Above City Streets by Cooper Nelson

Henry Palmer sluggishly made his way down the hallways of Thomas Jefferson High toward room 21E. He walked quietly, pressed tightly up against the cool metal lockers, oblivious to the students flowing down the hallway like salmon swimming upstream. He swerved and ducked to avoid the flying elbows and swinging backpacks of jocks horsing around in the crowded school corridors.

A brawny football player in a red letterman jacket flew into Henry, bowling him over, knocking his over-filled backpack to the ground; books tumbled to the floor and slithered to a halt in front of insensible feet that deliberately stepped over them. Henry dropped to his knees and scrambled amid the sea of footsteps to gather his scattered books. He shoved the books forcefully into his backpack before clumsily flinging it back up over his left shoulder. Henry rose to his knees as the final sounds of the chimes of the bell for class to start rang out through the hallway. He let out a sigh and pushed open the steel door and walked into the classroom. Henry stood in the doorway, cradling his bag in his arms, scanning the room for an open seat. Row after row of seats were filled with students, each talking in groups to their friends about weekend plans, and who to ask to prom. Every empty seat opportunity was met with a hand, a purse, or backpack blocking Henry from sitting down. “Look guys…looks like the nerd finally got all his books picked up,” Hunter Finch chuckled as he high-fived the other football players seated next to him, all wearing red letterman jackets.

“Mr. Palmer please take your seat,” Mrs. Crowe insisted in a low, monotone voice. Henry dropped his eyes to the floor as he slowly staggered past the football players who continued to taunt and tease him at his own hilarious expense. Henry dropped his backpack to the floor and slumped down into his seat. “Quiet down class, quiet down. Today we’ll begin our projects on animal anatomy. You’ll be paired in groups of two; each group’ll be given a frog to dissect.” Mrs. Crowe pulled a limp frog from a plastic bag and sprawled it out on the table. “Once you have your frog you’ll need to remove the heart, lungs, liver…”

“Do we getta choose who our lab partner is Mrs. Crowe?” Hunter interrupted. Mrs. Crowe scowled at him for interrupting her.

“Yes Mr. Finch yucan choose your partner,” she said swinging the frog through the air.

“Alright!” Hunter exclaimed pumping his fist in excitement. The students in the classroom hurried to find a lab partner; grabbing one another by the arm and sliding desks together. Henry sat like a stone in the back of the classroom watching the students pair up like animals about to enter Noah’s ark. After a minute every student in the class was in a group of two, all except for Henry.

“Well Mr. Palmer, I guess you’ll be working alone,” Mrs. Crowe stated, dropping a slimy frog on Henry’s desk. Henry raised his eyebrows and smiled understandingly.

“I’m used to it,” he stated, slipping on his protective gloves. The door to the classroom squeaked open as a girl entered.

“Nice of you to join us Ms. Burke,” Mrs. Crowe said irritated towards the blonde girl shyly smiling in the doorway.

“Yeah, sorry, I got a flat,” Amy said innocently back.

“Very well Ms. Burke,” Mrs. Crowe replied coldly. “Each student has been put into groups for our frog dissection project. You’ll be with Mr. Palmer.” Mrs. Crowe turned and pointed in Henry’s direction. Henry fumbled clumsily with the slippery frog, until it slipped from his grip and made a smacking noise as it hit the ground. He looked awkwardly up at Amy and smiled. Amy dropped her backpack off to the side of the conjoined desks and slipped on her pair of yellow gloves.

“You’re pretty good at science right?” Amy examined Henry who was studying the frog with his tongue protruding from his mouth. Henry slowly turned and looked up at her.

“Huh, what?” His lips fumbled. “Oh yeah…I guess. Remember, we were partners for the science fair in fifth grade?” Henry looked back down at the frog.

