Read The Girl in the Gray Sweatshirt Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Tags: #k12

The Girl in the Gray Sweatshirt

THE GIRL IN THE GRAY SWEATSHIRT

She’s alone today.

But then, she’s always alone.

My least favorite part of the job is investigation and

reconnaissance. And that’s saying a lot because there’s

so
much
to hate. Since losing my free will, I count the

days. Minutes. Hours. Seconds. I know precisely how

long I’ve been serving them. There’s no way to be sure

how long it’ll last, though. How long I’ll live.

If I was braver, I’d refuse an order and force

Wedderburn to execute me. That might be an end to

everything. Ironic when—at one time—I only wanted

that. Now that I’ve lost al control, life has become

precious. If I die, I won’t see her again.

I’m not supposed to consider a catalyst’s thoughts and

feelings, except to gauge how close they are to

extremis. Like a good impartial observer, I watch and

wait. It’s taken on a new dimension with her, however.

I recognize the pain of her hunched shoulders; I’ve

been where she is. I tel myself it’s just a job, but I

want to cross the street and have her look at me.

She’s heavy, but it’s not just physical weight. When she

moves, she trudges, shoulders slumped, head down.

From this angle, I can’t see her face, veiled by a curtain

of brown hair. Even if she lifted her chin, she’d stil be

hiding behind thick glasses. I’ve never seen her smile.

It’s become an impossible dream to me, imagining

situations where I could make her laugh.

Wedderburn would kill me; I’m not allowed to reveal

myself until it’s time to offer a deal.

But

I

want

to.

Her steps are aimless; she doesn’t seem to have a

destination in mind. It’s a crisp fal day and she’s

wearing a gray hoodie that would fit a person twice

her size. The sleeves slip down over her hands. They

look small. If we measured, I could wrap my fingers

half again on top of hers. Her pants are just as baggy,

like she wants to disappear inside her clothes. I

remember that feeling so well, wishing invisibility was

real and that
nobody
would ever look at me again.

I have on a light jacket, a cap pulled down, and

sunglasses. Days like this, I feel like a celebrity hiding

from the paparazzi, but real y, I just have to make sure

one girl doesn’t notice me. It’s not tough, as she barely

glances up when she crosses the street. I’m tense,

watching her. Wedderburn wouldn’t want me to let

her die, especial y due to her own negligence. He has

plans for her.

Somehow she reaches the sidewalk where I’m

standing without getting run over. This feels like a

miracle, considering her distraction.
Did I miss

something? What happened?
According to my best

estimate, she won’t hit extremis for months. Which

makes this assignment even shittier; I have to watch

her get sadder and sadder, until she feels there’s only

one way out. With every fiber of my being, I want to

step in. To tell her she’s not alone.

But I’m afraid. Wedderburn’s hinted that he has ways

to make me suffer, even after death—it’s not the final

exit I’m betting on. And I can’t take the chance he’s

tel ing the truth.

She passes me without a second look. No surprise, the

decent weather means there’s a fair amount of people

walking, clustered on corners and waiting for signals. I

wait until she’s two hundred feet in front, then I strol

after her. To the casual observer, it seems that she’s

window shopping. She pauses now and then, but I can

tel that she’s not looking at anything on display.

Instead she’s tear-blind, surreptitiously wiping her

cheeks with bare fingertips. Either she doesn’t have

any tissues or she feels like digging them out would be

an admission of weakness.

Why are you crying? Would you tel me if I could tap

you on the shoulder like a normal guy and ask, “Are

you okay?”
Probably not. From what I’ve gleaned

about her character, she’d get embarrassed and run.

Then an idea occurs to me. Wedderburn wil punish

me if he finds out because this wil certainly impact her

mood, which in turn influences extremis. And he’s so

eager to recruit her. Yeah, he’ll have my ass if he

catches me.

I don’t even care.

Quickening my step, I hurry past. A woman is standing

in a shop doorway, handing out cinnamon rol

samples. She brightens when she sees me, but that

reaction has lost its shine. If I’d known the pitfalls

beforehand, I wouldn’t have wished to be handsome.

But when you hit extremis young, there’s just so much

you don’t know and could never imagine. Now I’m bait

on a hook, a walking invitation for someone else to

repeat my mistakes.

“Can I help you?” she asks.

“My friend in the gray sweatshirt is having a rough day.

She’d be upset if she knew I was seeing her this way,

so I was wondering...”

The clerk nods and smiles, taking my money with a

conspiratorial smile. “Get going before she spots you,

I’ll take care of it.”

I find a café two doors down and wait with an

anticipation I haven’t felt in a while. My target—and

the girl I’ve come to like—is approaching the bakery.

It’s ridiculous that I care when I’ve only watched from

a distance. In her eyes, I’d be a stalker. Or worse. It

doesn’t matter that I wouldn’t do this if I had a choice.

The end does
not
justify the means, Mr. Machiavelli.

But maybe I can offer her a spark of joy. Anonymously.

Now she’s at the door to the pastry shop. Though I

can’t hear what’s being said, my girl accepts a sweet

bun from the tray. She looks bewildered but pleased,

like random good things never happen to her. If I keep

this up, she’l smile before the end of the day; I
know

she will.

Now I have a goal, and it’s better than the usual

surveillance.

