Editors’ Note: We accepted this story long before the tragic events of Sandy Hook, which occurred almost a week ago today. Yet the innocence and optimism conveyed in this YA short story seem especially poignant and much needed now. Our hearts will forever be with the families of Newtown. We wish all our readers and friends all the peace and joy that is possible this holiday season.
The Touchstone of Validity is My Own, Like, Experience
by Anna Scotti
The first day Gianni waited for me at the corner, I didn’t realize he was waiting: I’d been hanging around, saying goodbye to Maribelle and Jazz, trying to explain to Jazz why a whole number divided by a fraction gets larger, instead of smaller, which was basically a lost cause without some cookies to demonstrate. Jazz is not the greatest on conceptual imaging. By the time I’d said goodbye and hoisted my backpack over one shoulder most of the kids were gone, picked up by moms or nannies or headed homeward, the few who lived close, on foot. I live only four blocks from school and am allowed to walk, but that’s mostly because my mother doesn’t actually realize that there’s no one walking with me, most days. Peggy imagines it as it must have been when she was a child, everybody leaving en masse at dismissal, packs of kids traveling in the safety of numbers, peeling off one by one along the way.
Gianni was leaning against a tree, just off school grounds, with his skateboard under his arm.
“Hey,” he said hoarsely, falling into step beside me, all casual, as if by accident, but I’d seen him waiting. Gianni has mostly ignored me since last year when I refused to let him copy off my paper during a history test. Painful choice, that: I was torn between duty and love, like Marcus Brutus, except that I definitely did not see Gianni as a father figure.
“Hey,” I answered back, suddenly feeling awkward.
“You want me to carry that?” Gianni offered.
I stared at him. “My backpack? Why?”
Gianni shrugged. “Just seems weird, the girl carrying this ninety pound bag of books, and the guy with just a board.”
The way he said it: the girl. The guy. We were that girl and that guy and I was overwhelmed, suddenly. I felt this strange stretching pain in my knees and a silliness rising in my chest: giggles. Knowing this was an entirely age-appropriate response to a flood of hormones from my endocrine glands did not help in the least. I stared at my shoes, fumbling for words. *** Read on! ***