“Oh that’s right,” Amy said with a giggle. “We tried to make a solar powered potato cooker, everyone else made stupid replica volcanoes.” Amy’s giggle grew into a loud laughter. “Yeah our parents made us be partners since we lived down the street from one another and I was your only friend.” Amy laughed harder. “Oh and our potato cooker didn’t even work. When you plugged it in it sparked and started smoking.” Amy wiped tears from the corner of her eye.

“Yeah,” Henry half chuckled. “And you kissed me on the cheek for tryin so hard.” Henry blushed and looked back down at the table. “You know, you really were my only friend. We useta hang out all the time.”

“Yeah we did!” Amy exclaimed, “like that one time in the second grade at the park when I...”

“What happened to us?” Henry interrupted. He swallowed the lump in his throat. Amy’s laughter came to an abrupt halt. She sat in silence for a few seconds, the sounds of the students talking around her filled the void.

“I, I don’t know. I joined the cheer team and you…kept being you,” Amy raised her shoulders and looked away from Henry. “We just had different friends and went in different directions. I mean when Hunter and I started dating I didn’t really have alotta time for anyone else, besides we were kids when we useta hang out. It’s not like we woulda had anything in common anyway.” Amy looked quietly at Henry. For a few minutes Henry sat still, poking at the lifeless frog.

“But he …” Henry raised his voice as he started to speak. He turned his eyes away from Amy and looked timidly back down at the deceased frog. “He cheated on you,” Henry’s spoke softly.

“I know Henry,” Amy’s words came out irritably as if she had said it a dozen times. “And that’s why we broke up. That was a long time ago, he has changed. Besides, do you really think we woulda hung out much anyway…or dated?” Amy looked at Henry chuckling; he never looked up.

“Yeah…guess you’re right,” Henry replied with a weak smile. “Look, we got alotta work to do, so let’s just finish it.” Henry went back to pulling organs out of the frog. Amy looked down at the floor in silence. For about an hour the two sat in silence as Henry put pieces of the frog into a plastic bag, and Amy continued to stare at the tile floor. Amy looked up at Henry apathetically.

“You know I didn’t really...” her voice was interrupted by the chime of the bell announcing school’s end. Henry snatched the bag from off the desk and took it to the front of the room, placing it on the teacher’s desk, never once looking in Amy’s direction. Amy got up from her desk and walked out of the room, a few students behind Henry. By the time she reached the hall, Henry had disappeared; blending in with the wave of students rushing to start their weekend plans, and get ready for prom. Amy sighed, disappointed with how she had treated Henry. They were such good friends, and up until today they hadn’t talked in what seemed like forever. Amy shook her head and tightened the straps of her backpack, and made her way out of the building.

With her hands loosely gripped on the handle bars, Amy tugged her bike along beside her as she made her way down the sidewalk drenched in golden sunlight and towards home. The flat back tire flopped and dragged along against the pavement, and burrowed itself in every crack she passed. Amy wrestled with the metal handle bars to hold it steady along the bumpy, winding sidewalk. She passed columns of apartment buildings, each nestled inches from the next. The buildings sprang from the earth like box shaped trees; each one a different size and shape. Amy wandered through the forest of windowsills and doorframes, never once losing her way, until she stopped in front of a brown apartment building with a red fire exit hanging limply from the side. Amy carefully laid the bike down underneath the fire exit and jumped up onto the free-hanging ladder. She pulled herself up, and made her way up the winding stairway until she reached the top.

“I thought I’d find you up here,” Amy said walking up behind Henry who sat with his legs crossed, fiddling with a shoebox. Henry swiftly turned around, and with sight of Amy, hid the shoebox from view. “What’s in the box?” Amy said with a smile, peeking behind Henry’s back to catch a glimpse.

“Nothing,” Henry insisted, fighting off Amy’s attempts to see what he was hiding. “Just stop…okay?” Henry raised his voice. Amy dropped her arms to her side and stepped back.

“Alright, whatever, I don’t neeta know,” Amy announced sitting down beside Henry. Henry slid the box across the rooftop, away from the two of them, and sat back down.

