At 12:00 noon exactly, the timer ran out and began its incessant buzzing.
“Turn your tests over, please,” the proctor ordered.
Judith finished filling in a bubble (D was probably a good guess) and turned her test over. She hadn’t been able to go over most of her answers. The test she was taking to get into a competitive high school was the most important of her life! She had to do well on it, and that stupid clock had stopped her!
Judith walked into the lobby of Alberton Hall on shaky legs, finding her sister Kat standing among the throngs of parents. “What do you want to do now?” Kat asked.
“Nothing, really. I just want to go home.”
“Are you serious?”
Judith hated it when Kat seemed disappointed in her. “Yes, Kat. I’m tired.”
“So let’s get some coffee! Come on, you deserve a celebration! And I finally have my license. We can go to Starbucks.”
“Mom and Dad don’t want me having coffee.”
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
By April, the snow had melted, the ice was running brown through the gutters, and some of the flowers were blooming, too bright after the grayscale winter. Judith went up to her family’s apartment on the 11th floor one day to find a letter on the kitchen counter. Heart racing, stomach churning, clock ticking, Judith ripped open the envelope.
Congratulations, Judith Harrison. You have been accepted to Annabel Strom High School.
Judith’s hands shook with relief. She had known that she would get in, of course. Kat had, easily, and Mom assured her that she was just as smart as Kat. Still, it made her grin. Going to Strom High meant that her future was unfurling out in front of her like a red carpet. Her life could go anywhere, all options bright.
Judith picked up the phone to call Kat and tell her the news.
(On the 13th floor, Michael prayed that his SAT scores would get him into UIC.)
The doorbell to Kayla’s house rang. Judith checked the clock: 1. “It’s probably my mom.”
“Gah! That sucks. Wanna hide in the basement?”
“Yeah, but my mom might get mad…”
“Fine. I’ll pack up some cookies for you.”
Kayla’s mother poked her head into the kitchen. “Judith, your mom is here.”
Tupperware of cookies in hand, Judith made her way to the front. Her mother was there, stamping snow out of her boots onto the welcome mat. “Hey, honey. Ready to go?”
“Not really,” Judith admitted.
“It’s true,” Kayla supplied. “But we built a Judith-bot. Do you want that instead?”
“I think that I’ll have to decline. But if Jenna doesn’t mind, then Judith can stay for a little while longer.”
“It’s fine,” Kayla’s mother smiled. “You guys go do whatever kids do these days. Anna, I’ll get some coffee.”
(On the 12th floor, Ella paced the room, wondering how she would tell her parents that she was pregnant.)
It was too soon for Kat to be leaving them! Couldn’t the flight have been delayed for a few hours, at least past 2? When they were visiting Nana in New York for the first time, a snowstorm stopped them, but with Kat leaving, the weather refused to intervene!
Kat swallowed and turned to hug Judith. Judith hugged tightly back, trying to lose herself in Katrina’s flowery smell, her soft red shirt. Judith made herself smile, trying to leave Kat one final good memory, not guilt. “Love you, Kat.”
“I love you too, Jude. So much.”
“Every week. Promise.”
And with that, Katrina swept down the jetway and into the airplane that would take her to California. Judith grasped her parents’ hands tightly, too tightly, but they squeezed back just as hard.Together, they stared at Kat’s blue suitcase until it turned a corner and disappeared.
Judith’s father was crying.
(On the 11th floor, there was an empty room with someone’s tea, abandoned, on the table.)
“Tell him,” Kayla insisted.
“Oh, come on!”
Judith had mooned over David for the entire year, and still blushed when she considered talking to him. They had worked together on a science project once. It hadn’t gone well.
Still, maybe Kayla was right. It was the last day of eighth grade. Everyone else was happy! But Judith was going to start at Strom High without any of her friends from Hayden Elementary. She and David would probably never see each other again...It wasn’t like he could publicly ridicule her. She could only do that to herself. If she was confident, then she’d end the year on a good note. Maybe she and David could exchange numbers! Judith stood up. Deep breath. All she had to do was walk over, Hello, David, I really like you. Nothing to it.
But then the bell rang. 3 pm, and David was out of the room in seconds, surrounded by a swarm of his friends. Inaccessible. The girls watched him go.
