to speak to me about?”