Ms. Reid scanned the last stack of history textbooks, thinking she would be checking these out to the seniors in the fall. As the school librarian, she had been checking in books all afternoon, and her shoulders ached. With a sigh of relief, she opened the last book and a folded letter fell out, fluttering to her desk. On it was written To Michael in slanted script. She looked at the computer data. The book had been checked out last to Michael Bender.
“Ivy!” her mother called at the foot of the stairs. “Dinner is ready, honey. We have all prepared little farewell speeches. Finish packing after, before the food gets cold.” “Coming, mom,” and Ivy sat on the edge of her bed. She looked around the bedroom she shared with her two younger sisters, unsure of when they would all meet again as a family. The clock on the nightstand read four-thirty, and she thought of Michael. How she had finally gotten the courage to write to him and tell him that she had loved him since that day they had met. Loved him, she knew, for there could never be another word to describe this feeling. But she had kept this love to herself for months, until she had slipped a letter between the pages of his history textbook. Two weeks ago. He must not care for me, she thought, or he would have answered my letter by now. And this made her feel a profound sadness she had never known.
Ms. Reid could smell the remnants of sweet perfume on the letter. She wanted to read what it said and who it was from, sensing the love sentiments of a young girl within. She went to the window where down below a few students were celebrating the last day of school. Jeremy Higgins, her library aide, was passing around his yearbook, and she opened the window and called to him. “Jeremy! Could you come up to the library for a moment?” She knew she could depend on him, and trust him, but at the last moment, she took an envelope from her desk and folding the letter, sealed it inside. She wrote, To Michael Bender on the flap, just as Jeremy rushed in. “What is it, Ms. Reid?” he asked. “Isn’t it great? Summer parties here I come! What you got there?” he asked the librarian as she held out the envelope to him.
Ivy pushed her food around her plate, trying to focus on the funny and touching speeches her sisters and parents were telling her. But all she could think of was that day, that cold January day, when they had met. She and Michael. Ivy had been heading for her locker to retrieve her lunch, gliding along the sidewalk, humming a song in her head, her plaid skirt swishing against her thighs. She hugged her math book to her bosom, aware of the stares the high school boys always gave her – stares at her growing young breasts, and never to her fathomless, blue eyes. She would glance at them, her clever mind measuring each boy’s wisdom, her heart attuned for the slightest synchronistic beat, her spirit measuring each passing lifeforce for depth of character and a passion for life. It wasn’t until that wintry day, as she buttoned up her coat against the chill, that he had walked by. She remembered how she could not look away, how her heart had beat faster, how a sudden twinge had tightened in her stomach, so much so, that she had not the appetite to eat that day. She had stumbled, and he had reacted, catching her lightly by her elbow so she would not fall. And he had looked into her eyes, his gaze never straying to her young breasts as all the others. The two had held that gaze and she stood, utterly startled at the purest shade of emerald-green eyes she had ever seen. She murmured a quiet thank you, and he had smiled at her before his buddies pulled him on, annoyed at this slight lag on their way to somewhere else.
“Do you know Michael Bender?” Ms. Reid asked Jeremy as the boy took the envelope, seeing Michael’s name written on it. “Sure. Lemme guess. You want me to give this to him.” Jeremy laughed. “So, Bender finally owes money to the library! Lost a book, did he? I’ll be all too happy to give him your bill, Ms. Reid.” “No, Jeremy. You ought to know better. Michael Bender does not lose library books. No, this is far more urgent! Do you know where he is? Is he still on campus? Jeremy, you must find him immediately and give him this envelope. Now, make haste, and do not fail me. Or I will fail you in your Library Aide Class.”
From the moment Ivy had surrendered her heart to the boy with the green eyes, she took the same path to her locker just before lunch, calculating the slant of the sun, or the angle of the pouring rain, that she might, somehow, meet him again. She often wore her plaid skirts and her navy pea coat if the weather was cool, so that should they meet, he would remember her, and perhaps stop to talk. But as the Fates would have it, this boy who held her heart was transferred to her American History class in early March. “Take the empty seat next to Ivy, Michael,” Mr. Gibbons pointed, and as Michael sat down, he gave Ivy the same sunny smile he had that cold January day. She imagined him repeating her name to himself, then reaching over that she may take his hand, and she yearned to hear his voice say hello. History class became her favorite, and she would watch his profile as he wrote lecture notes or read aloud from the text, the shadow of his long, black lashes on his cheek, and she ached to touch that cheek with her soft fingers.
Jeremy tucked the envelope in his back pocket and saluting to Ms. Reid, dashed from the library and down the cement steps, now mostly vacant of students. He remembered Michael Bender liked to do a few laps around the track after school, and as he sprinted to the football field he kept crying out, “Have you seen Michael Bender?” to all he passed. But it was the last day of school, Jeremy reasoned, and Michael Bender had probably gone home, and Jeremy had no idea where Michael lived, if he rode his bike, took the bus, walked, or got a ride with someone. But off in the distance coming around the southside bleachers, he saw Michael, unmistakable with his shaggy crop of thick black hair, running toward him. “Saved,” Jeremy puffed, leaning down to catch his breath, thinking of his library grade. “Whatever is in this,” Jeremy said, watching Michael get nearer, and waving the envelope in the air, “You were definitely meant to have it.”
Ivy stared out the car window, holding tightly to her train ticket. With each mile she could physically feel the distance grow between herself and the boy she loved, and she knew what it felt like to be dying from a broken heart. Family goodbyes had been said, and tears had fallen, with see you next summer, and write soon. Now it was just Ivy’s father who drove, sensing there were no more words to be said, and left his daughter to her thoughts. Ivy looked at the ticket that would take her across the country to the university. In her letter to Michael, she told him of her love for him, and where she was going, and that her train departed at midnight, and would he come with her - take a chance on a future with her. Ivy watched the white lines on the highway ticking away the lonely miles through her blue eyes filled with tears. Too late – I was too late – oh why, didn’t I tell him sooner? Why did I hope he would find my letter in a stupid textbook? Why did I even think that writing a letter was some kind of romantic gesture?
The station was a bustle of loud voices and announcements and crying babies. People crowded on benches or milled about, waiting. Ivy had given her father a peck on his cheek, and he had brushed away her tears as he helped her take her suitcase out of the trunk. “Got everything, ticket, money? Fine time to ask,” he had laughed nervously. “Yes, dad,” was all Ivy could say and had watched him drive away. Among the announcements she at last heard her train was boarding, and she rose to leave. The porter took her bags, and she stepped up into the panting, great machine that would carry her away. It was easy to find a window seat, for there were few other passengers. As the train slowly began to pull away, she at last gave in to her pain, and leaned her face against the glass and silently wept.
Someone gently held a handkerchief out for her. She took it, murmuring a thank you, long past caring what others thought. “Yes,” a familiar voice said, and Ivy turned. Michael was sitting next to her holding her letter, a bit creased and somewhat crumpled, but intact. “I don't know how or where he found this letter, but Jeremy Higgins handed it to me this afternoon. It took a lot of convincing my parents to let me come with you." Michael touched her hand. “Please, don’t cry. Because, yes, I am here.” Michael held Ivy’s shaking hand tighter. “Whatever life holds for us, wherever we go, there am I, and always will be. I love you, too, Ivy." And the clock receding from view on the station platform began to chime midnight.