"Stop that! Hey, give them back!"
Seven-year-old Justin Gallagher, with tears threatening in his eyes, reached blindly for his glasses. The fourth-graders, looking much bigger and intimidating than they were, held the eyewear out of his reach and snickered as he jumped and grabbed at the air.
"Hey! Give those back to him, now!"
A small girl, standing with her hands on her hips, stomped towards them.
"If you don't let go of those glasses right now, I'll get my brother to go after you. He's in high school, and he can drive."
The fourth-graders looked at each other, fear evident on their faces.
They dropped the glasses, Justin grasping for them as they landed on the grass.
"Thanks." He mumbled, blushing, as the girl sat down next to him on the ground.
"No problem. I have three brothers, so I know how to get what I want."
The two children sat in silence for a minute, Justin trying to straighten his glasses.
"I'm Anna, by the way." She said, turning to face him and letting her shoe scuff against the pavement of the playground. "Well, Annaleigh, really, but that's just stupid. I don't know why my parents had to give me the longest name, like, ever."
Justin smirked. "I'm Justin."
Annaleigh nodded in response, then looked around.
"Wanna be best friends?"
Justin eyed her carefully, as if wondering what he was getting himself into. "Sure." He agreed, figuring that it couldn't hurt, especially if those boys got a hold of his glasses again.
"Let's make a pact." Anna stated, letting her feet dangle over the edge of the bridge, almost touching the lake below.
"What kind of pact?" Justin asked, tossing a rock into the water and watching the ripples.
"That if neither of us gets a date to our senior prom, we go together so we don't look like total losers."
Justin eyed her suspiciously, "You don't think you'll get someone to take you to prom?"
"No, no." she stuttered, averting her eyes, "I'm worried about you, that's all. I don't want you to embarrass yourself in front of the entire school."
"Oh, thanks for the vote of confidence." He laughed.
"It's not that you can't get a date, it's that…you're different. You're too good for most of the girls at school."
"Somehow I doubt that, but I'll go with it."
They sat in silence for a moment, watching the wind blow leaves into the lake.
"You really think we'll be two losers without dates?"
"No, of course not. It's just a precaution. You know, just in case. But we won't have to do it; no way."
Justin looked over at her, her ponytail disheveled and her flip flops dangerously close to slipping into the water, and thought to himself (though he'd never tell her) that she was the only girl he'd ever want to take to prom.
"This is disgusting." Justin muttered under his breath, following Anna down the hallway, her football-player boyfriend attached at the hip. It had always been just Anna-and-Justin, inseparable, until Anna suddenly got a boyfriend and it was Anna-and-Eric-and-Justin. He was the third wheel, tagging along down the hallway on the way to class, sitting across from them on the bus, finding another lab partner when Anna attached herself to Eric.
"So I was thinking we could have a movie night on Friday. What do you want to watch?"
Anna looked up at Justin, who was staring into space.
"Hello? You in there?"
"I said, maybe we could have a movie night on Friday."
"What about Eric?" Justin asked, keeping the venom out of his voice when he said Eric's name.
"He's going to visit his grandparents in Utah. I thought it would be nice to do what we used to. You know, movies, popcorn, your really uncomfortable couch. Just us."
"That's what you don't get, Anna. It can't be just us anymore."
"What do you mean?"
"You have a boyfriend. It's not okay for you to hang out with me anymore, by ourselves."
"Because Eric would accuse me of trying to…take you away from him."
"Are you insane? Why would he think that? You're my best friend."
"I know that, but he doesn't trust me. And it wouldn't be crazy for him to think that! I…you know what, never mind. I'm busy this weekend, anyway. Sorry."
He stalked off quickly, leaving Anna confused and staring after him.
They hadn't talked in three months.
After his blowup, they'd been avoiding each other's calls and glances, keeping far away and walking different ways home from the bus stop. Justin regretted saying anything, wishing that he'd just tagged along unhappily behind Anna and Eric for the rest of the year. He would have hated it, but at least he would get to see her.
He was sitting in his living room after school, working on his physics homework, when the doorbell rang. Anna was on the other side, her eyes red.
"He was cheating on me." She said hoarsely, tears forming again. He let her in wordlessly, ignoring the fact that they hadn't talked in months, and he wrapped her in his arms and shut the door behind them.
"It's okay," he whispered, attempting to comfort her, when on the inside he was jumping up and down.
"Can you believe we're graduating in June? It feels like everything went by so fast."
