Maddi Mitchell has three lovebugs in her hair. One is poised on the edge of a golden curl cupping her left eyebrow. One is burrowed into the dark space behind her ear, its orange head peeking out like a signal fire. And one is perched on Maddi’s part, and I imagine it grabbing two strands of hair like reins and riding her scalp all day.
I will gently pick them off, making sure not to crush them and smear death grease and release the smell like bell peppers and rotten potatoes. I will make a joke so she won’t be embarrassed even though Maddi never gets embarrassed about anything and even though lovebugs get everywhere so there’s no reason to be embarrassed about having three of them in your hair anyway. Still, I heard her squealing yesterday in the courtyard before school when one flew too close, and she flailed away, the one and only time I ever saw her be anything but graceful and perfect. She will appreciate me for removing them. She will see me.
She will smile and say thanks, girlfriend and we will walk together to fourth period. She will tell Brian Swilley to sit somewhere else and point to his vacated desk, and I will sit next to her. She will lean secrets on her elbow, twisted back in her seat to whisper to me when Mr. Carter isn’t looking.
When the bell rings we’ll walk to the cafeteria. I’ll sit next to her, and she’ll admire my bento boxed lunch with the turkey roll-ups, cubed fruit, cheese cubes, and black olives all in their own little sections. I’ll shrug and tell her to have a piece of pineapple. She’ll ask if I understand what we’re doing in geometry. I’ll show her how to do the proof from today’s lesson, and she’ll say, now I get it!
I’ll hang out at her house on the weekend, and her dad will have a nickname just for me, and her mom will have Mure Pepino LaCroix in the fridge just because she’ll know it’s my favorite. Her little sister will ask me to help her with her homework, and her older brother will ignore me but secretly want to date me.
There will be pictures of us in the yearbook laughing together at the Homecoming dance and at the spring service project. Everyone will know we’re best friends, and they’ll say, MaddiandAnna as if it’s one word.
“What are you staring at, you freak?”
Maddi Mitchell is looking at me, her mouth twisted up and her eyes full of all the things I think about myself when I’m alone in my room, wishing I had somewhere else to be and someone to be with. I lift my hand slowly and move it toward her, all the things we’ll do together held between the fingers that reach out to pluck the first lovebug from her hair so I can hold it out to her, an offering she will immediately understand.
“Don’t touch me, loser.”
And everything falls and shatters as the lovebug riding atop Maddi Mitchell’s head tugs the reins and wheels her away, and I’m left with my empty hand still suspended in the air.
Andrea Rinard is a veteran high school English teacher whose midlife luxury is writing. Her short works have been published in The Jellyfish Review, Spelk, Crack the Spine, and other literary magazines. She’s working on her second novel which was recently announced as the winner of the Key West Literary Society’s 2020 Marianne Russo Award for a work-in-progress. A native Floridian who wears shoes against her will, Andrea lives in Tampa with her three young adult kids and her 1988 Prom date. You can find her at www.writerinard.com and on Twitter @aprinard.