Anastasia was born in Budapest, Hungary, and has lived in quite a few states within the U.S. She loves writing fiction and tries to incorporate humanity—and maybe a little humor—into each of her stories. Currently, she’s a writing student at SCAD’s Atlanta campus. After that, she plans to go abroad for graduate school.
Thomas “Fish” Fischer is a special boy.
That’s what Nana told me at dinner, when I complained about Fish’s behavior in school. “Why doesn’t he talk to anyone? He thinks he’s better than all of us, I know it. What makes him better?”
“Hush,” Nana said, scooping extra green beans onto my plate. She knew how much I loved them. “Thomas is a special boy.”
Mrs. Calloway told me the same thing in class the next day, as I handed in my paper mâché assignment. We were supposed to make pumpkins; mine was lopsided. I caught Fish staring at my sad pumpkin from across the room. His face was smooshed, and he was frowning, like my pumpkin offended him. I glared back. He wouldn’t meet my eye.
“Why’s Fish staring at my pumpkin?” I asked Mrs. Calloway. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing, Sadie,” she said. “Thomas is just a special boy.”
My anger bubbled over, and I wanted to smash my pumpkin to bits. “He’s not special,” I snapped. “And his name is Fish. Because he’s a scaly, mouth-breathing, pea-brained bottom feeder!”
Mrs. Calloway gawked. I looked over at Fish.
He smiled. A stupid, perfect smile. Straight teeth and everything. He never even had to wear braces.
The next year, we all started junior high. The new building wasn’t as bright as the elementary school; the halls were empty of colorful posters and cheesy art projects. But I didn’t mind their absence. I had a new backpack and a fresh pair of bright red sneakers on my feet. I felt mature, like I wasn’t a little kid anymore.
I made it to homeroom, and immediately noticed something was wrong.
“Where’s Fish?” I asked Amanda Bixby, because she would know.
“Oh, you didn’t hear?” Her eyes lit up. “He’s so smart, he skipped a grade.”
I slumped down in my seat, thinking about my ugly pumpkin from last year. Fish’s pumpkin had been a damn masterpiece. “Of course he did.”
At lunch, I spotted Fish eating with a group of seventh graders. One of the girls was even wearing eyeliner, a sign of true coolness. I marched over, plopping my tray down in front of his.
“Hi, Sadie,” he said. He looked different—he had gotten tan over the summer. It was a strange departure from his usual pastiness.
“How’d you get ahead?”
He shrugged. “They just bumped me up. I don’t know.”
Liar. He’d probably asked, and the principal had granted his wish—just like that—because Fish was so special and smart and everyone loved him without even trying.
Eyeliner Girl was staring at me. All at once, I was uncomfortable, and I hoped there wasn’t anything stuck in my dumb, crooked teeth. “I guess we won’t be seeing much of each other from now on,” I said, as haughtily as possible.
The corners of his mouth turned up, like he knew something I didn’t. “I thought you’d be happy about that.”
“I am,” I lied, grabbing my lunch tray and stalking away.
“Hey, I like your shoes!” Fish called after me.
I ignored him.
Five years later, I’m at a funeral. Mama’s clutching my hand, weeping into her kerchief as Nana’s casket is lowered into the ground. “It’s all right,” I whisper, over and over. “She’s safe now.”
Fish is staring at me from across the grave. I haven’t spoken to him since that day in the cafeteria. Now he’s all grown and gangly, dark hair swooping down his forehead. I can feel his eyes on me, the heat on my cheeks, but I won’t stare back.
I will never, not in a gazillion years, not even on my deathbed, admit that I have a crush on Thomas “Fish” Fischer.
So, I keep my eyes on Nana’s grave, wishing I was somewhere else.
Unfortunately, the only funeral home in town is Fischer and Sons. After Nana’s grave is filled, that’s where the whole procession gathers. Back in Mr. Fischer’s stuffy parlor, eating cheese and crackers and expressing condolences about every two seconds. I’m hiding in a corner, nearly ready to shed my own skin, when Fish sneaks up on me, bumping my shoulder with his.
“Dammit, Fish!” I jump, choking on a cracker, and hit him square in the chest. The boy’s like a ghost. I almost expect my hand to pass straight through.
“Sorry,” he says, hands jammed in his pockets. “Just trying to be friendly.” He’s a head taller than me now, because why wouldn’t he be? I curse his superior genetics, lifting my chin.
