Mason Ballard was just like most boys in junior high. Junior high had been as new to him as it was to every other person. He was the same age as the others. He had average grades. He did not excel nor did he fall behind. He was perfectly normal.
Well, normal aside from being the heartthrob of every single girl that every encountered him. He made the girls that said they'd never love follow him at his heels. He'd made the flirtatious ones swear loyalty to him. It wasn't as if he tried to get girls worship the ground he walked on, it just happened.
He didn't have control over the sandy blonde hair, the verdant green eyes that shone lightly like a neon lamp; the eyes girls swore could see into their souls. It wasn't like he was responsible for the gorgeous legs that put daddy frickin' long legs to shame. He just happened to be sporty and look good doing it.
Just because he could lose himself in a good book, that meant girls found him irresistible? He loved theater, so girls put pictures from yearbooks of him on their bedroom doors? Did it really matter that he had a voice that made an archangel weep tears? He didn't understand what using his money to buy Christmas presents for his little sister had to do with anything! Girls confused the poor boy.
It wasn't as if he ever tried to impress girls. Mason never turned his head in the direction of a girl; not a girl that wasn't Emileigh Alder. He'd had eyes for Emileigh for as far as his memory would go back. They'd been playmates and had lived next door to each other forever. They had their own code using flashlights to communicate from their windows.
Emileigh was moving out of state at the end of the school year and the end was approaching fast. Her dad was long time air force. Emileigh and her family would leave coastal California and the sandy, dark beaches for Virginia and whatever horrors lied there.
Mason rolled out of bed the morning of eighth grade graduation to find he still hadn't confessed to Emileigh. He either confessed to her now in person or endure the humiliation of later confessing via e-mail. Either way, he was going to crush the hearts of a few hundred or so girls.
Mason swung his legs out of his bed to have them hit the grey carpeting of his bedroom floor. The carpet was warm from the early sun glancing its rays on it. He shook out his hair and let it hang limply in his eyes.
I see yet another stupidly long day ahead. Ah, crap. He thought with a deep sigh.
He put on a shirt and pulled his pants onto his legs. Consequently, having legs that long and being that skinny made it hard to find a good pair of pants. Either the waistline right size and legs were up to past his ankles, or the legs were long enough on to have the waist be freakishly large. His belts were rarely long enough to keep the size double x pants on his broom handle hips.
He looked from the window to see the curtains to Emileigh's bedroom window open. She taped a large banner to the glass. It read simply,
Have a great day Mason! Good luck (:
In her eloquent scrawl. He smiled and chuckled to himself. He adored that girl. Everything about her was wonderful. He laughed louder and shook his head. He walked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
He was greeted by Andrea, his little sister, as he marched his way down the stairs.
"Macy!" she called to him. He might not really enjoy being called by a girl's name, but he tolerated only because it was his little sister. He'd knock the daylights out of any other person who tried it.
"Macy, are you nervous?" she asked with a tremble in her voice. She was only six and he loved her more than the world. He would do anything for his baby sister.
He ruffled her brown curls with a smirk on his face. All she knew was that her big brother was doing something that gave her an excuse to wear a 'pity dress' as she put it. Age had not taken away her speech problem, but he was kind of glad. He found them endearing.
"Not really, honey. More excited really. Are you nervous?" He watched her contemplate her answer.
"No. If you were nervous, Macy, I probably would be. But since you're not, I think I'm gonna be fine." She smiled widely showing off the two bottom teeth she dislodged forcibly by hitting her face against the swing set when she attempted to jump. Mason had nearly had a panic attack as her watched her spit her teeth into the sandbox. All she did was laugh. He really didn't understand girls.
He patted her on the head again and flicked her. She screamed a wild laugh and nearly fell down the staircase. He caught her and slung her over his shoulder. She flailed and laughed more, but he endured the kicks and kept on laughing. He set her down at the end of the stairs.
"Aw," she pouted.
