Boys & Girls: “Maria’s Return”

(This is one of 10 preview chapters for Boys & Girls: Part I. You can see the rest of the chapters on the official page)

(Start from the beginning)

August 28th, 2016

Kinsky, California, USA

Maria’s Return

The two siblings, Emily and Maurice, stood outside a bus stop near their home. Emily was distracted by the falling autumn leaves, the auburn sunlight soaking through them on their gradual descent. Maurice stood close to the edge of the sidewalk, as the school bus pulled in.

The two sat across from each other, sitting their backpacks to their side. The bus was empty with the exception of them and two other students they did not know. After they settled in, the bus lurched forward.

“So, you ready?” Maurice asked his sister as she pulled out the planner from her backpack.

“Yeah. I think so. It’s not that big of a deal — just, talk about the events and stuff. Not sure why they still make such a big deal out of it.”

Maurice shrugged. “Makes things easier for me. I could use the break.”

Emily looked up, smirking as she clicked open a pen. “Glad I could be of service.”

The bus dropped the students off at Kinsky High. Emily parted with Maurice, as the latter went into the gym and the former went to her familiar table at the courtyard.

About five minutes passed, when Lukas arrived. He sat on the other side of the table, as before, putting his backpack down and leaning it against the wall.

“Yo.”

Emily didn’t look up from her notes. “Yo.”

Lukas picked up his feet and sat cross-legged on the bench. He watched the girl as she looked over a page in the notebook, written with some bullet points on what to say.

“Hey,” Lukas broke the silence, “is it alright if I… ditch the assembly? I got some other stuff I gotta do, and I was hoping to use the assembly time to do it.”

Emily looked up from her notes, inquisitively. “Didn’t know you needed my permission to skip the assembly.”

Lukas shrugged. “Well, you’re the only one I know who’s gonna be in it.”

“And Ash.”

He nodded in concession. “And Ash.”

Emily looked back down at her notes. “Well, it ain’t my business what you do during school hours.”

Lukas snapped his fingers, and pointed at her. “Thanks, Em.”

“Mmhm.”

The two went back to their separate activities, waiting while the other students trickled in.

It was around ten minutes until the starting bell. Emily snuck by some students in the hallway and entered a door into the art room.

Only one person was there. She was a skinny white teen, who had short hair dyed into an opulent shade of blue. She wore a stained tour shirt for a metal band and a pair of denim short-shorts. She had been pacing around reading from a piece of paper, but looked up as Emily came in.

“Hey, Ash.” Emily closed the door behind her.

“Hey, Em.” Ash smiled back.

Emily walked over and sat down at the table in the center of the room. Ash folded up the paper she was reading, and shimmied it into her shorts pocket.

“So, what’s new with you?” Emily looked up, pushing her pack under the chair. 

“Well, last night I submitted my application to Alto.”

“Look at you, girl!” Emily spoke with enthusiasm, even as Ash looked down in embarrassment. “That’s the design school, right?”

“Yeah. I mean, we’ll see what happens, I guess.”

“We’ll see what happens.” Emily confirmed. “But I think you got a good shot. Better at anyone from Kinsky, for sure.”

Ash looked up, her cheeks rosy. “Well, thanks for the vote of confidence.”

The two spoke for a bit longer, before they heard a knock on the door. The door opened, and in came Rose. Her hair was in a bun, and she wore a wavy and loose white shirt.

“Hey, how are two of my favorite women doing?” She spoke as she leaned against the door frame, smiling at the two.

“Doin’ good. What’s up?” Emily asked.

“Thought you guys might be interested.” She walked up to the table, leaning her hands down on the surface. “Maria’s back.”

Maria looked, to those on the outside, stunningly normal. Her hair was in its signature mid-length form. Her makeup was light and proper. She wore a simple white dress that people who knew her recognized, and was well-ironed and neat.

“Hey, chica.” Ash said, coming in for a hug. “How are you?”

“You know.” Maria’s tone was calm. “Surviving.”

“We’re all surviving.”

