Age: 15, Grade: 10
School Name: Abraham Joshua Heschel High School, New York, NY
Educator: Yael Schick
Category: Short Story
My phone buzzes, and I see a text from my mom. Are you there? I respond saying I am, put my phone back in my coat pocket, zip it instinctively, and open the door.
The room gives off radiant energy, the background of the walls are bright white with loopy rainbow staves on them. I smile, and I can’t tell if it’s just on the inside or on the outside too.
My nerves settle when the teacher (who I feel weird calling a teacher because I’m not in school) comes up to me with a warm smile.
“Hi! Are you Aria?” she asks, and suddenly I feel at ease because her enthusiasm and friendliness has already made me feel comfortable.
“Yeah,” I say, “So I’ll just sit anywhere?” She nods with a closed-mouth smile. There are other students laughing and talking in a U of tables, but they’re not nearly full. Good. There are also some just sitting and looking at their phones. I find an empty seat, sit down, and take out my phone.
I fill the next few minutes by watching other people’s Instagram and Snapchat stories because I would feel lame playing a game, and a few more kids trickle in.
Finally, the teacher starts to speak, saying, “I’m so glad that all of you have decided to pursue music outside of your regular school setting!” Everyone puts their phones away and actually looks excited and engaged. Crazy how people like learning if they’re choosing to do it.
“My name is Rose, and in this course, I will be teaching you about the different things that make every piece of music sound the way it sounds, and I’m 99% sure that you’ll walk away from it listening to music differently.”
She continues, and explains how all of us are at different levels, some of us know a lot and some know nothing, so we have to just bear with her at the beginning.
We, as she says, “dive right in,” and Rose begins to talk about the staff in a long explanation of stuff I already know. While some students are taking vigorous notes, I take my first real look at the others. I count twelve people, and don’t know what to think because there was no application and I just signed up for this. Kinda sad for a program for all New York City high schoolers. As I’m scanning the room, I notice someone who looks familiar sitting on the right side of the U. Not knowing where he’s from annoys me until I realize that he’s a junior at my school. I didn’t know he would be into this.
It takes me a sec to remember his name, but I stay dedicated to searching for it in my mind because I know it’ll bug me if I don’t remember. I nearly gasp out loud when it hits me: Harry. I only kind of know who this random guy a year older than me is because I guess you could say he’s popular. It’s more that people generally know who he is because of his friend group, but he’s not “the main one.” That’s the group that I overhear popular girls in my grade talking about, that they’re always hanging out with. That’s them.
But no one ever seems particularly concerned with Harry; he hasn’t dated any of the sophomores, but I do know that he’s supposed to be really good on Mock Trial. And because of the way my associations work, it seems like he’s smart and cares about academic-ish stuff, so I would not say he’s like the rest of his friend group. I just didn’t think I’d find him here, at an outside of school Music Theory class that can’t really get you anything besides knowledge. He turns his head and we make eye contact for a split second before I “continue” looking around the room in my zoned out state.
When the class ends, I start heading home, just one subway stop and a short walk. Once I get in my apartment, I head for my room, but my mission (and quiet, with the exception of the music playing directly to my ears) comes to a halt when my mom starts talking to me from the kitchen.
“Aria! How was it?”
“Good,” I say, and continue walking to my room, but once again, I’m interrupted. Ugh.
“What did you learn?”
“Oh, not much,” I say. “I mean, she taught, but it wasn’t new stuff for me.” My mom walks out of the kitchen and stands in front of me.
“Sweetie, why won’t you talk to me? I want to hear about your day.” I sigh and look down.
“We can talk later, but right now I’m really tired, can I just go to my room?” I pause, then look at her. “Please?” She begins to walk away, and I take that as a yes.
That’s how it’s been for a while, and I have no intention of talking later. Nothing to talk about. That is, since the roles were reversed. I remember when I was little that I was the one that always wanted to talk, but she was too busy.
I continue to my room, uninterrupted this time, I lie down in my bed in the dark. The music coming from my headphones is still background noise, but to silence this time. I turn it up and close my eyes and stay there for a while. Until I decide that the moment must end and I have to do my homework, which is when I walk across the room and turn on the lights.
I find myself at a table in the cafeteria on Wednesday at 11:21 AM, which to me is a ridiculous lunch time, but everyone else seems fine with it. I’m eating an apple, staring straight ahead as I zone out, until I hear the word “junior” coming from a conversation about boys, because when is it not?
I tune in and hear my friend Jessica talking about a party she’s going to this weekend. Of course she’s going to a junior party, and of course her name is Jessica.
