The trees were yellow and orange, and dappled shadows scattered across the street. I stood outside of the school, a graceful red-brick building. The sun was a bright white spot in the center of the blue sky above. It was a Saturday, and I had just escaped the math extracurricular my parents had signed me up for.
I stared across the street as cars occasionally passed. I was staring at the cars so I wouldn’t have to talk to my classmates.
Henry paced back and forth on the sidewalk some twenty feet away, phone to his ear. Maybe he was calling his dad. Maybe I should’ve called my dad.
I checked my phone for messages. None, yet. He was probably just late.
Lisa was watching me hopefully from a bit away. I stared across the street.
Henry put his phone back in his pocket and looked around. He started to walk towards me.
I looked at him and waved, but made no move to get closer.
“Hello,” he said as he strode up to me. I smiled at him awkwardly, and Lisa seized this opportunity to move closer and join us.
“Hi,” she said.
“My dad will probably get here late,” Henry commented. They were already late. All of our parents were already late.
“Mine too,” added Lisa.
I shrugged. “I don’t know when my parents will get here.”
“It’s almost nice, though.” Lisa tugged on the straps of her backpack. “It’s not that cold, and it’s sunny. It’s good to be outside for a bit.”
Henry smiled. “What are you guys going to do later today? I think I’ll play video games, maybe homework.”
I sighed. “Always homework.”
We stood silently. A car passed by in a silver blur, lifting the leaves on the street into the air. They fell back again. Lisa checked her phone.
“They’ll be here in a bit…” She squinted up the street. “Speaking of homework, I don’t think I can come to class next week. I have a huge paper due soon. For real school, I mean.”
“I might not come next week,” Henry said. “My dad…”
I winced. I wasn’t good at talking about touchy subjects. It made me nervous.
He cleared his throat. “My dad’s moving out. He wants me to help.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him. I looked down. I didn’t know what to say.
“We’re here for you, you know,” Lisa told him. “We’re your friends.” Even though we had been trying to avoid talking just a few minutes ago. Even though we didn’t know him.
Henry laughed sardonically. “What’s a friend?”
“Do you want a hug?”
He nodded, and I awkwardly wrapped my arms around him. Lisa joined in.
“Group hug!” I cheerfully exclaimed.
We pulled apart again, and watched the road, waiting for our parents. Having them around was reassuring. I wasn’t worrying alone.
“So why do you come here?” I asked partly to help the conversation along, partly out of genuine curiosity.
“My parents are math teachers,” Lisa said. “It’s kind of a family thing.”
Henry shrugged. “I’m not that interested in math, but I’m good at it, so my mom sort of forced me into this. My dad doesn’t really care, only he has to drive me.”
“I thought you came by uber today?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah, he slept in. I didn’t realize it was time to leave until late, either. I hope Ms. Smith didn’t mind.”
“She noticed,” I remarked. She tended to notice.
A silver car came to a stop beside us, and Lisa sighed in relief.
“That’s me,” she told us. We knew.
“Bye,” I said.
“Bye,” said Henry.
Lisa walked around to the passenger door and stepped in. The car accelerated a moment later, leaving only the disturbed leaves on the road behind.
“Right,” I said. “Just us now.”
A red car pulled up on the opposite side of the street, and Henry’s dad rolled down the window. Henry smiled sheepishly at me.
“Well...that’s me, actually.”
“You’ll be alright, right?”
“I’d better go.” He waved to me as he crossed the street.
“Bye!” I called after him.
I watched him open the door and vanish inside. I was alone now. Waiting.
I slid my phone out of my pocket and opened it. My background--a picture of me with my dog--wasn't obscured by any notifications. I dialed my dad’s number and put the phone to my ear. It rang for a while, but there was no answer. I called my mom. Neither picked up.
The wind ruffled my hair and blew through the red and gold leaves of the trees around me. I put my phone back in my pocket and tugged my jacket closer around myself. I walked back towards the school and sat down on the step to wait.
Leaves fell and the sun slowly inched across the bright blue backdrop of the sky. No new notifications appeared on my screen. I heard an ambulance in the distance. Then I got a call.
I didn’t recognize the number, but I picked it up.
“Hello? This is Alex Moore.”
“You’re the son of Lily and Andrew Moore, right?” The voice on the other end was muffled and a bit shaky.
“Your parents…” The man on the other end of the call said a lot of things very quickly, but I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand.
“What do you mean? My parents are coming to pick me up right now.”
“They aren’t,” he said, more slowly this time. “Your parents got into a car crash an hour ago.”
I was already sitting down, but I wanted to sit down more. I wanted to sink through the step into the ground. I wanted to be a rock. Rocks didn’t have to worry about parents in car crashes. Rocks didn’t have cars. Rocks didn’t have parents.
Did I have parents?
“Are they okay?”
The man on the other end of the call hesitated. “We’re doing what we can. It doesn’t look good. I’m just going through their phone contacts to try to--”
I hung up and put the phone down next to me. The sky was blue. The air was crisp. The wind made a rustling sound as it blew through the trees. My phone buzzed wildly. I ignored it. I was a rock. My parents were late. That was all.