Her elastic had broken. The ends of her red braid splayed bit by bit each time she bowed and raised her head.
His fingers twitched.
She wasn’t a messy girl. He had never known her to dog ear a page in her textbook. Her pencils aligned with the edge of the desk. Fresh pressed, cotton blouses. No shoe scuffs.
And the scalp-tight braid, centered perfectly on the nape of her neck, was his sole delight in that sham of a physics class.
You could plumb walls by that braid.
If he could tell her, she could fix it. If he could open his mouth and draw breath and say, “Excuse me, Alana. Your braid is wrong,”– but even if he could do such a thing, it would be out of order, twenty minutes and thirty-three seconds into physics hour. Thirty-six. Eight.
She turned to speak to her friend, glanced back at him.
The braid brushed the shoulders, opened further. It was a half-braid now. It curled more right than left.
He pinched his trouser pleats.
Would she notice if he braided it for her? Like rope. Three strands like soft, red rope, and the rubberband from his vocabulary cards.
His right hand slid closer, across the desktop.
She stood. Everyone stood, twenty-two minutes into physics hour. Wrong.
But that meant speaking was not out of order.
He sucked in his breath before he could think. “Alana!”
She smiled at him. “Cole! I was hoping you’d want to. I think we’d make perfect lab partners.”
“No, your braid is unraveled. Please, fix it.” He rolled the rubberband off the flashcards and offered it.
“You– what? Oh…” She held it between the tips of her fingers, as if it were filthy. “Thank you.”
Alana left the room.
That was wrong, too.