Here’s the piece that got me where I am today (meaning it’s the one I submitted to Falmouth so I could get in.) It’s been almost a year since I’ve written it, and I’m still rather proud of it.
For Emma, order was the closest thing to divinity she could imagine. Her bag and locker were always meticulously organized; her notes were color-coded, with tabs to denote her cross-references. And, naturally, she always dressed neatly: her long, brown hair was always up in a neat ballerina bun, and her clothes were never wrinkled and always fit her perfectly. She was the picture of organization. So she had no idea how she ended up here, at the edge of the woods beside the school with her hair in tangles down her back and a boy with a wide grin and unearthly eyes beckoning her to him.
Well…she had some idea.
This whole mess began a little over six months ago, when Robin Goode spoke to her in math class. She had no idea where Robin had come from. No one did; there was sort of a vague, general recollection of him appearing at the school one day in October, and everyone somehow knew who he was, but there was a big, group blank on how that happened. It was generally accepted that the teachers decided it’d be cruel to introduce a new student who had come two months after school started, so Robin just seamlessly and quietly inserted himself into the school’s community, and about a week after he arrived, he was the most talked about kid on campus. Something about him promised something…different, and no one could pinpoint what it was. His tumbled golden curls and bright green eyes? His wide grin and loud laugh? There were quite a few things there that could be considered charming, but Emma thought it was just because he had a guitar and looked carefully rumpled all the time.
Personally, she thought the whole thing was a bit of a joke. Obviously his whole persona was fake, and she wasn’t about to let herself get sucked in like her friends. So when Robin had asked her for a pencil in math class, she was genuinely surprised at how affected she was at his broad smile of thanks. Her heart raced, her skin prickled; it honestly felt like she was frightened, but in a nice way (if there was such a thing). She scowled back at him in response and resumed her work.
“You’re smart, aren’t you?”
Emma jumped at the quiet voice, looking up only to catch that smile again. She frowned and held a finger to her lips, then resumed her work. Robin merely turned in his seat to look at her paper, eyebrows raising at her neat writing.
“Very smart. How’d you get through the questions so fast?”
“Why did you ask for a pencil if you’re not going to work?” Emma hissed back. Robin blinked, then smiled, a more muted one this time as his green eyes looked over her curiously. He nodded approvingly–though approving of what, Emma wondered–then turned back around to get to work.
“And he just gives me this weird smile and nods and acts like nothing happened.” Emma huffed as she finished telling Lizzy what happened in Math. “Tell me that’s not weird.”
“It’s not weird,” Lizzy replied through a mouthful of sandwich. “It’s cute and I’d kill for him to do that to me. Any girl would.”
Emma rolled her eyes. Of course Lizzy would want that. Five years of friendship had made it clear that Lizzy would chase after anything with a cute face and a pulse.
“For real, though, you could have been a little nicer,” Lizzy added as she took a sip of soda. “He’s the new kid. He’s probably trying to make friends.”
“He has friends,” Emma argued. “Everyone loves him.”
“God, you’re dumb!” Lizzy rolled her own eyes with such exaggeration that she tossed her hair in the motion. “He has admirers. He’s like a rock star.” She sighed lightly, resting her chin in her hand. “A lonely rock star who has all the fans in the world but not a single friend.”
Emma had given up on listening by this point, so Lizzy’s sudden whack to her arm came as a shock. “Ow!” she cried. “What the hell, Liz?”
“He just came out! Go apologize for being so rude,” Lizzy demanded, pointing out the window. Emma looked up to see Robin walk out of the main building to one of the trees on the quad, guitar slung on his back.
Emma scowled at her as she rubbed her arm, but thought over Lizzy’s words for a moment as she looked at Robin, who had sat down and begun plucking at his guitar. Douche, she automatically thought, but even so, she did feel a little bad for being so mean. He was new. She huffed, then grabbed her bag and headed out, shooting Lizzy a glare before she exited the cafeteria. She buried her nose down in her scarf as she marched, shielding it from the cold autumn wind. She stopped as Robin looked up from his guitar. He automatically gave her another wide smile. “Ah, Miss Math! Come to tutor me? I’d appreciate it, you know.”
Emma frowned behind her scarf, looking over him. Her brow furrowed, though, as she noticed something missing. “Where’s your lunch?”
Robin looked beside him, as if to search for the missing lunch, then shrugged. “No time to pack one.”
