By Brady Huggett
By my calculations, it should have arrived while I was at school.
In between watching the clock's hands move, I looked at Katie across the aisle. When the bell finally rang, she stood up and moved to the cloakroom. She glanced over her shoulder at me just once, brow drawn in concentration over something, probably the math problem the teacher had been showing us but I hadn’t understood. Katie probably had, though. She was smarter than me—smarter than all of us. But she was my girl anyway, for reasons I didn’t understand and had no interest in questioning.
The two weeks that we’d been a couple had been the happiest of my life. She was a cute thing with blonde hair pulled back by barrettes, straight teeth, crystal-blue eyes, and a little color in her cheeks. The best thing sixth grade had to offer.
I followed her to the cloakroom, grabbed my jacket and backpack. When she turned, I smiled, just to let her know she had been on my mind.
She moved into the hallway. Again, I followed.
"Hey," I said. I was nervous.
"Hi," she said. I smiled again.
"Take this," she said, and handed me a folded note. I accepted it with both hands. Then she was gone, working through the throng and descending the stairs. I stood and watched her go; she looked up at the landing and met my eyes, then looked away quickly. So sweet, I thought, so shy. The note was warm in my hands like a living thing. I couldn't read it there; I needed a private place, somewhere I could study the flow of her penmanship, her name at the bottom. I slid it into a book in my pack.
And I knew the box would be on the table at my house when I got there. I felt that in my belly.
Off the bus and home, I saw with little surprise that I was right. Life was perfect. I tore into the cardboard and pulled out a hand-held electronic game. I was going to play that game until I developed blisters. I was going to work the buttons under the bed covers after I'd been instructed to sleep, the glow of the machine shining in my pupils. It was worth all that allowance money. I threw it into the front of my pack and bounced back outside, across our brown, dried lawn. I headed to the park next to the bus stop, where I could be alone.
My backpack patted me between the shoulders like it was giving congratulations. I stepped over a hubcap and headed toward the overpass. I planned on sitting under that dead tree next to the dried fountain and reading the note four of five times, then turning on the game—batteries included—and playing it until the sun went down
Mitch appeared around the corner, walking beneath the overpass, his brown hair moving as he displaced air, his mouth set. He approached me with purpose, his seventh-grade legs eating up the dirty sidewalk. I didn't know him well, but he seemed intent on closing the distance between us. I stopped. Something wasn’t right.
"Hey Mitch," I said.
"I saw Katie give you something in the hallway today," he said. "What was it?"
"She didn't give me anything," I said. "I was just—"
Mitch hit me so hard my face actually collapsed around his fist. I reeled away, my eyes desperately trying to focus on sky or ground, so that I might tell the difference between them. My lips swelled, my nose gave blood. His punch seemed to have damaged my whole face. I went down in a heap. Mitch methodically climbed on top of me.
"What did she give you?" he asked, and smashed his left knuckles into my mouth. A sound like a weak foghorn came from me. I spit a tooth up into the air; it landed on the sidewalk next to my ear with a tiny tick.
"In my backpack," I gasped. "She gave me my game back. It's in the front." My lips throbbed and swelled with every heartbeat.
Mitch easily rolled me over and rummaged through the front pocket with no regard for my face and the cement.
"This thing?" asked Mitch, the game in his hand, confusion in his dark eyes. He stood up without waiting for an answer. "Why did she have it?"
"I lhet her bow-oh it," I lisped through my destroyed mouth. I reached for my tooth and slipped it into my pants pocket.
"She's mine, so don't fucking give her anything, you fuck," he said. He turned the game on and stared with no real interest as tiny symbols jumped and moved. I heard the beeping of the beginning anthem. That sound was music to my ears, although my sinuses were filling with snot and blood and my ears were a little plugged. Mitch walked back the way he came, clicking the buttons. I heard him mutter "stupid" as he neared the overpass. He cocked his arm back behind his head, his index finger along the top of the game, and hurled it. The game exploded against the concrete in a shower of cheap plastic and metal components, the pieces falling to join the broken glass, squashed beer cans and fast-food wrappers. He walked on without looking back.
I peeled myself off the sidewalk and staggered to the remains of my game. I stood over the fragments for a second, looking at so many allowances wasted, as blood ran down onto my shirt. I was a little woozy, so I sat next to the debris, reached into my backpack and took out Katie's note.
"I'm breaking up with you," it read. She had signed her name to the bottom, a heart above the "i", as some girls are known to do. A drop of blood fell from my nose and landed atop the heart, covering it completely.
Brady Huggett lives in Atlanta and works as an editor for a health care publisher.
Photo "Heart-shaped Balloon" courtesy of Luc Sesselle, Adegem, Belgium.
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