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Better Than Hallmark

            When I returned to AP English, I discovered Jessica Jackson in my seat. She looked up at me as I paused at my desk. “So,” she elongated her “O” into next week. “I hope you don’t mind that I’m in your seat.” She was leaning on Rob’s desk and giving me her big Sunday morning grin. The smile was as fake as our friendship, and even though we grew up in the same church, we hadn’t discovered a Christian way to overcome our mutual dislike for each other. So I ignored her completely. It probably wasn’t what Jesus would do, but it was better than what I wanted to do.

            “Here you go, Rob.” I placed his keys as well as my spare set on his desk and dropped the third into my bag. I tossed my bag toward an empty chair against the wall, and as I headed toward Miss Randall’s desk, Jessica mumbled some worthless comment about the key incident. Yeah, I thought, At least I dated him once. Sure, it was a million years ago when going out meant a boy and a girl didn’t run in opposite directions on the playground, and back in those days, Rob and I spent our entire recess at the swing set. I loved to swing, and he would push me up, up, up into the sky. When I reached a certain height, he would dare me to jump off, and I usually succumbed to his taunts since that was how I impressed him back then.

            “Did I miss anything, Miss Randall?” I asked as I reached my teacher’s desk. Her painted lips lifted from her coffee cup. “Nah, not too much, Chloe.” She wore a deep aqua suit and kept her hair neatly pulled away from her face. “You know,” she started with her pretty smile. “I wouldn’t have let you take this class as a junior if you had pulled that stunt last year.”

            “Aw, c’mon, Miss Randall,” I said, sitting down in the conference chair next to her desk. “If school were based solely on common sense, they’d have to keep me in remedial English.”

            I made my teacher smile and returned to my “seat.” I pulled out a spiral and doodled a picture of a ship sailing toward a tiny deserted island, and when the bell sounded, I glanced up at my annoying seat usurper. She was brushing Rob’s arm lightly and smiling. It was a different smile than the one she had given me, but I hated it even more. She left my seat and said, “Let me know what you decide, Robbie.”

            I slid to the scene before Jessica was out of ear-shot. “Decide what, Robbie?” I inquired even though I hadn’t used his boyhood moniker since our ages reached the double digits.

            He stood up next to me and mumbled softly, “Prom.”

            “Well,” I started slowly. “You wouldn’t be in this predicament if you hadn’t broken up with your girlfriend over Spring Break.” His ex-girlfriend was also a member of our first-hour class, making the scene even more interesting.

            “Predicament?” he echoed. “Most guys would be flattered.”                                

            “So, are you,” I paused before I repeated his word, “flattered?”

            He frowned. “No, not really.”

            Rob and I started toward the math wing, and I handed him a folded piece of notebook paper. “This is for you,” I said with a smirk.

He unfolded my note and read the message at the bottom of the page. “Thanks for saving me.” A corner of his mouth retreated into his cheek for a moment.

            “Do you get it?” I peered over at him and pointed to the picture. “I’m the stick figure with curly hair, and I’m stranded on the deserted island.”

            “Well.” A big smile took over his face. “Those sure are some nice coconuts.”

            “Robert. Wesley. Callahan.” I intonated his mother’s voice.

            “On the tree,” he defended. “Why? What were you thinking?”

            “I was thinking you were a—” I stopped myself because I was trying to express my gratitude, and jerk wasn’t exactly the best way. “So, anyway, you’re in the boat wearing your ratty, old Red Sox cap. Of course, that’s supposed to be the pirate ship from Treasure Island, but my artistic ability is limited, you know.”

            He folded the picture and put it in the back pocket. “Well, it’s better than Hallmark, or at least that’s what my mom would say to make me feel better.”

            I placed a playful punch on his arm, and he nudged me with his shoulder. Some things about our relationship never matured beyond the days of playgrounds and pirate stories, and if we overlooked the things that had, our friendship would always remain the same: innocent.

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