The Calm Before the Storm
I hadn’t expected the end of high school to feel this way. Sure, there was a certain fizzy exuberance warming the chilly hallways of Evanston township High School. There were joyous squeals and heartfelt hugs. There were colorful tatters of festive wrapping from token gifts littering the floor. There was that spirited roar of hundreds of our classmates simultaneously buzzing about their plans for the coming week. But all of that had nothing to do with the milestone I had reached with the ring of that final bell seconds earlier, and everything to do with the winter white blanketing the football field outside the window, where cars screeched out of the parking lot, their horns honking wildly. The holiday break was upon us all. That Dante, Lance, and I wouldn’t be back here until June’s graduation ceremony wasn’t news on anyone else’s radar. I gazed out the window again as the chicago wind wrapped a wayward sheet of newsprint around the goalpost. In my mind, memories swirled in the same reckless way. Graduating early had to be the ultimate anticlimax.
The locker next to me slammed and Dante appeared. “Sooooo, everyone seems to be going to Jason abington’s christmas party tonight,” he needled me, eyebrows twitching up down, up down. He was making fun of me in the way that only best friends can get away with.
“Fantastic,” I said with the full dose of necessary sarcasm. I pulled off the taped photos from the inside of my locker door and gave them a last glance—all featured me with either Dante or Lance—then grabbed my bag and coat. I nodded at the now empty locker, then closed it one last time. Bang. I flashed Dante a look that said I wouldn’t be sweet-talked into any party-crashing expeditions. “Spend the evening with a house full of sloppy drunks in Santa hats while Jason and courtney hook up in every room?” I had gotten over my longtime crush, but I still didn’t feel like watching Jason paw at his brainless bombshell of a girlfriend. No thank you.
After the conflagration that was our prom—no metaphors here: the entire event really had gone down in flames, taking with it the historic Lexington Hotel downtown in what had been dubbed “the Great chicago Fire, Part two” by the Chicago Tribune—Jason had actually called me once. It was soon after school let out for the summer. I had thought it was Dante playing a trick on me, and by the time Jason convinced me it was him, I was too shocked to speak. It didn’t really matter, though—by then I was uncharacteristically settled in the boyfriend department. Maybe boys have some sort of radar for when you no longer need them and that is precisely when they finally start noticing you.
“So, then that’s a no?” Dante asked with mock innocence. “That’s a ‘not-if-everyone’s-life-depended-on-it’ no . . .again.” I couldn’t resist adding that last bit. It sometimes felt like Dante, Lance, and I lived in an entirely different universe from everyone else at school. We had played this odd role in, well, saving them from losing their souls this past spring, but it’s not as though any of them knew. I was beginning to think I had hallucinated it all. Our lives—Dante’s, mine, Lance’s—had changed, but no one else’s had.
“Okay, okay, got it.” He put his hands up in surrender. “You’re no fun.” He paused, and then asked with a smirk, “How ’bout a christmas carol?”
I scanned the area around us, but as usual none of the bodies bouncing like charged atoms along the crowded hallway paid us any mind, so I played along, with just the slightest roll of the eyes: “ ‘angels We Have Heard on High’?”
Dante gave me a friendly smack on the arm. “Ha! am I crazy or do these jokes never get old?” He fixed his attention over my shoulder. “You’re still coming over for holiday movie madness, right?”
“Sure thing.” It was Lance’s voice behind me. Two vinelike arms wound around my waist and held me close. He leaned his chin on my shoulder. “What time do you want us?
“Happy graduation, by the way,” he said. He turned to me, lunging, to peck me fast and firm on the lips.
“And to you, too,” I said, just flirtatious enough, kissing him back.
“Ugh. I swear, sometimes you guys are worse than courtney and Jason.”
“I’m offended,” I said in mock protest.
“I’m not!” Lance said, squeezing me. He planted an exaggerated smack of a kiss on my neck but then straightened up just as fast. He pushed his clunky black glasses farther up on his nose, his gaze darting. From the corner of my eye, I saw my favorite English teacher passing, trying not to see us, it seemed. Even after Lance and I had been together so many months, I still blushed when we had these moments at school. I never would’ve guessed I would be the type to even have moments like this at school. I had proved to be anything but this type for my entire high school career up until this last semester.
Dante shook his head. “the things I put up with in the name of friendship.” It was true. The three of us had one another and we were grateful. Dante and I had been pals since we were little kids. Lance had been something of a loner until that fateful internship brought us all together in our junior year. It had been his idea for us to do summer school and graduate early. “What would we miss? another prom?” he’d joked. And so we had spent those sunny months studying, writing papers, taking tests, and now we were done.
After we cleaned out our lockers, we set off down the hall, Lance’s warm hand in mine. “I was starting to think this one might be a flight risk tonight,” Dante said, nodding in my direction.
“Fine, I’ll be there.” I sighed. “I just have to finish my college applications,” I explained to Lance. “We can’t all be evil geniuses like Dante, who can write application essays in his sleep.” I was done with the ones I really wanted—Northwestern, university of chicago, Princeton, and Harvard and Yale (those last two were just for kicks)—but I still had my safety schools left. I had waited till the last minute on those in the hopes that I wouldn’t really need them.
“Whatever, there’s plenty of time,” said Dante, who seemed to score perfect grades without breaking a sweat.
“They’re due in, like, a week.” Lance laughed. He was also brilliant, but was supremely organized and had sent his off back in September.
“Exactly! Plenty o’ time!” Dante flashed that wide, winning smile. “Dude, I’m finishing mine on the way to the airport. I’ll send ’em before the plane takes off.” I slapped his arm playfully. He was kidding now.
The hallways had mostly cleared by the time we made it to the door. I wrapped my scarf around my neck and Lance held the door for me. The three of us stepped out, and a gust of wind swooped to meet us. Heads down, we pushed on to the L station.