During the Night

You open your eyes. Where are you again? Oh yeah. Just in bed. Lying there, waiting for your alarm clock to go off, because why get up before you have to? Buzz buzz. There it is. Get up, get dressed, get breakfast. Routine, routine, routine. Hurry up, or you’ll miss you bus. Oh wait. No. You can drive now. At least there’s that, no more freshmen and sophomores crowding the bus. You’re just alone with your music and your thoughts. You go downstairs to look for your biology book because for the life of you you can’t remember where you put it last night. Bio book here, under the bed (boy that’s odd), and now what else? Oh yeah, Spanish homework … did you do it? No. Don't worry, you can do it on the bus … Shoot. That’s okay, that’s okay, just do it during Trig; Spanish is second period. No! Crap, you have a Trig test today! Did you study? Hmmm … not so much. Okay, okay, don’t panic. SOH CAH TOA and all that. Sine, cosine, and … tan-something … gent. Tangent. Wait. Last night was the VIP pre-party party at Sam’s house. Everyone’s gonna be hungover (and Sam will probably be still drunk) so Motzel will grade on a curve. But what about the Spanish homework? Maybe you can just write some random answers during morning announcements. Yeah. Man are you a mess this morning. You only get like this when you’re anxious, or something big’s gonna happen. But there’s nothing … oh god. You can’t believe you forgot, but there’s a reason last night was the pre-party at Sam’s; tonight’s the actual party at Sam’s. And this year you’re invited.

By the time the party starts, you’re feeling nervous. It’s not at Sam’s house this year; it’s at a cement building by the creek, with tons of graffiti and it reeks of pot. Blaring music is racing out the windows, and you think there’s probably two or three kegs, at least. Deep breath. Go in. Okay now go in. Okay now. Seriously? Don’t chicken out now. GO!

Now that is a lot of people. Crowded like a zoo. And the ceiling is shaking just as much as the floor. What’s up with that; are we gonna die? No one else is noticing, so stop looking up. Well great, now you’ve looked around, and noticed everyone else having a good time with their friends, and what else? Oh yeah, you’re all alone, standing by the door like a loser. Go talk to people! But who? The jocks, in the corner?

Yeah, you can do this. You saw that game last night … right? With … baseball? No, you didn’t watch that game. But wait … that person doesn’t play baseball; are they talking football now? Hockey? Polo? Whatever, you can’t do this. Just walk away slowly, maybe look like you saw someone else you know. Quick before they really notice you’re there. Oh shoot. Isn’t that just your life, when you want to have a conversation no one sees you, and when you want to leave, they ask you a question. Oh and of course you don’t know the answer. “What do you think about that?” What do you think about what? A team? A player? Umm … okay, shrug and say you have to go to the bathroom. Good, they’re nodding, they believe you. You can leave. Now where to? Someone easier to talk to. Oh, the drama kids! You watch movies.

Okay, you really underestimated the drama kids. They don’t just watch movies, they watch films. Foreign films, with no subtitles. And plays. But not Broadway happy plays, or musicals or whatever. Independent show pieces. You don’t even know what those are. You’re in too deep, but they haven’t acknowledged you yet. If you leave now, everyone will think you’re a loser with no friends. Just listen, and look like you’re included. Nod or something. Stroke your chin. No that’s lame, don’t do that. Oh you know what would make this much more realistic? If you actually listened. Duh. Okay here you go. Performance of one of their friends … gets up on stage, sings opera, in German … while covering … covering what in chocolate? THAT? Oh my god that is so gross. You’re leaving. Now. Turn. Shoot. They did see you, and now they want to know where you’re going. Umm … to the bathroom. Yeah. As you walk away, you think, Wow. Those drama kids are more desperate than anyone knows. Alright who can you talk to? Who else is left? Oh yeah. The popular kids. Where are they? Oh yeah. In the kitchen. With the beer. Alright. Here you go.

When you walk into the kitchen, all the popular kids stop and look at you. One of them stares and says, “What do you want?” Clearly this is their territory, and you’ve intruded. Don’t speak too much, or they’ll just pick at you more. Point to the keg and say “Just some beer.” This is their language; they understand, and continue their conversation. As if you were never there. You breathe a sigh of relief. Funny, that was a (social) life or death situation for you, but meant nothing to them. But now you have to take some beer. You don’t want any beer; you’re a good kid. You don’t even know how to work a keg. This knob here? Yeah that looks right. Get a cup, twist this thing … oh wow that pours out fast. Great, it all spilled on the floor. Did anyone notice? No. They probably all think you’re just another drunk kid trying to get more beer, but having some problems functioning. Ok, you have the beer. Now what? Drink it? No. You don’t do that. Give it to someone else? No, then you’d have to explain why you don’t want it, and you’d probably get kicked out for not drinking beer. And you don’t want to lie. So, if you don’t want to do that, what can you do? You could “accidentally” spill it all. No, that would ruin the furniture, or the floor, or something. So. What can you do? Pour it out in the bathroom sink? Good idea! Funny, you told the jocks and the drama kids you were going to the bathroom, and now you’re actually going.

