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The 13-year-olds chattered and pushed. Books were slammed, pencils sharpened, all voices merged into a single, shouted roar.
Amid this chaos, a black-haired boy tip-toed into the room, four huge books tucked under his thin right arm. No one said anything to him as he slid into his desk at the far end of the room, three seats
back. He glanced at the blonde-haired girl to his left. He wore a short-sleeved plaid
shirt that was much too baggy; his stiff blue
jeans, a size too big.
Although he stared at the book before him, the girl had his attention. Vaguely he heard kids snickering.
"Robert. Hello. Earth to Robert."
The other students giggled but Mr. Traber, the English teacher, hushed them with one stern look.
The boy's ears burned; all of the letters on the page had merged together.
"Jeni, could you tell Robert what page we are on and then give us an intelligent answer?"
As she answered, he stared at her blonde hair that lay softly on her shoulders. The golden color enhanced her clear blue eyes that
never left his thoughts. He knew everything about her. Before first period she would be standing at her locker, a crowd of kids gathered
around her. He knew where she was at every moment of the day; he made it his business to know. Even though he would have to rush to
the other end of the school to get to class, he would always pass her on his way to his next subject. He only had one class with
her - English, his worst subject and the last one of the day.
For the past week his anger at himself for never saying anything to her consumed him; he was angrier now for being stupid, again, in
front of her. He did not care about the other kids.
"What's wrong, Robert?"
His ears burned again as he realized Mr. Traber was talking to him. He looked up to see the tall teacher staring at him.
"I wasn't doing nothing."
He shrugged, thinking, "Today's Friday. I must talk to her, today. I have to."
His inward determination rushed adrenalin through him. "I'll do it. Today."
The last bell sounded; everything moved in a blur except Jeni. As she collected her books and slung her purse over her shoulder,
Robert misplaced his pencil. Then, she was gone.
Panic raced through him. He grabbed his books and careened into the hallway. After neatly side-stepping a pair of lovers and
squeezing past a couple slow-moving girls, he saw her hair gleaming just ahead. In seconds, he stood only a few feet from her, his mouth
moistened, ready to say something, anything.
"This is it," he heard himself say. "Maybe, just a quick 'excuse me.'"
As he reached out to touch her arm to nudge by, a hairy-faced student carrying an armload of books knocked him on his butt. His books scattered. All he could see were feet and ankles.
"Where is she?"
He clawed to his feet. She was gone. His geography book was being kicked down the hall, his grammar against the lockers on the far side of the hall, his other
two were nowhere to be seen.
"Forget the books," he screamed to himself, knowing that his last chance to sit close to her on the bus was probably
Downright rudeness enabled him to get to his bus just as Jeni was walking up the steps. His touchdown run, wasted, he thought.
Heavenly intervention played a part as the bus driver called to the boy sitting behind Jeni; his mother was waiting to take him home.
The boy left and Robert slid in smoothly.
He was just about to tap her on the shoulder to ask her about the English assignment when a spit ball hit him on the cheek.
Robert snapped around; he would tear off the head of... he saw Matt, a
freckle-faced fourth grader smiling at him. He was four years younger but one of Robert's only "friends."
"Cut it out, Matt. That's kid stuff."
Robert wondered if Jeni was listening. He had been trying to get her
attention - he had fought courageously, shot spit balls like a cannon, and always had the best jokes. She never noticed. Today, she was giggling with a girlfriend.
As the bus made its sixth stop, he felt sweat dot his forehead. She would be getting off
at the next stop.
"See ya tomorrow," he would say.
"Bye," she would say.
As the bus rolled to a stop, his face flushed; his throat, paste.
As she steadied her backpack, he noticed she was wearing Calvin Klein jeans today.
"Usually she wears Jordache," he thought strangely before panicking. "I'm missing it."
"See ya tomorrow," he heard his voice plainly say.
She turned on her heal and frowned down at him; her blue eyes narrowed.
Her look said, "Are you talking to me?"
For just a moment, Robert found his hands very interesting. Courageously, he said, "Yes,
She flipped her golden mane and was gone. He watched her walk gracefully across a neatly trimmed lawn toward a brick-sided split-level. As the bus pulled away, Robert saw the fence that surrounded a pool in the backyard.
He brooded about his feeble attempt as the bus rumbled over the old bridge and turned on to Old Line Road. When the bus stopped
in front his plain, one story, two bedroom house, a dazed Robert dragged his
legs woodenly across the front yard to the side door, which had been broken three weeks ago. His dad had not replaced the broken glass door; he had simply covered it with cardboard.
"Have a good day?" his mom said, not turning her shoulders as she scrubbed the kitchen counter.
"Yea," he said as he opened up the fridge, saw nothing of interest, and slammed the door.
He dragged himself back into the adjoining living room and flopped down on the couch.
"I'll set the table in a little bit," he mumbled. "Mom, the color's gone out again."
"We'll get it fixed."
Robert, his eye lids heavy, watched an old Hogan's Heroes rerun; soon a Jordache commercial came on and he found himself
humming the song and whispering "the Jordache Look" lyrics. He found the rhyme agreeable.
As the commercial ended, the actress, a good looking blonde, said in a deep, sultry voice, "If you are anything in today's world, you
Hogan came back on and Robert felt the awkward stiffness of his jeans. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but he was not tired.
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