In Mr. Berg’s class, Charlie sits across from a girl he’s obsessed with, but has never spoken to. He watches as she spends every class scribbling in her notebook. She’ll never know that anyone ever noticed her.
The Girl on the Cliff
by Gabriel Merithew
She’s beautiful, Charlie thought, glancing over at the girl. She was scribbling intently in her notebook, though class hadn’t started yet. It was Charlie’s first day of High School, which meant that it was also the first day of High School for everyone else in Mr. Berg’s Freshman English Class. Mr. Berg had lined the single occupant desks in two rows on each side of the long classroom and they all faced the middle of the room, which immediately told Charlie that their new teacher liked to pace, and was most likely a tad narcissistic. But Charlie wasn’t paying attention to the desk orientation or the awkward students smiling their fake, apprehensive smiles and cracking bad jokes. He wasn’t even wondering like many other students were if the teacher’s first name was Ice. No, he was staring at the beautiful girl sitting at the desk directly across from his, and he wasn’t doing so subtly, because he was falling in love with her faster than he’d ever thought possible.
The teacher came in and introduced himself as John Berg and asked the class to call him Mr. Berg, noting that he’d already heard the last name jokes, and would prefer that his students focus on the lessons rather than iceberg puns. He took a clipboard out of his bag and proceeded to take roll in an overly enthusiastic manner. “Henry Anderson, Jennifer Allstone, Bobby Azaria…”
This continued for a long time, for it was a large class. But Charlie still wasn’t paying attention and continued to focus on the beautiful girl which prompted the teacher to say his last name louder the second time before he realized what was happening, raised his hand, and said, “Here.”
Everyone said “Here” when their name was called except the beautiful girl whose name Charlie learned was Samantha Waters, she didn’t even look up from her notebook which she continued to scribble in. She just raised her hand as high as it would go in an exuberant manner, her arm completely rigid, held it there for a second, then lowered it again, ignoring the quiet chortling from two boys behind her. Charlie realized in that moment how incredibly attractive aloof-ness could be.
Only two minutes into Mr. Berg’s lecture Charlie stifled a yawn. He didn’t sleep much the night before. He’d been busy overthinking his first day of high school which, and he didn’t realize this at the time, was a universal freshman ritual resulting in minor insomnia and sometimes early-onset-drinking. And sure enough, as he scanned the rest of the room, a chain reaction of yawning was taking place. This wasn’t so bad though, he thought. He’d imagined much worse, having only relied on 80’s teen movies and his crazy older sister’s High School stories for reference. But he didn’t want to jinx it. If he could only memorize every part of Samantha he could see AND not encounter any Biff-like characters, his first-day portrait from his mother’s cringeworthy photoshoot might actually bring back good memories rather than bad.
Throughout the entire class, Samantha continued to scribble in her notebook, seemingly paying zero attention to anything Mr. Berg said about the syllabus. But Mr. Berg didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t look at him, so he didn’t bother looking at her. And a few seconds before the bell rang, Charlie looked up curiously to see that Samantha was already sweeping out the door. He filed out with the rest of the class mere moments after, but she was already gone. Charlie smiled to himself as he set off for his next class, and he didn’t think of much else for the rest of the day.
The rest of the semester passed in a similar fashion. Every morning, five days a week, Charlie would sit down at his desk in Mr. Berg’s class and wait for Samantha to walk in late, inevitably nodding her head enthusiastically to whatever awesome music was playing in her earbuds. She didn’t seem self-conscious at all, in fact, she always acted like she was the only person in the world and seemed to be completely content in that way. She never made eye contact with anyone and spent every second of class scribbling away in her notebook. And every day, Charlie would do his best to commit everything about her to memory. It was helpful that he didn’t have to worry about her catching him staring, and would do so embarrassingly often. He would write poems about her too, pretending to be taking notes on the lecture whenever Mr. Berg looked over at him skeptically after many minutes of him not looking up.
Charlie wanted to give the poems to Samantha and would write each with the intention of doing so, always cooking up a brilliant scheme in his mind that always resulted in something like pinning her up against the lockers between classes and the two of them making out like they were the only two people in the world. Then towards the end of each class, a slew of awful rejection scenarios would race through his mind at lightning speed and he would chicken out. And even if he did work up the courage to give her one of his growing collection of love poems, she was always out the door before he could do anything. One way that might’ve worked would be to make a complete fool of himself by getting to his feet in the middle of one of Mr. Berg’s lectures and just walk over to her and hand her a handwritten poem on notebook paper and tell her he thought she was the most beautiful creature he’d ever seen. But she might hear him, or worse, she might not pay any attention at all, just continue scribbling in her notebook, and he’d have to walk a million miles in deafening silence back to his desk.
