The Girl Down Front

Daniel W. Davis

She sat in the second row, first seat on the left-hand isle. She held her shoulders straight, every day, for all fifty minutes of the period. She was there when Patrick arrived, and she stayed when he left. Her outfit changed, though he noticed a certain rotation: green sweatshirt on Mondays, blue on Tuesdays, gray on Wednesdays, gold on Thursdays, and dark pink on Fridays. One Wednesday she wore a red sweatshirt, and he thought about it for the rest of the day, dreamed about it when he went to sleep that night. He expected a change the next day; but there she was, fifth period, in a gold sweatshirt. His heart sank a little, but the red sweatshirt stayed with him.

It was traditional in study hall for the teacher to call out the names of the students. Mr. Spitz was atypical however, and took attendance by reading his sheet. He called out names whenever a student raised their hand, but the girl down front never did. She never seemed to move, and Patrick wondered if she was reading a book. Some romance novel, something fantastical where the hero gets the girl (or vice versa) and the bad guy gets his comeuppance.

He wished he had a reason to talk to the teacher. However, Mr. Spitz was not known for being approachable; he was gruff and inconsiderate, the bane of students and staff alike. It was dumb luck Patrick was in his study hall; he had avoided Mr. Spitz for three years now, and had originally been in sixth period study hall. However, he’d had to drop a class, which meant moving around his other periods; and thus there he was, sitting in the sixth row, just two rows shy of the top, with Mr. Spitz sitting all the way down there behind the cold metal desk, papers stacked on either side of him.

Patrick spent his study hall staring at the girl. She had soft brown hair that defied description; the fluorescent lights did her no justice. Her hair was meant for sunlight and wind and summer days. When someone walked past her—those few unlucky souls who did have reason to approach Mr. Spitz—they sometimes created a breeze that pulled at a few strands of her hair. Patrick would watch, amazed, as the hair danced ever so mi-nutely, the only sign of life he ever saw in her. She never turned her head; she never looked up or down. He wanted to give her a reason to turn around, maybe throw a pencil at her chair, but he doubted he could reach her from this far back. Besides, he wanted to hold her, not throw things at her.

He never saw her around the school, though not for lack of trying. His study hall was for juniors and seniors; he found himself wandering down not only his section of lockers, but that of the seniors as well. He stuck out—he didn’t know many kids older than himself—but he risked it at least twice a week. He’d even wandered into the freshman and sophomore lockers on some random pretense; he knew as many younger kids as older, so his excursions were always short, purposeful.

He had taken to looking into open doorways when walking by. He scoured the cafeteria; his friends derided him for not leaving for lunch, as they did, and he went on occasion just to placate them, but every time he went out he wished he could be back at school looking for her. There weren’t many teenage hangouts in a town as small as his, but he went to all of them on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. She was never there.

He had tried asking his friend Eddie Vaughn, who sat in the row behind him, if he knew who the girl was. Eddie had thought for a moment then shook his head, saying, “No, I can’t say as I’ve ever seen her outside of study hall. Her name comes before Carter, though, because Jaime Carter sits immediately behind her.” Patrick didn’t know Jaime Carter well enough to ask him if he knew who the girl was.

Once he knew that her name came before Carter, he began zeroing in on the respective segments of each group of lockers. His excursions became even more awkward now, as he often times had to go out of the way of whatever excuse he’d made for him-self. How many trips to the office could one junior make in a day? He eventually dropped all excuses together; this was fine in the underclassmen lockers, but for the seniors it aroused curious and unfriendly looks.

It was all to no avail—he never saw her. She was always there in fifth period study hall, sitting straight-shouldered when he arrived, and sitting straight-shouldered when he left. People moved around her, though he noticed the three other students who sat in her row did not walk in front of her, but instead entered the row through the right-hand isle.

He had a recurring dream. At first it was pleasant; he would open his eyes in study hall, except only he and the girl were there. She would be facing away from him, and he would stand up to approach her, but before he could take a single step she would turn around, and her face would be filled with so much light that he would close his eyes and bask in it. He almost always awoke with an erection, one arm raised above him, reaching.

Then the dream turned frustrating. It became a reminder of what he couldn’t have. Where once he wished for the dream, now he dreaded it, so much so that it came more often now, and he would wake shivering and sweating, dried tears on his cheeks.

