by Claude Bornel
In a sea of teenage hormones, Jake swam against the tide in his high school corridors. He bumped into students and squeezed between them and lockers to keep swimming. Wearing his favorite old black jacket over his garments, he wanted to be on time for his third hour. He hated language arts, but he couldn’t afford to be late again. Mrs. Strictport had been clear the day before. If he wasn’t on time, she would give him a referral to the Principal’s office. Jake wouldn’t let that happen. Not in the day he decided to tell Crystal how much he loved her.
When the first bell rang, Jake took the book out of his backpack. Crystal hadn’t arrived yet. Everything was going according to Jake’s plan. He would sit close to where she sat and would open his heart before the class started.
“I brought her a pair of earrings,” a student named Jennifer said. She talked to Samantha. Both were Crystal’s best friends, sitting right behind Jake.
“Are you going to her birthday party tonight?”
“Is Crystal’s birthday today?” Jake barged in, crashing the conversation.
“Why d’ya wanna know, freak,” Samantha said. “Stop being creepy and leave her alone.”
“Yeah,” Jennifer added. “Get your rags back to your side of the room.”
Before the boy wearing a black jacket could react, the final bell rang. Crystal and two other students came in as the teacher locked the door behind them.
Jake’s hands shook as the blonde girl of his dreams walked down the aisle where he was seated. He saw her smile light up the classroom.
Mrs. Strictport moved to the center of the room. He glanced at the teacher and missed the timing he had planned.
Crystal went to sit with her friends. Jake clenched his hand into fists while hearing giggles and whispers behind him. But when the teacher spoke, the whole class became silent.
“Today we will talk about love and its abstractions,” Mrs. Strictport said. “Literature portrays love in so many ways. But, sometimes, what seems to be love is something else.”
The teacher told everyone to open their books on page 47. Jake didn’t listen. Anger had deafened him. He took a deep breath and raised his hand high in the air.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said.
Mrs. Strictport shushed the students chortling. Against her will, she gave Jake a pass.
Down the corridor, Jake was on a verge of screaming and punching the walls. Now that the circumstances spoiled his plans, he saw himself drowning in a troubled and lonely sea.
“It’s her birthday, moron. You need to do something for her,” he said to himself, looking at the bathroom mirror. “And you need to do something with those girls.” He smiled to himself as if he figured how to spear three fishes with one lance.
Instead of returning to class, Jake left the school. Like any other senior, he knew the place well. In his case, it included knowing about a couple of ways to go in and out undetected. There was no way the school security could see him.
Two blocks away, Publix had what he was looking for. Jake searched his wallet and found a ten dollar bill and some random coins. He grabbed an eight dollar bouquet with two pink flowers, two purple and a white one in the middle.
“Nice choice, kiddo,” the male cashier said. “Your girlfriend is going to love it.”
“It’s her birthday,” Jake replied and looked at the clock on the top of the wall, right above the customer service. He opened his eyes wide and started to run as soon as he left the store.
In about twenty minutes, Mrs. Strictport’s class would be over. Jake had to be there fast if he wanted to give the flowers to Crystal and annoy her friends at the same time. He kept running and running as if his life depended on it.
Jake was still recovering his breath after he had jumped the school wall in the same spot he had left. The courtyard was empty. The boy in black walked back to his building. With the bouquet in his left hand, he wondered how surprised Crystal would be. Jake wondered without ever considering his own surprise when a school security officer caught him.
Despite his tiredness, Jake started to run again. He ignored the officer yelling for him to stop and entered the building where he supposed to be. Time wasn’t on his side, but Jake preferred a long haul to lose his pursuer in the hallways.
His tactic seemed to pay off when he stood in front of Mrs. Strictport’s door and didn’t see anyone around. Jake’s left hand held the flowers inside his jacket and knocked with his right. He looked at the teacher staring back at him from inside and shaking her head, pointing at her watch.
Jake banged at the door harder and harder and the noise caught the school officer’s attention.
“Freeze,” the officer screamed and pointed his gun. He couldn’t see what the boy was hiding in his jacket. “Put your hands in the air.”
“It’s her birthday,” the student said and kept hitting the door.
“It’s your last warning,” the officer yelled. “Put your hands in the air.”
Everything happened too fast. The officer watched Jake turning to him, but he still couldn’t see what the boy’s left hand carried inside the jacket. The officer didn’t take a chance; he took a shot at the student.
On the floor, agonizing, sinking in his own blood, Jake held the flowers high up in the air. He kept moving his lips saying and saying: “It’s her birthday. It’s her birthday.”