Nothing Gold

Alaina Symanovich

If Nikhil’s mother hadn’t found the gold-stamped Honors Society envelope under the avalanche of SAT workbooks in his room, he would've never had to become a Peer Ambassador. And if he hadn’t become a Peer Ambassador, he wouldn’t have had to sandwich himself in an abhorrent orange vest to patrol the school grounds twice a week with a pad of tear-off detention slips in his hand. And he never would’ve bumbled into Macy Cameron’s line of sight as she spraypainted a camel-cursive m onto the gymnasium’s exterior wall.

Because she’d chosen gold, each curve of the fuck him scintillated in the third-period sunshine. Nikhil’s glasses fogged as he exhaled, his surprise visible in the January chill.

“Hey,” he called out, his palms sweating like they did when Mr. Stetler made him scribe geometric proofs on the blackboard. In his months of Peer Ambassador policing, the worst crimes Nikhil had encountered were wads of bubblegum smeared across cafeteria tables, paper airplanes lobbed during assemblies, middle fingers thrust during class changes. Usually the perpetrators shuffled around in groups of three or four, slouch-shouldered and slow-eyed. Macy stood alone, five-foot-four in tailored clothes, haloed with the fragrance of strawberry shampoo. A gold charm bracelet hung off her right wrist, its Bambi pendant clattering against the nozzle of the spray bottle.

She didn’t flinch. “Aren’t you going to call somebody?” The sun flashed across her pupils, sunbeams on a frozen lake, as she shifted her weight to one hip.

“I—no,” Nikhil shook his head, confused. He might as well have been facing Mr. Stetler, chalk melting in his hand as the teacher dismantled his reasoning. “They don’t give us phones.”

As Macy continued to stare, Nikhil felt all too aware of the thrumming behind his collarbone, the heat on the apples of his cheeks. Like most boys in the sophomore class, he’d fantasized about approaching Macy Cameron, but in his mind the scenario never unfolded like this. He’d pictured a balmy Friday afternoon, dazzling her with a half-grin—sans braces—until she giggled, tugged a lock of hair, hinted she didn’t have any plans for the weekend. Now her face seemed etched with the hieroglyphs of last week’s newspaper article, with its words becoming mirages in Nikhil’s watering eyes, Star Quarterback Killed in Crash, his mother elbowing her coffee mug over, his father shaded in silence. The memory slogged muddy shoes over the present. Lovington High senior Austin Cameron died Saturday night, his mother had read, her thick Bengali accent comic. Charges are pending against the suspected drunk driver. Didn’t Nikhil know that Cameron boy? Didn’t he have biology class with his cousin? What’s-her-name, Marie? Molly? The poor girl.

Macy, his syllables had thunked like lead weights. Her name’s Macy.

“So turn me in.” The can twitched in Macy’s fingers. “That’s your job. Nikhil, right? Turn me in.” She cocked her head to the side, casting an oblong shadow over the shimmering gold behind her.

“I’m sure Dr. Jeffreys will understand,” Nikhil said, focusing on her hand. It seemed like the only safe part of her. “If you want to just go home—”

“I want you to turn me in,” she said, taking a step forward. He could make out another charm on the bracelet: Bamm-Bamm, the adopted Flintstone. He remembered ogling that grainy cartoon on Saturday mornings in elementary school, in the pilfered hours before his father clicked to nature documentaries.

Nikhil imagined what his mother would say if she could see him in that moment. Her lips would probably frost with a hailstorm of reprimands: how dare he get this poor girl in trouble, didn’t he know what she’d been through, shame on him. But maybe refusing Macy would be just as offensive. He sucked his lips against his braces, nibbing small cuts along the inside of his mouth. He watched his shadow bobblehead against the brick as he consented.

“If you’re sure,” he pretended to deliberate. But already he was pivoting in the direction of the main doors of Dr. Jeffreys’s office. She snapped to follow him.

He hurried to grab the door for her, training his eyes on the DO NOT PUSH ON GLASS sticker as she swept past. The school smell of erasers and cafeteria chicken nuggets bit at Nikhil’s nose, somehow intensified by the lobby’s emptiness.

