Gretchen knew that this was the end for her. Harold was going to make sure of it.
Two years earlier, he was truly a nobody. Harold was the guy that could have gotten away with murder in a room filled with people, as no one would have been able to give any type of a description of him. Then, he met Gretchen. Or Gretchen met him.
Gretchen was the opposite of Harold. She was more focused on friends and parties. She cared about what people thought of her and everyone knew who she was. She was not a tenth-grade prom queen, but she was already friends with the senior who was. It could be said that she may have been the most popular girl in her grade.
It was by chance that they were paired up at all. She needed help with her math and he never did. The teacher passed out all the tests and it seemed as everyone lost a couple inches when they looked at their grade. Everyone except Harold. Gretchen didn’t really even know his name. It was by chance that she noticed a slight smile on his face when the test plopped down in front of him. She had to bring up her grade and Gretchen decided that the shadow in the corner was going to help her.
As everyone sulked out of the classroom, Gretchen waited and watched the shadow as he gathered his things and went to the back door of the class. Gretchen hurried to catch up with him before he made it to the door. Harold glanced over briefly and began to move ever slightly faster as he saw the figure heading towards him. Right as he reached the threshold a hand grabbed him by his arm.
“Hey,” Gretchen said with a flutter of her eyes and a little smile. Harold, knowing it was a mistake of some kind, gave an awkward smirk at her and flicked his arm free. She tried to grab his bag as he darted into the hall, but he was too fast for her. She moved to the hallway, but the shadow was gone.
At lunch, Gretchen sat in a corner, sure that she would be able to find the shadow. Her friends all sat around her and talked, but she just kept moving her head like a broken sprinkler. Periodically she would grab a carrot stick off of her friend’s tray, but her eyes made their way back to the crowd in an instant. At one point, she stood up and walked up and down each row of tables, but the shadow was not there.
Gretchen had Language Arts at the end of the day and her teacher’s chaunt voice made it hard for her to stay awake, let alone pay attention. She was about to put her head against the side wall when she noticed the same shadowy figure in the back corner of the room. He was the only person smiling in the entire class. She took this opportunity to make sure he didn’t get away.
Gretchen ripped a modest portion of paper from a neighboring desk and scribbled information on it. She folded into fourths and took a deep breath. In one graceful motion, Gretchen lifted herself up from her desk and began to make her way to the seat of the shadow.
“Miss Hill,” Mr. Cramdon, the English teacher, belted out to Gretchen, “you need to have a seat.” She didn’t look away from her target. In only a few strides, she was at Harold’s desk. She locked eyes with Harold and took the paper and pressed it onto his desk. She maintained her gaze for another second before turning and making her way back to her seat.
The remainder of the class Gretchen watched Harold as he followed along with Mr. Cramdon’s lesson, leaving the paper on his desk where she placed it. It wasn’t until the very end of class that Harold took the paper and looked at its contents. He looked at the paper and then at Gretchen and at the paper once again. It was ten seconds before he looked at her again. And when he did, he shook his head at her.
Once the bell rang, Gretchen stood up and hurried over the Harold. And before he could get all of his things in his bag, she was standing at his desk.
“I’ll pay you,” she said.
“Um, I don’t think so.”
“I will,” Gretchen said in a firm voice.
“I, um, don’t have time to help you.”
“Please,” Gretchen said with a desperate tone, finishing her desperation with a biting of her bottom lip.
Harold pierced his eyes and bit the side of his bottom lip too. “Okay, I’ll help you, but you have to be available when I am.” Harold gave her a small single nod. “And I don’t want any money.”
Gretchen couldn’t believe her luck. “Deal,” she said, extending her hand out to Harold. He grabbed her hand and gave it a single shake.
“Meet me here tomorrow morning, an hour before first period.”
“You mean like in this room?” Gretchen looked at him a bit puzzled.
“It’s as good a place as any.” And Harold gave her the half-smile that she’d seen before and then quickly slipped into the hallway and disappeared.