“What’re you doing up here?” He asked.

“I just wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. I shouldnt’ve said that stuff.” Amy’s eyes pleaded for forgiveness. A limp smile appeared on Henry’s face.

“Don’t worry about it. It was mostly true anyway.” Henry awkwardly ran his finger along the cracks in the rooftop.

“Sorry about your bike,” Henry said, squinting out the sun.

“Ehh…no worries, it’ll pull through,” Amy said with a chuckle. She looked away toward the park in the distance and laughed to herself. “Do you remember how we useta ride our bikes down to the park every day durin the summer when we were little and just play until it got dark? That was fun,” Amy smiled as she continued to picture herself as a kid swinging and going down the slide.

“Yeah and then junior high came, and then high school, and then Hunter.” Henry’s voice trailed off. He moved his tongue around his mouth uncomfortably.

“Come on, we both knew it was gonna happen sooner or later.” Amy lightly grabbed a hold of Henry’s arm. The moment Henry felt her gentle touch his face became warm, and butterflies fluttered blissfully in his stomach. He turned around and looked her in the eyes.

Henry dazed lovingly at Amy. “Amy…when we were younger I had the biggest…” Henry sucked his lips in to stop the embarrassing words from spewing out, and turned his flushed face away from her.

“What?” Amy inquired leaning in closer.

“Nuttin…It was justa stupid, funny memory that popped into my head; nothin important.” Henry swallowed and hoped she would buy his nervous lie.

“Oh ok…but anyway, you know I’m sorry, we were really good friends and maybe we still could’ve been.” Henry swallowed and sat in silence, looking down at the cracked rooftop. Amy grabbed ahold of her knees and rocked back and forth, biting her bottom lip as she rocked. Well I gotta get home, gotta start getting ready for tonight,” she shrugged her shoulders. “It was good talkin with ya.” Amy got to her feet and headed back toward the fire escape. Henry followed her with his eyes. Amy stopped at the edge of the roof and turned back around, “You going to prom?”

“Wha..I…I’m ..I…” Henry began. It was like all the moisture in his mouth vaporized at the utter of Amy’s words. Henry smacked his lips together and swallowed hard; the dry lump was hard to get down. “Uh, yeah I’m going…?” Henry replied inquisitively.

“Cool, I’m having a little get together before. Just some friends and stuff you know… you should come over…Bring your date if you want, if you…have…one” Amy’s voice tailed off.

“Yeah…definitely…I’ll stop by,” Henry managed to say in his dry raspy voice. He was so excited that he stopped listening, not hearing the end.

“Cool, see you then,” Amy said with a smile. Once Amy was out of view, over the side of the building, Henry sprang to his feet and ran to the edge facing the street. Down below Amy picked up her bike and walked it gracefully down the sidewalk covered in shadows. Henry followed her until her black silhouette disappeared into the fading rays of sunlight. He turned around and walked confidently toward the fire exit, a smile stretching from ear to ear. I love you Amy Burke, Henry mouthed.

Henry wiggled the knot of his tie tightly up against his neck until it fit just right and stepped back to admire his work in the mirror. He smiled confidently at the young man dressed sharply in a black and white suit. Tonight was going to be his night. Henry reached over onto his bed, picked up the bouquet of flowers, and headed out the door. He strutted down the sidewalk and whipped around the corner, stopping in front of Amy’s house. A red corvette sat snickering in her driveway. Henry took a deep breath and walked up the three concrete steps preceding Amy’s front door. With a shrug of confidence Henry raised a closed fist and knocked lightly on the wooden door. He let out deep sighs to try and calm his nerves. He shook his hands anxiously waiting for Amy to answer. The door creaked open slowly and Amy appeared adorned in a beautiful flowing scarlet dress. Henry’s breath was taken away at the mere sight of her. The flowers shook in his hands as he raised them up into her line of view. Amy looked at the flowers and then up at Henry with a surprised look in her eye.

