More than forty years, now, and if I knew how to draw I could draw you every detail of the scene. Maybe it was that look he had about him of the young James Coburn, and his perfect timing. Must have been a movie freak too, to get it so right.
Kit and I were sitting at a table, laughing at him and his friend over there at the counter. Maybe knowing we were there, two girls, pushed the extra little touch of drama. All of us from the same high school but each on our own path now.
New uniform he had on and maybe that made us even a little more scornful. You know how it was back then.
“War — ” and a clink of the ice in that glass of Coke he was holding — “is hell.” The kid next to him nodded sagely. We were purple with the effort of stifling it. Mocking — but we didn’t want to rub it in.
I always suspected — but it was only a couple of years ago, fooling around on the internet a little too late at night, that I actually checked the site. There it was, his full name, the date. He hadn’t lasted long.
I wrote to his sister — found her through the internet too. Hadn’t known her personally. She had a little website up. Told her I’d always remembered him, though he probably never knew who I was. Told her I’d had a little crush on him, back in those days, I’d thought he was lovely, but by the time I saw him in that Dunkin’ Donuts I was in the throes of my first marriage. Told her the whole anecdote — censored of the laughter — and she was charmed for a moment by the Coburn comparison.
“Oh,” she said, the anguish still fresh in her after all that time, “oh, he knew who you were. He knew — he cared about everyone.”
I doubted she was right — about me — it had been a huge, crowded school, and all of us from different neighborhoods. I had a moment’s wondering — what if I’d spoken to him, just once, all those times we passed in the hallway — what if he’d known how I felt?
But I was all right with my own destiny — wouldn’t have changed that for anything. I wish, though, some other girl had spoken, maybe given him a reason to stay.
Sarah Crysl Akhtar’s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable — the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on 365tomorrows, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)