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Winter '24



Summer is coming, and we have been holding our breaths too long. 

See us draped over couches in the hallways, lazily kicking freshmen away from our prime real estate. See us gathered in great impenetrable clusters in doorways we now must duck to walk through. See us ditching our sixth period math class to bask like seals on the lawn, braid dandelions into each other’s hair, hit our juuls when teachers turn their backs. See us lounge in hazy expectancy, waiting. 

We are not tired. At last, we are not tired. We have made it this far. We can see the finish line. The clouds are clearing; we strain towards the light. We feel enough clichés to make an English teacher’s stomach turn. We feel the nearness in our humming chests and our twitching fingers. 

Our rules are shifting, and we take advantage of it. We backtalk teachers. We steal our parents’ cars and take off down the highway, on a school day, five kids crammed in the back seat. We won’t always have our parents’ cars, their insurance. 


But we are not lawless. We still abide by our own rules. Some things never change. We love our vice principal and plot the death of our actual principal so that our favorite might receive the promotion he clearly deserves. The smart kids are still smart, and everyone knows it; the stoners still smoke weed behind the science building at lunch, and everyone except the teachers knows it. And none of us—not the smart kids or the stoners or the jocks or the losers—talk about Andrew Wright.

Don’t talk to us about him. We don’t talk about him. 

We have fun now. We walk lightly. We can feel the breath buoyant at the top of our chests. We are beautiful, hopeful, sweatpants-clad creatures. 

Here, we’ll show you. 

Last Tuesday, we drove to the beach. All of us. It’s May now, so we thought it would be sunny. It was cold as shit and the sand was wet and stuck to our clothing. So we stripped and danced in the freezing water in our underwear. See—Heidi Miller shrieking with glee as her boyfriend dunks her under a cresting wave. Greg Kaiser and Tony Mitchell smoking cigarettes on a dune, their eyes following Katherine Phillips in her hot pink thong as she bounces barefoot along the sand. 

Some things never change. 

But see—some things do. Past trauma and future fear are forcing us, at last, to live in the moment, to revel in the company of those we scorn only because it is familiar and will soon be gone. See three friends dancing in the shallows, holding hands and spinning in circles, and see others join them. See a chain of teens stretched across the beach, laughing and screaming and together. 

And later, see the driftwood fire streaming ceaseless orange towards the sky and the forest of faces that cluster around it. We didn’t think to bring marshmallows, and there is an undercurrent of resentment at no one in particular. But nevertheless, we are happy, sand-caked and reluctant to return home. We push our freedom as far as we can these days, testing ourselves before we no longer have any choice in the matter. 

There is talk of returning to the parking lot, mumbles about homework, groans. Someone suggests ditching again tomorrow, and there is a murmur of anti-school sentiment. Then Katherine Phillips, who draws eyes like magnets but can’t control her goddamn mouth, says, “Do you guys ever feel like school is, like, haunted? Because of, you know—” 

Several of us are gone before she finishes her sentence, vanished into the smoky darkness. A silence descends on the rest of us heavier than the salty air. 


“Yes,” Tony Mitchell finally says.


Several of us snicker. He is only saying this because Katherine once gave him a hand job in the back seat of his car. He’d agree if she told him the Earth was flat. We feel the shame for his behavior that he clearly has no idea he should feel. 

But apparently Tony is serious. “I’m serious. We can’t get away from him, can we?” 

Someone tells Tony to shut up. Says we shouldn’t be talking about this. We shouldn’t. It’s wrong. It doesn’t bode thinking about. 

It happened, and we can’t do anything about it now. 

Not our fault. 

Because we couldn’t have stopped it, could we? It’s true. Most of us did nothing more than brush by Andrew in the hallway, maybe knock hard into his shoulder if he was in our way, maybe not apologize. And yeah, of course we wish now that we’d turned to him in the crowd, looked him right in his watery blue eyes and told him, You matter and I’m here for you and all that bullshit. 

But how could we have known? 