"Oh come on, honey!" he grinned.
She accepted that with a sigh and walked away with a, "See you later, Macy!" He kept smirking until he reached the kitchen. He dropped in two strawberry waffles, frozen to the toaster oven style.
When they popped, Mason buttered them heavily and ate them like a taco. He saved himself from having butter drip onto his nice button down shirt. His mother would surely have thrown a hissy fit.
He brushed it off, and fiddled with his tie. He didn't understand why the graduating class had to wear ties and dresses. Mason didn't see the point. There was no point to dressing fancy like on game days, and no point dressing proper now. Although, this meant Emileigh had to wear a dress. That was nice.
Emileigh rarely wore dresses. She was more of a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. She did have a certain love for pink which he found to be not typical in girls like that. He really truly did not understand girls.
He finished his waffles in record time and loaded up his pack. His backpack was lighter than he thought it before. It was probably because he didn't have any books in it. After a year of being a pack mule, to not have to carry anything felt strange.
"Bye peoples!" he called out. His mother was probably still in bed. She'd get up to drive Andrea to school in an hour, though. Mason's father left every day for work at seven forty-five, so he was long gone. He only said it for Andrea's sake.
"Eek!" Andrea squealed as she ran to him. She clung to his jeaned leg.
"Bye Andy," Mason said as he dislodged her from him.
"Hey! Don't call me 'Andy'!" she snorted. Her eyes were filled with laughter all the same.
"Please, if you get to call me Macy, you can endure Andy. Besides, I've always called you Andy. Why the sudden aversion to it?" he asked.
"Well," she looked down and twisted he foot on the ground. "These boys at school were making fun of me because of it. I was really mad." She balled her hand into a small fist.
Mason's blood boiled. What kid dared make fun of his sister? Maybe a kid with a death wish would, be them in first grade or not. He was ticked.
"I'll make 'em pay honey. No one makes fun of you as long as I'm around." She let go of his pant leg then. She stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth.
"Thank you kindly, Macy," she chirped.
"No problem, Andy."
He closed the door and locked it behind him. It wasn't a very far walk to his bus stop. All the kids waited at the school Andrea went to. He began his trek down the street.
The bus stop was as crowded as ever, save a few whose nerves were getting to them. They usually preferred to have their parents drive them to school. Nonetheless, there were plenty of kids there. More of them would rather be with their friends than parents.
Mason spotted Emileigh effortlessly. She was wearing a pink dress like he knew she would be. He was ashamed to be able to recognize the sheer fabric with a mere glance. The frilly bottom was layered and came a little above her knees.
Her short blonde hair was pinned up on her head. A pale rose was clipped behind her ear. He realized it came from the bush they planted when they were little.
He came up behind the group. There was a lot of screaming and crying about Emileigh's departure. Mason, apparently, wasn't the only one lamenting over it. All her friends were just as broken up about it.
"And honestly! What about poor Mason?" one girl cried. They obviously didn't notice his proximity.
"Yeah, Emmy! The boy's gonna die. Absolutely no doubts. His world revolves around you. Your leaving is gonna leave a lot of girls very happy, sure, but it's also going to destroy," the girl drug the word out far more syllables than it was supposed to be, "a certain hottie. D-e-s-t-r-o-y," she spelled out. "Destroy him. Emmy! He's gonna kill himself!" Her pained wail hurt the ears of everyone close to her.
Well, he had no intension of killing himself. Mason was considering locking himself up in his room and possibly having a good cry. He hadn't cried in a long time anyway. It'd be healthy.
"Emileigh, if he kills himself, I'm going to kill you. He is way too hot to die. Like, way."
"Really Em, he is a great masterpiece created by God himself. If he commits suicide, I'm gonna commit suicide. He's so wonderful."
"Yes. If he kills himself, I'm going to die." She made 'I'm going to die' into four separated sentences.
