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I was thirteen years old when I moved to St. Helen’s, Illinois. I had never kissed a boy. I had never fallen in love.
My hands shook as I opened the door to my new first period classroom. I took a seat in the back, trying to disappear into the plastic.
“This is like an adventure,” my father had said, wrapping his arms around my waist. I peered up at him, doubting his sincerity. He merely smiled down at me, holding me tighter. “Your heart will tell you what is right.”
I believed him.
But how could my heart help me now, after weeks of eating lunch alone, of staying quiet?
“I like your shoes,” I heard a voice say as I stared out at my classmates, a notebook poised in my lap.
I looked up, wondering how a boy had made his way over to me.
He sat next to me, not a foot away.
I was shocked.
I stared, dumbfounded, towards him. An impish grin spread across his face. “Uh,” I answered, my face flushing.
“Is this how you always greet people?” he asked, leaning back, looking perfectly at home.
Now, after what felt like weeks of feeling like an outcast, it felt so incredibly good to be so unquestioningly accepted. But at the same time, it felt immaculately strange, and I merely shook my head, my cheeked turning even redder.
He glanced at my notebook. Embarrassed, I realized I had left it open, revealing all the contents to this stranger.
I slapped it closed.
He hopped up, waving goodbye as he walked away.
I stared down at my notebook, smiling silently to myself.
He did this everyday at lunch, and everyday I smiled, an expression that would have surprised me before, feeling like life couldn’t get a whole lot better.
And every time, he would leave; in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of an explanation, smiling down at me.
I would smile back, though deep down it always hurt to see him go.
Eventually, I stopped taking out my notebook at all. At home, I wouldn’t write, or draw, but instead, I would think about him.
I felt like I was edging towards obsession, but then I would realize that I didn’t care.
And one day, I took my notebook back out.
When he came to me, he stared at it as he spoke, clearly distracted.
“Do you want to…?” I asked him, holding it out to him uncertainly.
“So badly,” he answered, taking it from my fingers. His hand brushed against mine. I realized that I should have been embarrassed, letting a boy see all of my stories, my pictures, and whatever else I had written in those pages. It was like I was giving a piece of myself to him.
And yet I couldn’t bring myself to feel scared or uncomfortable about it. I think that it was the way he always left, and yet showed me that he would come back.
He stood up, opening the pages to my most recent entry, where there was nothing but a picture, of a boy who looked strangely like the one staring down at it.
He shut it, crouching down next to me.
“Do you want to be my friend?” The boy asked, a vulnerability that I had never seen before in his eyes, clear as day in front of me. My notebook was tucked fondly against his chest.
I nodded, my eyes glistening with tears of joy.
I had been accepted. That was all I ever really wanted. But he had given me even more.
I was fourteen years old when I left St. Helen’s Point, Illinois. I had never kissed a boy. I had never fallen in love.
But I had a friend.