The neighborhood’s mantra was that you could move to Upper Arlington, Ohio, but never from Upper Arlington, Ohio. Well, if anyone could move from Upper Arlington, it was my family. At least we stayed there longer than Nashville, and at least this time there was no girlfriend to complicate my emotions. I had never lived near water before and Traverse City, Michigan— my parents told me, because of its beautiful lakeside locale—garnered a lot of fun music and food festivals. But that wasn’t enough to excite me about moving. Each subsequent move, I hated the process a little more.
Our move protocol remained the same. I could not tell a single soul, not even any of my friends on the baseball team, until my father told me I could, which usually occurred about two weeks before we moved. And I obeyed this time like I usually did until one morning when the guy who sat beside me in first period Geometry, after we finished solving our first set of problems and discussed them, blurted suddenly in a low, pained voice that he was tired of feeling like an outcast who could never belong anywhere because his family always moved him every two years. Then his face morphed paper-white, his expression horrified.
“You can’t tell anyone I told you that,” he whispered. “It isn’t official yet.” He slumped in his chair, about ready to panic-attack right out of his skin.
My hand on his shoulder, I smiled and told him not to worry. “I get it maybe more than you think,” I said.
He did not seem relieved and two problems later, discussions of which I completely carried, I leaned over and said, “I know what it’s like.”
He rolled his eyes. “You have no clue.”
I have never once considered the consequences for telling someone my family planned to move before my father gave me permission to share this information, but I doubt if I had known I would have cared. Because telling him that I, too, was moving soon and that I also hated being the outcast felt like the most liberating thing I could ever do. I wanted him to know that he wasn’t alone.
He accused me of making fun of him. He actually scooted his desk back from mine.
He was small and Asian, with thin, black-stringy hair down to his ears and big glasses which magnified his eyes and dominated his feminine face.
I leaned over and whispered, “All my friends joke that my Dad must be some, like, CIA agent or something.”
He stared straight down at his blank sheet of notebook paper.
“But he’s just a banker,” I said.
Our teacher started the next lecture and I turned back into my seat. He didn’t speak to me the rest of class.
The next morning when I sat down he was not there, nor did he arrive after the final bell. The same the following day. When the teacher asked me if I had seen Marcus lately and I shook my head he frowned, confused. I began to suspect that he had already moved when after I finished my quiz I saw him at his locker on my way to the bathroom. He was carefully unloading books from his backpack. I said hi, twice, but he didn’t once lift his head.
I took my time in the bathroom, washing my hands, watching my face in the mirror, wondering what made these music and food festivals in Traverse City, Michigan so fun, until someone tapped my shoulder.
He was much shorter than I realized. He barely reached my bicep, and as he took his glasses off his eyes shrunk. We looked at each other.
I do not remember who initiated it first. I felt then and still feel now that we initiated it at the exact same time. When our lips actually touched the warm shock of it was like an alarm clock I was not disappointed waking up to. For the first time ever, I was excited to move.
James Hartman’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Blue Five Notebook, Flash Fiction Magazine, Gravel Literary Journal, Peaches Literary Magazine, Spelk, and the podcast No Extra Words. His literary criticism is forthcoming in The Hemingway Review. He has a history degree from Adrian College, an English degree from Florida Atlantic University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Kentucky University. He lives in Michigan with his wife and four animals.