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Junior Year

A. E. Lanier is a writer, educator, and chronic overthinker living in Central Texas. She enjoys caves, silent reading, and other people's cats. This is her first professional sale.

Two weeks into junior year, Caleb decided to confront Mary Cooper. Things had changed over the summer. School had always seemed like a tedious eternity stretched out before him. But now, it was basically over. When people asked what he was going to do next summer or after graduation, they wanted real answers.
He wasn't sure what to do about that, but at least he could do something about Mary Cooper. Was he being reckless? Sure. But his parents always said he was too cautious. And there had always been something odd about Mary. A kind of smoothness, even timelessness. It should have been weird, but she somehow always managed to fit in.
Caleb caught her on the way to lunch after fourth period. He had class, but it was worth being late.
"Hey, Mary, can I ask you something?"
She paused and looked up at him. That was new. He'd grown over the summer.
"What is it?"
Caleb knew if he stopped to think, he would never get the words out. So he didn't.
"Why are you here?"
She turned her head slightly, playing at confusion rather than meaning it.
"Why did you bother coming back to high school?"
She continued to stare at him, gray eyes blank.
"I know what you are," he continued, lamely. He'd hoped to avoid accusatory cliche, but could think of nothing else to say.
Mary went still. Too still. He wondered if he was in danger. Wasn't sure if he cared.
"We'll talk after school. Meet me in the English supply closet. Don't be late."
He was late, although not by much; Ms. Hernandez had kept them after the bell.
Mary was waiting for him. She sat perched on a stack of printer paper, seemingly unconcerned. But then, time probably worked differently for her.
Caleb paused in the doorway, fiddling with the straps on his backpack and wondering how old she was.
"Close the door."
He obeyed. Let people think he was making out with Mary Cooper in the English supply closet.
"Are you afraid of me?"
Caleb nodded.
"Then why did you come?"
Caleb tried to respond, but nothing came out. He cleared his throat, tried again. "If you want me dead, you'll kill me anyway. Avoiding you now won't help."
She laughed, then stopped herself.
"Risky, confronting me like that."
He shrugged, feigning nonchalance. Basically the same response he gave his parents when they asked about college apps.
"Why did you do it?" Her voice was cool and poised. Not like a teenager's at all.
He stared at his newly too-small shoes, embarrassed. "I've been wondering about it for so long.... I just had to know."
If she was concerned that he'd known about her for years, she didn't show it.
"What did you want to ask?"
Maybe it was a stupid question. He didn't care. "Why would you spend immortality redoing high school?"
She laughed fully this time, no longer worried she might scare him.
"Some of it is personal. When I was your age, it was extraordinarily difficult for women to receive a proper education. A few of us managed it, but there was no future for us afterwards. In part, my work here is a fuck-you to a system that no longer exists."
"Couldn't you at least go to college?"
"As I said, some of my motivation is personal. Mostly, I'm here for research. Our kind have the unique ability to study minute changes over time in an intensely personal, detailed fashion."
"You're studying high school by going to high school." It was the stupidest thing Caleb had ever heard.
"It's not as absurd as it sounds. So much of history is lost or distorted due to poor documentation. The lives of most people are never studied in any sort of real depth. And young people such as yourself lack the knowledge to contextualize their experiences in meaningful ways. Through no fault of your own, of course."
She smiled in a way that was both welcoming and predatory. The cheap bulb overhead flickered. Caleb found himself fiddling with a stack of battered paperbacks. Stopped.
"We're not only here, of course. Our work extends throughout many contexts," her tone was different this time, more deliberate. Something had changed, but he wasn't sure what.
"You, Caleb, are at a very particular age. Seventeen? Barely?"
He nodded, trying not to think.
"That's about when I was turned. Did you know--in a pinch--you could pass as anything from 15 to mid-twenties? That's a range that could get you into most rooms."
He was more intrigued than afraid now. Wasn't sure when that had happened.
"The council gives you your assignment of course, but they take your preferences into consideration."
Caleb was no longer sure if he was breathing. He found himself desperately eager for the question she was about to ask. But she didn't ask him anything. Instead she paused and put her wrist to her mouth. It came away bloody, the bite marks small and neat.
"I know that you want this Caleb. It's why you're here."
It was the kind of offer that required careful consideration. But it was already clear that junior year wasn't about careful consideration, it was about decisions. And Mary was right. He wanted this. It was exciting and invigorating, and the council would tell him where to go next. Just this one choice, and then no more decisions.
He stepped forward, offered Mary his wrist while taking hers, and began to drink.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

Author Comments

We spend a lot of time forcing young people to make big life decisions they are in no way equipped to make. As a teenager, I found this concerning and overwhelming. As an adult, I often wish my younger self had been more of a risk taker. High school me would never have made the same choice as Caleb, but I still admire his decisiveness.

- A. E. Lanier
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