I had a lot of trouble sleeping Saturday night. My mind kept drifting to the pizza parlor. Had I seen Eliot? Why wasn’t he returning my text?
Eventually, I decided to just ask my friends from home. Brittany and Casey would know what was happening. They usually knew all the latest gossip. Although I sent them a quick text in the morning, I didn’t expect to hear back from them for a few hours.
While Sarah attempted to shove Crystal’s sleeping bag under her bed, I packed my bag for another Sunday in the library. After Crystal repacked her overnight bag, the three of us headed to the dining hall.
I wasn’t surprised to see Larry and Walter already eating. Larry smiled as we sat down.
“So, what are we doing today?”
Sarah shrugged. “I had fun watching cartoons last weekend.”
Crystal nodded as Sarah interpreted for us. “I want to join you. Will you turn on the closed captions?”
Walter smiled in my direction. “You’re going to the library.”
I could feel my face grow warm. My eggs seemed a lot more interesting than making eye contact at the moment. “Am I that predictable?”
“Well, yeah. But, you have an overstuffed bag with you.”
I had forgotten. I smiled at him. “What are you doing today?”
“I felt like something was missing last weekend. So, I’m definitely going to try to catch the four o’clock games. But, I’ll work with you ’til lunch.”
How could he possibly want to watch more football after playing and watching the varsity game yesterday. I easily could go a week before ever seeing a football again. But, I didn’t need to know the answer badly enough to ask him.
Eventually, Larry, Sarah, and Crystal wandered over to the MAC to commandeer one of the only two televisions allowed on campus. That was my cue to go to the library. I didn’t pass a single student on my way to the study room.
I plugged in my nearly-dead phone before emptying my bag. What should I start with? Walter would be joining me shortly, so maybe math?
Before I could decide, my phone signaled an incoming video chat request. I was surprised to hear from Brittany so early. I was more surprised to realize I was reluctant to answer the call.
Casey squealed as her face popped onto the screen beside Brittany’s. “Where have you been?”
“Melly!” shouted Brittany.
I smiled at the girls I had known since the second grade, realizing I wasn’t at all envious they were having a sleepover without me. “Hey. How are you?”
Casey didn’t seem to hear me. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear about Eliot.
Brittany nodded. “He was expelled. Everyone else was suspended, but he’s completely disappeared.”
“Everyone who? What are you talking about?”
Casey shrugged. “Well, that’s just it. No one knows.”
“No one’s talking,” added Brittany.
“Kevin said the lawyers told them not to.”
I could feel my jaw drop. “Lawyers? Wha—Who can’t talk?”
Brittany shook her head. “Eliot’s crew.”
Casey rolled her eyes, but I wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to tell me. “You know. Eliot, Nick, Greg.”
Brittany shook her head adamantly. “Not uh. George didn’t get caught.”
I was beyond confused. There was only one middle school in my town. Everyone in the ninth grade should have been in school with me last year. But, I only recognized a few of the names my friends were spouting.
Of course, I knew Eliot, and I remembered his best friend, Nick, who could get annoying after long periods of exposure. Greg was another friend of theirs, a quiet computer geek who liked to play video games.
I had no idea who the rest of the boys were. But, I wasn’t too surprised to learn Eliot had been hanging out with new friends. It wouldn’t be the first time I was thrown by the change in social structure from middle school to high school. I had already realized that Brittany and Casey were friends with a whole new crowd now that I was gone.
Even as I tried to process all this information, Casey kept explaining. “The lawyers told them not to say anything.”
“They went to court and everything.” Brittany sounded almost impressed by this information.
“And now Eliot’s missing.”
“No one has seen him since that night.”
“No one seems to know where he went.”
“George says his parents took away his phone and sent him away.”
“Kevin thinks he went to jail.”
“George thinks reform school. Or military school.”
“Or Oakville?” I thought about the boy I had seen in the pizza parlor the night before. If his parents took away his phone, maybe he never got my message. Could that be why he wasn’t returning my message?
Brittany didn’t seem to hear me. She turned to Casey. “Hey. You wanna go to the mall?”
Casey beamed. “Oh my god, yes!”