Last week, we saw Andrew’s parents coming out of the principal’s office after school. And even by the standard of people leaving that particular office, they did not look good. His father was nearly carrying his mother, who was collapsing, folding, implosion personified. She’d dropped her purse, but not one of the adults had noticed. As the father supported her, he shouted through twisted lips, “Why didn’t you DO something?” and the principal with his bright red tie looked stupid and apologetic and completely at a loss, and this may have been the only time we have ever sympathized with him. A kid ran after the mother and father and gave the purse back, and we all felt as though we’d made some sort of amends, after all this fucking up. Although we are not being screamed at by the remains of a family, we feel the weight of what we could have done. But it doesn’t matter now. What can we do but whisper apologies to the Andrew who now lives only in our heads? 


You see why we don’t talk about this. At the beach, Tony and Katherine are shouted down. The school is not haunted. Tony just agrees with Katherine because he wants to get into her pants. Katherine thinks the school is haunted because she smoked too much weed today, or maybe she’s gotten fucked by one too many guys and her brain’s gotten shaken up. We are outspoken in our savagery. This is what we do best. Not regret. Calculated cruelty.

Some of us are quiet, of course. There are always some who keep their mouths shut. Some of us know that Katherine has an uncomfortable habit of calling out the truth, and respect her for it. Some of us imagine if Andrew had made it to the beach today, and know that he would have danced in the waves with us, and we would have loved him because we have no choice but to love what now feels familiar. A few of us, of course, loved Andrew even in life, and are silent because we can neither advocate his erasure nor bring ourselves to talk about him. 

The rest of us shout ourselves hoarse and feel a bit better. 

See the fire, sunk into coals now. See us slink back to our parents’ cars with sand in our hair and lead in our stomachs. 

Tomorrow, we will wake with the sunrise, brush our teeth in a haze of sleep deprivation, and muscle-memory our way through the day. Our minds are off in the future—so far ahead. The last thing we want is a weight to pin us in our past. 

Andrew Wright is forever stuck in high school, and we have no desire to stay here with him. 


So here we are, moving faster and faster towards God knows what, gathering momentum, but if we look back we can see him there. For everyone it’s different. Some see him as he lived, chubby obnoxious face shining with sweat, a boy scrounging for scraps of friendship. Some see him as he died, although no one is quite sure how it happened; we see a dangling body in closet, a hand limp over an empty aspirin bottle, a spray of blood that coats a bedroom wall like a painting, Andrew’s masterpiece.

God. Why can’t we stop thinking about it? More than anything, we want to stop. We are so close! We will be free in mere months, weeks, days! Few of us paid Andrew any attention in life, and we have no desire to change that in this eleventh hour. But we live with him now, as he could not live with us. 

We will be leaving soon. Soon, we will stand on the front lawn in itchy black robes, and one brave kid will boo the principal’s uninspiring speech, and our names will be called one at a time to take the stage, and towards the end of the alphabet there will be a hesitation where the name Wright would go, and some of us will notice that the principal looks like he is about to cry. But he will not cry, not then. None of us will cry at that tiny hesitation. We will cry later, for leaving and for change and for sheer terror, but to cry in that half-silence would be to acknowledge that he is following us into our new lives. 

And after graduation? We'll probably go to the beach. Laugh, swim, smoke. Someone will bring marshmallows this time. We will cluster around the fire, and it will occur to a few of us that, after all these years, we have ceased to be a “we.” We were brought together by chance, tied together by circumstance, but over the crash of the waves and the crackle of flames we can hear our bonds breaking. 

But not now. Not yet. 

Now, our parents’ cars slip silently out of the parking lot, and the waves wait patiently for our return.

See us blast music. Roll the windows down. Exist, now. Process, later, if we have nothing better to do. 

If, as we drive, we hear the screech of brakes in the distance, smell smoke in the air, sense anything that might indicate disaster, we keep going. Chances are, we will pretend not to notice at all. 

See us drive on, faster and faster, into the dark.

Esmé Kaplan-Kinsey is a California transplant studying creative writing in Portland, Oregon. Their work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Beaver MagazineJMWW, and Gone Lawn, and has been recognized by the National YoungArts Foundation and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. They are a mediocre guitarist, an awe-inspiring procrastinator, and a truly terrible swimmer. They can be found on X/Instagram @esmepromise.

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