Slouching in the sticky seat tattered from countless moviegoers, I am aware of my incredible luck. Trying to preserve every second of this moment, I almost bounce out of my seat as I scan the theater, then check to make sure I have not disturbed her. I attempt to still my arms from any telling tremors as I reach for my soda. The screen darkens, bringing ads that announce their products with a cacophony of lights and sounds that dazzle my eyes and set my ears ringing, yet, oblivious to these sirens’ calls, my thoughts turn inward. With pounding heart and sweating palms, my arm reaches over to grab some popcorn, as if the familiarity of the gesture will make things normal and set me at ease. Yet, as if to mock my wishes, my stomach lurches, warning me that anything going down right now will most likely come right back up.
It was sixth period. I sat in my seat, morosely sketching bad copies of my rejections on the geometry warm-up. My dismal humor took great delight in parading images of failure past my mind’s eye. I relived all the humiliating episodes as I put them to paper: asking Amy to the homecoming dance and Tami to a football game; inviting Becky, and failing that, Ruth, to the movies; offering to take Pam out shopping; nearly pleading for Madeleine to hang out at the mall with me. With that last effort, my grand total of depressing attempts had reached half a dozen. Why was dating impossible for me? Couples were ubiquitous. The unattached were all popular, attractive, or in-between significant others. They did not seem to mind being single. I did.
Was I out of place? Did a cosmic mishap deliver me to the wrong planet? I had always listened to classical while everyone around me jammed to rap or hard rock. I read romance novels and science fiction to the consternation of my friends and classmates. Not one to socialize in class, I felt no connection with the rest of the world. Was there none? The infamous “they” always said that “everyone dates in time,” but I did not believe it. Dating was for humans, for me there was nothing but a cold and lonely orbit around them. I knew better than to expect a happy ending to my story even though I wanted to believe I was special. What did “they” know, anyway?
The bell rang, signaling all good little boys and girls to take their seats and feign attention. As if to mock that facade of perfection, I heard the expected sound of Sarah’s hurried footsteps. She rushed in and collapsed into her seat under the scowl of our math teacher. Unrepentant, her eyes glowed with secrets. I wondered what drove her to mock our teacher. Looking over at me, she noticed my drooping head, how it seemed to hang under the weight of heavy thoughts. My face, though hidden from her sight by a supporting hand, reflected my misery.
For the first few minutes of class, I could feel Sarah watching me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her begin to fidget, swinging her head between the teacher and the with the regularity of a metronome. Knowing Sarah as I did, that could mean only one thing. I had become her new subject, to be poked and prodded until I relinquished all secrets, only to be discarded in the wake of another’s misery. Although little time had passed, she could take no more (or perhaps her neck had begun to hurt) and when the teacher turned to write something on the board, she hissed, “Hey.” I did not respond, “Hey, Tom! What happened? What’s wrong?”
I did not answer. Foolishly, I hoped that if I postponed the inevitable, maybe some lucky happenstance would save me from her clutches. But I was cornered. She began a lightning-quick barrage of questions about all manner of things that I would rather not discuss. They pounded against my ears like hail whenever the teacher turned her head. As the period ended, my ears were smarting and red; with an explosive sigh, I caved in and told her of my failure to date a girl. While we walked to our seventh-period class, I reflected sourly on my uncertain citizenship.
As much as I hoped telling her my troubled thoughts would end her interest and allow me to go back to the comforting obscurity of corner seats and back hallways, she was not content to leave me to my misery. She dogged my footsteps and transformed my welcoming corners to trapping corners in an attempt to fix the problem, fix me. She suggested friends of hers, friends of mine, even strangers to us both.
It became our daily ritual. From the moment she rushed in late to sixth period to that liberating bell at the end of the day, I would meet each suggestion with furious vigor and ironclad determination. However, she had been a general in this kind of war far longer than I and was willing to let me squander my energies. She was right. As my passion waned and my arguments began to lose their force, I saw a wicked triumph in her eyes. Every name wore at my defenses. Years in the making, they were toppled in a few short weeks.
Then came a day when I was slow to offer a denial. Sarah had mentioned Amber, a girl who nearly carried me through biology last year, and to whom I was returning the favor in English this year. She was smarter than most, had a dry, ironic wit, and was attractive in a quiet sort of way. My traitorous mind staged a slideshow: Amber and me laughing at the teacher, Amber and me discussing the merits of different authors, Amber and me sharing a fancy for comedies ... was I actually considering it? Why had I never before? Sarah jumped at the opportunity, her eyes manipulating the wheels in my mind, rolling them off the beaten path and into new and unsettling territory. Just as she was about to finish me off, Mrs. Morgan passed out our weekly math quiz. She gave me a look that said, “This isn’t over,” and I knew she was right. While all the good little boys and girls were taking their quizzes, my mind was working to reconcile myself with the idea of asking out Amber. If I failed, it might ruin our friendship, which I treasured, as it was one of the few in my life.
My teacher would be confused upon seeing my quiz, for I had answered every question with the word Amber.
Just as I expected, the moment the quiz was over, Sarah looked over at me. Gathering herself, she went straight for the kill.
“I could ask her for you. You know, if you’re too wussy!”
“No!” I shouted, the words tearing themselves from my throat. I had not expected her to be so direct. “No! I’ll do it. Just leave me alone!” I was amazed at my vehemence.
We sheepishly glanced over to Mrs. Morgan, and, after a quick apology, pretended to pay attention. For the rest of class, I tried to work up my courage. I now had a goal; all I needed was a plan and the will to see it through.
Later that day, as if a guardian angel were looking out for me, I happened to run into Amber on the way to the bus. Taking a deep breath and puffing out my chest, I told myself to say something before my fears could sabotage my resolve. After a brief hello and some shouted small talk as we dodged in and out of human traffic, my mind went blank. In the packed main hall, only a few feet from the exit, my brain coughed and I asked if she wanted to see the new Star Trek movie. She was somewhat confused and asked with a laugh if I meant Star Wars. Completely mortified, wanting to run and wishing I had brought my hat so I could disappear into the crowd, I nodded mutely and waited, my eyes riveted to her face. I searched for some hint of the reaction I so desperately desired. I was holding my breath as we pushed through the double doors to the front of the school and my fate.
“Yeah, that’d be nice. How about we go Friday after school? Just find the times and we’ll talk tomorrow. Bye now!” Amber called over her shoulder as she rushed to the bus.
Now halfway through the movie, I have controlled my tremors, and my breathing is returning to a more relaxed rhythm. The movie is interesting, now that I am actually watching it. I look around for what feels like the first time, and everything is in the proper place. People are focused on the movie, no one is staring at me; in fact, it is as if I blend right in. I loosen my clenched fists and settle somewhat more comfortably into my seat, one of hundreds, identical on the surface but each with its own story written in melted chocolate and soda stains. Everything has gone right so far, but I try to contain a feeling of overconfidence. My mouth opens to say something but I look over to her and the words just fade away.
Her face gleams with reflected light from the movie, and she seems different from when she was just my friend. It is as if an aura surrounds her, making her features seem more real, sharper. I shut my eyes and I can still see her; that aura gently tugs me, willing me closer. She laughs, and I hear bells ringing, awakening the butterflies in my stomach. I want to reach my arm over her shoulder but the thought terrifies me. What would Sarah think of me now? Getting so close, yet too wussy to make it definite. I reach my arm over her shoulder, tentatively, and breathe a sigh of relief when she does not pull away.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.