It was on a Friday afternoon that they deemed would be the best day to herd 700 high school juniors into the auditorium for the presentation from the Yearbook Company. On that Friday I followed Sammy and tried not to stare at Parker who might ask me out on a date-might ask me to prom. She still nudged my side when she caught me searching the crowds of dyed hair, shaved heads, and messy buns. We took our seat on the bleachers.
The gym was decorated with posters of overly enthusiastic students in caps and gowns. A woman in stilettos with bright lipstick and bouncing curls steps onto the stage. “Okay, class! Pop Quiz…” the mystery woman leaned forward and paused dramatically, “How does it feel to finally be seniors!?” she asked. The class greeted her with a roar of applause. Then, she said, “Ok. Ok. So pretty great. Listen, my name is Beckett and the Yearbook Company has asked me to present some information to all of you about...class rings! That’s right ladies and gents it’s that time of year.” She clicked on the presentation and slides of beautiful silver and gold bands flashed onto the screen.
I felt Sammy sit up straighter at the image of a diver. She was hoping to go to state that year and I remember how nervous she was to leave this all behind before competing, “in the big leagues,” as she liked to say. I was enchanted by the birthstone slide. My eyes were drawn to the soft, baby blue nature of the aquamarine stone. Beckett was smart enough not to show us kids the prices, she just ordered us to collect a pamphlet at the door. Sammy grabbed my arm, “I simply have to have one.”
“Ditto!” I squealed. As we descended down the bleachers I scanned the crowds for Parker to no avail. Sammy dashed to the bus, but I took my time, meandering into the library where I waited for my mom.
The library was blissfully quiet. Our library was shaped like a bowl; in the middle of the first floor. It had huge glass doors you pushed open before walking down three little steps into the center where the sitting area is. I walked up and down the rows of books, feeling at home. The shelves lined the rim of the bowl. Mrs. Masterson smiled and waved at me from behind her huge desk. I shot back a grin and took a seat in one of the huge, cushy, orange armchairs in the middle of the library. My backpack fell carelessly to the ground and I began to devour the story of a young woman in the revolutionary war. I was lost in the intensity of her kitchen as she realized her brother may not come home when I heard a familiar voice, “Bonjour, Clem.” I glanced up to see the outstanding jaw line of Parker Higgs. I had spent the last 12 years chasing this boy and there he stood with his sparkling green eyes, easy smile, and slim, but muscular frame.
“Bonjour, Parker,” I replied with a perfect accent. Parker snagged one of the dark blue armchairs and dragged it across the carpeted floor.
“Whatcha readin’, Clem?” inquired Parker while he leaned in close to take in the title. My face flushed a deep red.
“Nothing,” I told him and tossed the book into the front pocket of my bag. “What are you doing in the library?” I asked in a teasing whisper.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Parker placed his chin in his right hand, elbow propped precariously on the edge of his seat.
“It means,” I leaned in close, “I’ve never seen you here unless you had to be.”
Parker feigned offense and put on a dramatic accent as he replied, “Are you sayin’ I ain’t good at readin’?” I shook my head furiously. “Just kiddin’, Clementine. I saw you. Thought I might be permitted to ask you a favor?” he said with a raised eyebrow. Parker had done this to me since we were in middle school. He never talked to me unless there was a favor to ask-the first one ever being when I had a clementine in my lunch in sixth grade and he wanted a snack.
“Whatever could you need from little old me?” I mirrored his innocence.
He repositioned himself so he could lean over the arm; I could count the freckles that dotted the bridge of his nose. My lips were inches away from his-from the peach fuzz that I would not have been able to memorize if he had been blonde. But Parker had full, beautiful, enviable, dark curls. “The answers to the French homework, s’il vous plaît,” the words barely left his mouth. I scoffed at his “please.”
“Peut être,” I replied. Maybe.
“S’il vous plaît, Clemmy?” he begged. I pulled back and sat back in my chair. A devious grin filled my face. I even dramatically opened my book again, acutely aware of his eyes watching me. My left index finger drifted to the top corner of one page as I turned it-knowing I’d have to re-read it when I got home. I could feel him deciding what to say next. I looked to the ceiling, knowing he was watching me for any hint that I might be willing to give him a free pass.
“How about this,” I mused, “How about you text me to remind me and then I’ll help you. I won’t do the work for you, but I’ll confirm,” I paused and looked at him out of the corner of my eye, “Or deny if I have the same answer as you.” Then, I placed my book back in the bag and zipped it before standing.
