1075 words (4 minute read)

A Strange Face

Jay avoided A-Court for the next week. He hadn’t forgotten his defeat, but nursed a silent grudge, and deliberated how to find victory. He looked for something big—a weak spot in Jeremy’s armor—but finding Jeremy to be invincible as always, settled on something small. His revenge scheme was sad and simple: he was going back into A-Court and buying and eating a Turtle Pie. If he were feeling truly courageous, he might even let Jeremy see him do it.

It was Wednesday in third period before Jay gathered enough courage to act. His lunch that day had been a meager sandwich of one slice ham, one slice american cheese, and a small ziploc of Fritos. He didn’t need much to eat, but it was a pittance, even for him. The time for a Turtle Pie was undeniable. He raised his hand, and requested to use the bathroom. Ms. Rotchkey gave easy permission.

Jay snuck down through the woods of Tutorial, feeling like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. He tiptoed across the courtyard, towards A-Court. Not a soul stirred.

All through the week, nothing more had been heard regarding Todd’s disappearance. His family hadn’t given up hope yet, still believing that he may just be lost. They swept the woods every day, with the help of their extended family and others in the town. The school did their own search on Saturday, and Jay had spent the day up in the forested hills above Dunam with Colin and others from Tutorial. Over three hundred people were out in the woods, shouting Todd’s name, and didn’t find anything.

Rumors swirled. That he’d drown in the small pool at the base of the falls. That he’d hanged himself in the attic of a neighbor’s house, and been found, but nobody wanted to tell the rest of the town yet. A few darker kids suggested he’d been murdered by a travelling serial killer. Nobody took them seriously, but the idea sent chills through Jay.

Todd’s disappearance cast a pall over the glowing days of Spring. The celebration that should have accompanied the end of the year was comparatively muted. Jay wondered whether Prom would be cancelled on account. It was less than two weeks away. He’d promised himself he would find a date, and was beginning to despair that there may be no girls left to take.

He entered A-Court with his mind half-dedicated to this problem, half on alert. A-Court was completely still. He saw various classes in session through the small glass windows in the different doors. There sat the old vending machine, across from the front office. He could see the yellow Turtle Pies through the dirty glass. Number H7. He softly jangled the quarters in his pocket as he walked over.

The biology door swung open, and Jeremy stepped out. Jay froze. For a moment, Jeremy didn’t see him, and walked towards the bathroom. Then he looked around. His eyes fell on Jay and he grinned and swerved his course. Jay’s heart pounded and his hands grew sweaty. Without Colin with him, Jay felt small and exposed. He continued walking quickly, passing the vending machine, heading towards the far doors.

“Banksman!” Jay froze.

Jeremy was standing over him, smiling, breathing down.

“Let’s make this quick. How much money you got?”

Jay felt his face color in anger as he reached into his pocket.

Then the front office door swung open, and Mr. Oatman himself stepped out, a mound of jowls poured into a brown suit. His back was to them, but they could hear him talking to someone, using a more high-pitched, friendly tone than Jay had ever heard him use. It must stood out to Jeremy, too, who also stopped to watch.

“...appreciate you finishing out the year with us, until graduation. It’s not often we get new students.”

He held the door, and a girl stepped out. She wore a salmon collared shirt knotted around her waist. Her khaki shorts and dark leather hiking boots were connected by long, strong legs. Her hair was chestnut brown, flowing from her shoulders and touching her butt. Her skin was dark tan, her nose small and elegant, and even from a distance her eyes flashed like brilliant green jewels.

Jay recognized her immediately. It was her. The girl from his dream. The girl he’d come to know over years, receiving her each month in his dreams with a mixture of wonder and dread. Liz Knight. Here she was. Real. A student at his school. He felt the familiar mixture of longing, love, and anger bubble up inside. Jeremy, too, stood stunned.

For anyone not from Dunam, it’s hard to overstate what a strange feeling it was to see an unfamiliar face. The only new people coming into Dunam were those born here. It was not a tourist town. If asked, not one of the students in Cascadia could recall seeing an outsider, let alone having a new student come to class. The Dunam class of ‘93 was eternal; it was, is and forever shall be the same small group of 116 kids. It’s why Todd’s disappearance hit maybe even harder than it would in other towns. And why both Jeremy and Jay stood frozen now, mouths agape.

Mr. Oatman shook Liz’s hand. Liz neither smiled nor frowned, but nodded with a careful neutral resolve. Jay stared at Liz, unable to look away. Jeremy smiled, mistaking Jay’s shock for adoration. This was a more interesting opportunity for victory than a simple shakedown. Jeremy stepped towards, putting his most winning smile on, and Jay’s heart sank as he watched him approach.

“How’s it going.”

Liz slowly turned to size him up.

“What brings you to Dunam? The weather or the academics?”

Liz looked away, and her eyes settled on Jay. Jay’s heart leaped as her expression changed ever so slightly, reflecting... what? Interest? Recognition? His cheeks flushed as he burned in her gaze. Jeremy saw it, and followed her gaze, looking at Jay in confusion.
“What’s your next period? Can I help you find your class?” Jeremy offered.

“No thank you.” She responded, finally turning her gaze from Jay and levelling it back on Jeremy. Then she slung a backpack over her shoulder and left them both. Jeremy watched her go, while Jay used the opportunity to slink out the front doors and head back to class, forgetting for the moment about Turtle Pies.

Next Chapter: The Girl