I walked down the stairs, last in a line of people making for the door. We walked across the hall and down the side to the exit. The girl in front of me stopped and held the door very briefly for me. Mentally, I slapped myself. I should have been walking a little faster at least. But I was tired. Holding the door for her would have been awkward, trust me. She was tall and blond. I walked through the door and let it close behind me. I paused to look out the window as the tall girl walked out the second door so she wouldn't have to hold the door for me. I looked out over the small valley filled with shrubbery, flowers, and a few trees. I reached in my pocket and touched the granola bar in it. Then I realized that it would probably be wise to eat it out on the concrete patio in front of the school, instead of inside where I would spill crumbs all over the floor and people would care.
I opened the door and walked out onto the concrete patio. It curved in a semicircle around the front part of the building, and was partly covered by an overhang. Sitting in the uncovered part were several bright blue wire mesh picnic tables, which didn't seem to match the current color scheme. Maybe it was just me, but they seemed leftovers from a previous decor that had been too expensive to replace when the school redecorated. Around the edge of the patio ran a blue rail--a darker blue. At the front of the patio the rail broke and a bridge spanned the gap over the small valley between the building and its parking lot. The tall girl and a couple others were sitting on the benches. As I walked over near the fence to look over the valley and eat, one of the girls got up from the bench at the far end and walked the step and a half to the fence to look over it as well. She was shorter--maybe 5'6"--and had short blond hair as well. She was wearing blue jeans and a navy t-shirt. She looked past me and I noticed that her face remarkably resembled that of Edmund's from Chronicles of Narnia--the close-set eyes, freckles. I pulled out my granola bar and started to eat as I looked out across the valley. The valley wasn't very wide; probably only 30 feet at its widest. I couldn't tell how deep it was; my eyesight is bad on normal days and was totally out of whack after five hours of testing. Directly opposite me in the valley was a large evergreen tree that stuck up above the edge of the rail. It was surrounded by several smaller trees and shrubs. The valley was flecked with flowers among the tall plants (which were most likely weeds). The third girl, sitting about two benches away from me, picked up her cell phone and called someone, probably her parents. Whoever it was, she had a long conversation with them. I looked back down the rail to where "Edmund" was standing. A moment later she turned, walked back to the picnic bench where she had left her purse, picked up her cell phone, and proceeded to call someone as well. About thirty seconds into the call, she walked off under the overhang and back into the building. The tall girl, who was still sitting on the bench where "Edmund"'s purse was, was also engaged in a conversation on her phone.
I looked back across the valley. The midday sun illuminated it well. I had finished my granola bar and stuffed the wrapper back into my pocket. I took a drink and stopped to listen to what was going on. I saw a couple of birds fly out from under another bridge past the tree I was standing opposite of. Some crickets were chirping in the distance. I stared across the valley, looking at it and mentally listening to "Uncle John's Band" (by the Grateful Dead). A few minutes elapsed
The door opened again and an older woman came by and spoke to the girl sitting closest to me. The two of them had a conversation of which I heard little. What little I heard suggested that the girl's name was Annie and that the other lady had thought she had gotten sick, like a few other students. (This did not surprise me; I would expect to find epidemics of flu break out after standardized testing.) Annie was a little taller than "Edmund" and was wearing a reddish-orange plain t-shirt and a long skirt. A few seconds later the older lady walked back into the building.
I turned back to the valley again--it was the only thing to look at except for the people, and it would be rude to stare. About a minute later "Edmund" came walking back out of the door, still on the phone. She stopped and sat on the bench next to her purse and spoke for a little while, then got up and walked down, across the bridge, and over to a set of concrete stairs that cut through a retaining wall. She sat down on top of the retaining wall and carried on her conversation.
I returned to my study of the valley. It didn't appear all that deep, yet I knew it was deeper because of the height of the retaining wall on the other side. It was just that I was ignoring all the clues from the sizes of the bricks and the height of the trees. I looked down. Directly over the edge of the fence were the cap bricks for the retaining wall on my side of the valley. What was intriguing about them was that they were not square; instead, some tapered out and some tapered in. It kept individual bricks from falling off into the valley, which would have made retrieval difficult. I was surprised that a high school would have such a distinct land feature on it; normally high schools are run-of-the-mill buildings and unique landscaping is reserved for colleges.
Several cars pulled past the end of the bridge. Minutes passed. Then another car pulled up, and stopped. No one got out. I felt compelled to ask, "Whose car?" since both Annie and Tall Girl were reading and had not noticed. About a minute elapsed before someone from the car called, "Hannah!" The tall girl suddenly closed her book, hurriedly placed it in her purse, and walked briskly across the bridge and climbed into the waiting car, which pulled away.
I looked back at the other girl--"Edmund". She was now lying along the top of the retaining wall, still talking on her phone. Another car pulled around the lot and parked by the sidewalk. A lady got out and pulled some large posts wrapped in cloth, presumably a banner of sorts, out of her car. She set off across the lot. At about the same time the other girl sat up, climbed off the wall, and walked across the lot towards the other woman. They passed each other. The girl walked up onto the sidewalk by the car, then along the sidewalk in front of it. A red minivan pulled up in front of the bridge. Annie closed her cell phone, picked up her purse, and walked towards the van. When she had reached it, the driver nudged the car forwards a bit. She banged on the side and quickly opened the door and climbed in. It pulled away.
I laughed to myself and finished off my water. Then I looked across the parking lot to see the girl walking along the sidewalk. I could just barely see her head above the cars in the distance.
"Walking. Where are you going, little girl?"
"You're walking a long way."
"Why are you walking?"
A horn honked. I jerked out of my thoughts and looked across the parking lot to see my ride arriving.
I walked along the rail and threw my empty water bottle in the trash can.
Dad's car drove through a puddle and splashed water onto the sidewalk.
I walked across the bridge.
I walked over the sidewalk, and climbed into Dad's car. We drove off.
And we passed the girl on the side of the parking lot.
What? This story has an epilogue? How can it have an epilogue? It's not even long enough to make a short novel!
Okay, okay, so it's not really an epilogue. It's rather an explanation of the story.
The point of the story is not to show you how much of a creeper I am. (I'll let you decide that one.) Nor is it to show you that I'm special because things like this happen in my life. The point is to tell you about what I saw today while I was people-watching. It's fascinating to catch a glimpse into the lives of other people, even if only for a few minutes (in this case, about 15). Sometimes you remember these people and think about them later. They become characters in some imagined story, or their faces become the faces of a character in a book. Sometimes you get to know them, in a very weird way, enough to write a short story about them.