I sat at a table by myself at lunch. Not that I wanted to be anti-social, it was just that I must have had a glazed-eye look, and it probably freaked people out a bit, so in what probably looked like a variation of the parting of the Red Sea, the student body steered clear of me. I would have probably wanted to avoid myself as well as I stared blankly at my brown-bagged lunch and the watery ring of where my soda sat just a bit earlier, now missing.
“Hey, Jase, what’s up?”
Keith stood on the other side of the table and sat down.
“Well, I failed my English assignment. You might want to check your answers before seventh period.”
“I’ll do that, I—”
I reached at the bag and saw that it was empty.
“No, I think someone stole it. Are there any new people in your homeroom class?”
“Let’s see…there are thirty other people in my homeroom class, and I haven’t paid attention to them since the first week. Why?”
“Just wonderend…I…hey, I’m going to do it.”
“I’m going to ask her today.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it, and since it won’t happen, I don’t have to worry about missing it.”
“No, I think I have it all figured out.”
“I’ll write her a note.”
“And if someone else reads it?”
“Well, I could write what I’m thinking but not exactly put her name on it.”
“Like a Valentine candy heart?
Keith’s eyes went wide as he stared at the source of the voice behind me. I spun around to meet up with the eyes of the vice principal, Mr. Irwin.
“Come with me.”
We walked out of the lunchroom in total silence.
I had no idea what was going to become of me. I had never met the principal of the school, and it was written on some form of ancient tablet or fortune cookie that if Mr. Irwin even whispered your name, you were destined to serve detention every day until the end of the school year or until you died, whichever likely came first. We turned a corner in the hallway when someone grabbed my arm.
“Sorry about what happened earlier.”
The older teen from earlier, Gabe, dragged me away from the vice principal.
“Again with the questions. You know, I was told you were going to be difficult to deal with. I didn’t really want to believe it. I mean, yes, teenagers are difficult, but you…well, I guess he broke the mold with you.”
I looked to see Mr. Irwin, like Mr. Jackson earlier, frozen in place.
We walked down the hallway—it was like a statuary of students as we weaved around them.
“Can I ask one question?”
“I’d rather you didn’t, but you’re going to anyway.”
“How are you doing that?
“Can I answer your question with a question?”
“I think you just did.”
“Ah, you’re catching on, excellent. This will be easier than dealing with the court of Belshazzar.”
“You said you knew everything about me.”
“No, I said I know your secrets. I didn’t say I knew everything about you. However, that being said, I do know everything about you.”
“Do you want the long or the short list?”
“As you wish.”
He drew his sword and struck the floor with it. The flames burned with a blinding blue light. I closed my eyes, only to open them to see we were still standing in the same hallway.
I looked around to see students and parents walking up and down the hallway, and I saw one person in particular: myself.
The other me, I guess I should describe him like that, walked next to his, er, mine…our, mother.
“Let’s see you at your best, eh?” Gabe grinned as he leaned against the wall.
“Oh, you remember this?”
“Far too well!” I yelled as I ran ahead.
I turned the corner to witness the equivalency of having that dream where you’re speaking in front of the class in only your underwear: There I was, actually talking to her, but…but failing miserably at being anybody else but myself.
“You’re joining the band?” he asked as he stood less than five feet away from her.
“Great, maybe you can play flute or drums.”
“Ouch…wow, she really must have thought you were weird.”
Gabe walked to the end of the hallway as I stood the middle of the conversation.
“Why did you say that? What was I, stupid?”
“You already know the answer.”
“Yeah, I was stupid.”
“You weren’t stupid, just uninformed. That fact still stands.”
I walked back to Gabe as they faded away.
“I suppose you’re going to teach me?” I asked.
“Then what are you here for?”
“To help you find out for yourself.”
“How? It’s easy to see that I have absolutely no chance.”
“That’s because you don’t talk to her. You talk about her. You glimpse at her, and you say ‘hello.’ Let’s go over some things that you know absolutely nothing about: Do you know her favorite color?”
“Do you know what kind of music she likes?”
“Not really, I—”
“C’mon, the real answer’s an easy one.”
“Fine, I don’t know.”
“Third question: Why haven’t you ever asked her these things? Forget about asking her ‘out’ or even starting anything at all…you don’t even know anything about her!”
“I know a little.”
“You know what you think you know…and how’s that working out for you?”
I slumped against the wall and slid to the ground. “I don’t understand.”
“I mean…can’t I just have feelings for her?”
“And what will you do with those feelings? Bottle them up for so long but never do a thing? Like it doesn’t matter or something like that?”
He picked up his sword…
“What can I do?” I asked.
…raised it over his head…
“We need to take it all back to the beginning.”
…and he struck the ground again with the fiery blade.
* * *
I opened my eyes to a view of trees, cabins, and…lots of mud on my shoes. We stood at the foot of a muddy hill on the far side of a campground.
“I have a few memories of this place.”
“Good or bad?”
“A little bit of both, actually.”
Gabe walked ahead of me. “Not going to ask, are you?
“I know where this is. It’s Camp Lee, in August…church youth group trip.”
“Is that the good or the bad part?”
“It’s the nothing part. I know what you’re going to show me.”
“This is where I initially blew it…isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say it like that. You didn’t even know her at that point in time. So onward!”
I reluctantly followed him to the front of the campground where the pool was. It was as I remembered it: complete with dozens of pre- and “just turned” teenagers, myself being one of them, somewhere, maybe, possibly. We stood on the side, near the deep end of the pool.
“So you’re a part of this group—but you didn’t feel like you fit in with them.”
“I was new, so…yeah…it didn’t feel right.”
“Ah. Why was that?”
“We just moved here. Still didn’t feel comfortable around people, I—”
“Not sure about that, you got along with a few people.”
“This is where I first saw her.”
“I can see I haven’t arrived here yet.”
“Actually, you’re over there, on the diving board.”
I glanced across to see myself standing at the edge of the diving board, ready to jump.
“There was too much spring in the board, and I flew into the air…landed wrong.”
And there I was, watching it unfold again.
“I remember swimming through the water, seeing her, talked to her for a little bit, and then it all degraded into splashing water on everybody.”
I felt foolish, seeing myself act like that. Here I was…this close…and I never said a thing.
“I-I don’t want to see this…I remember it, okay! I remember how stupid I acted. I thought it was funny at first, maybe she did too…but I think I was eventually annoying her.”
“Did she say that you were?”
“Then you probably weren’t.”
“Well, she did ask me to stop splashing her.”
“Chlorine does hurt the eyes.”
“Why are you doing this to me? So far, all you’ve shown me are things I wish I didn’t remember.”
“We both know you don’t mean that.”
“I had a chance at one time…I should have said something more than ‘Hello.’”
“Agreed,” Gabe replied as he crossed his hands across his body.
“Agreed. You mean that’s it?”
“No. Let me ask you a question: Did you know someone else was new that day?”
“Then we have to work on breaking the ice. It’s all up there.”
He tapped on my head, and yes, it did kind of hurt.
“Who are you?”
“Is it really that important that you know?”
“Yeah, considering that you’re jumping me around through time.”
“Not through time. Like I said, it’s all in there. By the way, don’t think for even a second that you can get by taking the easy way out. It won’t work, no matter how much you want it to.”
“You mean about this or the vice principal?”
“Both. Now jump in the pool.”
“I said jump. Normally, one asks ‘how high?’ but since I know you won’t…”
He then pushed me into the water.
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