Here are the dynamics of my friend group: Jessica’s only friend for the beginning of last year was Katie, and Katie gradually got closer with Anna over the course of the year. I’ve known Anna almost my whole life, and now it’s kind of a group because that happens, I guess. And THEN over the summer Jessica had a glow up and people started noticing her, but she was like “no I’m not gonna ditch my friends because the popular people want to get to know me now.” So she hasn’t ditched us, or should I say them, but she still acts like herself. And that means somehow becoming close friends with people a year older than us.
“Did he invite any other sophomores?” Anna asks.
“I don’t think so, which probably means I’m gonna be alone the whole time…”
“Okay, you can’t deny that a junior likes you if you’re the only sophomore he invites to his party,” Katie says.
Jessica’s about to respond when I say, “Sorry, who is this?”
“Oh, just the guy I’ve been talking about for the last two weeks, Ben.”
They get back to their conversation about people I don’t know, so I zone back out. I direct my eyes straight ahead, once again, not focusing on any particular thing. Then I process the name I was just told, and realize, He’s friends with Harry. It’s not a thing yet, but my mind is secretly trying to figure him out. But I guess since I just thought-said that it became a thing, so I guess it’ll be a thing now.
I continue sitting and doing nothing at the lunch table until the bell rings, when I gather my stuff and go upstairs. On my way to English in stairwell B, I pass him, and we make the same split-second kind of eye contact we made last night. I’ve probably seen him every day, but now it’s an event.
Next Tuesday I’m startled to look to my left and see Harry sitting next to me. We have the same brand of staff paper. Nice.
It’s all fun and simple until Rose tells us to “go over the rhythm with the person next to you,” and seeing as Jackie on my right is taken, I will be working with Harry. Okay.
“Alright. Let’s do it,” he says. What should I say what should I say what should I say. Thankfully, my thoughts (or panic) are interrupted. “You go to McKinley, right?” Oh thank god.
“Yeah, I’m a sophomore,” I smile. He nods, kind of in agreement, kind of in acknowledgement, and we start doing what we’re supposed to do.
At the end of the class, as I’m walking out, he says to me, “See you tomorrow,” and does kind of a smirk thing. I nod, kind of in agreement, kind of in acknowledgement.
Tomorrow arrives, and we wave on my way to English after lunch in stairwell B. The next day, we say hi before school starts as he’s passing my locker. And so on and so forth, until Tuesday, when we both have to go to the same place.
“Aria!” he calls to me as I’m leaving the building. “How do you usually get there?”
“Oh, I take the subway.”
“Wanna go together?”
We start walking, and I’m kind of freaking out, but it’s okay. This is chill.
“So, Aria. You watch Pretty Little Liars?” I laugh a bit.
“So, Harry. You like One Direction?” It takes a sec, but he laughs too.
“You never answered my question.” I sigh.
“Well, everyone was like Oh my god you should watch it because that’s your name!! And I tried, but it was a bit too spooky for me. I’m more of an Office person.”
“Aahhh, classic. Everyone I know either loves The Office or hates it, which is why I’ve never watched it.”
“I don’t really get your logic.”
“Like, it’s such a thing, either you like it or you don’t. Just too complicated.”
“I guess I get that. But people are so defensive over their shows and I don’t even know why. They just like say that a show is trash because they don’t love it and… I don’t know.” I’m worried that I’ve said too much.
“Yeah, I guess. It sucks having people, like, be annoying about the things you like.” He looks like he’s gonna say something else, but then looks down.
“So this music thing…” I say after a pause.
“Yeah, it’s cool. I don’t know. My friends are more into, like rap. It’s not really my thing. And I feel like they just listen to it because it’s popular. Or they really like it, I don’t know. Just doesn’t speak to me. I like more of a melody.”
“You know,” I say, “Aria means melody.”
“Really!? That’s sick. I mean, I guess it kinda worked out. Like, if your parents wanted you to end up being musical,” He pauses. “Did they?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I never really asked them.”
“Well, you should. Names are so cool. My sister’s name is Daisy, and now she’s allergic to flowers.”
I laugh. “Are people allergic to flowers? Or, like, just pollen?”
“I don’t know. I feel like everyone’s kind of allergic to pollen, right? It’s just kind of funny how that happened. Do you have allergies? You seem like the kind of person who has no allergies and just flexes on everyone.”
“That’s so many people though.”
“True. I’m one of them.”
“Well, you’re flexing on me, because I’m allergic to peanuts.”
“Oh come on. That’s so basic.”
I laugh. “What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Well,” he says, “I don’t know, get another allergy. But it can’t be tree nuts, because those are also basic.”
