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The words slide from your lips, as you gaze down at me with your clear, fathomless dark blue eyes. Those two words swirl through my brain, taking it along a new track, remembering how we met…
It was second grade. I was standing on the playground, staring forlornly at the monkey bars I was unable to reach and holding back small, childish tears. Then you walked up. My first thought was : If he were any taller, he’d block out the sun. Of course, you weren’t that tall. But compared to my measly three foot eight inches, it seemed that way.
For a few seconds you’d just looked at me, your eyes flicking between my sad form and the unreachable monkey bars. Then, as second graders often do, you said the first thing that came to your mind.
I’d scowled, and walked off in a huff. Like I needed someone to tell me that! However, I hadn’t gone more than a few steps before your hand clamped around my arm. Despite my protests, you retained your hold on me, dragging me toward the monkey bars, surprisingly strong for an eight year old. When we reached them, you lifted me up and made sure my hands were firmly curled around the cool metal bar before letting go.
Incredulous, I swung across, using my momentum to do what height could not. I reached the last bar and dropped, not waiting for you to come and help me. A second later you were standing there. Looking at me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, glancing down at my wiggling, sandal-encased toes. You didn’t reply. You just smiled.
It became a tradition. Every day, for the next two years, you would lift me up to the monkey bars. I would drop by myself. Then we would sit, most of the time in companionable silence, but after a while, you started talking.
You told me about your life. Your dad left you when you were four. Your mom was often drunk, and in differing states of depression. You were the oldest of three, and taking care of the little ones fell to you.
I never said it, but I guessed that this was why you were so much different from the other kids our age. More quiet. More mature. I didn’t mind that.
In return, I told you about my life, though I was almost embarrassed to do so. It felt wrong to be telling you about the nice, normal, good life I led after what you’d told me of yours. But I still told you. I told you about my happily married parents, my older sister who was closer to me than anyone I knew, our clean, average, cookie-cutter house. Everything seemed incredibly dull, yet you drank it in as if it were the most interesting thing you’d ever heard.
Life progressed. By the middle of fourth grade, I was able to reach the monkey bars. But I didn’t tell you, afraid that you might stop lifting me up. I think you noticed—but if you did, you never said.
When sixth grade came there was no more recess. But that didn’t stop us. We still talked, and every day after school we would rush to the playground a mile away—and you would help me onto the monkey bars.
Our friendship slowly changed. When we spoke, or when you touched me to lift me up, I suddenly felt nervous and light-headed. I began feeling awkward and unsure around you. I didn’t understand what was happening.
It’s eighth grade now. The last dance of the year. Imagine my surprise when you asked me to it…
I was pulled back into the present. Your hands, soft and gentle, circled my beribboned waist. Mine were clutched tightly around your neck. Your face was so close, I could feel your sweet breath brushing my cheeks.
“Thanks, I had no idea.”