Head down, I pretend to peruse the menu when she

ambles by, nibbling her treat. But I don’t linger; the

waitress gives me a look when I get up from the patio

table without ordering. Mouthing an apology, I rush

on. I need to get ahead of her and see what else she’d

like that’s on this street. The pastry was just an

impulse, so I have to do better next time. Let’s see, I

know she loves games and comics—that she’s into

SF—and she reads a lot.

Aha. There’s a used bookstore on the corner.
Well, it’s

more of a consignment store, but they have books,

too. I pass her again, knowing that this risk could end

badly. The more I move around her, the greater the

probability that she’ll notice me. I’m willing to gamble

since there’s other foot traffic. Anyway, I don’t think

she’d ever suspect the truth, not in a thousand years.

People as special as she is never seem to believe it, no

matter how many times they hear it.

As long as she doesn’t turn off, this should work out

fine. I do my bit with the clerk inside and she agrees to

wait at the doorway and offer a gift certificate as a

“limited promotion”. This time, there’s nowhere for

me to wait, so I cross the street and keep my eyes on

the girl in the gray sweatshirt, quietly trundling toward

the intersection. Everyone pushes past her and one

guy bumps into her so hard, she stumbles. He doesn’t

pause or apologize. I’m tempted to fol ow
him
and

pound the shit out of him, but then I’d miss out on her

reaction to my next surprise.

She’s alarmed when the clerk stops her. At first she

shakes her head—no, not interested—and then she

apparently realizes she’s being offered a prize. She

cocks her head, dubious, but the cashier is earnest,

probably because I tipped wel .
No, you don’t have to

buy anything, no hidden fees. But here’s a $20 gift

certificate good for anything in our store.
They talk a

little more before my girl goes inside. I’m waiting for

half an hour before she comes out again, carrying a

smal cloth tote bag ful of books.

Her expression is definitely brighter, no secret tears.

She lifts her head a little, so when she moves on, I can

see her chin and the frame of her glasses. I’d love to

know what titles she bought and talk about science

fiction over coffee, but that can’t happen. Even when I

final y get to talk to her, she’l be confused and scared.

Once she understands the kind of person I am, she’ll

probably hate me. So this sunny October day is a

microcosm for the two of us. Right now she has no

idea that I exist but making her happy makes
me

happy. Today, I don’t feel so alone.

I repeat this at a comic shop, where she picks out a

Highlander button, and again when a woman’s sel ing

handmade jewelry out of the trunk of her car,

probably illegally. But my girl won’t take anything.

Damn, seems like I miscalculated.
So after she moves

on, I pick a necklace and thank the woman for trying.

Toward sunset, the girl in the gray sweatshirt heads for

the park. The sky is burnished over the buildings and

the breeze is cool. I sit down near the fountain, where

I can see her easily. She’s reading one of the books I

bought for her, a pulpy-looking paperback. I can’t

make out the title. Nearby I spot a hot dog vendor

packing it in and circle toward the cart.

“Could you do me a favor?” I ask.

The guy seems tired, not particularly eager to

participate in my scenario. “What is it?”

“I’d like to surprise my friend over there. Would you

give her a hot dog if I pay for it?”

“Oh. Sure.” He perks up at the prospect of another

sale. “But… what should I tel her if she asks why she’s

getting free food?”

“Tell her… that you’d like to see her smile.”

The hot dog guy, who’s at least fifty, raises a brow.

“Heh, I don’t think so. That might work for you, pal,

but if I try it, she’ll scream bloody murder.”

I chuckle wryly. “Okay, maybe not. Tell her whatever

you want, just don’t mention me.”

“Deal. What should I put on it?”

As I hand over the money, I answer, “Mustard,

ketchup, relish. In that order, no onions.”

“Sounds like you know her pretty well. Take care, kid.”

With that the vendor fixes the hot dog, then walks

over to the bench.

She straightens in surprise, but he seems to be

working the paternal angle.
Here you go, kid. Dinner’s

on the house.

Whatever he says, it works because she takes the

snack. Casual y I maneuver until I can see her face.

And… she’s beaming. I’m riveted, unable to look away.

God, you have a nice smile.
Her teeth are straight and

white, her cheeks soft and round. Her eyes as she

thanks the vendor are a warm brown. I’ve seen topaz

in just that color. The wind blows her hair back, and

she tips her chin up for a few seconds, hot dog in hand.

The move says,
Right now, I’m happy.
My chest is so

tight I can hardly breathe. I’d give a lot if she’d look at

me, just for a moment. But she takes a few bites, eyes

on the ground again. Pigeons waddle at her feet, so it

seems like they’re begging. She breaks off a piece of

the bun, crumbles and scatters it.

This is the closest I’ve ever been to her, so I actually

hear her voice, sweet, soft and low, when she tel s the

birds, “Huh. This was the best day ever.” Musing,

incredulous tone.

For me too,
I say silently. It’s a vain wish but I can’t

help adding,
Wait for me, Edie Kramer. Wait for me.

k`12

Document Outline

Other books

Eyes by Joanne Fluke
Off Course by Glen Robins
Friends of a Feather by Lauren Myracle
PALINDROME by Lawrence Kelter
Storms Over Africa by Beverley Harper
R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen: Dissolution, Insurrection, Condemnation by Richard Lee & Reid Byers, Richard Lee & Reid Byers, Richard Lee & Reid Byers
Forbidden by Cheryl Douglas