The Wrong Side of the River
When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew
Standing beside my locker wasn’t so bad, at first. All my friends, and friends of friends, stopped to talk to me. I was popular again now that I had chosen sides like everyone else. The whole school was divided into red and blues, I almost expected to see duct tape lines on the floors dividing the red zone from the blue, just like at home. I bet someone would have tried it if they thought the teachers would allow it.
Mom made me wear the red sweater again, but the line of people who stopped to say hello as if nothing ever happened when they would have glared at me a few days ago made me furious. I ripped off the sweater and shoved it inside my locker. I would sooner freeze.
Julian had not shown up by the time lockers were closing and people were filing into classes. If he didn’t hurry up, we would have no time left to talk.
“We’re winning, you know,” Charlotte said.
“Yeah,” said Bethany. “I heard that the Mayor is realizing he can’t beat the injunction.”
I thought of Mayor Griffin. He did not seem like the sort of man to be beaten so easily. “I doubt that.”
“Then we will have to fight a bit harder, won’t we?” said Charlotte. When she got to talking about the park, she reminded me so much of her mother, Mrs. Flotts. Tall, blonde, and super angry about pretty much everything.
“Time to go,” Bethany said, nodding her head in the direction of our first class.
Charlotte smiled at me. “Come on, grab your books.”
I glanced over at the front doors, still no sign of Julian. It wasn’t like him to be late, and even less like him not to meet me when he said he would.
“I—um, darn. I just remembered I didn’t finish that assignment for Mrs. Chalk. You guys go ahead, I’m going to scribble something down and be right there, okay?”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Honestly, Rome. You get worse every day.” She said it with a giggle, though, and she and Bethany headed off to class without me.
The crowd of kids got thinner and thinner. Still no Julian.
He would have sent me a text if he were staying home, or if he was in the hospital or something. His father usually drove him, so he was never late. Maybe he decided to walk to school with his friends in the snow? But, no, I saw them arrive ages earlier with the bus crowd.
He must still be on the way to school somewhere.
The front doors swung open with a thump and a lot of excited laughter. Parry and his friends shoved their way inside, wet boots squeaking on the floor. They bumped fists and laughed at some joke that I had a bad feeling was about Julian.
Parry looked straight at me. “I wonder where little Julie has gotten to?”
My stomach twisted itself into a knot. I couldn’t let Parry see I was worried, so I turned around and fiddled with things inside my locker. He let out a loud laugh and slapped hands with his friends before they all strutted off to class, leaving a wet snowy trail behind them.
Once they were out of sight, I ran to the front door. A couple of stragglers arrived and hurried past me and straight to class, but no Julian.
When I could not ignore the bell any longer, I made my way to class, looking back over my shoulder most of the way.
Julian didn’t show until class was well underway. Wet, bedraggled, ears and nose bright red, and no glasses. He glanced over at me and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” before stumbling over someone’s bag on the way to his seat.
He tugged off his soaked jacket and hung it over the back of his chair. Underneath, his sweater and shirt were wet through. He shivered and blew on his hands to warm them up while the teacher got on with the class.
What did Parry and his idiot friends do?
I didn’t get a chance to talk to Julian all day long, although I did get glimpses of him banging into things or hanging on to his friends’ sleeves as they led him from class to class. They never left him alone long enough to talk to me.
At drama, Mrs. Kempf was in a fluster, all dressed up in a pair of stripey pants that looked like something a clown would wear. It did not help that her hair had frizzed into tight curls and she had on too much eye makeup.
“It’s too cold to be here late today, kidlets. So let’s get straight to work!”
We all hurried onto the stage and found our places.
“Are you okay?” I whispered to Julian, before we started.
He grinned in more-or-less my direction, squinting a bit. “Sure. I’m fine.”
“Julian, are you able to continue without your glasses?” Mrs. Kempf asked, and he sighed.
“Yes, I’m fine. I know the words by heart.”
In fact, he was even better without the script clutched in his hands. We went through one scene after another, and even though the action was a little messed up, he never missed a word. When we got to the kissing scene again, he knelt on the floor in front of me and took my hand in his.
He smiled up at me, and without the glasses I could see the way his eyes went all sparkly at the corners like he knew the punchline to the very best joke. I watched him as he kissed the back of my hand and looked up at me with a big smile in his eyes.
I lifted my hand and kissed the exact same spot he did. Then I gave him a shaky smile in return.
“Oh, very good! Just lovely. What a wonderful job. Bravo!” Mrs. Kempf bounced around in the front row like an excited poodle, but I just kept grinning at this brand new Julian that I hadn’t noticed before.
“You are a really good actor,” I said.
His smile went wide and a little goofy. “Thanks, Romy.” Then his grin wobbled a bit. “It’s not really acting, anyway.”
I wondered if he meant that he had not been able to do much action without his glasses, or whether he meant the part where he kissed me. I kind of hoped he meant me.
Mrs. Kempf came on stage to order the crew around while the actors took a break or ran lines on our own. I pulled Julian aside and asked about what had happened.
“I got white-washed,” he said.
I knew what that meant, even if I had never seen it. And I never wanted to.
Julian nodded, and then shrugged. “It’s okay. I survived.”
“Those turkeys. I have had about enough of Parry Hendricks.”
Julian grinned like it was no big deal. “Who cares? You and I are friends again. He can’t change that.”
I sure hoped he was right.

Keep Reading

Chapter 27

For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night Julian

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