Demetria Ekiridzo was 19 when she won second prize for her short story Fire, first published in John Abbott College’s Locus magazine, fall 2017 edition.
In kindergarten, you were enamored by the chubbiness of Will’s cheeks. You became devastated, however, when you were taught to share him with the other children: the others sucked their dirty thumbs, flicked at Will’s curls while Will dug his fingers in the hem of his shirt.
You fled into the corridor, by the cubbies, and stole Will’s gloves.
Later, at recess, Will huddled in a corner of the fence. You watch as Will’s tears swell at the dryness of the cold. Will catches you looking, and asks for your hand. He then burrows his head in your chest, sniffling and shivering against your tailored coat. Your cheeks dimpled.
You’re in preschool, and you don’t know a lot of these children in your obnoxiously, rainbow colored class. You hold right onto Will’s hand to make sure he won’t leave you, but his curls have made them curious, again.
You purse your lips as the circle around you seems to grow bigger. Will looks at you, and you smile, helplessly.
As the teacher leaves you to choose your seats, you go to the place that is near the window. Your circle thins out as you open it. Autumn is not kind. Will stays with you, shivering. He doesn’t protest, and you’re happy as he squeezes your hand tighter, searching for warmth.
You’re both sick the next day, but you’re happy.
Your heart beats quicker today. As Will sits quietly at his desk, you stroll to Will’s locker and drop his pre-packaged superhero lunch into the trash. Later on, Will sucks in the bottom of his lip as he sits next to you in the cafeteria; You almost feel guilty. Will’s voice is soft when he tugs your shirt, asking for some grapes. You bite your lip to keep from offering Will your whole lunch. As Will chews, he tilts his head at the size of your meal. He stammers, however, as you pop a grape into his mouth, your fingers brushing against his lips.
A student greets Will on his way to class. You twitch his nose, receiving a glance from Will. You offer him a thin smile.
A week later, on Valentine’s day, you finish your exam early. Then, you go to Will’s mustard locker, which faces a window yielding the football court. You block the vents and take the few paper hearts. You exhale, your breath whitening against the glass as you stare at the sodden ground. You turn back and take Will’s blue umbrella, too.
Will’s spine is hunched as he closes his locker, his fist clenched as he stares at the pit-patter of the rain. You smile, and press your palm on the back of Will’s elbow, nudging him until you both arrive on the school’s porch, the cement reeking of warm copper. You open your umbrella and step closer to Will, smirking when the tips of Will’s ears turn red. As you pinch a chocolate truffle in the palm of Will’s hand, you’re pleased to see Will’s blush deepen.
It’s Will’s birthday, and you have never been so angry at his parents before. They’ve made him invite children other than you. They’re trespassing: over the green lawn where you play with him, the singular blanket you both sleep under to feel his warmth, the pastel table where you ate strawberry pancakes together. They’re singing Will a happy birthday, fools around a fire that does not belong to them.
Later, while Will and his guests are asleep, you sneak into the living room to throw all his birthday presents in the fireplace. You’re glad that Will kept your present in his room.
You’re a bit too warm when you go back to Will’s rickety wooden bed, but that’s fine.
The next day, reunited over empty wrappings, everyone is shocked. No one can find a culprit. Will’s parents insist on buying him new presents, but Will manages to refuse them, keeping calm with a smile. He keeps glancing at you and rubbing the shoulder that covered your chest last night.
Will looks differently at you now, and you mistake it for fear. You shouldn’t have worried.
c. Demetria Ekiridzo, 2017.