His shoulders slump as he slides down in his chair. “I don’t know what to write about.”

I push his notebook closer to him. “Yes, you do. It just seems hard because it’s our first day back after break.” I tilt my head, hoping his line of sight will stumble across my eyes. “And, I bet you’re actually gonna like doing this one. Fabulism is fun to write.”

He doesn’t answer. He doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t even move. But … he also doesn’t lay his head on his desk. He hasn’t given up.

“Let’s do this,” I continue. “Think about something ordinary, like walking down the street, and then something crazy happens — like cars start to fly, or people become invisible, or there’s time travel or something.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Lifting his chin, he looks out the window. The budding trees block our view of the Patapsco River. “Maybe I’ll write a story about time travel so I can go back in time and my friend will still be alive.”

My heart, like a glass nudged over the edge of a table, plummets. Shatters. I touch my chest where the pieces are, say the same words I say every time this happens. The words that are never enough.

“Oh, lovely. I’m so sorry.”

Without him saying who, when, what, I know this loss is recent. He’s not referring to any of the other deaths he’s already been forced to live beyond. Family. Neighbors. Another of his friends, a 14-year-old fatally stabbed in front of him as they stood in a neighborhood street.

He’s talking about a different boy who was killed — this one just last week. I’d heard about it while signing in for a doctor’s appointment. As I confirmed my insurance details, a reporter on the TV behind me calmly relayed that a 14-year-old had been killed about a mile from school. Because his name was not released, I sat in the waiting room, rigid with worry that, after spring break, I’d return to an empty desk in one of my classes.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I learned not long after that this boy attended a different school. The lovelies on my roster were spared from the epicenter, but the trauma, grief and fear are shocks — damaging, and lasting, enough on their own.

Now, just a few days after this latest tragedy, my lovely looks out the wall of windows in front of us. My gaze joins his, though I’ll never see most of what he does.

“It was at my homeboy’s house,” he says. “I was there. I was there when he died.”

I wish for a wand, a way to cast a spell protecting him and everyone he’s ever loved. Instead, I tell him I would love to read his story about time travel. A story in which his friend still lives.