"Well, ladies, I had no intension of killing myself, honest," he voiced. "Especially since I now know how many lives depend on me," Mason interjected mockingly. Emileigh gave him a look. It was a look that read, Please don't embarrass them too bad, 'kay? Thanks.
Several girls screamed. Had Mason Ballard just addressed them? Be it in a large group or not, that was Mason freaking Ballard.
The bus came then, and the whole congregation swarmed around it. Mason put an arm over Emileigh, keeping her safe from the pushing and shoving and biting and kicking that went down during the bus loading. There tended to be a gap in between Mason and the others. This had been happening even when he was a sevvy. He'd always been respected to some degree by everyone. Even Emileigh sometimes had a hard time believing she was privileged when it came to the boy standing next to her.
The bus loaded up, and after a long lecture from the bus driver about not being so violent when they were getting on, they headed out from the school grounds. Mason had a reserved seat that he requested from Ms. McNam, the bus driver, who graciously agreed. Even on days when Mason was absent, the seat remained untouched.
Emileigh slid in ahead of him and looked out the window. She leaned her head against the glass paneling. With a chilling sigh, she turned to face Mason. He looked at her with concern.
"Are you okay, Em?" he asked her.
"Peachy," she replied. "It's just that I realized that this is my last time sitting in this spot on the bus. I won't be able to do it again." Her face contorted, not looking near tears, but still unescapably sad.
"Well, technically, you still have the trip home, and if it makes you feel any better, after that, it's my last time here too." He tried to cheer her up. He always found his humor the make her snap out of her sadness.
"Thanks Mason. I really do appreciate that." Her smile was warm like it always was, but there was still a hint of hollowness to it. Mason didn't like that in the slightest, though he knew it futile to try and do anything about it.
The rest of the ride was spent with Emileigh's head on Mason's shoulder. She appeared to sleeping. He didn't blame her. She'd had a long night with packing and what not. He wished he could get some sleep.
The bus ride was a long one. The elementary school was the closest one to the junior high, yet it was still a long distance. The school was nestled deep in the rural nature, next to nothing but a ghost town and a gas station. It still managed to keep a distinguished title, having the highest test scores out of all the junior high schools in the county.
The bus pulled into the lot and began to unload its morning toll onto the asphalt. Kids carried back packs lighter than ever thanks to the end of the year to the area you stood at until the bell to go to home room rang. The bus always made it about fifteen minutes early, so they had that much longer to bask in the early morning California sun.
The bell rang and classes started. The end of the year meant nothing for the boringness of each core class. Even Mason's final elective was more boring than usual. He couldn't wait for it to all be over.
"Mason!" he heard Emileigh call after the end of sixth period. She ran to him. Grabbing his arm, she pulled him to the bus. "Have I ever told you that you smell nice?"
"Um, awkward silence," Mason said good-naturedly. He laughed under his breath as they walked. The bus waited where it had waited for two years, always by the gym entrance. He and Ms. McNam knew right well that people would board the wrong bus if she parked anywhere else.
There was mindless chatter on the bus. Everyone was ecstatic for summer months and the graduation. There was always a party after the initial graduation part, but no one ever really stayed for it, much to the dismay of all the PTA moms.
"Later Emmy!" a girl called out as she walked down the sidewalk. Emileigh called back as she walked the opposite direction with Mason. They watched as people jumped into cars, or began their walk down the street. Some picked up little siblings from daycare at the school. Mason was lucky enough to have his mother be a stay-at-home-housewife, so he was opted out of having to get Andrea each day.
Mason waved goodbye to Emileigh as she walked one house further down the street. He entered his home to have his mother bombard him with tasks to do before the ceremony. He was to take a shower, brush and whiten his teeth, and make sure he was wearing his nicest dress shirt under the graduation gown.
Time flashed by in what felt like minutes. He walked over to Emileigh's to pick her up. They always carpooled on school occasions.
She wore her robe-like thing as well. Her hair was done up in the usual way, it being too short to do anything with. Emileigh's large green eyes were full of excitement as well as the normal laughter.
