theadana suggested that I post this here. Any and all criticisms are welcome, but note that it was written in response to an interview question which gave me a time limit of an hour with no prior planning (a time limit with which I almost managed to comply). This is not to say that things which could only be improved with more time are not worth noting, but I would appreciate it if you annotated them as such if there's any ambiguity.
Also, even though you probably don't know me, don't hold back. "It sucks" is a perfectly acceptable comment, although a description of specifically why you think it sucks would probably be more useful.
From the first day of kindergarten to the fateful date of April 14 sophomore year of high school, John was always in trouble. It started out small. In elementary school he was always stealing my and Emily's lunches. He was so scrawny that we almost felt sorry for him and didn't tell on him for three months. When we finally got fed up with it, my parents nearly had a fit. “What on earth were you thinking? Haven't we explained the importance of good nutrition to you a thousand times?” Their words rolled off of my ears, practically forgotten before they were understood. They didn't – couldn't – have understood why Emily and I stuck by him, why, in fact, we failed to make any other meaningful friends until 8th grade.
John could do things. They were little things, at first. In 4th grade John and I both got in quite a bit of trouble for turning in word-for-word identical papers on the American Revolution. What I never told anyone was that I hadn't let John cheat off of me, and I certainly wouldn't have copied his work, since he paid no mind to school and never did his research properly for papers. Not that John was stupid – in fact, had his intellect been less capable it might well have spurred him on to greater achievement. But his attitude manifested that excessive neglect which comes with natural brilliance and which makes diligence in one's schoolwork seem a wholely pointless endeavor when one can coast on one's merits without breaking a sweat.
I discussed the incident with John the next day, but he was either genuinely puzzled or put on a good enough show of it that my 9-year-old's cunning was unable to flush him out. He insisted that he had neither surreptitiously copied my paper nor somehow induced me to copy his own work, and stated that perhaps it was a coincidence. After all, as he said, this was merely astronomically improbable, not impossible.
Then there was the time in 6th grade when the school was evacuated for a bomb threat, which turned out to be unfounded. By this circumstance John was spared two tests and a game of basketball in gym (which he particularly loathed), and gained an opportunity to meet a friend of his family's, a stage magician who John had badly wished to meet for several years. The magician showed John some of his best tricks. This performer died but a few weeks later from an untimely heart attack. Though John had been with me from homeroom that morning until the moment the threat was announced, and I could conceive of no means by which he could have brought it about, the advantage it afforded him left no doubt in my mind that he was the responsible party.
One day not long after that, I was visiting Emily (or her parents were babysitting me, depending on your perspective). John and his family were on a weekend trip to the beach. Emily sat on her bed blowing her hair out of her face, while I sat near her on the floor.
“Do you think John is supernatural?” I asked, with the forced quality of something only has often considered saying but always before dismissed.
“Supernatural? Hmm...” Emily paused a moment in thought.
“No, there has to be some explanation for everything he does,” she finally declared.
“What kind of explanation could there possibly be?”
“I don't know, but I can't explain how a light bulb works either. That doesn't mean it's magic.”
“I've never known anyone else like him.”
“That's for sure.” Emily smiled and stared off into space. I bit my tongue.
“You know,” she continued, “I've had a crush on him for as long as I've been able to have a crush, I think. He's just so – I mean, he keeps to himself so much it's hard to be sure what else there is to him, but whatever it is I'm sure there's a lot of it. He's a big person, do you know what I mean? He's going to be important, I just know he is. He's going to invent a plant that grows on pollution and makes enough food for all the homeless in the world, or come up with some amazing argument that convinces everyone in the world that whatever the reason, war is a bad idea, or something.”
At this effusive praise of another I could do naught but turn off my mind. I smiled – a forced but almost convincing smile, a skill I had developed through long years of practice – and turned towards Emily, pretending to stare off into space through her while in fact I looked directly at her. Her short, straight brown hair, her bright blue eyes, her nimble body, to own her, to be owned by her were all that I felt I could ever desire. But she was not mine and never would be, and it was better to think of things that way.
John breezed through high school as easily as if it were the first grade all over again. Emily and I found it increasingly difficult, but our parents were overly lenient and buckling down was the last thing on our minds. All the other children now treated John with roughly the respect and cordiality accorded to a diseased rat. He walked around nearly always humming a tune with which I was not familiar. Many times I asked him what it was, but he would either refuse to answer or say that it was just something he had made up. Unfortunately I never pressed the issue and obtained a real answer to this question.
Then one day it happened. It was a day in early spring, still cold but the snow was melting, and the sun beat down, almost blindingly, and John was gone. They waited a while, assuming he had merely run away and that he would turn up sooner or later. When he didn't, suicide was suspected, then held to be almost certain, although no body was ever found. Only Emily and I understood how impossible this was.
When they searched his bedroom, they found nothing to hint at where John had gone or what he had done, but they did find this note: “Emily – I think you two would really go well together. —John” Emily was teased mercilessly for this, of course, to which she responded in as good humor as she could.
Although I never stopped loving Emily, it was not until two summers later that she reciprocated my affections. I took her to a concert, a performance of experimental orchestral work. We sat together and I could tell that something was different. As the evening wore on, Emily grew tired, and eventually she fell fast asleep with her head on my shoulder.
What I'll never forget is that the concert ended with an improvisation, a once-in-a-lifetime performance, not recorded and hence existing only in the ears of the audience – and now, in all probability, only in my own memory. Emily was unconscious, and I never told her of this for fear she would think me crazy—but it was John's song, note for note, the melody indelibly imprinted on my mind.