On the day Mr. Berg handed back the final papers, Charlie looked up from his B- to see Mr. Berg setting a paper with A+ on Samantha’s desk. Without looking up, she stuffed the paper absently into her backpack and went back to scribbling in her notebook. Charlie’s heart had already ached with love for this amazingly weird girl for months, but in that moment he decided to actually do something about it. He would not chicken out this time.
On the last day before Christmas break, Charlie stood outside Mr. Berg’s classroom. The bell had rung five minutes ago and the halls were clear of students. Standing there awkwardly, holding a red envelope with a properly re-written love poem in it, he scanned the halls expecting to at any minute see Samantha Waters striding along nodding to her music. And this time he’d intercept her.
But she didn’t come. Five more minutes went by, then ten, then twenty. Then the only person Charlie saw was the principal and the principal was walking towards him. Charlie nervously stood his ground, knowing full well that he was about to be given a tardy slip and a reprimanding. Sure enough, the principal walked right up to him, the two stared at each other for a moment, then the principal asked in a gentle voice, “Charlie, right?”
“Yes, sir,” Charlie said, his knees shaking from the energy-draining effect of the overly-enthusiastic butterflies in his stomach.
“Come with me please.” The principal gestured to Mr. Berg’s classroom door.
Charlie took one last desperate look down the hall, then turned and walked defeatedly into the classroom.
Mr. Berg stopped his rambling lecture when Charlie and the principal walked in. “Do you need a word, Mr. Matthews?” Mr. Berg asked the principal in a cheerful voice.
“Yes, but with the whole class if that’s okay.”
“Certainly.” Said Mr. Berg, looking puzzled.
The principal shepherded Charlie further into the room and motioned for him to return to his desk. Charlie did so, and under his shoes, with each step, he crushed all his hopes and dreams of finally telling Samantha how he felt.
“Class, there’s no easy way to say this, and I’m terribly sorry to be the bearer of bad news… But the school just received news that your classmate, Samantha Waters… Well… she committed suicide last night.”
Time stopped moving, but the principal continued anyway.
“I can’t imagine how hard this must be on every one of you, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am. If you would like to talk, our counseling offices are just down the hall, and you can make an appointment.”
And glancing one more time at the expressionless faces of the students, and then the teacher, and then Charlie, the principal strode out of the room.
Charlie couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t believe what he just heard. He had to do something. Anything, but he was afraid of what might happen if he walked out of the classroom, and even more afraid of what might happen if he didn’t. He got to his feet and swayed dangerously, grabbing onto his desk to steady himself. Then, completely oblivious to the confused stares of his classmates, he let go of the desk and walked quickly toward the door. But he didn’t get very far. Halfway to the door he burst into tears and ran the rest of the way out into the hall, but not before he heard Mr. Berg inquire of the student closest to him. “Samantha? Oh right.”
The bell rang and floods of students spilled out into the halls from every door. Charlie was sobbing uncontrollably now and ran as fast as he could towards the nearest exit, weaving in and out of those who didn’t see him coming and bumping into others.
He’d been too late. Why did she have to kill herself? He loved her more than anything, and had never done anything about it… and now he wouldn’t be able to. Tears streaked his face as he ran. He had to get out.
He loved a mysterious girl who he knew nothing about, and yet… It didn’t matter anymore. She was dead. And he’d have to live the rest of his life regretting every second of Mr. Berg’s class where he stared and wrote poems about the girl who must’ve even then been hanging on the edge of a cliff. He could’ve saved her, but instead, he watched her obliviously, as her grip loosened until all of her strength was gone. And right when he finally worked up the courage, she wasn’t around anymore.
A million horrible scenarios flashed through Charlie’s head as he ran. He saw Samantha cutting herself with a kitchen knife. He saw her electrocute herself. He saw her speed into oncoming traffic. When he eventually slammed the car door shut behind him, he buried his head in his hands and said the same thing over and over in a small choked voice. “I’m sorry.”
He wanted her to be alive more than anything. It was idiotic that he’d been mere feet from her for four months and right when he was ready to close the gap, she disappeared. And even though she was gone, he needed to know who she was. He would never ever forget her. He would not stop loving her.
When he eventually raised his head, he stared at the school. He’d only been a High School student for a semester and he’d already lost a piece of himself within its walls. He remembered the first day of Mr. Berg’s class and how quickly he became infatuated with Samantha Waters. He loved everything about her. The dramatic, yet aloof hand raise during the roll call, the enthusiastic head bob to the beat of a song only she could hear, the scribbling in her notebook.
The notebook. Charlie sat up straighter, his puffy wet eyes growing wide. She’d been writing in her notebook. He had no idea what she’d been writing, but he had to know!