Graduation went by faster than Mason thought time could go by. Just moments before he was wiping the sweat off his hands as he walked with Emileigh into the gymnasium. Then, out of nowhere, everything was over. He and Emileigh were in the back seat of his mother's car.
"That was fast," Mason muttered as he walked Emileigh up to her porch. He rested his head against the wood beam railing that went around the entrance.
"You can say that again," Emileigh agreed. She looked cold, and well ready to go inside. The words of every friend Mason had echoed through his head.
You better kiss her man.
You tell her you like her or I'll never talk to you again.
I swear Mason; if you don't, you'll regret it for the rest of your life.
His friends had turned out to be much like the girls when it came to gossiping about his love life. They were all routing for him back there, and he knew he was going to disappoint.
"Well, goodnight Mason." Emileigh turned and opened the door. Mason's call to stay got stuck in his throat. The door closed quietly, taking Emileigh to the other side.
"Wait," he choked out feebly, but it was too late. She was gone. She was leaving early the next morning. Her family was originally planning on leaving that day, but due to Emileigh's begging's, they agreed to stay just for graduation. Right then was his last time seeing Emileigh face to face; at least for a very long time.
He kicked the ground hard, scuffing his dress shoe. His was angry; angry at the world for being so unfair, angry at the air force for taking away Emileigh's dad, and so forth taking Emileigh, but more than anything, Mason was angry at himself. He didn't understand why he was so weak. Why was it that when Emileigh was around, he would get tongue-tied and flustered? He didn't understand!
He would have to wait a long time before he saw Emileigh again, and who knew what could happen in that amount of time? He could see Emileigh, at another graduation, her high school years having flown by as fast as their eighth grade graduation.
He could see her on the arm of a boy, the talk of her high school. Then flash five years later, with her at her college degree under her belt. There was the same boy, just this time on his knee. She would get married. She would be with someone else.
Then, there was him. He would finally reach out to her after so many years. She would agree to meet him at the train station they used to loiter in. There she would be smiling like she always had; wearing a dress the boy had bought her. She would be happy, and so very far away. Such an image was unbearable.
He reached his house and snuck through the door, making as little racket as possible. He didn't want his family bombarding him with questions as he knew they would. Mason climbed the stair, conveniently by the door and out-of-the-way of the living room.
When he reached his room, he took off the itchy vest that his sister loved so much. She had insisted he wear it. The tie followed. When he was comfortable, he laid in bed. He just laid there. He didn't move or sleep; just sat.
When the monotonous tedium of the whole situation finally got to him, he could stand it no longer. Mason pulled himself from bed, and went to the window. Once again, how wonderfully convenient it was. Emileigh's window was straight across from his.
He threw open the window with just a little too much force. The pane rattled as it tried to calm itself. The cool night air bit at his cheeks, turning them ablaze. It was warm red color, making him look almost as if he was blushing.
He started to throw things of no value from his room at her window. After the fifth pair of socks filled with junk from atop his dresser, she finally came to her window. She looked confused at what was happening. It was already near midnight.
"Huh?" she asked groggily.
"Emileigh." He didn't know where he was going to go with this. He thought of his awful nightmare. She couldn't do something like that. He couldn't let her.
"Emileigh, I love you!" he blurted. He closed his eyes a waited for her soft rebuff as he knew it would come. When it didn't he went on. "I've loved you for as long as I can remember. When I pushed you off the swing set in that park, it could've been one of my best moments, because if I hadn't, I never would have met you. Wow, that sounded cheesy," he murmured, but went on.
"Thank-you for everything Emileigh. It kills me to see you go. I'm gonna cry, I just know. I'll love you forever. Don't you ever forget that. Ever."
To make a confession to the girl next door that you'd "secretly" been in love with forever and then let the sentence hang in the air, waiting for no reply – that was the way of Mason Ballard.