“Sorry,” Kayla said.
Judith glared at the clock. “No big deal.”
(On the 10th floor, Al stared, disbelieving, at the closed door.)
“How are you doing without Kat?” Grandma asked.
“Fine. She called me yesterday. She’s loving Berkeley.” Which didn’t change the fact that the apartment felt empty, there were only three people at the table, and that Judith was procrastinating giving back the sweater that she had found under Kat’s bed. Judith was grateful for the diversion that taking the bus up to Grandma’s condo on the lake had given her.
“She’s going to be making waves soon.”
“As if there was any doubt.”
Grandma laughed. “I guess that’s true. You’ll have to visit me twice as often, though, now that Kat can’t be doing it!”
“I can keep doing my homework here. You just keep making hot chocolate.”
“That’s the way the world works, honey.”
The old clock on the wall, the one with a chicken painted on the face, sounded for 4:00. Judith sighed. “Alright. Well…” Judith knew that her grandmother had book club starting soon, but that didn’t stop her irritation at time for moving so fast. The after-school hour with Grandma was a treasure.
“Okay, Grandma.” Judith stacked up her books and folders. “I love you.”
“I love you too, honey! See you next week!”
“Same time,” Judith agreed, hoping that Grandma’s book club would be cancelled.
(On the 9th floor, Burt and Ann were finally kissing.)
“How is it already 5?” Kayla groaned.
Judith dug herself deeper into her sleeping bag. “It’s only 5? Kayla, what’s wrong with you?! Let me go back to sleep.”
“Jude! We said that we’d spend the first week of summer staying up until midnight and getting up as early as possible! Summer doesn’t last forever!”
“Mmph. No. Sleep.”
“You’re no fun,” Kayla grumbled, but she closed her eyes (and mouth) anyway.
(On the 8th floor, Anneke ignored her mother’s pleas and kept on reading by the light of her bell-shaped lamp.)
Judith’s mother handed her a package after dinner on Judith’s 11th birthday. “Open it.”
Judith didn’t need to be told twice. She tore open the paper, carefully removing it, lifting out a wooden clock. Curlicues and stars were whittled into the dark wood, twisting and dancing around each other. The circle was a bit lopsided, but a bird was squeezed into the extra area, lifting its wings. The gleaming glass face read 6 pm.
Judith gasped. “Is this the one from Hansen’s?”
“Thank you! Thank you so much!” The people on the 12th and 10th floors of their 13-floor building could hear them if they were too loud, but Judith was finding it hard to keep her voice down.
Dad laughed. “So you like it?”
“I love it!”
“I told them how much you loved it, and we decided to get it!” Kat said.
“I love it, Mom! Thank you!”
(On the 7th floor, Alfonso looked over his credit bill for the month, wondering if he could pay the rent.)
Judith rolled over in bed, her eyes flitting from the small bird above the flat face of her alarm clock to the expressionless numbers below. 7:00. Mom should have already woken her up to get ready for school, which meant that Mom had either overslept or that it was a snow day. Judith pulled herself out of bed and looked out of the frosted window, down all 11 floors, marveling at how tiny the world looked. The snow looked new and already deep outside, and it was still falling. Probably a snow day. Judith’s mind immediately jumped to the three episodes of Ouran that were waiting for her, but she shook that thought off. She had to start studying for the entrance test.
The bed beckoned, warm and comforting...no. When Kat was thirteen like her, she had never shirked the work that her tutor gave her. She had gotten into Strom with flying colors. Judith had to do the same. Once she got into Strom, everything would be easy. She had to study. She could call Kayla after she had finished the 10 pages in her test prep booklet.
(On the 6th floor, something circular flashed by the window and caught the strobe light of Lori’s party, where the music was still booming, even though it was midnight.)
The bell sounded 8:00 on the first day of classes at Strom. The teacher wasn’t giving any lectures yet, just talking about what the year would look like. Judith didn’t have any problems with the dictates. She dutifully wrote them down on the first page of her notebook, trying to start off the year with this teacher on a good note.
