Chapter no 33

If He Had Been with Me

We are juniors and suddenly it is all happening too fast, except it has always been this way, we just hadn’t realized it before. This year and then one more. This year and then one more, and one more and one more.

We are allowed to drive to school now, and Jamie picks me up every morning. It feels strange and wonderful to be responsible for arriving at school, knowing that Jamie could just keep driving forever and we would not be missed until the end of the day, and by then we would be far, far away. But we always go to school.

I have begun to receive mail every afternoon, piles of college brochures and form letters from university deans. Pictures of glossy students tumbled together in front of statues and fountains, playing Frisbee and reclining on blankets surrounded by books. These students walk through perfect autumns and warm summers. “It’s like this every day here,” their smiles say. “Really.”

All of them have an English education major. If the brochure does not list a creative writing minor, I toss it out. If it does, then it joins the orderly and small but growing pile by my desk. The pile has a neat look of efficiency, though it sits and waits and accomplishes nothing.

On The Steps to Nowhere, we compare dreams that are beginning to sound like plans. Jamie says he will major in business. I imagine us living in a Victorian house in Ferguson. He will have to drive to an office in the city every day. Looking at the future, I feel that I am looking into a snow globe at a tiny, perfect house with a little person that is me standing in the

yard like a flagpole. One meticulously carved scene that represents the whole world—tiny, perfect, and enclosed.



Finny and I have one class together: the section of Honors English that neither his friends nor mine are in. Ours is the last class in the afternoon; theirs is in the morning. It is odd to think of it that way, of us and them. Them in the morning, us in the afternoon, us before the last bell rings.

My assigned seat is the very middle of the very front row, and were I to stretch and lean forward, my fingertips would brush the edge of the teacher’s desk. Finny’s is the seat behind mine, and it would take even less to touch any part of him.

In this class, we are closer together than when we eat dinner with The Mothers or sit on the same couch while we wait for the evening to be over. Sometimes his knee jabs into my chair as he twists around to reply to a classmate, or sometimes we turn to look into our book bags at the same moment, and even though I do not look, I know our faces are inches apart.

We never greet each other. We take these assigned seats and pull our notebooks and pens out of our bags in silence or talking to the others around us. It is an unspoken agreement not to speak here, just like our unspoken decision to always exchange a few words in front of The Mothers, just like our unspoken apologies for The War last year.

And I’m grateful that he agrees with me that we should not speak here, because no one in this class knew us in elementary school. All they know is that he is Finn Smith, the most popular boy in our grade, and I am Autumn Davis, Jamie Allen’s girlfriend who wears the tiaras, and that is how we would have to speak to each other, as if he was just another classmate and that is all there is between us. The strain of having to speak like that with him, along with all the other unsaid things, would be too much for me, and I don’t know what I would say or do.

One afternoon, I overhear a girl asking Finny if he’s picked out a major for college. This girl has been trying to flirt with him since the first day of school, but he somehow hasn’t noticed. He seems to think that she is just generally friendly. I stare straight ahead but listen behind me. I hear a swishing sound that must be the girl flipping her hair.

“I want to go to medical school,” he says, “so my bachelor’s degree has to be something to lead into that. But I dunno.”

“Wow. That is so cool,” the girl says. Based on her tone of voice, I don’t think there was anything Finny could have said that she wouldn’t have found cool.



She doesn’t know Finny well enough to understand how cool it actually is that he has found this calling. When we were small, he said that he wanted to be a professional soccer player, but he always said it with a shrug. He loved—loves—playing soccer, but he never felt a need to play in the same way I needed to make up stories. Finny’s instincts have always led him to help people, and now he’s found a way that he can help in a very direct and real way.

I envy how Finny has chosen the direction of his life without having had to commit to a destination. He doesn’t know what kind of doctor he wants to be. Aunt Angelina said he’s talked about pediatrics and Doctors Without Borders, but he’s also mentioned an interest in psychiatry.



“I guess it’s kinda cool,” Finny says. “I’ll just have to decide on something eventually.”

“Yeah,” the Flirty Girl says. I hear the swish of her hair again. “I don’t know what I want at all.”

I stop myself from turning around and telling her that knowing what you want can be far worse. There isn’t any reason for me to be interested in Finn

Smith’s conversations.

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