AS THE MOST RECENT addition to the yearbook staff, Erin got stuck with the jobs nobody wanted. Today, she had to stay after school to take pictures of the basketball team at their last practice.

Not that Erin minded a chance to check out the boys when they were all sweaty with their shirts off, but it was freezing cold in the gym, and Erin couldn't seem to get any pictures. The digital camera only zoomed so much, and all of the pictures were blurry.

Now, the boys, who were done with practice, began to walk toward the locker room so they could shower and go home. Erin ran to the edge of the floor so she could get some pictures of the boys all walking in a line.

Chris, one of the starters, grinned and shoved his friend, Jeff, into Erin. Erin ducked, and Jeff crashed into the wall. Running forward, Chris said, "Dude, I'm sorry. I didn't think I'd pushed you that hard."

"Chris," Erin said, interrupting. "Tomorrow night, you're going to play the Hawks from Pine Valley. They are undefeated, but so are you. How do you think the team is going to play."

"Well, it'll be our last game," Chris answered seriously as he helped Jeff up. "Most of the team is seniors, and we're all pretty bummed about only having one game left. I really hope to go out with a bang, and so do the rest of the guys, so I'm thinking we're going to play hard, no matter who we play."

By the time Erin had finished writing down the quote to put on the yearbook page, Chris and the rest of the basketball team had disappeared inside the locker room. Erin sighed and packed up her equipment.

She put the camera into its case, and put her paper she'd written quotes on into her notebook. The front of her notebook, which she didn't let anyone see, said "I love Chris, Chris + Erin = love," and of course "Chris is hot!"

With everything in her bag, Erin went into the hallway so she could grabs some books for school. Inside, she ran into Chris's girlfriend, Alex. Alex was a foreign exchange student from another country, but Erin could never remember which country that was, and she was afraid to ask.

Alex was without question the most beautiful woman Erin had ever known, or even seen. She made models in magazines look ordinary. She had black shiny hair, and skin that was as dark as chocolate.

In the rural Midwestern town in which Erin lived, there weren't many dark skinned people, and this only made Alex stand out all the more, as if her beauty wasn't enough to make people notice her.

"Uh, hi, Alex. What are you doing here so late?" Erin asked. Usually, Alex road the bus home, she didn't usually spend her time after school checking out boys, the way Erin liked to.

"I missed the bus because I couldn't get my locker opened," Alex explained. She had a strange accent, she seemed to overenunciate her words, but her voice was so beautiful and her sentences had such an odd musical rhythm to them, most people couldn't tell what it was that set her speech apart from everyone else's.

Erin walked toward her locker, and Alex followed, keeping her company. "Is Chris giving you a ride home or something?" she asked. Obviously, since she wasn't a citizen of the United States, Alex couldn't drive.

"That is what he said," Alex replied. "I think he plans to take me out to dinner instead of taking me home." She said it as calmly as another person might say that it looked like it would rain. If Erin were in Alex's position, she would be screaming with excitement.

"That sounds nice," Erin said as she opened her locker and began to gather her many books. "How long have you been going out now? Hasn't it been a few months? Five or six?"

"Six," Alex confirmed. She sighed and leaned against the locker. "That seems like a very long time to date a person who you know you don't have a future with. Especially when I will only be here for a short while longer."

"Well, that's not a very positive attitude!" Erin exclaimed, but the truth was that since Chris and Alex had started going out, Erin had constantly reminded herself that Alex would be gone at the end of the year. "There are a lot of long distance romances that last."

"I don't believe that I would like to be part of a long distance relationship with Chris," Alex answered. Erin felt a little funny. She and Alex weren't close friends, and Alex wondered how Alex would feel about confessing these things if she knew how Erin really felt.

"I how Chris is not too badly hurt when I go away," Alex said. Her voice sounded oddly distant, even for Alex, who talked that way fairly often. "I think it may come as a sort of shock to him."

"He knows just as well as everyone else that you're going back at the end of the year," Erin said. Alex looked startled, as if she'd forgotten that Erin was even there. "Besides, that's months from now," Erin continued. "You never know what might happen."

Alex slowly turned her head so she was staring across the hall. There was nothing to see, however, except rows of lockers. "The time is coming sooner than anyone else may expect," she said cryptically.

"I hope so," Erin said as she slammed her locker shut. She started down the hall and announced, "High school feels like it has lasted forever. I can't wait to graduate and get out of here."

Erin realized that she was talking to herself after a few minutes. She saw that Alex was still standing rod straight against the lockers, staring into nothingness. She shrugged and started to walk away again.

In the parking lot, Erin saw Chris. "I thought you were going to give Alex a ride home," she said, unlocking her own car and throwing her bags into the backseat. Chris joked around sometimes, but she didn't think he'd leave his girlfriend at school.

"She's in one of her moods," Chris grunted. "She said she thinks it's time I learned to function without her and insisted on staying inside. Girls. You know, I love Alex more than anything, but sometimes that girl can just be plain silly."

Erin nodded and got into her car. As she searched for a radio station playing music she knew, she thought of how lucky Alex was to have a boyfriend who admitted he loved her without embarrassment, and what a good girlfriend she could be to Chris if he'd just give her the chance.