“What’re you doin here?” She prodded. Amy stepped out of the doorway and closed the door until just a tiny slit was left open.

“I, I’m here to take youta prom. I mean…well…I was hopin that you’d want to gota prom with me. I mean you don’t haveta, but I thought that we’d have fun…” Henry continued to mutter on in a shaky, nervous voice, his eyes firmly fixed on the concrete porch.

“Babe who’s at the door?” Hunter Finch walked out of the barely cracked doorway, wearing a white tuxedo, with a scarlet bowtie. Hunter stopped at the sight of Henry. “Hey loser, nice flowers,” he said with a chuckle. “Who’s your date, your cousin?” Hunter laughed and looked around for someone to high-five. Henry’s face grew red in embarrassment and his eyes began to well up.

“Henry…I,” Amy started to speak but no more words would come out. Henry hurled the flowers to the ground, petals exploding into the air. “Wait,” Amy called out taking a step forward and extending out her hand, but Henry was gone, sprinting down the driveway and back toward home.

“See ya at prom loser, have fun with your cousin,” Hunter yelled out, his hands cupped to his mouth to amplify his mocking words. Hunter turned toward Amy and held up a hand for a high-five. Amy turned and walked back into the house.

“You’re an idiot,” she said as she entered the doorway.

“Yeah, but a good-looking idiot,” Hunter said with a cocky smile, strutting into the house behind her.

Henry sauntered slowly down the sidewalk as cars raced past, the word Prom painted on the back windows. He could hear faint screams coming from behind him. The sounds grew louder and louder, until it sounded like it was right upon him. A car horn honked twice as it slowed down to match his listless pace. Henry turned a downtrodden head in the cars direction. Hunter Finch leaned over Amy’s lap to stick his head out the window, his hands still on the wheel. “Yeah,” he screamed out in a high pitch moan. “We about ta get crazy tonight, too bad you don’t hava date Palmer. Maybe if you ask nicely your mommy will go with you.” Hunter laughed stridently as he slipped back into the car. His football buddies in the back joined in with his hooting and hollering, a round of high-fives went on in the back seat. Henry frowned and looked at Amy with a saddened expression. She smiled weakly in his direction and mouthed I’m sorry just before Hunter punched the gas and the car sped down the road leaving Henry in a cloud of tire smoke. Henry coughed and cleared his throat before scaling the fire escape onto the room of his apartment complex. Once on the roof, Henry ripped his tie loose and flung it to the side. He cursed, and yelled, and screamed, and flailed his arms around like a mad man trying to release his anger.

“You’re so stupid. What were you thinking? Like Amy Burke would ever go to the prom with a loser like me when she can have someone like Hunter, Mr. All Star quarterback.” Henry’s face was red and beads of sweat dripped down from his messy hair and onto the Apartment roofing. “So what if he cheated on her? He’s still better than me!” Henry kicked the ground with his shoe and screamed out at the top of his lungs in anger. “You thought that just because you liked her for so long you were owed something?” Henry asked himself sarcastically. “She has never liked you and never will like you,” He screamed back at himself. “You might as well forget about her,” Henry kicked the air shute that jutted out of the rooftop; the shoebox rattled around inside. Henry stopped and remembered what was inside. He tore off the cage of the shute like a lunatic and pulled the box out and hurled it to the ground. He flung off the lid and sent it flying across the rooftop. Henry reached in and pulled out handfuls of neatly folded pieces of paper. He opened one up and read the words written on it. His rage subsided as the words made their way into his subconscious. Henry dropped his hands to his side and shook his head in defeat. “Won’t need these anymore,” Henry said, folding the piece of paper into a tiny paper airplane. He rose to his feet and with a flick of his wrist sent the tiny paper airplane over the edge on a puff of wind. He sat back down and reached a hand back into the box. One by one he folded up the pieces of paper into tiny airplanes and sent them soaring over the edge of the roof.

