This was originally published as a short story in Green Mountain Trading Post and then the story collection What’s With Her?, and I later incorporated it into my novel You Don’t Think She Is. Ordering info for these books is at the bottom of this page. –mhs
Scott Perry was one of those kids who was easy to miss when we were little. He was just on the fringe of our neighborhood, and he’d show up at an occasional pick-up ballgame; I knew him to say “Hi” at school, but really, I barely noticed him up until sixth grade. That was when he grew… and as he grew, my best friend, Margo LeDoux, started to take an interest in him. If I’d had any sort of non-best-friend interest in Margo myself, her suddenly smiling and saying “Hi” all quiet and shy to him as they passed in the hallway might have made me really, really jealous.
It’s a good thing I wasn’t interested.
Through elementary school, Scott had been little, stick-thin and wiry, but in sixth grade, he started to get tall, and the summer between the end of sixth grade and the beginning of seventh, he finished. When we came back to school in late August 1972, he was six-four. Not a mature six-four, mind you –he was gangly and a little gawky, like a baby giraffe– but he was a good-looking kid with that sad look that breaks 13-year-old hearts: thin lips, deep, dark eyes, a long face, and (as Margo said to her friend Christy Kelly one day after school), “Scotty’s Mom’s a Dental Hygienist, so not only does he have dreamy eyes, but straight white teeth and minty-fresh breath!”
Scott also had Beatle Hair: a mop of reddish-brown hair which he swept in an informal part to the left, and which he always seemed to be fighting… first with his fingers, then with a comb, and finally with a backwards jerk of his head… which worked almost as well as a comb most of the time.
Margo’d noticed Scott and Scott definitely had his Dreamy Eyes on Margo, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about this, but, like most boys, Scott saw Margo and me together and kept his distance. But that didn’t mean he didn’t look…
One of the first times he looked was Friday of the second week of the school year. I left gym class and met Margo at the caf, and while I snagged our seats, she got in the ala carte line to get her lunch. I started into my Lebanon Bologna With Cooper Sharp On White and watched as she slowly made her way up to the single cashier: sixth in line… fifth… fourth…
And there, almost directly across from her, in the hot meal line, was Scott Perry, paralleling her forward movement: fourth… third… second…
The two of them met at the cashier’s (why they had only one cashier was beyond me) and Scott, being a gentleman, nodded to Margo to step up in front of him and pay for her food first. As the cashier rung up Margo’s meal and Scott stood there waiting, he checked out my best friend as slyly as he could…
…and as he did, that shock of brown hair slipped lower and lower and lower… down his forehead, over his eyebrows, down into his eyes.
He couldn’t brush it back with his fingers: his hands were full of tray. So he did what he’d been doing lately: he tried to flip his hair back out of his eyes with a jerk of his head…
…only what he flipped was his tray. The hot meal of the day (Turkey in gravy with Mash Potatos and Savory stuffing, Butter succotash and Apple Sauce) leapt up onto the front of his tan cableknit sweater. Scott’s silverware clattered to the concrete cafeteria floor, and his opened carton of milk spilled down onto the cashier.
Silence for a second, and then laughter from the few people who’d seen the whole thing, including me… and Margo, who stifled herself and stepped toward Scott to help. When their eyes met, he was so horrified that he dropped his tray on the floor and ran out of the caf to the boys’ room.
“God, Bri,” Margo said when she sat down across from me, “did you see that?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled as I took my milk off her tray. “Pretty funny, huh?”
“I guess,” Margo said. She took a bite of her sandwich, her long honey blonde bangs falling in her eyes. “Do you think he saw me laugh at him?” she said as she chewed.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Margo sighed. “God, I feel like such a jerk.” She took a sip of her milk and I ate the last bite of my sandwich. I felt like I was being watched.
“Could you please run to the bathroom and check on him?”
I laughed. “Check on him?”
“Brian, I feel bad.” She reached across and touched my bare arm. I noticed the red delicious polish on her fingernails. “Come on, Bri,” she said. “You know him. Please?”
“I don’t really know him, Margo…”
Margo just took a bite of her sandwich and looked at me, big-eyed.
I took a swig of milk and pushed my chair out.
Margo sat up. “Thanks, Bri!” she said as I got up from my seat.
I maneuvered my way through my classmates, down the narrow aisle between the crowded tables, taking note of the time (11:05. Why did we eat lunch so early?), and then stepped out to the boys’ room in the lobby right outside the cafeteria and stuck my head in the door.
“Scott?” I said.
Echo… echo… echo…
I opened the door the rest of the way and stepped inside. The sound of the door shutting behind me echoed off the tile walls and floors as I scanned the stalls…
No feet visible. And the window was shut, so he hadn’t climbed out. Maybe he went to the office, or the nurse, but he wasn’t in that bathroom.
I opened the door to go back out to the caf, and as I did, I heard the distinct sound of a sneeze from one of the stalls…
…but I just let the door shut behind me and fought my way back down the aisle to take my seat across from Margo.
“Well?” she said, straightening up a little.
I sat down and opened my baggie of carrot sticks, and looked straight at the wall behind Margo.
“I didn’t see anybody in there.”
“Flip!” is available in two different books:
It was a chapter in my novel You Don’t Think She Is, which is available in print, Kindle edition, or as a PDF e-book; click on the highlighted text for product page links or click here for complete ordering info, including ISBN info for ordering from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore.
It was also included in my short story collection What’s With Her? , originally published in print by New Plains Press, and available as a Kindle book here. A new print edition will be issued in autumn 2022 along with a PDF version.