Her (Him & Her #2)

by Carey Heywood

There’s this girl. She’s in my English class. She sits in the desk next to mine. I see her everyday, but I’ve never really noticed her.

We’ve been paired up to do a project on the book Sarah, Plain and Tall, which is funny since that’s her name too. Yesterday, I went over to her house to work on it. At first, she had asked if we could meet at my house, but I’d rather be anywhere else. Sarah and I went to different schools last year. Kids from my old school already knew I never invited anyone over.

This is the first time I have ever hung out with someone who lives outside of my neighborhood. She gives me directions to her house, and I ride my bike over. Her house is a lot smaller than mine, but I like it. It feels like a family lives there. I can’t remember the last time I felt like that in my house.

She’s so quiet at first. I keep having to ask her to repeat herself. After a while, I don’t have to. We hang out in her kitchen. Her mom is working around us, making dinner. She invites me to stay and eat with them, telling me to call my mom first to make sure it’s okay.

I use their cordless, but I only pretend to call. It doesn’t matter. My mom won’t notice if I’m there or not.

Sarah has an older brother named Brian. He seems cool. I’ve never really hung out with someone in high school before.

When I go home that night and have to walk past Bethany’s room to get to mine, I almost wish I was still at Sarah’s.

I’m going back there today to work on our project some more. Maybe her mom will invite to me eat with them again. It’d be nicer than microwaving a hot dog like I do most nights. There’s something about her house that makes me feel like I can relax.

Sarah is so nervous and for what? We kill it. Sure getting up in front of the whole class can suck, but I do most of the talking. I glance over at her as we sit back down. She gives me a shy smile. The next pair to go up are Mariah Osborne and Kelly Sotello. They have a shoebox, another diorama. I like Sarah’s cereal box idea. It was creative. They’re being weird about their project, though. Most people hold their project up first so everyone can see it. The lid is still on theirs.

Mrs. Hall notices too and asks them to take the lid off. When they do, there’re a couple of gasps from the front row. Sarah and I sit towards the back so I squint at it, trying to see it better. It looks like the farm from the book, with a couple of people standing in front of it. During each of the oral presentations, the project part gets passed around the room for everyone to get a chance to see. I can hear people snickering and looking back in our direction as it makes its way around the room.

I get it before Sarah. What the fuck? Now I know what everyone is laughing about. Sarah reaches out for it. I shake my head. There is no way I’ll let her see this. Mariah and Kelly have taped a picture of Sarah’s face over the doll in the diorama. Everyone is watching us now. Kelly looks smug, and Mariah looks nervous. I have a feeling it wasn’t her idea.

Sarah just looks at me confused. “Will?”

Mrs. Hall walks over to us. “Is there a problem, Mr. Price?”

Shit. I wait for her to get to my desk and tilt it so Sarah can’t see it, only I don’t know she has gotten out of her chair and is standing behind me until I hear her gasp. I turn back in time to see her, eyes wide, hand covering her mouth before she runs out the room. I set the diorama on my desk and look at Mrs. Hall. She nods her head, and I get up to run after Sarah. Kelly flinches as I pass her. What a bitch. I pause at the door. I hadn’t seen which way she went. Luckily, she hasn’t gone far. She’s halfway between our class and the next room over, sitting up against the wall, her head in her hands.

Once I get closer, I can tell she’s crying. She’s making sniffling noises, and her shoulders are shaking. I didn’t really think before I ran after her. I don’t know what to do. I just want her to stop crying.

I slowly sit down next to her. “Are you okay?”

She doesn’t say anything, just shakes her head.

“Those girls are jerks. Don’t pay attention to them.” I think about putting my arm around her, but that would be weird so I knock her elbow with mine.

She lifts her head up a little and looks at me. Her eyes seem so big, and I can see them just brimming with tears.

“Why would they do that?” Her voice is so small.

Shit. I didn’t really know her before we worked on the project together. She’s cool, really cool. “Some people are just assholes.”

“I never—” Her voice breaks. “Did anything to them.”

I watch one plump tear crest then roll down her cheek. She’s right. I don’t know her that well, but I can tell the kids who are jerks from the ones who aren’t. Sarah’s quiet. She hangs back. If we weren’t paired up, I wouldn’t know how cool she is.

Mrs. Hall walks out of the class. “Sarah, are you alright?”

She shakes her head as she lowers it back into her hands.

“Do you want to go to the nurse? Maybe see if your mom or dad can pick you up?”

She keeps her head down but nods.

I look up at Mrs. Hall. “Can I take her to the nurse?”

She nods. I stand first and hold out my hand to her. Sarah sniffles and slowly reaches her hand up to mine. I help her up.

“Thanks,” she whispers.

“It’s cool.”

She stops, turning to look at me. “Not just for walking with me.” She pauses and looks down at her feet, then takes a deep breath before looking back up at me. “For not wanting me to see it.”

We start walking towards the nurse’s office. “Is it okay if I come over again today? I know we’re done with the project, but I can bring you your book bag.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

We reach the door. The nurse looks up at us. “I want to.”

She smiles just a little bit. “Okay.”

She’s spinning her ring again. She always does that when she’s nervous. Why is she nervous?

“You okay?” I ask.

Her chestnut eyes lift from her math homework and meet mine. She nods before dropping her eyes back to her work. She wore a tank top under her shirt at school today, I don’t even know until we get to her house and she takes the top shirt off. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really noticed her shoulders before.

I tilt my American History book so it looks like I’m reading the chapter I’m supposed to be reading. Instead of reading, I watch her. Her hair is pulled back, a couple of pieces hanging around her face. My fingers itch to tuck each strand behind her ears. She has small dragonfly studs in them. I was with her when she bought them.

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