I was waking up the steps when he called, “Wait!” I turned from my step and looked at him, held his attention for as long as I could. He rushed to my side, “I um, don’t have your number.” He pulled out his little black phone from the back pocket of his skinny jeans. He pulled up the new contact form and I stared for a moment before I typed the nickname he gave me as kids, Clem. Then, I added my cell phone number and waved goodbye. I left him standing on the second step of the library. A giggle and a sigh escaped me when I saw the bright pink sign lining the hallway: Join us for Prom!
I anxiously checked my phone on Saturday, but it remained silent all day and when the clock read 11:59pm I finally began to cry. Sunday morning came with the loud knocks of my mother. I begrudgingly changed into a dress for church and brushed out my rat’s nest of hair. No texts from Parker had arrived overnight, but one from Sammy. I decided that I hated him and I told her so. After church, Mom reminded me I had homework to do the second we got through the front door.
The French worksheet was the last one I wanted to do. As I began to put my work back into my pack, I noticed the crumpled up pamphlet in the bottom. I took it out slowly and smoothed it out to study the aquamarine again. A sinking feeling filled my heart at the thought of begging my mother. I heaved a big sigh and headed for her office, across the hall from my room. The all white door opened with a creak. “Mom,” I called. She was positioned at her desk, her fingers spanning her forehead. She hadn’t heard me. I called again, “Mom, can I ask you a question?”
She spun around, “What is it, Clementine?”
“Do you think that, um, I could get a, uh, class ring?” My words were wispy and rushed like a spring breeze.
“Clemmy,” Mom sighed, “I don’t know.”
“Just look at the pamphlet,” I begged and tossed it to her.
“What happened to this?” She asked while holding it up as if it was radioactive.
“Nothing,” I said before running out the door, “Listen, I want my March birthstone and I want it to say, LHS 2017 for Lincoln High School graduating class 2017.
“Maybe!” She hollered at me. When I got back to my room and told Sammy about the conversation. She sent back a shrugging emoji. Still no texts from Parker. Mom wouldn’t let me have my phone at dinner so I hid it in my lap with the ringer on silent and the screen facing up so I could wait for Parker. Nothing.
The next morning, in the drop off lane Mom nudged my shoulder, “Here.” She passed me an envelope with the Yearbook Company Logo. Sammy had convinced her parents, too, and we dropped our order forms off with the front office.
Parker texted me at 11:30-twenty minutes before French, 10 minutes before lunch ended: meet me in the library. I told Sammy I needed to drop off a book and quickly busted my tray. She gave me a quizzical look, but Jeremy, her boyfriend of the last two weeks, embraced her by the waist, so I was able to slink off. I was determined to hold my anger. He was late, arriving at 11:50. He sauntered over to my chair. “What do you want?” I demanded.
He shrugged his shoulders, dropping his black bag, “Je suis trés désolé.”
“You’re sorry?” I demanded incredulously. “Whatever, Parker. Have fun failing French,” I grabbed my bag and began to walk away.
“Clem!” lamented Parker. I turned because he was so damn loud. In his palm was a bright orange Clementine. I walked back slowly to him and took the fruit into my hands.
My backpack fell into the chair with a soft thud and I hissed, “Get out your assignment.” A huge grin bloomed across Parker’s face and he followed my orders. He copied my answers and we walked to French together. He even sat next to me in class. When he passed his assignment up, he winked at me. I blushed and beamed back at him. That night, Parker texted me one word: coffee?
In the span of 24 hours we went from caterpillars who barely spoke to butterflies flying from flower to flower. His long fingers laced around mine. They played with the bottom of my dresses, tugged softly at the thin straps while we were sprawled out on his parents’ couch in a cold basement. Parker’s lips were easy to memorize with how often he gifted me with kisses and whispered “Je t’aime.” I love you. His palms were warm and broad as they claimed my hips and thighs as his property. He scrawled down my answers to every French assignment during lunch in the library and I pointed out the advertisement for prom every day for a whole month.
Parker also got along with Jeremy. Even as Sammy tired of him. We were discussing the matter on the last Friday before spring break while in line to pick up our class rings. As she gave Beckett her name, I began to text Parker on my phone. “Boo,” his voice was low and soft. His breath was hot against my earlobe. He covered me in kisses while Beckett cleared her throat.
“Sorry,” I said without even meaning it. Parker kissed my neck while Beckett handed me my ring box.
“Guys,” warned Sammy as she motioned to our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Cline. I quickly separated from Parker, but his hand shot out like a lizard’s tongue. It pulled me back and through a fit of giggles we weaved our way back to class. Parker sat on my desk as I took out the ring. It was perfect. It fit perfectly on my right ring finger. I held out my hand and admired the way it glittered in the dull, public school light. We cooed over Sammy’s ring since Jeremy would never skip class to come see it. I leaned into Parker, relishing in the feeling of being claimed. While Sammy showed her ring to the other girls Parker breathed, “Je t’aime,” over and over and over into my ear. I slid the ring off and he placed it on his pinky. He nibbled my earlobe and hopped off the desk as Mrs. Cline returned with the last few students.
