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Kenlerae. That was the ridiculous, crazy name my mother graced me with. Kenlerae. She was nuts.
I still remember the first day of kindergarten, when all the students were told to introduce themselves. A whole row of Janes and Johns had gone by, and now our teacher (a scrawny but kind woman named Mrs. Carr) rested her eyes on me.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” Her voice was so kind and gentle. Welcoming.
“Kenlerae,” I blurted out, blushing as I sat back in my small plastic chair. As a child, I was never very outgoing.
Amidst the snickers of the other students, Mrs. Carr smiled warmly at me. She said, in a voice that pierced through the laughs like butter, “That is a beautiful name.”
Growing up, I became ‘That Girl’. I was the beautiful cheer captain with the silky red curls that could only be natural, the grey eyes with flecks of blue and green and gold. Everybody envied me, and I was floating on a cloud of blissful ignorance.
On the forty-second day of my third year in high school, as I paid for my lunch and began to walk toward my customary table, I saw him. He was sitting alone in the center of the cafeteria, the muscles of his tee-shirt pressing against his gray cotton tee-shirt, his casually styled brown hair perfect and silky. I knew, at that moment, that I was in love.
“Hey, guys,” I murmured distantly to the cluster at my table. “I’ll catch you later.” I made my way over to his table and sat across from him. He didn’t so much as glance over the book he was reading.
I cleared my throat. “Hey.”
His eyes, those perfect, beautiful blue eyes, rested on mine for a brief moment as he nodded a greeting, then returned to his book.
My eyebrows rose. This was not typically the response I received from people of the male persuasion. I slid to his side of the table, so that our hips and shoulders were brushing against each other. “What are you reading?” I asked playfully, kicking my feet.
Again, his eyes rested on mine, and I locked the picture in my mind. “A novel about the unrealistic expectations women have concerning men.”
Hoping that he was joking, I leaned over the table so that I could see the cover. I read, ‘Great Expectations’.
Giggling, I sat back in my chair. “You know, if I were an idiot, I may have still believed you. Unfortunately for you, I am not an idiot. I just so happen to love Dickens.”
He tucked a mark into his book and set it on the table. Turning toward me, he said, “Okay, I’m listening. What is it?”
Innocently, I asked, “What is what?”
He sighed. “Beautiful, well-liked women such as yourself do not approach men unless they want something. So, what is it? Do you want me to pretend like I’m interested in you to make your boyfriend jealous? Do you want me to…organize the school play so that you can get the lead? Because I gotta tell you, babe, I’m not interested.”
“You got me all figured out, huh?” I murmured, now watching him wearily.
“Absolutely. You should go now. Your clique’s waiting.”
After that day, I watched him. I found out that his name was Noah, and that he was a senior. I told none of my friends about what was becoming my obsession. And then, the spring girls’ choice dance arrived, and I couldn’t help but think it was fate bringing the two of us together.
I waited with my back against his locker, my sexy top clinging to and outlining my ample breasts, my jean shorts covering just my upper thighs. I had left my hair down, and it tumbled around my shoulders in tight red ringlets. It seemed forever until he arrived (I had fought off many pawing hands) but I had the satisfaction of seeing his eyes bulge for a moment as he glanced over me.
“I remember you,” he commented after visually struggling to focus. “Lunch buddy, right?”
I winked. “You got it.” I stepped forward, close to him, and tugged away the book in his hands. Again, it was ‘Great Expectations’. “My, my,” I murmured, flipping through it, “Either you’re a very slow reader or you’re reading this again.”
He plucked it carefully from my grasp. “I make it a monthly habit. What is it that you want now?”
I smiled. “It just so happens that I need a date for the dance.”
He snorted and rolled his eyes, pushing past me to open his locker. “You need a date? Kenlerae-yes, even I know your name-ninety-nine perfect of the school’s male population is drooling over you, and nine percent of the remaining is gay.”
I leaned against the lockers again, twisting to the side so that I was closer to him. “And you?”
“I,” he murmured, leaning breathlessly close to me, “am of the lucky one percent that is utterly indifferent to your charms.”
But I couldn’t believe those words when he was so close to me, his lips almost brushing mine. “Go to the dance with me,” I whispered hoarsely.
But the words were spoken against my lips, and I shivered. “Why?”
“Because that’s what you expect.” He pulled away then, and shut his locker. “What do people call you, anyway?”
I sighed. “Rae, mostly. My mother stubbornly insists on calling me ‘Kenlerae’.”
“Well, Kenlerae, I have to go to class now. Have a lovely day.”
With that, he was gone, taking my heart with him. I was more in love with him than ever.
I took Jack Barker to the dance. He was cute, and more than happy to accompany me, but I found myself looking over his shoulder for Noah as we danced. In the deepest part of my heart, I found myself hoping that he would arrive with a corsage and push Jack Barker away, so that he could dance with me. But Noah never showed, and I was doomed to spend the evening with Jack who, no matter how cute he was, was to grabby for my tastes.
The weekend came and went, and I met up with my friends distantly, because my mind was still full of how Noah’s lips had felt on mine. When Monday hit, and I was still distracted by thoughts of him, I decided to sit once again at his table. Again, he didn’t glance up from his book.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I said, twisting the cap off my water. “For some unexplainable reason, I find myself attracted to you. And I need you to go on a date with me, if only to get it out of my system.”
He set down his book carefully. “Fine.”
Despite myself, I was shocked. “That was easy.”
He smiled slyly, his eyes glinting. “I’m beginning to think it’s the only way to get you to stop stalking me.”
“I’m not stalking you,” I said, but I was smiling.
He snorted. “Of course not.”
Our date went beautifully, and he kissed me when he brought me home. After that, I made it a habit to sit at his lunch table. Our dates became a weekly occurrence, and while I couldn’t say we were together, I found myself falling harder and harder for him. For my birthday, he gave me a copy of ‘Great Expectations’ and wrote inside the cover, ‘Make it a monthly thing. –Noah.”
Three months later, as he kissed me in the backseat of his car, I saw a pair of women’s cotton underwear that didn’t belong to me.
“Whose are those?” I asked, trying to keep the pain from my voice as I nodded towards them.
He frowned, sitting back from me. “You don’t need to get upset. It’s not like we’re dating.”
The words pierced through my heart like a knife. “And that means you can sleep with other women?! What the hell, Noah?!”
“Don’t get worked up about it, Rae. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Not that big of a deal?” Tears began to prick in my eyes. “You slept with someone else!”
He sighed. “If you’re going to get this upset over it, maybe we shouldn’t see each other at all.”
I knew him well enough to tell that he wasn’t saying we should stop seeing each other; he was threatening it so that I would shut up.
“Maybe you’re right,” I snapped and got out of the car. I walked home, hoping all the time that he would pull up behind me and apologize, beg me to forgive him. He didn’t.
When I got home, I threw my copy of ‘Great Expectations’ into the garbage can, but fished it out moments later.
After I graduated high school, I kept the book that Noah had given me, like a promise that I would never forget him. I married a handsome man named Mark, and one day, as he was digging through our small book collection, he discovered it.
“I didn’t know you read Charles Dickens,” he commented in surprise.
I smiled and slid an arm around his waist. “I make it a monthly habit.”