They trooped past the spot where Nikhil had been standing the first time he saw Macy: last year, August 28. He and his friend Rohan stood under the school banner, pretending to compare schedules as they side-eyed the coursing crowds around them: track girls in matching hoodies, their legs whippet-thin; upperclassmen boys chugging milk cartons, catcalling girls in short skirts; thespians gossiping about the new director. The clamor quieted a few decibels when Austin yanked open the door for Macy.

Austin was the first junior to captain Lovington’s team since the ‘80s since Bill Krezinsky, who could’ve gone pro if he hadn’t busted his knee at Syracuse. Even Nikhil, who had watched all of three football games in his life, knew about him. And since Rohan had worked at the Tastee Freeze with Macy all summer, Nikhil knew of her also.

“Good God,” Rohan whispered, clenching his schedule tighter as she passed. She was all he talked about after each shift. Because she had a perfect ski-slope nose and hair the color of warm honey, the manager let her idle behind the register instead of slogging through the puddles of chocolate sauce and soft-serve along the prep line. She earned the same as Rohan, who’d emerge exhausted and besprinkled at 11:30. Rohan never complained.

“Damn,” Nikhil said, eyeballing Macy until she turned the corner. He repeated the word, thinking how lucky he was to go to school with honey-haired girls, to use profanity in a clogged hallway without fearing detention. This was high school, alright.

“Always with the cousin, though.” Rohan glanced down at the crinkled schedule in his hands. His thumbprint imprinted a splotch of dampness. “I would’ve maybe talked to her if he hadn’t sprinted in after every shift.”

Nikhil snorted. “Sure you would’ve.”

“I mean it,” Rohan tucked the mangled paper in his pocket. “With most girls it’s the father you’re supposed to worry about, right? Whoever heard of going through the cousin?”

Nikhil laughed, made some jab about Rohan needing to get through more than just Austin, but the conversation ghosted him for the rest of the school year. This year, sitting three seats down from Macy in biology, he’d often felt the prickle of Austin’s stare when the seventh-period bell rang, noticed those shoulders hulking the classroom threshold. He decided Rohan had a point: something about the Cameron family signaled stay back.

Macy sidestepped Nikhil at the Main Office door, grabbing the handle before he could and darting inside. The spray can clunked against the doorframe, drawing the secretary’s gaze.

“I’m here to see Dr. Jeffreys,” Macy announced. For the first time, Nikhil heard the bravado in her voice. He watched the corner of her mouth bunch as she chewed her cheek.

“So am I,” he said, too quickly. The secretary crinkled her forehead at the pair of them, and Nikhil realized how heavily they were both breathing.

“You don’t have to come in with me,” Macy whispered as they waited for the secretary to dial the principal. Nikhil didn’t look at her as they were led inside Dr. Jeffreys’s office. As they sunk into the burgundy pleather chairs, his eyes snagged on the ficus perched near the window, its leaves blotched russet around the tips. He wondered when anyone last watered it.

Nikhil stayed silent as Macy recited her story. She grumbled off the facts in the same way Mr. Stetler listed postulates, one gray detail after another rolling off a conveyor belt. When she stopped, Dr. Jeffreys looked at Nikhil.

I know, sir, Nikhil pleaded with his eyes. I wouldn’t have turned her in. The disappointment splattered across the principal’s face, shining like a curse word in the morning sun, shamed Nikhil. Fuck him, Macy had sprayed. Nikhil didn’t know the name of the drunk driver who killed Austin. He wondered if she did.

The silence itched Nikhil’s throat. “I’ll clean it off,” he said. “I’ll stay after school.”

“No way,” Macy shook her head. “It’s a five-day suspension for me. Minimum. And a formal disciplinary review and—” she glared at Nikhil, “if this is like last year, when those seniors graffitied the equipment shed, I’m the one who has to scrub it off.” She crossed her ankles. “In Saturday detention.”

Dr. Jeffreys raised his eyebrows.

“This is a stressful time, Macy.” He used the same placating tone Nikhil’s mother used when she goaded him to run weekend errands with her.

She folded her arms.

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