“You could get one inside.”
Robin smiled. “If you buy it.”
Emma pressed her lips together tightly, about to argue, but the obvious answer hit her. Oh. He likely didn’t have money on him. She glanced down at her bag, then held it out to him brusquely. Robin looked at it, then back up to her. She huffed in response.
“Take it. I wanted to buy something anyway,” she said gruffly, making sure not to make eye contact with him. “It’s just a honey sandwich, nothing special.”
She hazarded a look down, and Robin looked genuinely surprised.
“What do you want in return?” he asked, his eyes meeting hers steadily. Emma, surprised at his sudden gravity, shook her head. The last thing they needed was some sort of agreement.
“Just take it, all right?”
Robin blinked, and once again a broad, bright smile lit up his face, almost brightening the gloom of the day. Again Emma was transfixed, the spell not breaking until Robin took a bite of the sandwich.
“You’re very kind. Thank you, Miss Math.”
“Emma.” The name felt loose as it left her lips, as if her mouth had gone slack. Robin looked up, eyes nearly glowing green in the cloudy light.
“Emma,” he repeated. “Short for Emily?”
Emma awoke as he said her name, and she scowled again. “Just Emma,” she replied, then gave a quick goodbye and hurried back into the safety of the warm cafeteria. He was weird. She didn’t like him one whit.
Well. Maybe one whit.
A few weeks passed and an understanding silently formed between them, earning smiles from Robin and awkward waves from Emma as they passed each other in the halls. Robin quietly asked her questions in math, and Emma found herself willing to help rather than simply focusing on herself. She wouldn’t call them friends, no, still acquaintances, but…better acquaintances, if that made sense.
Even so, nothing happened outside of school, and that was fine. So it was understandable that Emma, slightly nervous already from the thunder that shook her windows, nearly jumped out of her skin when she glanced up to see Robin’s amused expression visible through her second-story window with the lightning flash. She took a moment, recovering from her fright, then frowned as she marched over to the window. With a little bit of effort, she managed to push it open, and was greeted by the cool, clean scent of rain, a wet leaf blowing into her hair, and Robin’s bright laugh.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Emma demanded before he could say anything. “How do you even know where I live?”
Robin’s eyes shone merrily from beneath his soaked bangs, sitting as easily on the big oak’s branch as a bird. “We don’t live in a big town, Miss Math; I live right down the street, not that you’ve noticed.” He gave her an entreating smile. “Invite me in?”
She huffed, crossing her arms as she frowned at him. After a moment, she gave a short nod. “What…what were you even doing outside? It’s awful out there!”
Robin gracefully stepped inside, pushing back his soaked hair and tracking in mud and tree bark. “I don’t mind it. And I didn’t have much choice; my parents kicked me out,” he said breezily. He noticed Emma’s hand go to her mouth, and he quickly added, “Oh, not forever! Just for now. They’re fighting and I mouthed off at the wrong time.”
Emma pressed her lips together, unsure what to do with that information. Should she be sympathetic? He didn’t look that upset, though. Why did he even tell her all of that in the first place? A sharp, cold breeze blew in from the window, and she moved to shut it.
“Why’d you even come here?” she asked, turning her head to see Robin wander around her room, nose wrinkling as he left a trail of filth on the clean wood. He shrugged.
“Well, you gave me a sandwich and helped with my math. I figured you were naturally a kind soul,” he said with a half-smile. Emma huffed. “No, really. You’ve talked to me more than anyone else. You must be nice.”
Emma frowned. “Really?”
Robin nodded, green eyes sincere and steady. He looked up as he heard a woman’s voice call up Emma’s name from downstairs, face sharpening in alarm.
Emma pressed her lips together before going to the door and calling back, “I’ll be down in a sec! I’m finishing my homework!” She looked back up at Robin with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry.”
“Is that your mom?”
“Yeah.” Emma’s eyebrows rose as Robin quickly made his way back to the window. “I-it’s fine, though! She won’t mind; I mean, she’ll probably—” She stopped as Robin held up his hands. His face relaxed, and he gave her a reassuring smile.
“I’ll leave. Your mom’s probably not anymore fond of intruders than you are.” He opened the window again. Emma squinted against the hard breeze that blew in, mussing up her bun and sending a wave of rain over her now-dirty floor. She watched as Robin carefully exited and perched himself upon the branch. Did he really find her that trustworthy from a sandwich? And what was that reaction when her mom called her? Something was going on with him, something that needed help. She bit her lip, then said, “Emmeline.”