As the group of girls paraded her down the hallway, it became woefully apparent to Maria that the way they spoke to her was that of pity. But she didn’t mind. She hugged Kat and Isaac when they came by, and waved at Rodrigo and Maurice just in time for the bell to ring. Then, everyone scattered, going off to their own separate places.

The outdoor assembly started not that long after. Lukas heard the bass thumping of the Kinsky High Band as he walked away, towards the school’s parking lot. He slid through a crack in the front gate and walked a few steps before he saw a familiar sight.

An old, beat up, green car stood before him. The front hood was opened, with Cole staring inside of it. Russell was under the car, wrenching in some piece on the bottom frame. And then there was Aaron, who sat atop the car’s head and looked down at the others from below.

“So, how’s it been going so far?” Lukas asked. Cole turned around to reveal a large black stain on his gray hoodie, and a look of irritation on his face.

“Well, the engine just decided to ejaculate oil all over my fucking clothes, but besides that I’d say we’re doing pretty well.” He had sarcastic intonation.

Russell rolled himself out from the bottom, pointing to a toolbox on the sidewalk. “Cole, could you take out a wrench? The big one.”

While Cole moved over to the box, Lukas looked up at Aaron. “And what exactly are you doing?”

Aaron held a half-eaten ham sandwich in his hand, shrugging. “I’m the chief consultant!”

Lukas shook his head, and turned his gaze down to Russell. “Rus, how can I help?”

“Try wrenching in that bolt, right on the flat side of the engine.”

“Just hope it’s on its refractory period,” Cole grumbled as he handed the wrench to Lukas.

The boys worked on the car for a few more minutes, until Russell deemed the job done. He got up from the ground and wiped himself off, looking at Lukas. “Alright man, try running it.”

Lukas grabbed the keys from Cole, and entered the driver’s seat. Inserting the keys, he flipped on the engine. It roared to life.

“Hell yeah, brother!” Aaron cheered. Russell and Cole laughed, and Lukas smiled. But as the boy turned the car back off, his eyes caught a glimpse of something laying on the seat besides him.

It was an old photograph. Of the beach. Maria was in it, posing in front and smiling. Anita was in it too, to Maria’s right — giving a smile herself, a big toothy smile. Lukas fixated on the image for a few moments before he snapped out of it and finally got out of the car.

He high-fived Russell on his way out, throwing the keys back over to Cole. 

“Well, that didn’t take no time at all.” Russell spoke, looking at his phone. “We might still be able to get there for the rest of the assembly.”

“Let’s bounce then,” Aaron mentioned. The boys began to make their way back to the commotion of the football field.

“Hello, Kinsky High!” Emily spoke on top of a makeshift podium, looking out at a conglomerate of freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior students. “My name is Emily Bryant, and with me is Ashlyn Monticello. And together, we’re your student government president and vice president!”

Lukas, Russell, Aaron, and Cole peeked out from the top of the bleachers, not wanting to interrupt the procession. They clapped — along with the rest of the students — as Emily finished her line.

“We’re gathered here so that you may come face to face with some of your fellow classmates, which you’ll get to know better as the year goes on. We also want to inform you of some of the major events coming up.”

Lukas moved his eyes across the crowds at the bleachers. He saw Rodrigo, sitting alone near the back. Down near the front he noticed Rose, Maria, and Kat. His eyes rested on Kat for awhile longer. Her hair shimmered a golden hue when it was out in the sun. Occasionally a gust of wind would pick up, blowing her bangs aside — she would move a few fingers and wipe them away, then focus back on the speech. To Lukas, each movement was a gentle pull. A work of art.

“The first events, as you may know, are related to Homecoming.” It was Ash speaking now. “The Homecoming game this year will take place on Friday, September 20th. The dance will be the day after that, on Saturday, September 21st.”

“God, I smell like shit.” Cole muttered from behind Lukas. Russell looked at him.

“I told you, you gotta wash that off ASAP or it’s gonna stain.”

“And where am I gonna wash it? In a water fountain?”

“Damn right, unless you finna smell like dog ass the rest of the day.”