The bell rang again almost an hour later. Judith detached herself from the chair and left the room. She was in shorts, surrounded by a sea of jeans. Well, she was smart! It was really hot out! Kayla would have laughed at all of these people...Judith looked at the school map, trying to figure out which way to go for math class. She only had five minutes.
Suddenly, she spotted Kat, walking down the hall. Judith ran to catch up with her, her backpack smacking into her back with each step. “Hey, Kat.”
Kat looked uncomfortable. “Um, hey, Jude. What’s up?”
“Which way to 451?”
Kat pointed her down another hall. “Almost to the staircase. See you later.”
With that, Kat was gone, melted into the wave of students.
(On the 5th floor, Marin scraped burned cookies off the pan.)
Judith could hear loud music from one of the lower floors. Someone was throwing a party. Bitterly, Judith remembered all of the plans she had had for high school. She would have been like Kat, straight As and star of the tennis team and surrounded by friend. Instead, she was home, still studying at 9 at night in the middle of Winter Break.
Kat was probably out somewhere at a fancy college party having fun and going crazy and doing things that she’d regret in the morning but laugh about 20 years later. Definitely not thinking of Judith! If she was, wouldn’t she call?
Judith could have laughed at her own patheticness. She hadn’t expected high school to be so hard! Kat had made it seem so easy! When she and Kayla talked, Kayla told her about her fun, amazing friends and how easy everything was. But not Judith. Judith was struggling. Her friends talked about going bowling with her right there and didn’t bother inviting her. Judith was drowning herself in extracurriculars and tough classes and the future loomed, dark and intimidating. She was 16, with 2 years left in high school. The real world was approaching fast.
Time was running out.
(On the 4th floor, Ellis smiled at the computer.)
The snow started coming down hard as Kat and Judith walked back from the café to their apartment building. They knew the protocol for blizzards: find a safe place and wait for Mom or Dad to pick you up in the car. Do not, under any circumstances, keep running. You could go into the street or freeze to death or get horribly lost.
So Judith let Kat pull her into Hansen’s, that random antique place they walked by sometimes. Judith found herself mesmerized by the set of wooden chickens, before seeing the clock. “Look!” Judith said, pointing Kat towards a wooden clock with curlicues and stars and a little bird, red metal hands, dark varnished wood.
Judith tried to make herself look pitiful. “Can we get it? Pleeeeease?”
“Maybe later,” Kat said. “Not today.”
Judith pouted, lingering to look at the clocks. A few moments later, all of the clocks in the shop sounded: 10. Judith stood, mesmerized at all of the sound. It was musical, magical.
(As a circular piece of varnished wood with red in the center flashed by the 3rd floor, the cuckoo clock was still ringing.)
The snow kept falling outside. The clocks ticked along in unison.
And still Judith sat, waiting, endlessly waiting for Kat to call her. It was her birthday. Kat had promised to call, and yes, she had broken that promise. But it was her birthday and they were sisters, and didn’t that mean that Kat had to call? Didn’t she have an obligation?
The clock kept taunting her as it hit 11. Judith ignored it.
(On the 2nd floor, Norbert kept on grading papers. His class needed these back.)
At midnight, Kat still hadn’t called and Judith was still awake, not able to sleep, worrying that she’d miss that one message that still hadn’t come, I love you Jude happy birthday I miss you. Rage bubbled up in Judith’s throat along with tears. Kat had promised that they would stay in touch. She had promised that there would always be time for them!
She didn’t cry. She couldn’t let herself cry, because adults didn’t cry, not over little things like a call, a birthday, (a sister).
Instead, Judith took a deep breath and ripped her birthday clock off of the wall and stomped up to the roof, not caring who she was disturbing. The clock kept ticking. The batteries hadn’t run out.
Judith wished that it wasn’t already midnight. There was never enough time. It kept clipping on forward. Unfair.
Judith tossed the clock off the roof. Take that, Kat!
She regretted it even as the clock was leaving her hands, but the clock sailed down all 13 floors of the building as midnight rang out over the winter in the city. The cold bit at Judith’s hands. Take that, Kat!
The clock hit the ground.
Time didn’t stop.
Judith’s tears stung on her freezing face. As she left the roof, guilty, upset, wondering how to fix the clock, she decided to call Kat.