Chapter no 17

If He Had Been with Me

The first day of sophomore year is going to be hot and muggy; I can already tell. I’m wearing a new tiara, purchased along with the rest of my back-to- school items. This one is black with dark stones. I’m wearing a red plaid skirt and black button-up shirt. Instead of last year’s book bag, I’m carrying an army green mail carrier that I’ve covered with buttons. Everything is new.

I’m ready to be a sophomore.

The group at the bus stop is smaller this year; there are only five of us now. Two are Finny and Sylvie. One is a junior named Todd who I have never spoken to before. The last is a nervous-looking girl who looks too young to even be a freshman. I’m fairly certain she is from a private school, and is terrified.

Finny and Sylvie are holding hands. The cheerleading uniform has been redesigned. I like it better than the old one, but I have no desire to be wearing it myself.

The new girl eyes me suspiciously when I stop at my regular spot at the curb. Like always, I am hit with the memory of flying down this hill on my bike. Finny was never afraid. I always was.

“Hi,” I say to the new girl and smile. She mumbles something and smiles back, a small grateful smile. “I’m Autumn,” I add. I’m feeling generous today. I also have a plan.

“We’re going to have so much fun in chemistry together,” Sylvie says. “I’m Katie,” she says.

“Did you go to St. John’s?” I ask Katie the New Girl. She nods.

“Did you?” she asks, frowning.

“Oh, no, not me,” I say. For one moment, I have an urge to glance behind me at Finny. In fourth grade, my father wanted me to transfer to St. John’s, and it might have happened if I hadn’t cried every night at the dinner table and refused to eat. I wanted to stay at Vogt Elementary with Finny. At the time, I thought separation from him would be the worst thing that could happen to me. I lay awake at night wondering how I could survive without him. Knowing that Finny was there in the room with me made every test less scary, every taunt less painful. I would look over at him sitting at his desk and know that everything was okay. The thought of enduring every day without him took away my sense of self, of balance, of hope. It all finally ended when Aunt Angelina told my parents that Finny was just as distraught and begging to be transferred too.

I’m so distracted by the strength of the memory that it takes me a moment to realize that my plan is far exceeding my expectations.

“Yeah, he was in my class,” Katie the New Girl is saying.

“Oh really?” Todd the Junior says. “Did you know Taylor Walker too?” Katie the New Girl nods again. “That’s my cousin,” he says. They talk about Taylor, and then more people who they both might know. Somewhere behind me, Sylvie is talking too, but the plan has worked; it’s all a jumble of voices now and when I tune out Katie and Todd’s conversation, Sylvie’s voice fades to the background as well.

By the time the bus pulls up, I have not learned anything else about the fun Finny and Sylvie will be having this year.

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