“Hey, little girl,” Zay’s deep voice teased.
Anna looked up at him, and pushed him playfully. “Don’t call me that anymore, I’m going to be in 8th grade.”
Zay took a seat next to her, on the big brown table. It had been their hang out place since they met, when Anna was lost looking for the Science Lab and Zay helped her out.
“And I’m going to be in high school.” He grinned.
Anna’s smile fell. And she looked down at her lap. “Oh yeah.” she said flatly.
“C’mon Anna. It ain’t forever, just a year.” He nudged her playfully.
Anna forced a smile. “Yeah, I know.” One more week. One more week until I say bye to my best friend. Her fear was interrupted by a loud yell from down the hall.
Anna looked at Zay, back to where the sound was coming from, and rolled her eyes. Tyler and Kevin came strutting down the hall in their dark blue football jackets, pushing and punching each other.
Zay got up and grinned. He playfully pushed Tyler, and Tyler pushed him back.
“Yo, bro, you coming to the football party? Team and cheerleaders only.” Tyler glared at Anna.
Zay smiled guiltily and looked back at Anna with a sorry shrug. He said shallowly, “See ya around, I guess,” before being dragged away by his teammates.
Anna sighed, and watched Zay leave with his friends, friends who would be with him next year.
At the end of the day, Anna waited outside the school for Zay to meet her. It felt like hours before Zay came running out, grinning, with Kevin and Tyler closely following him. The three stopped to laugh at some joke and then Tyler said, loud enough for Anna to hear, “Yo, there’s that girl that follows you, Zay.”
Anna waited for Zay to defend her. But those words never came. Instead, in a low voice, as if he didn’t want her to hear, he muttered “I know.”
Anna felt her cheeks burn.
Tyler continued with his joke, “Ooo, Zay, she’s blushing. She likes you.”
Zay laughed, and Tyler and Kevin joined in. Anna clenched her fist.
“Loosen up, Anna, have some fun. The boys are just playing around.” Zay turned around to Kevin and Tyler and said, “I’ll see you guys tonight, alright?”
They smirked, “Alright kiddo.” Tyler sneered at Anna and walked away.
Zay turned back to Anna as she picked up her backpack from the pavement, and slung it across her back . “What’s wrong with you?” he stepped closer.
Anna took a step back, and turned,walking away from Zay.
Zay walked faster, trying to catch up with her. “Don’t lie, tell me what’s wrong.”
Anna whipped around and turned to face him.”You want to know what’s wrong? You’re acting like nothing is changing. You’re just graduating, with your friends, and I am staying here for another whole year. Yeah, ok, maybe I’m overreacting—” she choked, holding back tears, “— but in that year anything can happen. You are already acting older, like you don’t care, and I don’t want to see that happen. Zay, you let them embarrass me. ”
She couldn’t hold the tears back. They were streaming down her face, so she finished quickly. “Even if nothing changes for you, it’s changing for me, and I don’t want that.” She looked up at Zay’s bewildered face.”I can’t come to your graduation. I’m sorry . But why would you care? I’m just that girl that follows you around.” With that, she turned and ran, resisting the temptation to turn back.
Over the next few days, Anna avoided Zay. It wasn’t that hard because Zay was busy with graduation prep, having parties every day with the team. Anna had seen Zay laughing, smiling, and pushing his way down the halls each day. She couldn’t help wondering, Is he thinking about me at all?
School was winding down for the year and the students had begun taking posters off the walls, and throwing away crumpled tests and old homework. Anna was in history taking down a HISTORY IS THE FUTURE poster when Mr. Curnick called from across the room, “Anna, could you please bring the recycling down?”
“Sure thing, Mr.Curnick.” Great, now I have to be in the halls during Zay´s break.
The halls were quiet and abandoned, a few doors left open to let cooler air in, and loose papers trampled into the hall’s dusty tiles. Anna could hear bits of conversations drifting from the classrooms, but one conversation got her attention.
“Look. Ms. Smith, could I please stay one more year? Like a re-do? I don’t feel ready for highschool, I am…errrr, I think this would really help my studies.”
Anna got closer to the open door.
“I’m sorry, Zay, in order for that to happen, you need to have failed three of your classes. Your lowest grade is a B-“
“Please, Ms.Smith, I’ll do anything–I’ll get all A’s if you let me stay. Please.”
“Zay. I can’t.”
He kicked the air hard with his foot. “Thanks, Ms. Smith.”
Anna heard Zay swear under his breath and walk out. She forgot she was there, and as Zay walked past the door, he looked at her and shook his head sadly, “I’m sorry, Anna, for what I said.” He walked the other direction, his hands buried in his pocket and his head down.
Anna walked back to class slowly, in utter shock. He would of done that for me? Anna knew he had gotten an automatic spot on the freshman football team, and he loved football. Wow. She knew Zay cared, but never this much. She couldn’t get it out of her head.
Suddenly, Anna stopped dead in her tracks. He should be happy to leave and move on with his life. He is allowed to have other friends. Just because he would sacrifice for me doesn’t mean he has to. And with that,and Zay’s words, “I will do anything” on loop in her mind Anne knew what she had to do.
The next fews days went by slow and painful. Zay still wouldn’t talk to Anna and Anna was to ashamed to even look at him.
Eventually, the big Graduation Day came up. All the 8th graders were buzzing with nervous excitement. The school was flooded with kids dressed in white fancy dresses, and shiny slick new suits, and parents with cameras and flowers. The lobby and auditorium were decorated in silver balloons and streamers.
Anna stood out of view from the rest of the crowd, secretly was hoping Zay would look her way and let her know it was okay. He never turned in her direction, and she felt her heart drop and crash into a million pieces. He hates me. Anna made her way to the auditorium for the ceremony, bringing her sadness with her.
The auditorium was big and loud. The tiniest whisper could be heard across the stage. Eventually everyone got in their seats, and the graduation that Anna had dreaded began.The ceremony felt like forever: slideshows, speeches, songs, and more speeches. Anna felt her feet starting to shake and her fingertips tapping on her lap.
Finally, it was time for Mr. Fraktman and Mrs.DePasquale to hand out the certificates. Anna waited at the edge of her seat, for Zay´s name to be called. And finally it was. He walked up on stage, his hand resting on his golden cross. Zay hesitated before taking the certificate, and when he turned to face the crowd his eyes were tired and scrunched. His usually bright smile was downturned, and he stood slumped. His dull eyes scanned the crowd. Is he looking for me?
Suddenly his scan stopped dead on Anna. And in a blink of an eye, he stood straighter, held his cross tighter, his eyes brightened and he walked up to the podium. He leaned close to the mic, and as if he was only talking to Anna, he said, “Thanks y´all for a great last year. but I want ya’ll to know I won’t forget anyone.”
His eyes looked around the crowded room, and then fell back on Anna.