“Okay, so in order to stop being basic, I should… Sorry, I have absolutely idea how to develop another allergy. Is that a thing?”
“Well, yeah, people get allergies later in life. My biggest fear is to become allergic to dogs. Or chocolate.”
“That’s a pretty valid fear. I’ll second you on that one.” He likes dogs.
We go on talking about everything and nothing, and before we know it, we’re laughing on our way into the room with the bright walls.
On Wednesday, my friends realize that something’s up.
“Aria. What’s the deal?” Anna asks.
“What do you mean?” I say as I’m taking a bite out of my apple. Ooh, now my mouth is full so I don’t have to respond right away.
“Why are you so, like, smiley?”
I laugh a bit. “Oh, so I’m not usually smiley?” I hope it’s clear that it’s a joke.
“You’re also more talkative,” Katie says while putting some chips in her mouth. They really don’t have a good lunch program here.
I look down and smile to myself, because I know exactly what’s making me act different. When I think about it, it’s been so long since I ACTUALLY have had a conversation with someone. ‘How are you?’ ‘Good.’ ‘Have you done the chem homework?’ ‘Not yet.’ ‘I need help with seven.’ ‘I’ll text you when I do it.’ Like, those aren’t conversations. They’re just people talking. Honestly, it feels like I’ve been in a sauna—not a super hot one—and I just walked out. I guess that’s why a breath of fresh air is a saying. Feels good.
I also realize that sitting at this lunch table talking (but not having conversations) with these people does nothing for me. I tap my finger on the table to the beat of a song that’s playing inside my head, because I don’t go to that music class for nothing.
We take the subway together again the next week. And the week after that. On Thursday of that week, we have a free during the same period, and play Fire Boy and Water Girl the whole time. The next week, he suggests we walk the whole twenty blocks. We get there eight minutes late, but it doesn’t really matter.
I swear, I’m going crazy. Every time I close my eyes, I see his face. And I see, like, images of him that I just don’t think I’ve seen in real life. They’re different every time. I don’t know how. I see a magazine at my doctor’s waiting room that says something about Prince Harry on the cover, and I swear I blush. It’s so bad.
See, I feel like it’s so bad, but also, is it? I mean, there are worse things than thinking about someone all the time and being sad on weekends because you don’t get to see him, right?
Well, it’s blissful until I see him walking around school with his whole group talking to junior girls and I’m like Right. He has his circles, and in no way do I overlap. But then Tuesday comes around, and none of those people are with us, and he seems like a whole different person.
“This is so weird,” I say.
“I never thought I would be the girl that, like, is friends with junior guys. Just not what I pictured.”
“Oh, come on,” I look up at him, but he’s staring at the ground. I keep walking. “You know how our school works. I’m not one of the girls who…” Suddenly I don’t want to offend him. “I mean like, you know I’m not popular.”
“Well, it’s good that we decided to go to the same music class,” he says, “Because I’m glad I get to know you.” Get to know you. What does that mean? At first it seemed like got to know you, but he said get, like he’s able to know me, like it’s a privilege. I laugh to myself, probably smiling a bit on the outside. He’d be the first to say that.
We walk in silence for a bit, but I don’t like it. At first I think it’s because we’re not making any of the conversation that I crave, but then I realize it’s the lack of sound. Sure, there are sirens and people honking their horns and background noise, but I’m not listening to anything. I talk but I don’t make conversation; I hear but I don’t listen. Usually when I walk alone I listen to music.
“Do you listen to music while walking?” I ask. Something about his presence takes away my instinct to second-guess myself before I speak, so I just go for it. “I mean, you seem to love music.”
He laughs a bit.“I do.”
“Do you wanna listen to something together?” If I’m being honest, I want to figure out what kind of music he listens to.
“Nah,” he says. Well okay. “Because then I wouldn’t be able to hear you as well.” Aaand there goes my heart. Okay. “Tell me, when you’re walking to music, do you walk to the beat?”
“Well, that would be very nice and cute,” I say, “But it doesn’t always work. Most of the time it’s too fast, sometimes too slow. But yes, when I can.”
He’s chuckling, and I don’t know why. “I just love that you think it’s cute to walk to the beat of a song.”
“Well, like,” I laugh, then he does too, as if this is the most hilarious conversation (it’s not) and we just can’t hold back our laugher. “I don’t know. I feel like that’s such a stereotypical thing, but songs are much faster than a regular walking pace.”
“Woah, slow down Aria, we haven’t gotten to tempo yet!” I mean, maybe it’s just because of love, but for some reason, we both crack up.
And we walk and we talk, and we talk and we walk. Both our feet and our brains, in unison.