“Mr. Higgs!” chastised Mrs Cline. He held his hands up in defense, gave me a peck on the cheek, and disappeared. I pretended to read while I secretly texted Parker from behind my book. The final bell rang and I snatched up my bag, practically running out the door.
“Clementine, I need you to stay,” Mrs. Cline called my name and the class hollered at me. She waited until they all departed before saying, “Clementine, how long have I known you?”
“Four years, ma’am,” I answered what we both knew. Our school kept the same home room instructor for a student’s full four years to keep things consistent.
“Four years” repeated Mrs. Cline. “I like to know I know you pretty well,” she brushed a lock of her gray hair out of her eyes and took off her reading glasses dramatically. I stared at my feet. “Clementine,” she sighed, “Parker Higgs is not in our class. Do not let me catch him here again.” All I could do was nod. I had never gotten in trouble like this before. I walked through the hall a ghost, terrified of seeing Parker, terrified of not seeing him. Sammy was waiting for me and offered me the perfect hug-the kind where she keeps holding me until I let go and not the other way around.
Sammy was too good to tell me, “I told you so,” but her piercing blue eyes said it anyway. “I have to go,” she mumbled into my shoulder and I finally released my bear’s grip. She ran off to the bus and I walked to the library.
When I arrived, Mrs. Masterson waved to me over, “Hey, are you ok?” I nodded silently and she patted my shoulder. Parker sauntered in and took his seat next to mine.
“Hey, Clem, did you do the French homework yet, mon amour?” he asked. I shook my head. “Will you let me know when you do?” he requested and I turned my back defiantly at him, refocusing on the story I was reading. “Mon amour,” started Parker.
“What?” I yelled, “Or would you prefer quoi?” I slammed my book down, “God, Parker, I am so over it! I got in trouble today because of you!” Mrs. Masterson rushed over and placed a hand on my shoulder. I grabbed my book bag and began to march up the stairs. I refused to look back to check if Parker was watching me go. If I did, he’d see the tears running down my face at the sight of the sign for prom. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized Parker still had my ring.
Our spring break was spent sprawled out in bathing suits on lawn chairs that dotted my front lawn. Sammy didn’t ask too many questions about my assumed break up with Parker. He didn’t text me. I didn’t text him. Mom asked to see my ring and I lied saying that I left it in my locker. She gave me that “disapproving mom look” where her whole face scrunches up like she’s just bitten into an apple that isn’t quite ripe. Or a Clementine.
On the final Sunday before we had to return to school, I was setting up the chairs for Mass when Parker arrived. He had a huge bouquet of roses and got down on one knee. Sammy lingered behind him, filming his promposal. At the very end he gave me a million kisses and slipped my class ring back to me. Mom agreed to take Sammy and I to shop for dresses that same day! Thankfully, Parker and I were all better. He even snuck into homeroom on Tuesday when Mrs. Cline was out sick because she did say not to let her catch him, and we didn’t. I asked Parker to buy the prom tickets on Wednesday. He said he’d do it. I asked him to show them to me on Friday. He said he forgot. “Worry less, mon amour,” he kissed my forehead, my nose, my cheek, and my lips.
I woke up and sent my good morning text to Parker as I do each morning at 8am on Saturday, the day of prom. We spent the day getting all dolled up and Mom insisted on a portrait of me in front of the fireplace, a photo of Sammy and me together, a quick pic of just Sammy. Jeremy arrived at 5:30 and Mom took a video as he pinned a little pink corsage to her dress while I called Parker. It went straight to voicemail.
“Where’s this boy?” teased Mom as she set the salad on the table. I shrugged. “And where is your class ring? I paid a fortune for that ring,” she scolded me. Mom kept the lasagna on the table until 6:30, but everyone was starving so she finally caved and served. She kept looking at me, like I could make Parker appear. The minutes fell like grains in the hourglass. I stared at the string of blue messages on my phone, all read, but not responded to. Sammy kept glancing at the clock anxiously at the clock. The dance started at 7:30. Mom served chocolate cake which I pushed around our good dessert plate in circles.
“We have to go,” pleaded Sammy. I nodded and Mom stood up. She didn’t clear our plates, just grabbed her purse. “Come with us,” Sammy encouraged softly. She looked like a cupcake in her powder pink dress. I shook my head and began to call Parker one last time.