Dodging Bullet Points by Andy Millman
He watches the cursor blink and feels his heart beat. They are in rhythm, which is fitting, because this should come from the heart. Even so, he can’t help but form a list of supporting points like they are evidence in a case he will argue. AP English has had some impact. He begins to type.
- We’ve known each other for ten years, since the third day of first grade.
- We eat well together. I eat your fries, you eat my dessert.
- We prefer the book to the movie, except for “Lord of the Rings.”
- We actually finish homework when we study together.
- You never laugh at me in gym class.
- I love your laugh. Except in gym class (there was that one time in badminton.)
- You bake cookies for my birthday and Valentine’s Day.
- You can read my handwriting.
- You are nice to little kids, animals, and the lady down the block who yells at people.
- You’re smart, but never make anyone feel stupid.
- You’re pretty, even if you don’t think so.
- I’ve never once not picked up when I saw you on Caller ID. And you know how often I don’t pick up.
Twelve is a good number to stop at. If it were an essay, there’d be four points in each of the middle three paragraphs. Plus, thirteen is unlucky. He presses print, hears the whir, and then an annoying beeping. Out of ink. Is it a bad omen? The lack of a spare toner cartridge fuels his doubt. He promised himself he’d tell her tomorrow. Now he’s not sure. He’s been back and forth so many times he’s lost track. Just in case he finds his nerve, he scribbles down his list on notepaper and readies himself for a restless night’s sleep.
He studies the sheet at the bus stop the next morning. He is a good student and a good studier and is fairly certain he can memorize the list by the end of school. It’s not unfamiliar material. He looks up because he feels her coming, and she is. She’s wearing the fuzzy blue hat he gave her for Christmas, the green army jacket they found at the thrift store, faded tan cords, and low-cut sneakers. He enjoys these moments when she’s a block away and can’t see the way he looks at her. He stuffs the sheet in his back pocket.
By French class he’s no less certain. Mme. Baird’s conjugation of “manger” sounds so romantic that it makes his list seem listless. At lunch he sits with her, as he always does, but he has no appetite. He doesn’t finish his fries or touch the ones on her plate that she has rotated toward him. She asks if there’s anything wrong and he shakes his head and takes one of her fries to try to fake it. She smiles but narrows her eyes at him, like she does when she knows something’s wrong.
He plans on reviewing the list during last period in chem lab. After that he will make his decision. He finds his beakers and lab coat, his workbook and his data sheets, but when he goes to his back pocket he finds nothing. He panics. It’s not in his nature to lose things, especially those things outlining his heart in twelve bulleted points. He tells his teacher he’s not feeling well, which is suddenly true, and rushes to his locker, thinking maybe it’s in his jacket pocket. It’s not. Nor is it in his backpack, a hoodie, or between the pages of Catcher in the Rye, which are all piled up on the floor of his locker.
He sees it all as a bad sign and a good excuse. His mother talks about things being in the stars or not in the stars, as if one could look to the sky for personal navigation. Right now his sky is cloudy. He could probably recite most of the list from memory, or at least enough to get a B if tested. The paper is lost to the wind, though, and thankfully there are no names on it. No one except he, and maybe she, could ever make sense of it. It’s on the computer, safely tucked away for him to contemplate another day. Just a dozen bullet points, bullets he’s decided for now to dodge.
They sit in their usual spots on the bus going home, him a seat behind her, both with their backs to the side, their feet in the aisles, and their heads toward each other. She again asks if anything’s wrong and he tells her he’s tired. She shakes her head but lets it go. He imagines the discomfort if the list had been revealed, if he recited it to her like he was in a debate and she were the judge, who would likely vote for somebody else.
They don’t say much as they get off. He’s a stride ahead and she steps on his heal to coax a smile. He tries to give her one. The list is gone, he decides, because of this, this feeling that something heavy is weighing down what always felt light. Tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow he will forget the list and the bullets and he’ll try to smile and eat her fries. Things have a way of turning out like they should, his mom says, and right now he believes her.
After a block she grabs hold of his backpack and spins him around. She studies his face, searches for clues, but finds none. She asks if he can come by later and help her with calc. He nods but says nothing. She appears hurt, or frustrated, and walks past him. Because of this, she sees it first. He watches her bend down, and he knows, even before she reaches it, even before she says, “Isn’t this your writing?”
Andy Millman has run a high school youth center, taught college communication classes, and
worked in radio and television. His short story “The Driver’s Seat” was named as a
Finalist in the Glimmer Train November, 2012, Short Story Contest for New Writers.
He is represented professionally by the Purcell Agency (ThePurcellAgency.com) and can
be reached at Mill60062@yahoo.com.