Natalie Twirls a turquoise flag with the sail playfully covering her face.
Color Guard Rules

Stand tall with your head up. Your chin should always stay at 45 degree angle so you are always performing to the judges. Pick a window in the press box and keep eye contact the whole time. You never know which one is the color guard judge.

The hallways rumbled with students rushing out of their last class. Girls giggling, boys shouting, books banging, and lockers slamming combined to become the chorus all around me. I moved more slowly since I had no bus to rush and catch today. I slid some textbooks into my bag before I slung it onto my shoulder. The people had cleared and now only a few students were left to scuttle around the halls until the basketball game tonight. I pushed my locker closed and spun the lock.

I meandered my way down the stairs and out into the cafeteria. It was a six page report on my mind so I was surprised to hear his voice.

“Hey Natalie. Where are you off to?”

He stood there next to the case of old school trophies. His new letter jacket hung loose over his shoulders. A lanyard swung slowly around his hand and the keys blurred into a silver circle, arching first this way and then that. His other hand reached up to sweep some strands of hair away from his eyes, which were focused entirely on me.

“Oh, hi Patrick. Nowhere really,” I shrugged. “I just need to waste a few hours before the game tonight. I’ll probably do some homework or something.”

Patrick shifted his weight from leaning on one foot to standing on two. “Well, do you want some dinner? I could take you into town or something. My car is a wreck, but I thought maybe if you were hungry or something. I know I’m kinda hungry. We could go together. Only if you want to of course,” he trailed off. His eyes stuck to me and waited.

Watch the drum major and keep time. They will conduct the rhythm and you must follow them. Stay on beat and in step.

The old tree swing creaked and groaned as we swayed back and forth. Sunbeams filtered through the new green maple leaves to shine spotlights on fluffy tufts of dandelions. He snuck his arms around me and pulled me back until I was lying with my head on his lap while his fingertips ran through my hair and over my cheeks like paintbrushes on a canvas.

“You are beautiful,” he told me again.

I smile.

“Like a goddess,” he said.

I tilt my head back. He was smiling and my eyes found his eyes. Rich brown eyes that fixated on me and seemed to be searching, seemed to be digging through layers of clothes and skin and tender flesh to try and find some treasure deep inside of me to capture and call his very own.

“I can’t imagine anyone more wonderful than you,” he said.

I looked away.

If you make a mistake, never let it show. Get right back into the routine. If you drop your flag, pick it up like you meant to do it the whole time.

We were driving down the highway, coming home from yet another Wednesday dollar night at the bowling alley. The rain whispered in the dark with the squeaky windshield wipers that half-worked. I was staring out the window and listening to their conversation so much so that his voice startled me, being so loud and harsh in comparison.

“Natalie, are you alright? You haven’t said three words the whole way and you just seem so...out there or something. What’s wrong?”

I turned my head towards him and his eyes were prodding me again. I searched for some words. “I’m sorry Patrick. I guess I’m just tired or something.”

He sighed and turned his face back to the road. “You seem to be tired a lot lately, don’t you?”

I knew it was a question that he didn’t expect me to answer and so I didn’t. We drove the rest of the way home with both of us staring at the windshield. The rain alone voiced its protests.

Smile. No matter what else is going on, always smile. I don’t care if you trip and break your ankle. Keep smiling.

We met in a park and talked for hours before I finally got up and walked away. I still can’t erase the picture of his face in my mind. His eyes were reaching out to me, groping for a handhold, but they could find nothing to grip. He had argued. He had pleaded. He had cried. I hated it, but I had to leave.

Sitting in the cafeteria, I found my eyes wandering to his lunch table. Staring at the back of his head, I began to wonder about him and how he was doing and what he was feeling. It felt like something was slipping away inside of me.

Emily jabbed her finger into my side. “Nat, you ok?”

I snapped my head towards her and yanked the corners of my mouth into a convincing smile. “Yea. I’m great.”

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