The Un-Miracle (Short Story Excerpt)

Note: This excerpt was printed in The Write Stuff, newsletter of the Ventura County Writers Club. The complete story will be published in its annual  anthology.

Desks rattled on the floor as the class assembled into groups, and Maddie found herself facing two other juniors. One was a boy she had a secret crush on, and she’d made sure to learn his name. Zack. Blond and muscular, he slouched in the desk chair, legs stretched out like he wanted to sleep, and closed his eyes. Dreamy.

Maddie didn’t know the other student except for his weird name—Quentin. He was frail, thin, and kind of creepy. Not as tall as Maddie. And there was a hollow, haunted look about him, as though he spent too many hours alone playing World of Warcraft in the basement.

Zack pressed his tall frame into the chair, bending the plastic back support. Strong jaw, chiseled cheekbones. He opened one eye, looked at Maddie. “I like your hair,” he said, then sat up straighter. “My sister streaked hers, too. Used a bleach kit, I think.”

Maddie nodded and twisted a strand around one finger. Slow. Keep him focused. “I made it real light in just a few places, and then added the lime green streaks.”

“Nice,” Zack said, then looked down at the poem and shrugged. “This sucky poetry crap that Mr. K gave us—he wants us to come up with some kind of theme or whatever? I don’t know about you, but the poem makes no sense. Some dude who’s gone into the woods and can’t figure out which path to take? What a dumbass. Next time, take a cellphone.”

“Maybe he’s not really confused,” Maddie offered. “Just deciding.”

“And what’s hence mean?” Zack again.

“The future.” It was Quentin, who’d seemed lost, detached, hunched over his desk as he folded and unfolded a corner of the paper.

Maddie sank back into her seat, wishing it could be just her and Zack. Partners.

“Or therefore,” Quentin added.

“Like you read a freakin’ dictionary in your spare time?” Zack asked.

Quentin stopped fiddling with the paper. “There’s this video game called Fate and—”

“As if that matters.” Zack—arms crossed, sprawled in his seat—cut Quentin off with a look of disdain. He raised an eyebrow and turned to Maddie, then shifted his desk closer to her, away from Quentin.