Anna threw a rock into the same lake they'd always spent their summers, taking advantage of the unusually warm spring Saturday.
"Yeah," he replied, glancing over at her, "So, prom's coming up in what, a month?"
"Yeah. It's hard to believe it's here so soon. I hadn't really thought about it, but I realized that I haven't made any plans."
He took a deep breath. It's now or never, he thought, turning to face her.
"Anna, do you remember when we came here in the end of the summer before freshman year, the night before the first full day of school?"
"Well, we made a pact, remember?"
Her eyes flicked up to look at him, "Yeah, I remember."
There was a pause as he sat there awkwardly, trying to piece the right words together.
"Well, we said that if we didn't have dates for prom already, we'd go together."
She stared up at him, not knowing how to respond. "So, are you…asking me, then?"
"I…well, yeah. I had a better way of wording it, I'm sure it was much more romantic, but it just kind of happened this way. And I would have asked you anyway, don't think it was just because I promised you three years ago, that would be stupid. I really want to go with you, I didn't mean for it to sound forced. Of course, if you don't want to go with me, I don't want to make you. God, this is all wrong, can I start over?"
"Justin," she cut off his rant, smirking, "Shut up."
She kissed him and he lost his train of thought, because this was so much better than he'd ever imagined.
"So, is that a yes, then?" he asked, smiling when they broke apart.
"What do you think?" she replied, giving him a shove. He slipped and slid into the lake, the cold water soaking his clothes.
"Oh my God," she laughed, as he came up sputtering, "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to do that. Here." She held out her arm for him to pull himself out, but instead found herself being pulled into the freezing cold lake. Apparently, the warm spring air had not spread its temperature to the water.
"I cannot believe you!" she exclaimed, splashing him. "You'd better run."
"Or what? You'll get your big brothers to beat me up?"
"Shut up!" she laughed, splashing him again.
"Okay, okay, I surrender!"
Their laughter carried through the air, echoing as the sun started to set.
"So," Anna said, taking a hold of Justin's hand, "This is it."
"I guess it is." Justin glanced around him, seeing his classmates greeting their families, the caps and gowns making them indistinguishable.
"Hey, kiddo. You made it through high school, huh?"
Their conversation was cut off when Anna's oldest brother, Tom, showed up behind her. She embraced him, smiling.
"Of course I came. You don't think I would miss my little sister's graduation, do you?!"
"Well, I figured you'd be busy doing…whatever it is medical interns do, but…I'm glad you came."
Anna's father and mother came up behind Tom, her two other brothers tagging along.
"Great job, sweetheart. You too, Justin."
"Thanks, Mrs. Harper." Justin replied, as Anna remembered that he'd been standing there.
"Mom, Justin and his parents can come to the party, right?"
"Of course. I already told your mom, Justin."
As they followed Anna's family out to the car, she turned back to him. "This isn't goodbye, not yet."
"Look, this isn't the end of the world. We'll see each other on Christmas and spring break and summers, right?"
"I guess, but you're still going to be a thousand miles away."
"I know." She looked down, pulling her duffel bag from slipping down her shoulder.
"Now boarding flight 220 to LaGuardia." A voice boomed over the speaker system and they realized, for the first time, that this was really happening.
"Okay, I have to do this quickly because we really don't have any time left, and I'm sorry I waited so long to tell you, but I love you. That sounds ridiculous and stupid because we're eighteen and what do I know about love, but I do. And if you don't feel the same way, that's okay. I don't expect you to say it back.-"
"Anna," he cut her off, smiling, "Shut up." He parroted her own words from a year ago back to her, leaned in, and kissed her goodbye. "I love you, too. And this isn't the end, right? It's only college."
"I'm sorry I have to leave you." She whispered, glancing up at the gate where the line was coming to an end.
"You need to do this," he said, "This is your dream. I can't stand in the way. Don't worry about me, okay? I'll come visit on all the school breaks I can afford."
She smiled slightly, squeezing his hand. "Okay. I'm going to miss you. You know that, right?"
He nodded. "I'll miss you, too. Now, go, before you miss your flight. Remember me when you're on Broadway, okay?"
She raised her eyebrows, "Remember you?! You're my date to the Tony Awards!"
He laughed, kissed her one last time, and watched as she boarded her plane. When he got to the parking lot, standing next to his car, he stared at the plane as it climbed into the sky, disappearing into blue and white and sunshine.