Gretchen had a difficult time sleeping that night. When she started dreaming, it was her walking nowhere, then running, but still going nowhere. In the distance was a dark tornado, which was heading directly at her. She continued to try to run away but within a dream second, the tornado had enveloped her. And instead of spinning her around, it lifted her feet gently off the ground and took her where she wanted to go. This dream happened four separate times with her waking up, making her feel lighter than air herself.
The next day, Gretchen walked a bit aimlessly around the near empty hallways of the school, staring down at the floor, and thinking about the dream she had the previous night. When she made it to the English classroom where she was going to be tortured in math, Gretchen looked inside and came to a strange realization. As Harold was walking to greet her at the door, she thought to herself that she should turn and run away. But she stood still and waited for his outstretched hand, she began to feel as if she was once again floating off the ground.
Gretchen spent the entire tutoring session trying to figure out what it was that made her shadow so appealing to her. She looked in his eyes every time he looked up from the book or paper he was using. She would watch his mouth move when he spoke to her and continue to examine his face until he would look up at her. She would give little glances at his shoes, pants, and shirt. There was no part of this guy that stood out as special to Gretchen.
Before leaving for their first class of the day, Harold handed Gretchen the notes page that they were working on. “Let me know if you need anything else.”
“I do,” Gretchen answered with an awkward smile of her own and a little straightening that almost pulled her feet off the ground. “Can we meet at lunch?”
“I don’t usually go to lunch, but if you want, you can come to the auditorium and we can study a little there.”
“Okay, it’s a date.” The words escaped her lips and she turned and walked away as quickly as she could to avoid feeling embarrassed. Before she made it to the next classroom door, Gretchen turned to get one more look at Harold, but he was gone.
Gretchen stared at the clock during first period, waiting for math class. Although she knew there were absolutely no features of his entire being that she would typically find attractive, she still found herself attracted to him. She wanted to figure it out and she would do that at lunch. In the meantime, she had to make it through her next period and math. Math being a class they shared.
Once she made it to math class, she did her best to ignore him, and did pretty good until the teacher called on Harold to answer problem. She turned so fast that she could hear the bones in her neck crack. The girl that sat behind her gave her a look, but no one else seemed to notice. Gretchen didn’t realize it was the bouncy, excited attention that made the girl look at her in such a way. The rest of the class, she didn’t look away.
At lunch, she met him in the auditorium where he was playing piano. When Harold noticed her watching, he stopped and walked over to her. He held out his hand to greet her and she waited until he was within an arm’s reach of her. Instead of grabbing his hand. Gretchen stepped pass his hand and lifted her hand to the side of his face and planted a kiss on him.
From that day on, they were sharing a lot of time together. She introduced him to people he never talked to before and introduced him to things he had never done before. Gretchen made small changes to his look, and he made some changes in her as well. She started to listen to different music and would go to some different venues than she normally had gone to before. When his mom was out of town on business, she would spend the night as his house. And one other nights, Harold would go to the back of her house and crawl through her window, only to sneak out before dawn. For the next year and a half, they tasted everything that the other had to offer.
Then things changed a little. As they started their senior year, they started to focus on things that each of them felt was important to them. Harold focused on music, programming, and applications to colleges. Gretchen realized that she was losing track of some of her old friends, so she decided to make time to hang out with her girls, go shopping, and hit up some of the senior parties. Even with the changes, the two of them still found time to spend with each other.
Then, a little more than a month before prom, Harold began to hear things from people around school. Some of his friends told him that they saw Gretchen at a party dancing with another guy. There was a girl, Nancy, that told him that her boyfriend broke up with her to see someone else. Nancy said she thought it was Gretchen. When Harold asked about these rumors, Gretchen swore that they were not true and told him she loved him. He said it back as he always did.