I nodded. “I better go, too. I’ve got a ton of homework.”
Again, Brittany didn’t seem to hear me. “I’ll go ask my mom if she could drive us.” She ended the call without saying goodbye.
I was a little disappointed my friends didn’t seem to have heard me. But, it didn’t bother me as much as I would have thought. They were no longer as large a part of life as they had been a few weeks ago.
When I put down my phone, I realized Walter was sitting across from me. When did he get here?
He nodded towards the phone. “Everything okay?”
I shrugged. “Yeah.”
“You look a little sad.”
I sighed. “I’m just . . . confused. I thought I saw someone I knew in town and my friends were trying to tell me what happened to him, but it didn’t really make any sense.”
Walter raised his eyebrows. “Those were friends?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. It’s just, I never end a call without saying goodbye to my friends.” Walter opened his geometry book and placed it between us.
We worked in silence for a while. I’m not sure what was running through Walter’s mind. Mine kept wandering back to Eliot. What had happened back at home? Where did he go? Was he in Oakville after all?
I made it to the fifth problem before Walter came to sit beside me. I found his presence even more distracting, but I said nothing. A moment later, I could feel him peering over my shoulder.
Rolling my eyes, I moved my hand so he could see better. He pointed to my first answer.
“Two times eight is sixteen, not ten. That changes your answer.”
As he moved on to the next question, I corrected my mistake and began working on number six. I finished the assignment before Walter was halfway done, so I passed him my paper and pulled my physics workbook out of the tower of books beside me.
I wanted to keep the page clean for when I had to study for my test, so I answered the questions on loose leaf instead. I got through three problems when Walter slammed the math book closed. He nodded towards my book as he returned to his side of the table.
“We don’t use that book. But, I can still help you.”
“My teacher didn’t assign it. I just wanted to try them. I’ll let you know if I get stuck. But, later.”
I stuck the paper inside the book and placed it back on the pile. Before I could grab another book, my phone signaled an incoming text message. My immediate thought was that Eliot was finally texting me back. Instead, Crystal was informing me that Larry had his arm around Sarah.
I glanced at Walter. “Do you think there’s something going on between Larry and Sarah?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Walter opened his physics textbook without looking at me.
“I don’t know. I mean, I thought there was something there, since they’re like, always hanging out and everything. But then I thought maybe they’re just friends, since it’s not like Sarah’s always talking about him when he’s not around.” When Walter smirked at me, I could feel my cheeks grow warm. “And I’m like, probably not supposed to be saying that. Roommate confidentiality or something.”
Walter gave a small laugh. “No, but it’s funny to watch them. While we were walking to breakfast, Larry wouldn’t stop debating with himself whether or not Sarah would be there. And, he spent like, literally, half an hour in my room last night talking about Sarah and Crystal. I was on my computer, not paying him any attention, but he didn’t even notice.”
“Well, I think they’re cute together.” I smiled to myself as I opened my physics book.
We had just finished translating Latin passages to prepare for our upcoming test when my phone buzzed. After checking the readout, I glanced at Walter.
“Sarah’s on her way to the dining hall.”
“Great. I’m starving.”
I wasn’t surprised. Walter had a tendency to become hungry within ten minutes of completing a meal. I just rolled my eyes and glanced at my assignment pad.
“I’m think I’m done. I only have my art assignment left.”
Walter nearly whined. “That’s not fair. I’m jealous.” Smiling, he continued in his regular voice as we packed our bags. “I’m not worried about English but computer science is gonna take most of study hours tonight.”
“I thought you said it was easy for you.” I followed him into the hallway.
“It’s not hard. I understand it. It’s just a lot of reading, plus the computer assignment. And I’m behind. Football is occupying a lot of my time.”
“Would it be easier if we didn’t study together? I mean, I’m probably slowing you down.”
Walter stopped dead in his tracks at the top of the stairs. I didn’t even notice until I had reached the bottom. I looked back at him.
“You’re kidding, right?” He stood motionless, his eyes wide.
Walter came down the stairs slowly, as if each step took great effort. “I like studying with you. Without you, I’d probably be playing video games and not getting anything accomplished. Besides, how else can I copy your geometry homework?”