You start walking, and one of the popular crowd notices you and says, “Where’re you goin’ with that beer, nerd?” It’s not the same person as before; it’s the host. Sam’s voice is icy, sharp, and there’s no trace of drunkenness. But you think you heard a little bit of fear in there. But why? “If you go to the police, I swear you’re gonna die, nerd.” Oh. Sam’s worried about getting arrested. Okay, what can you say so they’ll leave you alone? Oh great, your mind goes blank. Umm … Oh! Here’s an idea! Don’t lie! Duh. “The bathroom. Had one too many.” Sam nods slowly, calculating the situation, then says, “Right on nerd,” before turning back to the rest of the popular kids.

That was close, but you managed to get away relatively unscathed. You walk out of the kitchen and immediately your eyes are drawn to the person standing in the middle of the room. Dancing alone, but not in an awkward away. Unafraid. You stand and stare for a few seconds, but you must move on. You promised yourself you wouldn’t think about … that person … who sits three chairs in front of you and one to the left in English. With the blue eyes and nice smell. Nope, you’re not thinking about this light, this reason to live, at all. Okay, don’t look creepy, stop staring, move on … what were you doing? You look down and see the red plastic cup in your hand and remember. Oh yeah. The beer. The bathroom. Go!

As you approach the bathroom door, someone walks out. It’s … oh come on, you know this name. Starts with a B, or an A, or something like that. Maybe an R. You’ll just use BAR. So anyway, BAR walks out of the bathroom, looking troubled. You wonder why BAR is here; this is a popular kid’s party. BAR’s an outsider. Whatever. Not your business nor your problem. BAR notices you as you pass each other through the doorframe and stops you. “Oh, um, sorry, but, um, wallet’s still in there.” You were so close to getting rid of that putrid beer. You exit the bathroom to wait again. BAR closes the door, which is strange. Well, that’s BAR. God this is taking forever. How long does it take to get a freaking wallet? You’ve got stuff to do! You have to get rid of this beer before someone sees you! Finally BAR walks out of the bathroom and quickly past you. Easily through the crowd and … disappears. BAR. Weird. The two words go hand in hand. You quickly forget about BAR and go back into the bathroom. Finally.

You close the door and slowly pour the beer down the sink. Imagine if you had actually drank that. Been peer-pressured into it. One thing would have probably led to another, and before you knew it you would have been drunk. And knowing your luck, you probably would have gotten arrested, kicked out of school, and ended up working at some crappy fast food joint for the rest of your life. No family. No kids. Nothing. Speaking of school, check your phone to see if Motzel put the grades from the Trig test online yet. Let’s see. Yup. And you got … an 89. Not bad, considering how unprepared you were. You bet that most of the people here probably got way worse, so there’s the bright side. But make sure you don’t share your grade with them or they’ll get mad at you for getting better grades than anyone else. Gotta remember that. You look around the tiny bathroom. It smells kind of weird, like old sandwich. There’s almost no light, but you can tell the floor is dirty. In the corner sits an ancient toilet, and you’re afraid to go over and investigate further. The sink is chipped, and the mirror is broken. Seven years bad luck for whoever broke it. Seven years bad luck for whoever’s here at this party, getting wasted out of their minds, trying to live before high school’s over. Ha. That’s a joke. As if any of the people here except for you and maybe BAR consider this a special occasion. Nope, it’s just another Friday night. No one else is going to do anything crazy to put their lives on the line. Yeah, but would you do that? Are you doing that? Whatever. You still got a higher grade on that test. You open the door, and once again you find yourself looking directly at … no. Please god, no. Why are they dancing together? What is going on? Are they going out? Since when? And why haven’t you heard about it? Right, because you’re a loser. Okay, breathe. You close the door hard and lean against it, fighting your breaking heart to fill your lungs. You have to sit down. Where? The toilet. Gross. But desperate times call for desperate measures. You sit on the seat and hold your face in your hands. Out of the corner of your eye, you see an envelope lying on the floor … and it has your name on it. What? Who left that there? You pick it up and open it:

You don’t know me but I know you. You don’t notice me, but I always see you. You don’t like me, but I love you. You don’t know my name, but I know your life by heart. Love Alex

Alex? But who’s … BAR. You thought it started with an A. Wow. Where did BAR … you mean Alex … disappear to? You have to go and confront this. You leave the bathroom and try to hurry through the crowd, but everyone is blocking your way. “Excuse me, excuse me … please move … I’m trying to get through … excuse me.” Everyone’s too drunk to hear you, and the music is way too loud. But this is important. You have to get through. Time to step up. You start pushing people, elbowing them out of your way. All of a sudden, you see a flash of Alex’s red shirt disappearing out of the door, just as your crush appears next to you, and asks you to dance. Well, what are you waiting for? Say yes … but before you can, your crush, Jess, almost falls on top of you. What? Why? You can barely formulate the questions in your head. Jess is starting to get heavy, and does not appear to want to move anytime soon. You soon realize Jess is very inebriated, and almost asleep on your shoulder.

