Karla is waiting by my locker after school which is weird. For some, lockers are their destiny. It’s where they hang out before classes, where plans are made, and notes are slipped into. Most days, I’m lucky if I don’t try to open the wrong locker by mistake. But Karla is waiting for me, and not furtively either.
“Hey,” she calls out when I’m still a bit away.
I’m expecting people to turn and stare. To marvel that a girl is actually talking to me. But everybody else is busy with their own conversations, excited for the school day to be over.
“So, he’s just at the Lakewood hospital. His mom gave me all the info.”
“You have his mom’s number?”
“My mom does. She had the numbers of everybody who I hung around with when I was a kid.”
“Your mom was always pretty nice.”
It’s a nice day out. Spring is still fresh, and every day there seem to be new flowers. The hospital isn’t in the same direction from school as our houses, but we’ve both grown up in Lakewood, and know our way.
“How’d you do on that French test?” I ask.
“That means it’s raining.”
“I thought it meant poorly.”
“Well, you still proved your point.”
She laughs. “I’m so bad at French. I should have taken Spanish. I’m sure I’d still be bad at it, but I actually know real people who speak Spanish.”
“My mom learned French when she was in school, and she thought she’d be able to help me if I took it.”
“And can she?”
“I think once I asked her about the pluperfect.”
“And what did she say to that?”
Karla punches my shoulder, but we’re both laughing.
“Let’s grab a snack,” she says, and enters a corner store. She grabs a juice, and when I check my pockets, and realize I don’t have enough for anything, she buys one for me too, and a package of M&M’s for Matt.
“He doesn’t have a nut allergy, does he? Because these may contain nuts.”
I shake my head. She’s really good at this. Alone, I wouldn’t have even thought to visit him in the hospital, and if I did, I’d definitely be empty-handed.
“If he’s there for a while, we’ll collect homework assignments for him next time.”
She’s planning a next time?
Matt looks terrible. He has a bandage covering the lower part of his right cheek, and stitches along his forehead and on his arms. Still, he’s smiling when we arrive.
“Wow, didn’t expect the two of you to come together?” he says.
“We brought you these,” Karla says and hands him the candy.
“My favorite,” he places them on a tray. I’m grateful he doesn’t open them while we’re here.
“So, what happened?” I ask.
“I got attacked by a squirrel!” he still seems pretty happy.
Karla is trying not to laugh.
“I think it was radioactive. They say I’m going to have to be here a while so they can run some tests. You know, see if I have any powers. Like super agile, or strong.”
“Able to remember where you hid your nuts?” Karla suggests.
“Yeah, I might have enhanced memory powers. Good thinking.”
“Maybe it was just an ordinary squirrel.”
“Do you think an ordinary squirrel could do this to me?”
I do. I really, really do.
“I guess not. But should we know this? Isn’t your identity supposed to be a secret?”
“Yeah, I got pretty excited. But I trust you two. You can be my crew. Like Karla, maybe you could become a journalist, and you’ll write stories about me. And Ed, you’ll be my sidekick.”
“Yeah, they definitely need to run some more tests, there’s something wrong with your brain,” Karla says. Is she flirting with him? I think she’s flirting with him.
“Ha! Right? Squirrel-lepathy or something. That would be amazing.”
“Well, I guess you seem ok,” I say.
“Best day of my life. The birth of Captain Squirrel!”
“Well, we should head out. I didn’t tell my parents I was coming here, and it’s getting late. But we’ll come again. You know how to reach Ed, so if you need us to bring anything next time, let him know.”
“Yeah, will do. Thank you so much for coming! This is going to be so awesome.”
It’s not until we get outside that Karla bursts into laughter. I start to laugh too, though not as uproariously as her.
“Oh my god, Ed, I’m so sorry, I know he’s your friend and all, but Captain Squirrel?”
“I mean, he’s your friend too.”
She gives me a strange look. “I’ve only ever talked to him because he’s your friend.”
“So, you visited him today…”
“Because I got to walk here with you. Just like we used to. Speaking of which, we should start walking back.”
She leads the way back towards our neighborhood. So, she wasn’t flirting with Matt. She didn’t even really care about seeing him. She wanted to walk with me? She could have done that at any point. I never started avoiding her. I start to feel angry. What was she so afraid of? I was right here, she didn’t need to wait for an excuse, what did she think would happen? Oh, right, that I would get angry with her. I take a deep breath.
“Back in the fifth grade, when you stopped walking with me, did I do something wrong?”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Should I have done something different? Should I have gone after you?”
“Oh god, that would have been so awful for both of us. No, I’m glad you didn’t. Lisa did a number on my brain. We’re not really friends anymore. But I’m sorry. Please, don’t be mad at me.”
“It’s ok. I’m not. I’m just. Ugh. Sorry. I’m stupid. But Karla, could I hold your hand?”
She looks at her hand confused, as if she’d never considered that somebody would want to hold it.
“Yeah, ok. This isn’t a date, though. You know that, right?”
We clasp hands and walk the rest of the way home like that.