I punched him playfully, probably hurting my hand more than his muscular shoulder. “I knew it! I knew you weren’t checking your answers!”
When he ran away, I chased him all the way to the dining hall. We dropped our bags at our usual table, where Sarah and Crystal were already sitting, then returned to the servery to grab food.
I asked the lady at the grill to make me a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, then headed to the beverage island for a glass of water. Walter placed his tray beside mine. It was overburdened with a slice of cheese pizza, a bowl of pasta with meat sauce, and some of the chicken special. He glanced between our two trays as he filled some glasses of water.
“Hey! Can I put something on your tray? I ran out of room.”
He didn’t wait for an answer before placing his pizza and a glass of water on my tray. He knew I would say yes. He had been sharing my tray nearly every meal all week.
Sarah and Larry had texted everyone on their way to the dining hall, so most of our friends had arrived by the time I got to the table. Larry placed an arm on the back of Sarah’s chair as he looked around the table. “So, what’s everyone doing this afternoon?”
Forrest shrugged. “I missed last period yesterday cuz of soccer. I’m gonna try to catch up a little.”
“I was thinking of exploring some of the hiking trails,” Jade said.
Leif pointed a fork in her direction. “I can go with you. I’ve been running through there for cross-country.”
Walter took a large bite of his pizza. “I’m gonna watch football. Even if I have to read during the commercials.”
Bella laughed. “Can I join you?”
“Count me in,” added Andy.
“Yeah, me, too,” agreed Larry.
“Well, Crystal and I want to go to the mall,” said Sarah. “Melinda?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Why not.”
When we returned to the dorms after lunch, most of the girls stopped in front of Stanton to talk to the boys a little longer. I went straight to my room to unpack my bag.
A few minutes later, Crystal returned alone, looking upset and somewhat annoyed. She climbed onto my bed, glaring angrily across the room as she kicked her dangling feet.
I had no idea why she was so angry. I texted her as I sat beside her.
She sent me a half-hearted smile before furiously typing her response, her fingers flying across the digital keyboard at a rapid pace and my phone dinging every few second.
Sarah had ignored her all morning. Whenever Sarah was talking to Larry, she would forget to sign. Crystal was feeling left out and wasn’t sure if Sarah even noticed her storming away.
I wasn’t quite sure how to make Crystal feel better, but I figured a hug couldn’t hurt. She immediately resumed her typing.
I like you. You’re nice to me.
As soon as Sarah returned to the room, Crystal started signing angrily at her sister. I tried not to stare, but watching them was mesmerizing. The two sisters stood in the middle of the room, simultaneously signing so quickly that I wondered whether they were even paying attention to what the other had to say.
While they held their silent argument, I texted my mother a little about the first week of school. I told her about buying new clothes for dance class and going out with my friends last night. When my mom stopped responding, I glanced at my roommates. Although Sarah and Crystal were still talking to each other, they were communicating less furiously.
I decided to break the silence. “Um, what time’s the shuttle?”
The look Sarah sent me made me wonder if she had forgotten I was still in the room. She glanced at her alarm clock and swore under her breath before repsonding in an annoyed tone.
“We missed the two o’clock. There’s another one at three.”
“Well, why don’t we go hang out at the MAC until the shuttle returns? Play pool or something. Or, did you want to stay here and get some work done?”
Sarah glared at her desk, indicating she had absolutely no desire to begin her homework, before asking Crystal her preference.
When Crystal responded, Sarah jerked her head towards the door. “Let’s go!”
Sunday, September 17
This afternoon, I went to the mall with my roommate and her sister. We had a lot of fun together, even though we didn’t buy anything. Back home, I never really went shopping with my friends, just my mom. There is a small mall not too far away from us, but there isn’t all that much to do there.
This mall, though, was massive. My friends and I made sure to walk every inch of it. I only recognized about half the stores. Even some of the department stores were new to me. If I wanted to, I could have bought exercise clothes, then gone for a run on a treadmill. Because there is a fitness center. Right there, IN THE MALL! And then afterwards, I could have had dinner in the food court before going to watch a movie. Because there is a multiplex. Right there, IN THE MALL!
My mind is blown.
Pat’s story will begin in March