Amy walked down the sidewalk, her right hand flung over her shoulder; her three-inch heels laced within her fingers. Her feet gleamed against the growing moonlight as she danced to avoid stepping on the bottom of her dress as she walked. She turned the final corner and closed her eyes to compose herself as she made her way to Henry’s house. Amy stopped on the sidewalk outside the apartment complex and stared at the thin metal railing aligning the steps just outside the apartment door. Thoughts of what to say to Henry ran through her mind. A surprised, sour expression covered her face as something light crashed into the back of her head. Amy knelt down and picked up a white paper airplane, lustrous against the dark night sky. Amy was puzzled as she looked up to see where the airplane had come from. She was astonished at the sight she saw when she looked up above her. Tiny paper airplanes fluttered gracefully down to earth like the first snowflakes falling in December. The gleaming white of the paper danced and swayed elegantly against the giant full moon that seemed to come closer to earth to observe this astonishing scene of curiosity. Amy smiled as she continued to watch the airplanes soar down from the heavens. She reached out a hand and snatched one from out of the air. She carefully unfolded the letter and read it alound:

“From above city streets I watched you. Day after day I observed your beauty. I sat here, on top of the world. watching your divine grace and elegance as you walked your bike home from school every day. I was your admirer and your protector; nothing was going to hurt you as long as I was watching. I would reminisce on the time that we used to spend together; the summers growing up and the fun that we used to have. For the last few years of my life I have been saddened to see how you have been mistreated by parents and teachers and unworthy boyfriends. If I was your boyfriend I would treat you like the princess you are and do everything I could to make your life full of love and laughter, because that’s what someone as amazing as you deserves. I have and will always love you, Amy Burke.”

It was signed Love, Henry Palmer. Amy’s eyes welled up with tears as she finished reading the note. She wiped the corner of her eyes with the side of her hand and made her way up the fire escape, leaving her shoes on the pavement below. Amy walked up on Henry who had his back turned, still tossing paper airplanes over the side.

“Did you write this note?” Amy asked in a solemn, sodden tone. Henry whipped around in surprise; his eyes grew large at the sight of Amy. Henry’s mouth grew automatically dry; his tongue turned into stone. “Did you write this note?” Amy yelled out jabbing her red polished fingernail into the unfolded note. Henry swallowed hard and nodded his head. Amy dropped her hands to her side and her serious expression melted away from her face. “That’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever said about me,” Amy replied between wet sobs. Henry got to his feet and caught Amy as she hurled herself into his open arms. She crinkled the note against his back as she hugged him tightly.

“You left the prom to see me?” Henry asked as he released from the hug. Amy nodded vigorously, removing a tear with her thumb.

“I was stupid not to see it before Henry. All those guys I dated were jerks and not worth my time.” Amy flung her right hand around the air as she wiped a tear with the other. “I shoulda done what I knew was right a long time ago.” Amy sniffled and cleared away the tears that were streaming down her face with her hands. “Henry you are the sweetest guy I know and I would like to go to prom with you.”

“But prom started an hour ago,” Henry shook his head. “By the time we get there…” Amy shushed Henry and pulled her Ipod from her purse. Music sprang out from the tiny speakers. Amy reached a hand out in front of Henry, palm facing up.

“May I have this dance?” She asked with a smile. Henry took her hand and pulled her in close.

“What about Hunter?” Henry whispered in her ear as they swayed across the rooftop.

“You’re the only guy I care about tonight.”

Cooper Nelson is a junior at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. He is double majoring in communications with an emphasis on Public Relations and English, while also spending the last two years playing basketball at the collegiate level. He is employeed part time as an English and writing tutor for the university and spends the rest of his free time freelance writing and writing short stories and novels. He aspires one day to work at a public relations firm and be an established, successful author. Cooper has already published his first book, Blume, a science fiction story, and is currently in the process of writing more as he works on earning his degree and advancing into other facets of life.