Patrick knew it wasn’t normal. He wasn’t stupid. Nor, he was sure, was he crazy. It wasn’t love, or even infatuation, at least not anymore. It was approaching obsession; he tried denying it but gave up. It was what it was.

It may not have been normal, but it was his life. It got to the point where, in the middle of study hall, he would have to bite his lip to keep from screaming at her. “Turn around! Let me see you! Tell me your name!” He wanted to grab her, shake her, slap her. He wanted her to confirm her existence, to admit that she had a place in his world. He wanted her out of his dreams; he wanted her in them more often. He needed her to explain herself, and the greater this need became, the more urgent his searches grew. He found himself hanging outside the women’s restrooms, at first inconspicuously, near the closest water fountain, and then eventually right outside the door, leaning against the wall, pretending to focus on something across the hall but not bothering much with pre-tense. People gave him dirty looks.

Eddie Vaughn asked him one Friday night, “Man, what’s happening?”

Patrick didn’t know. And if he had known, he probably wouldn’t have said. It was personal. And Eddie wouldn’t understand.

One night the dream changed. He opened his eyes and was in his study hall again, and the girl was there, and she was facing away from him as usual, but things were different. The lights were dimmer. The walls were closer. And there were no other seats: just Patrick’s and the girl’s. He didn’t stand this time; he legs felt heavy, rubbery. He could barely breathe, the air was so thick. His eyes felt dry, his

scalp itched, and he was aware that such sensations were unusual for a dream.

The girl shifted. Just slightly, but it was the first sign of voluntary movement he’d ever seen, and his heart raced, but breathing became even harder, and though he wanted to run to her and thank her,

he couldn’t move. He could only stare, which wasn’t that hard, he’d been doing it all semester just fine. He stared, and when she shifted again he would have screamed if he’d had the breath.

Her head turned. Not much, but he caught the faintest hint of creamy white skin, and the tip of her smile, a beautiful smile judging by what little he saw. Also the corner of her eye, and her eyelashes were long and immaculate. It was just the smallest turn of her head, but it was an acknowledgment that he existed, that she existed, and when he woke up sticky and shaking, he knew what he had to do.

Patrick sat patiently through study hall the next day. He prided himself on his restraint. He watched her, as always, and his heart leapt when someone passed her and a couple strands of her hair swayed

in the wake. But he didn’t show any outward signs of nervousness; he smiled at Eddie as he always had—and Eddie smiled back as he always had, though lately a hint of reproach had entered Eddie’s smile, and that was okay, at least it would be after today—and he even pretended to work on some math homework.

Then the bell rang, and the students rose to leave. Patrick remained sitting, and so did she. He sat just off-center of his isle, so that only one person had to walk past him, some overweight senior girl who mumbled at him as she did so. Patrick barely heard her. He stared towards the front of the room. Mr. Spitz left, prompt as usual, striding past the students as if they were merely shadows or specters.

The students in the first row filed out, followed by the other students in the second row.

Finally, they were alone. It wasn’t like his dream—he couldn’t say exactly how, but it wasn’t. For one thing, he stood up, his books tucked under one arm as he walked to the left-hand isle and began descending the steps. She didn’t move; she didn’t shift position, didn’t turn her head, didn’t acknowledge him or the bell or the absence of the other students. She stared forward, shoulders stiff,

even when he stopped just behind her row and cleared his throat.

She didn’t move. He smiled, so that she would hear the smile in his voice and not the anxiety, and said, “Hi.”

When she didn’t answer he said, “Hello. I’m Patrick.”

When she didn’t answer again he shifted his books to his other arm and leaned forward, placing his hand on her left shoulder. The shoulder was bony, not nearly as smooth as he’d imagined, and he pressed too hard, her shoulder gave way and she spun around, falling into the seats in front of her. He fell too, hitting her row, the seats knocking the wind out of him so that he couldn’t scream when he gazed upon her face.

The face of a scarecrow.

© 2010 Daniel W. Davis. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Daniel W. Davis is a graduate student at Eastern Illinois University. He has been published/accepted in "Eastown Fiction," "The Vehicle," "Sex and Murder Magazine," "SUSS: Another Literary Journal," "JuiceBox: A Journal of the Ordinary," and "The Absent Willow Review."