“I am not in Band,” I said loudly, and that same kid with the clarinet looked over at me again. “It’s a big mistake and no one believes me.”
“What do you play?” he asked me.
“I don’t,” I said. I was trying to be indignant but he was so cute. I had no idea why he was even talking to me.
“You look like the flute type,” he said thoughtfully, stroking his chin. “Or maybe the piccolo.”
“Shut up,” I said, surprising myself with my boldness.
He was laughing, shaking his head. “Maybe the triangle?” He held up his hand, pretending to hold one, and struck it wistfully with an imaginary wand.
“Leave me alone,” I moaned, putting my head in my hands and secretly hoping more than anything that he wouldn’t.
“Oh, now,” he said, and I felt his hand come around my shoulder, squeezing it, and I wanted to die right there. “I’m just razzing you.”
“This has been the worst day,” I said as he took his arm back, sliding it across my shoulders. “The worst.”
“Faulkner.” The voice was loud, quieting down the entire room, and as I looked up I saw Mr. Mathers, the junior class head counselor, standing by the front desk, a folder in his hands. He didn’t look happy. “Come on.”
“That’s me,” Macon said cheerfully, standing up and grabbing his notebook. He tapped the side of his head with a finger, winking at me. “Remember. Jedi Mind Trick.”
“Right,” I said, nodding.
“See ya later, Halley,” he said. He took his time walking over to Mr. Mathers, who clamped a hand on his shoulder and led him down the hallway. I couldn’t believe he’d even remembered my name. The Die Die Die girl was staring at me now, as if by my short encounter with Macon Faulkner I was suddenly more important or worth noticing. I definitely felt different. Macon Faulkner, who before had said less than seven words to me total in my entire lifetime, had just appeared and talked to me for, like, minutes. As if we were friends, buddies, after only one day of knowing each other formally. It gave me a weird, jumpy feeling in my stomach and I thought suddenly of Scarlett, standing at register eight at Milton’s, blushing down at a kiwi fruit.
“Hal—Hal Cooke. Is there a Hal Cooke here?” someone was saying in a bored voice from the front desk, and whatever elation I was experiencing screeched to a halt. It is times like the first day of school that I curse my parents for not naming me Jane or Lisa.
I stood up, grabbing my backpack. The counselor by the front desk, a huge African-American woman in a bright pink suit, was still trying to make out my name. “Halley,” I said as I got closer. “It’s Halley.”
“Umm-hmmm.” She turned around and gestured for me to follow her down the hall past two offices to door number three. As I passed the middle door I thought I heard Macon’s voice from behind the half-shut door, the low rumbling of Mr. Mathers mixing in. I wondered if his trick was working.
I had almost forgotten him altogether when I finally emerged, bruised and tired, with my new schedule in my hand, standing dazed outside the Guidance office as the bell ending second period rang and people suddenly began pouring out of classrooms and hallways. I went to the Coke machine to find Scarlett.
“Hey,” she called out to me over the crowd of people pushing forward with their quarters and dollar bills, mad for soda. She waved two Cokes over her head, and I followed them until I found her against the far wall, the same one Michael Sherwood had his picture snapped against for the slide show.
She handed me a Coke. “How’s Band?”
“Great,” I said, opening my can and taking a long drink. “They say I’m a prodigy already at the oboe.”
“Like hell,” she said.
I smiled. “I got out of it, thank God. But you won’t believe who I talked to in the Guidance office.”
A loud booing noise went up at the Coke machine, drowning us out, and someone was sent to find the janitor. It always broke at least once each day, causing a minor mutiny. I waited until the crowd had calmed down, walking off jangling their change, before I said, “Macon Faulkner.”
“Really?” She opened her backpack, rummaging through to find something. “How’s he doing?”
“He was already in trouble, I think.”
“Not surprising.” She put her drink down. “God, I feel so rotten all of a sudden. Like just bad.”
“Kind of.” She pulled out a bottle of Advil, popped the top, and took two. “It’s probably just my well-documented aversion to school.”
“Probably.” I watched her as she leaned back against the brick wall, closing her eyes. In the sun her hair was a deep red, almost unreal, with brighter streaks running through it.
“But anyway,” I said, “it was so weird. He just sat right next to me, just like that, and started talking my ear off. Like he knew me.”
“He does know you.”
“Yeah, but only from that one day of the funeral. Before then we’d never even been introduced.”
“So? This is a small town, Halley. Everyone knows everyone.”
“It was just weird,” I said again, replaying it in my head, from the poking on my shoulder to him saying my name as he walked away, grinning. “I don’t know.”
“Well,” she said slowly, reaching behind her head to pull her hair up in a ponytail, “maybe he likes you.”
“Oh, stop it.” My face started burning again.
“You never know. You shouldn’t always assume it’s so impossible.”
The bell rang and I finished off my Coke, tossing it in the recycling bin beside me. “On to third period.”
“Ugh. Oceanography.” She put on her backpack. “What about you?”
“I have—” I started, but someone tapped my shoulder, then was gone as I turned around, the classic fake-out. I turned back to Scarlett and saw Macon over her shoulder, on his way to the gym.
“Come on,” he yelled across the now-empty courtyard to me. “Don’t want to be late for P.E.”
“—P.E.,” I finished sheepishly, feeling the burn of a new blush on my face. “I better go.”
Scarlett just looked at me, shaking her head, like she already knew something I didn’t. “Watch out,” she said quietly, pulling her backpack over her shoulders.