Today Tonight Tomorrow(5)

I’m not sure what I expected—that he’d congratulate Spencer? Tell me I deserved it? But his features softened into an expression I hadn’t ever seen and couldn’t name. “Okay,” he said. “I—I’m sorry.”

The apology sounded so foreign in his voice, but we started the meeting before I could linger on it.

“I really did hope we could stay friends,” Spencer says after we take photos of each other’s insurance cards.

“We are on Facebook.”

He rolls his eyes. “Not what I meant.”

“What does that even mean, though?” I lean against my car, wondering if now I’ll finally get closure. “Are we going to text each other our college class schedules? See a movie together when we’re home on break?”

A pause. “Probably not,” he admits.

So that’s a no on closure.

“We should get to school,” Spencer says when I’m silent a beat too long. “We’re already late, but they probably won’t care on the last day.”

Late. I don’t even want to think about the McMessages waiting for me on my phone.

I give a little wave of my insurance card before tucking it back into my wallet. “I guess your people will call my people. Or whatever.”

He speeds off before I can start my engine. My parents don’t need to know about this yet, not while they’re on deadline. Still shaky—from the impact or the conversation, I’m not sure—I try to relax my shoulders. There really is a lot of tension there.

If I were in a romance novel, I’d have gotten into a fender bender with the cute guy who owns a bar and also works part-time in construction, the kind of guy who’s good with his hands. Most of the heroes in romance novels are good with their hands.

I convinced myself if I just waited long enough with Spencer, he would turn into that guy and what we had would turn into love. While I love romance, I’ve never believed in the concept of soul mates, which has always seemed a little like men’s rights activism: not a real thing. Love isn’t immediate or automatic; it takes effort and time and patience.

The truth of it was that I’d probably never have the kind of luck with love the women who live in fictional seaside towns do. But sometimes I get this strange feeling, an ache not for something I miss, but for something I’ve never known.

* * *

It starts raining again as I approach Westview High School because Seattle. Homeroom’s already started, and I’ll admit, my vanity is stronger than my need to be on time. I’m already late. A few more minutes won’t matter.

When I reach the bathroom and get a clear view of myself in the mirror, I nearly gasp. The stain fully covers one and a half boobs. I run some soap and water on my dress, scrubbing at it with all the strength I can muster, but after five minutes, the stain is still very brown and all I’ve accomplished is groping myself in the first-floor bathroom.

It’s not my perfect last-day outfit anymore, but it’s all I have. I blot at the dampness with a paper towel so it looks a little less like I’m lactating and adjust my sweater so it hides the stain as best as possible. I mess with my bangs, finger-combing them to the right and then to the left. I can never decide whether to grow them out or keep them short. Right now they skim my eyebrows, just long enough for me to fidget with. Maybe I’ll trim them for college, try a Bettie Page kind of look.

I’m almost done fidgeting when something catches my eye behind me in the mirror: a red poster with block letters.





Another thing that slipped my mind in the morning rush. Howl is a Westview High tradition for graduating seniors. It’s a game that’s part Assassin, part scavenger hunt. Players chase each other down while trying to decipher riddles that lead them all over Seattle. The first to complete the clues wins a cash prize. It’s put on by the student council juniors every year as a send-off to that year’s graduates, and last year McNair and I nearly murdered each other trying to organize it. Of course I’ll play, but I can’t think about it until after the assembly.

As I exit the bathroom, Ms. Grable, my sophomore and junior English teacher, hurries out of the teachers’ lounge across the hall.

“Rowan!” she says, eyes lighting up. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us!”

Ms. Grable, who must only be in her late twenties, ensured our reading list was majority women and authors of color. I loved her.

“All good things must come to an end,” I say. “Even high school.”

She laughs. “You are maybe one of five students of mine who’s ever felt that way. I shouldn’t tell you this, but”—she leans in, cups a conspiratorial hand over her mouth—“you and Neil were my favorite students.”

That is when my heart plummets to my toes. At Westview, I’ve always been packaged with McNair. We are never not mentioned in the same breath, Rowan versus Neil and Neil versus Rowan, year after year after year. I’ve observed everything from terror to sheer joy pass over a teacher’s face at the beginning of the year upon realizing they have both of us in their class. Most find our rivalry entertaining, pitting us against each other in debates and partnering us on projects. Part of the reason I want valedictorian so badly is that I want to end high school as myself, not half of a warring pair.

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