Cole sighed, and rushed down the back steps of the bleachers. The boys turned their attention back to the assembly.

“Later on, the Kinsky Choir will be giving their autumn performance on October 13th. We have the Haunted Mansion on Friday, October 30th. And, finally, the last event of the fall semester will be the Winter Ball on December 13th.”

Ash turned back to Emily, who cleared her throat to pick up the mantle. “With that all said, I’m hoping that all of you have a great semester. Meet new people, do well in your classes, and most importantly…” She turned her eyes to Ash, who nodded in confirmation. The two spoke the last line in unison:

“Go Eagles!”

Lukas found part of the group sitting together at lunch. Cole and Sadja both scooted away to make room for him.

“Anyway,” Emily continued the conversation that had started before Lukas came. “I don’t understand why they make us get up and do that whole thing. There’s only so many combinations of, ‘Go get it, guys!’ that I can say.”

“Listen, they don’t even need an excuse for me.” Aaron ate from a bag of chips. “I’ll take any chance I get for a free pass to skip Physics.”

Maria looked over at Cole and Lukas. “Were you guys able to fix the issue?”

“Oh, yeah, fortunately.” Cole took a sip of a bottled water. “I guess the sound was just something that had gone loose. It should be fine to drive.”

Maria smiled. “Thanks, guys.”

“Oh, well… really, it was mostly Rus. We just did what he told us.”

“Russell, right?” Maria considered the name, putting it into the front of her memory. “He seems like a really nice guy.”

“Yeah, he is. Plus-” Cole pointed to himself and Lukas. “-he knows a lot more about cars than us dickheads.”

A couple of the kids looked over at a table on the other side of the courtyard. There sat the main roster of the Kinsky High football team. Among them was Russell, Isaac, and Maurice. Kat was there too, sitting next to Isaac, her head resting on her arm as she focused on the story being told by one of the other players.

“They got too cool for us.” Aaron spoke, sipping orange juice out of a pouch.

Sadja turned towards him. “Didn’t know we were bringing back lunchroom politics.”

“Oh, they’ll come around.” Rodrigo crushed up an empty paper bag in his hand. “Just you wait.”

The closing bell rang. Lukas, Rodrigo, Kat, Cole, and Ash all walked out of their final period English class together. 

“First all the summer reading, now a paper this early?” Rodrigo brought up his hands in anguish. “I swear to god, this man has it out for me.”

“You’ll be fine, Rod.” Kat patted him on the back. “Just don’t wait until the last minute to get the whole thing done.”

“You say that like I have any shred of discipline.” Rodrigo broke away from the group, headed down the opposite hallway. “Anyway, I’m outtie. See you guys tomorrow.”

The rest of the group walked down to the front gate. Ash looked up at Kat. “So, you guys already start practice?”

Kat shook her head. “We have the songs lined up, but practice starts next week. It’s mostly just everybody getting acquainted for now.”

“What’s it like being a choir captain, anyway?” Cole asked from the other side of her. Kat turned her head toward him.

“Oh, about how it sounds. Organize the songs, organize the crew, provide moral support. It sounds like more work than it actually is.”

Lukas stayed silent, yet drawn in. Cole made a joke, but Lukas couldn’t hear it. All he heard was Kat’s laugh, her face beaming, her bright blue eyes. 

Cole was the next one to break away, walking to Maria’s car and taking a spot in the passenger seat. The two said something to each other that the others couldn’t hear, then drove off.

“They’ve been spending a lot of time together, huh?” Kat mentioned. She looked at Lukas.

“Yeah, they have.” Lukas snapped out of it. “I mean, they were both probably the closest people to Anita. It makes sense that they’re helping each other… cope with it.”

The mood turned grim. Kat nodded. “Yeah. I get it.”

Lukas got to his car. Kat and Ash both waved at him, then headed to their respective rides. Lukas turned on the car, then thought of the picture again. He thought of Anita. Her toothy smile. He thought of Maria, and Cole, and Kat. He thought of the others. He thought of the birthday party. Then, he drove off.

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