Robin, steady on his branch now, looked up at her. “What?”
Emma shifted her weight, moving an escaped strand of hair behind her ear. “That’s what Emma’s short for. Emmeline.”
Robin looked up at her, face serious for a moment before a bright smile lit up his face. “That’s a pretty name. Emmeline.”
Something stirred in her as his warm voice glided over her name. Something that felt…out of her control. Should she like it? It felt like she should, and yet her chest tightened as she felt it. She played with another loose strand of hair.
“Um…erm, is there…how did you…” She shook her head, getting herself together. “Can you show me how to get on there? From the window?” she asked.
Robin raised his eyebrows. “You’ll get wet. Your hair might even come down,” he teased.
“That’s…” Emma glanced back into her room. The shelves and bed were just as neat as they were before, but the floor still covered in earth and leaves. She took a breath and turned back to him. “That’s okay.”
Robin smiled, and that seemed like enough to settle her nerves. “Here,” he said, holding out his hand for her. “It’s really not that hard.”
Emma hesitated, but she forced herself to take it. It was warm from the few minutes he’d spent inside, and she could feel the strength in his fingers as he wrapped them around hers. Carefully, he pulled her out onto the branch. She fought against it for a moment. However, all it took was one quiet phrase, just loud enough to be heard over the rain, to convince her to come out and join Robin in the tree, regardless of whether she became soaked and dirty.
“I’ve got you.”
That phrase ended up being truer than Emma had expected. Something about that day prompted a change in her. In the weeks that followed, she found them to have moved from better acquaintances to friends, and maybe then some, and as a result, she began to relax. Notes weren’t color-coded, outfits weren’t planned two days in advance, and she even began wearing her hair loose, even though it meant enduring joke after joke about “letting her hair down.” However, everyone–her friends, classmates, even her parents–encouraged her change, saying how nice it was to see her finally stop being so uptight.
As winter passed and edged toward spring, things began to change. Robin’s focus on her seemed laser-pointed. Lizzy assured that this was prompting a declaration of love, but Emma…wasn’t sure. It seemed like a natural progression, but would it change her even more if they actually went somewhere with this…thing they had?
At lunch a few days later, Robin, in a voice breezy as the day, whispered for her to come with him to the wooded area beside the school. Emma bit her lip at the suggestion, glancing up at the clock over the gymnasium. She would have to skip class, something that was complete heresy in Emma’s eyes. Well, it had been. She wasn’t sure if it still was.
Robin’s laugh, still bright as the sun, broke through her thoughts. “Don’t tell me you’d rather sit through history, Miss Math.”
Emma bit her lip. Would she really go against one of her most sacred rules for Robin? She looked up at him, all golden curls and bright green eyes that she’d never been able to read. That first feeling she’d had around him, the pleasantly frightened one, returned to her, though it didn’t feel quite as pleasant this time around. However, there was no malice in Robin’s eyes. She could trust him. He had her. So she offered her hand to him. He grinned as he pulled her up and led her toward the edge of campus. He couldn’t hear the way her heart rattled in her chest as they reached the forest. Emma slipped her hand out from his and stood back. He turned to look at her curiously.
She was someone she hardly recognized. She didn’t care about schoolwork, her hair hung wildly down her back, that neatness she had so loved laid by the wayside in light of this earthy, carefree boy, who for all his mystery and charm she knew next to nothing about, and she hated it. This wasn’t what she wanted.
“Emmeline?” How nicely her name sounded with his voice, how it made the vowels crisp and the consonants glide. Was that why she was here? Because he said her name nicely?
Finally, Emma broke from her six month trance and shook her head. “No.”
Robin frowned, and, as if on cue, a hard wind blasted through the trees. “No?”
Emma shook her head. “I don’t…I don’t want this anymore. I’m not me.” She backed away from him, and to her surprise, Robin remained still, as if rooted to the spot.
“Emmeline!” was all he cried. Was he shocked, or did he know that her name was what drew her to him? She shook her head, gathering her windblown hair and attempting to tame it with a hairtie.
“My name is Emma!” she cried back, then turned and ran back to the school. To safety, to warmth, to order.