Fall, Freshman Year
Margaret Emma Brandl

Fall, Freshman Year

I followed her instructions. “You have—one—new—message,” the voicemail robot said. “New message:

“Marta, this is Zachary Fox,” a voice unfamiliar to me said, “from band. I’m with, uh, Drew Gerdes and Melissa Wade. You guys need to—” his voice was strained, as if he was winded from running. “We don’t have to keep searching. They, uh, someone—” There was noise in the background—other voices, hard to make out. “They found him. So come back up to the school.”

“What is it?” Marta hissed at me.

“They found him!” I said, hanging up the call. “It was Zachary Fox. He said come back to school.”

Marta made a sound like a sigh, a loud exhaling. “Good,” she breathed.

“Are we gonna return your uncle’s car first?”

“He doesn’t leave for work for another hour—he’s probably not awake. And if he is, he’ll understand,” Marta said, smiling for the first time since Preston had sounded the alarm. “Plus I know you must be freezing. I’ll drop you off at the school first.”

As we made our way through town and back to the school, the wind started to die down. All the tension we’d been feeling melted out of us as the heater finally kicked into high gear. Marta started pressing buttons on the dashboard until she found the radio; “Brown-Eyed Girl” was playing. We didn’t know the words so we sang the clarinet part, exaggerating, shouting. I shook my hands up and down and sang.

“What is that? Maracas?” Marta teased me.

School was over, so the parking lot was mostly empty except for cars we recognized from earlier in the afternoon. Marta parked and we got out, taking gulps of the cold air and smiling at each other as we alighted. Up ahead of us, someone was opening the door and coming out of the band room—the trombone guy who’d started the search party, Tyler. He glanced at me first, briefly, and I saw the expression on his face, and I replayed the voicemail in my head.

I froze.

I watched Marta go to high-five him, stop, notice his mood; I watched him put his hand on her arm, speak, lower his eyes to the ground. I watched her sidestep him, watched him turn to catch her, watched her coming back towards the car and me.

I remember I noticed then that it had started snowing again—quiet, unobtrusive flakes that blended in to the hood of the car, that collected on my sleeves. Marta looked at me across the roof of the car and shook her head once, definitively: no. We stood there for a while, watching the snow collect and sparkle. The flakes fell on her dark hair in a pattern, like a ring, like a crown.

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Margaret Emma Brandl

is a Ph.D. candidate in English specializing in creative writing (fiction) at Texas Tech University, where she teaches English classes and serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her writing has appeared in Gulf CoastThe Cincinnati ReviewPithead ChapelHobart, and other journals.