A couple days later, Harold decided to surprise Gretchen by stopping by her window and spend some time catching up with her. Gretchen opened the window and had a worried look on her face when she saw Harold.
“What are you doing here?” Gretchen asked, trying to put a smile on her face.
“I was thinking that we could catch up.” His thought was cut short by a muted voice coming from behind her. Before he knew it, he was yelling at her. He could hear the person in the room with her rustling around. A few seconds later a light appeared at the bottom of her door. There was just enough light to see one of his oldest friends getting dressed and moving for the window. Harold waited. He could hear Gretchen’s mother yelling for Gretchen as his ex-friend started to climb out the window. He grabbed at the guy and swung his fist at him, making a connection to the top of his head. Then Harold ran to his car and left.
Harold went to school early the next day and talked to his teachers. He told them of his problem and said that he would do all the work in a different period. The teachers agreed since he was a good student, and he came to them with the issue that they sympathized with.
For the next couple weeks, Harold reverted back to his previous life of hiding in shadows and being no one. He would see Gretchen in the hall, and he would go a different direction. Or he would dip inside a class for a minute, to let her creep by. One day she skipped a class and stood in the window of the door and stared at him. He tried not to look at her but when he did, he could see that her face was puffy from crying. At the end of that class, he waited, but she didn’t go anywhere. Even when the late bell rang, she was still waiting for Harold. He decided he had to face her, so he left to do just that. The hallway was empty when she began to talk. Harold was expecting her to yell, but she didn’t.
“I know you don’t want to hear anything from me, but I have to talk to you.”
“Well?” Harold said with just a touch of anger in his voice. He knew that he would have to talk to her but didn’t know what to say. She looked him in the eyes and he didn’t say anything for a few seconds. “What do you want?”
“I was hoping we could talk.”
“I don’t think we have anything to talk about.” Harold’s words came out with a tone of weakness, and Gretchen chose this moment to attack his emotions.
“Please listen to me,” she began, “I know that I have made mistakes, but I want to make it up to you, if you only give me a chance. I promise you. You mean the world to me.” Tears were already strolling down her face and now they were making their way out of her nose.
“I’ve missed you,” Harold said with tears starting to fill his eyes. “I know it’s late but if you want, we could go to prom. At least as friends.”
“I would love that,” Gretchen said, trying to smile through the tears.
“Okay, I’ll pick you up at seven next Friday. Just meet me outside your house.” And with that Harold turned and walked off. He turned around once and gave her a small smile. A second later, he was gone.
Gretchen didn’t like the idea of him not coming inside, but she knew that her mom wanted nothing to do with him. Gretchen was excited to have a date for prom and she knew that her mother would understand eventually.
Gretchen tried to find Harold a couple times the following week, but he was nowhere to be found. Gretchen was a little worried when Friday came around, but she still stood outside of her house at a quarter to seven and waited.
At seven, she was still standing outside by herself. It was five minutes later when she started to believe that he wasn’t going to show. Just as she started to turn around, a car honked its horn. She turned around with an angry face to see Harold. He parked the car and opened the door and waited for her to climb in. He gave her a little kiss and made their way to the dance.
At the dance they dance with each other and talked with their friends. The video screen played videos of songs and pictures of the students who were graduating. As it neared the end of the dance, the prom king and queen were about to be named. Gretchen was sure that she was most likely the queen, but she had no idea of who the king would be. And just as she thought, her name was called out as queen. As she was making her way to the stage, the name of the king was about to be announced. And to her surprise, it was same guy that she had in her room that one night and saw a few times after that.
She made it to the stage and waited for her king to arrive. She saw Harold down on the floor and couldn’t help but give him a little smirk, right before giving his old friend a hug and a kiss. She turned to smile again at Harold, but he had a huge smile on his face. He pointed at the screen and gave her a nod.
When Gretchen turned around, she saw a combination of pictures and videos of her having sex with not only the king, but several other people, including the school security guard. When she turned back around to show her anger towards Harold, he was gone.