Now how many times have you dreamed of Jess falling asleep on your shoulder? Countless. You can picture it in your head … both of you sitting under a tree watching the summer sunset paint its rays all over the sky, counting the stars as they appear, and eventually simply sitting and talking. Just enjoying each other’s company. But not here, not at a party where one of you is drunk and can’t control the oncoming sleep. Not choosing, and certainly not wanting to fall asleep on your shoulder. Because that’s it, isn’t it? Jess doesn’t like you, and probably never will. But you don’t love Jess either, not really. You can’t love a person who gets drunk on a regular basis and will flirt with any nerd who happens to be passing, or a person who has never given you a second glance. But can you really give up on a crush you’ve had for … actually, it’s only been a year. That’s not so long.

Ok, you can’t really think about this now because you can’t support Jess for a second longer. No worries, because something happens that saves you and makes up your mind. Sam comes over and somehow manages to push you out of the way and stand Jess up at the same time. Jess recognizes Sam, who is still not very buzzed, and they start kissing. Passionately. Well, this is a blow. You feel kind of sick to your stomach. You’d heard rumors that they were going out, your school’s It couple, but you had chosen not to believe the gossip. When you were alone in your bed at night, waiting for sleep to come, you had thought about it, sure, pictured it even. And it was not pretty. But the stomachache then had been much worse than it is now. Maybe seeing Jess like this, in a truer light, not the light from your angelic picture, is slowly but surely crushing your crush. And seeing Jess kiss Sam is certainly a clincher. Gross. But now you’re free. Time to go find Alex.

Jess and Sam draw a lot of attention, which creates a little path around the edge of the room. Fortunately, it leads straight to the door. You walk quickly, with your head down, but no one really notices you. Out the door, but where did Alex go? You look to the left, but that’s just the dirt road leading back to town. Maybe Alex left? You look to the right, towards the river that runs next to the building. Yes. Alex is standing knee-deep in the flowing water, shoes and socks on the bank. You scramble down the small hill as quietly as possible, not wanting to scare Alex off. Success. You’re still unnoticed, you think. But with a slight turn of the head from Alex, you realize that your presence was known ever since you stepped out into the clear air. You tap Alex on the shoulder and ask, “Would you mind some company?” With a nodded approval, you shed your footwear and wade out about a foot from the muddy edge of the river. Alex avoids your eye, and waits for you to make the first move. You sigh, and squeeze the mud in between your toes. What a night, you think to yourself. So much drama, and preparing, and really, nothing actually happened. By this point, you’re tired of worrying, and you’re sure Alex is too. So you take a deep breath, and dive right in. “So … your note.”

Alex is slightly taken aback by your abruptness, but after a few missed beats says, “Yeah.” This is clearly a conversation for you to lead.

You say, “You should know that your feelings are appreciated, but not reciprocated. Sorry.”

This makes Alex laugh, and say, “That was the lamest, most formal rejection ever. Thanks a bunch.”

You answer, “Well it’s true! The only thing this party brings is stress about who to talk to, and people aren’t really paying any attention, or caring about the answers to their questions, or whether the person they’re talking to is listening or not. Then you come and show that someone cares about … well … it was really nice and brought some really nice feelings with it, feelings that hadn’t exactly been felt for a while.”

Alex says hopefully, “Romantic feelings?”

You chuckle and say, “No, sorry. More like euphoria. Like you’ve been imprisoned all your life, then suddenly someone shines a light into your cell and says, ‘You’re free to go’.”

Alex says with a head tilt, “Hey you’re really smart. You always seemed like just a regular person, but you’re actually really interesting.”

You take it like the joke it is and say in return, “Gee, thanks. And you were really in love with just a regular person?”

Now it’s Alex who laughs and inquires after your other interests. You never noticed Alex, and no one ever noticed you. Maybe you’re not an outsider, you’re just not friends with these popular people. Face it. They’re pretty lame. And you’re interesting. Apparently so is Alex, who plays basketball, and likes stand-up comedy, just like you. As you talk, Alex seems to change. As one hour turns into two, Alex’s eyes seem to come alive with beauty. As two hours turn into three, Alex’s whole face has come alive with beauty. You talk of everything: current news, sports, your fears, politics, school, books, movies, your families, video games, your dreams, and plans for the future. It’s gotten so late that the sun is starting to peek over the top of the distant mountains where the river begins. Almost as if it’s saying hello.

You and Alex have made your way over to a tree beside the river, and are sitting side by side underneath it. The talking has ceased when Alex yawns and asks if you would like to go out to dinner sometime.

“Like a date?” you ask, teasing a little.

“If you want it to be,” comes the coy response.

You laugh and say, surprising yourself, “Sure. How about tomorrow?” A shocked Alex nods, and then yawns again. You can see a little smile fighting that yawn, and when it breaks free, Alex laughs. You can’t help but laugh too. You have no worries, no second thoughts, no panic, nothing bad to bring you down. You just don’t care anymore. As you look over to share this great news with Alex, you notice that you are the only one awake. Alex is sleeping on your shoulder. This makes you smile more, and you lean down, kiss the cheek that is facing up at you, and whisper, “Good morning.”

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