“Why?” I huff. “We haven’t talked to each other in years.” In school, I would pass him in the hallway, always trying to catch a glimpse inside his locker. The one time I did, all I saw was a flash of a pretty woman’s face before I hurried on, too afraid of what a picture like that might mean. Later, in art class, I found out the woman inside Fish’s locker had been Frida Kahlo. I took down the Seventeen Magazine cutouts from my locker the same day.
“You sound disappointed.”
“Why would I be disappointed?”
Fish shrugs, and I notice as he takes a small step closer, fancy dress shoes squeaking against the floorboards. His voice softens. “Are you doing okay?”
“I’m fine. Totally fine.”
“It’s a funeral, Sadie,” he says. “It’s okay to be sad.”
I glance over at his black suit, vest buttons gleaming. “Aren’t funerals, like, your livelihood?”
He grimaces. “My dad’s, yeah.”
“Well, it’s Fischer and Sons, isn’t it?” I say, and his face falls a bit. “I think that means you, too.”
“I provide . . . different services,” he says, hesitating.
“Now you sound like an undercover prostitute.”
Fish’s eyes widen, and he laughs. It’s a nice, easy laugh, like settling into a comfortable chair. “No. I’m definitely not that,” he says. “And I don’t think you’re supposed to joke about that kind of stuff at funerals.”
“Nana would’ve found it funny,” I say, looking across the room. Her picture is mounted against the wall, her face blown up so big I can count every pixel. But her expression is the same, kind blue eyes peeking over glasses slipping too far down her nose. “I miss her,” I blurt.
Fish nods, and one of his hands slip out of his pocket, almost like he’s about to give me a pat on the back. But then his arm stops midway and swings down at his side instead. “I know,” he says, with a sigh. “But no one’s ever really gone, right?”
I’m sniffling now, and I have to turn away. There’s no way Fish Fischer is seeing me cry. “I guess so,” I say, clearing my throat. “If you believe in that sort of thing.”
“No, I mean—” He bites his lip, glancing at Nana’s picture. “Do you want to talk to her?”
“Why are we out here? Where are we going?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Fish says. He’s holding my hand, leading me into the cemetery, passing grave after grave, the sun beating down on our backs.
Fish Fischer is holding my hand.
“What if you’re about to kill me or something?” I say, hurrying to keep up after him. “Who’s going to look for a dead body in a cemetery?”
“First, I’m a prostitute, and now I’m a serial killer?” he says, but he’s grinning. I catch the hint of a dimple in his left cheek—I’ve never noticed it before. “You don’t think very highly of me.”
“Everyone else seems to have that covered,” I say, under my breath. He doesn’t hear.
We stop in front of Nana’s plot. There’s no headstone yet—it’s just a fresh patch of dirt. Fish lets go of me, and I release a silent breath of relief. After a few seconds, my heartbeat returns to its normal pace. All I can do is pray that my face isn’t beet red.
“We were just here, Fish,” I say. “You’re not showing me anything new.”
He stays quiet, kneeling down beside the dirt. Shutting his eyes, he places one hand on the mound and gestures me closer with the other. I take a reluctant step.
“She says hello,” Fish finally says, his voice clear. “And that it was a lovely funeral.”
I realize, too slow, what’s going on. A cruel, nasty prank. “You’re sick,” I spit, backing away. “I can’t believe you. I can’t believe I honestly—”
“Sadie, wait!” Fish looks up at me. “I’m sorry, I should’ve prepared you.”
“Prepared me for what?”
“I can . . . talk,” he grimaces, “to those that have . . . passed on.”
I glare, but that doesn’t seem to deter him. His face is open, earnest. Scaly, mouth-breathing, pea-brained. “Oh, yeah? Prove it.”
“All right.” Fish keeps one hand firmly planted over Nana’s grave. “What’s something only your nana would know?”
“Fine,” I say, releasing the fists balled up at my sides. I think back, trying to ignore the sting of Nana’s memory. “When I was ten, she found me in the bathroom crying on Thanksgiving. Why?”
Fish closes his eyes again, digging his fingers into the dirt, staining his skin black. “You thought your freckles were ugly,” he says. A little wrinkle appears between his brows as he concentrates. “You wanted clear skin, like your cousin Jeanie. She gave you a big hug and told you your freckles were beautiful. She said each freckle equaled one angel’s kiss.”
Now I’m crying, tears sliding down my nose. Fish Fischer is watching me cry.
“I think your freckles are cute, by the way,” he says, quietly.
I laugh and wipe my cheeks. “You’re one special boy, Fish.”
He smiles, his dimple deep. “She says she told you so.”