“Hey,” called a voice from the other side of the road.
Reluctantly he looked over. It was Laura. She was crossing to meet him. But what was she doing here? She didn’t normally walk this way to school.
“I slept over at Stacy’s,” she said, as if she knew that an explanation was needed. “Are you walking to school?”
For some reason, he paused before saying, “Yeah.”
“Want to walk together?”
He looked over to where Stacy, a girl from his class whom he didn’t think much of, stood with some of the other kids from their class. They looked like they were waiting for a few more to join them.
“Aren’t you going with Stacy?” he asked.
Laura shrugged. “They’re waiting for the others,” she said. “I don’t mind walking ahead.”
It should have been an easy enough question to answer. Sometimes, since they had moved closer to school instead of coming from the next town away, he had wondered if he would bump into Laura while walking. It had never happened, though he had sometimes seen her in passing, when she had others with her or when he was with his family, and it had only ever been awkward. But now – now she was offering to walk to school with him – and he couldn’t answer her. He looked over at Stacy and the others, imagining what they would be thinking. It was always best to imagine what others thought, in case they thought something that might hurt you.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You go with them.”
And he kept walking.
“Bye then,” called Laura.
And, in an action that would confuse even him and circle around in his head in the days and weeks to come, he simply lifted his hand up in a kind of absent wave, not looking back, not even letting her see the side of his face as he walked.