“What do you mean, Shakespeare was ripping off Ovid?” Ali demanded.
“You don’t even know who the author was, and you want to devote the project to him? O Dei, why couldn’t we have been assigned a competent English poet, like Milton?” Luke answered.
“Because you study Milton for your MA, not a high-school English class! This project is about Shakespear, not Oh-vid, or–”
“–or Ah-vid or Virgil or anyone else. Can we please stick to the subject matter? Antony and Cleopatra is not a difficult text. This isn’t supposed to be a half-an-hour oral examination on Book Thirteen of Paradise Lost–”
“–there are only twelve books. Thirteen would be slightly ironic.”
“Shut up! Just shut up! I’ll do the project myself.”
Instantly both boys glared at her.
“What, and give you the responsibility of my grade?” Ali commented sarcastically.
“Why do I have to work with two idiots?” mumbled Luke, leaning back in his chair.
“First off, you’ve both put more effort into arguing than it takes to complete this assignment! We have to stick with Shakespeare; Ali’s right about that. But can’t we compromise? We could point out his errors in Antony and Cleopatra, maybe.”
Luke’s face brightened. “Like anachronisms, for instance?”
“What’s an anachronism?” Ali asked glumly.
“Anything outside historical context.”
“Antony and Cleopatra isn’t full of anachronisms,” the other contradicted.
“Yes is it. Cleopatra plays billiards in Act two.”
Luke sounded bored.
Marin bit her lip, silently damning her teacher for assigning her to work with these two dolts, brilliant as they may be. And even brilliance was of no use if it was never properly directed.
“Let’s just take a break. Seriously, guys, you’re making this way too difficult for yourselves,” she said, letting frustration leak into her voice.
“I’ll go put on some water for some tea, or something.”
She uncrossed her legs and got up from the recliner, leaving the two boys behind in the living room. The electric stove clock was blinking eight thirty seven. After pouring water into a pan, she rested her head against the kitchen window, watching the traffic outside. On rainy nights, the city lights seemed especially beautiful.
Sounds of banter escaped from the living room.
Marin groaned and popped her head back into the doorway.
“What kind of tea do you want? We have black, green, white–”
Her words trailed off abruptly. Both Ali and Luke were gone. Their notebooks were lying where they had left them: Ali’s doodles and black-ink scribbles surrounding his extensive notes face-up on his chair, Luke’s meticulous blue-penned script resting on the coffee table; but of the boys themselves there was no trace.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was with some apprehension that Marin walked into her English class the next morning. Her heart was beating, hoping to see some sign of the fugitives. But as the class trailed in, two seats were left empty.
Luke’s, towards the middle and to her left, and Ali’s, in the front row to her right. She tried to tell herself that they were only late to class, as Ali often was. But Marin knew that they were gone.
Ali’s brother had called her last night, at around ten. Marin herself had just spent the past hour looking for them to no avail. Their conversation was terse and concerned.
“Is my brother at your house?”
“No, no, he left, he isn’t home?”
“No, he’s not. I’m sorry for calling so late. If you see him around, please, give me a ring.”
“Of course I will.”
Ms. Mayako’s voice called out after roll was taken.
“Does anyone know where Luke or Ali are this morning?”
The class shook their heads.
“I don’t think they’re sick,” Marin answered.
What bothered her the most was that no one from Luke’s family had tried to contact her. Luke was a complete enigma to the entire high school. He had just transferred half-way into the semester from a private prep school, was probably prodigiously rich and talked to almost no one. Marin could understand that, it is always difficult to be comfortable in a new setting, especially as a transfer student. Some of the classmates were claiming that he was from the police department trying to bust up some of the drug rings.
Marin seriously doubted that. But he did appear to lack any familial connections, and he always disappeared right after school ended.
Ali was a slightly different case. He also had just moved here from New York, or possibly the UK. He was living with his cousin and older brother while his dad was taking a sabbatical to research ancient British manuscripts, or something like that. He worked with his brother in some coffee-shop during evenings.
Marin knew she should be angry about the project, but most of what she felt was a dull unease. It made little sense for the two to simply disappear so abruptly. For the rest of the day, she kept on hoping that the boys would make a miraculous appearance: land on the school roof in a helicopter, or crash through one of the windows to save the day and finish the project.
Her friends had little to say.
“They just left?” Jane asked her skeptically. “That’s weird.”
The response was, to say the least, mostly minimal. Marin could almost hear what their true thoughts were: “Luke and Ali? They’re both kinda cute, but so strange. Especially Luke. And Ali’s sort of a spaz. Why worry about it?”