He was blond and blue-eyed, muscled and tanned from his years of football (he was the quarterback, naturally). Features of note included his tall stature and strong jawline. Throughout our grade, his sense of humor and lack of sense were renowned. Unsurprisingly, he disliked studying, but, most notoriously, he liked smiling.
I, Cassidy Markham, a young woman who prided herself on her adherence to the ways of the counterculture, found him dull.
He grinned in art class as he pretended to erase my sketch. I screwed up my mouth into a stiff smile and took the eraser back. The next day he winked at me when he captured my pencil, acting as though he meant to draw over my art. I bit the inside of my cheek as I wrestled the item out of his predictably large and manly hand.
And, without fail, every time I reclaimed my utensils, his smile would brighten to a godly grade of heavenly light.
How typical, I thought.
Eventually he evolved enough to attempt verbal harassment as well. “What kind of music do you listen to?” he asked, pausing in his work five minutes after starting. The assigned project involved interlocking shapes filled in with Sharpie in a complex alternating pattern. His drawings were scribbles.
Nothing you would recognize, I thought. “Oh, you know, Phosphorescent … bands like that.” I shot him the tight smile I had perfected in the month of sitting next to him. Leave me alone.
But of course he grinned right back. Stop smiling, I thought. “Never heard of them,” he replied.
“Oh.” I turned back to my project.
After school, I happened upon him among a group of his friends. The posse blocked the hallway with the sheer strength of their number. I pushed my way through the mob, clutching my books tight against my chest as I muttered, “’Scuse me, ’scuse me, please don’t notice me.”
“Hey, it’s Cassidy!”
I looked up. Girls clung to him like in a cheesy music video with some mainstream rapper. But his bright blue eyes were on me.
And for a moment, as they sparkled like sunlight glittering on the surface of the ocean, like he was, I don’t know, glad to see me, or something, those eyes caught my interest.
“Huh? Who’s Cassidy?” The celestial being that formed his left flank tilted her head prettily.
So I shied away, hiding myself in the glare of the other shining divinities. Caught my interest? In what way are those eyeballs interesting? It’s not like they’re that unique or anything, and the ocean-sunlight simile was hardly original. Stupid Cassidy.
“Cassidy Markham. She’s in my art class, and she’s really good,” came his cheerful rejoinder.
I didn’t see his expression, but I could picture his immutable smile.
His actions were easily predictable that Wednesday. He grinned and asked about my family. And Thursday he positively beamed as he demanded information on my hobbies. Friday he put his face an inch from mine and refused to budge until I gave him my phone number.
I should have said no, I thought to myself the rest of the day. I could have said no. But the memory of his eyes and his voice and his grin and his breath – soft and warm on my skin as he coaxed – was enough to suggest that no, maybe I couldn’t have.
The next morning I felt strange. Uncomfortable, itchy from the inside, like my subconscious had done something my conscious mind wouldn’t appreciate. Like I’d just had a dream I was better off not remembering.
Doing my utmost not to recall a thing, I lay on my bed and checked my Instagram for the first time in months. I scrolled until a picture of him and his dazzling friends (posted by our one mutual acquaintance, a cute girl I hadn’t spoken to in a year) filled the screen. It was clear that they were close, he and his otherworldly associates, and they were smiling. He was smiling. Beaming. Through my mind flashed an image of the collection streaking across the sky in Apollo’s chariot, the source of the world’s light.
I closed the app. Why do I have an Instagram, anyway? Aren’t I supposed to be counterculture? My fingers tightened around the phone until my knuckles turned white. I can’t even remember why I …
I looked at my phone, the one that I’d owned for just a few months. It was a decidedly conformist iPhone. And suddenly I realized I was never so single-mindedly allegiant to the counterculture until the day he smiled at me.
Oh. I stared blankly at the phone. I get it now.
I considered my background, which I had changed to Vampire Weekend just this past week.
I’ve been making excuses, huh?
The screen faded to black. For five minutes I had been goggling, but only one thought was forthcoming.
I guess I’ve just been scared.
The display flared to life of its own volition, and I nearly fell out of bed.
Heyy its me :) read the new text message. His first time texting me, and he didn’t even bother to leave his name.
But I knew who it was, and, though it irked me, I knew that the emotion responsible for the swelling in my chest was more than irritation. I knew that, somewhere along the line, these feelings had expanded past the point of viable suppression or ignorance. And, most embarrassingly, I knew my heart rate wasn’t going to slow anytime soon.
I scrolled up and hit Call. And when the voice at the other end tickled my ear, I said, “Hey. It’s Cassidy.”
And he said, “What’s up?”
“Um,” I replied eloquently, and wondered what exactly had possessed me to be so spontaneous. He must be rubbing off on me. “Just, you know, wanted to chat.”
It was quiet for a full second.
Then he laughed; I let the trapped breath out of my lungs. “You’re hilarious. I’m glad you called, ’cause I literally just woke up, and you were in my dream. It was crazy.”
I clutched the phone with both hands. They shook. His eyes and his smile and now his voice were in my head, image and sound ricocheting off the walls, the extent of my own honesty driving me to the point of distraction. His eyes are beautiful. I love his smile. His voice makes me weak.
“Cass? You still there?”
“Cass,” he said.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. You, uh, dreamed about me?”
“Yeah, it was crazy!” I could hear him crack a grin even over the phone. “You wanna hear about it?”
I thought about his friends, the gods and goddesses. I thought about myself, Cassidy Markham, a spineless, sort of counterculture girl with, apparently, an embarrassing (and growing) interest in someone who was, well, out of my league.
And I thought about him and his infinite brilliance and his endless questions and his continual smiling. “You’re hilarious,” he had said. “She’s in my art class, and she’s really good,” he had said. “What kind of music do you listen to?” he had asked.
And now did I want to hear about his dream?
“Yeah,” I murmured. Then I straightened. But that wasn’t enough. I stood up, right on the bed, my head two feet from the ceiling, my brows furrowed in defiant determination, and I proclaimed to him, to his shiny friends, to the entire world, and to myself, “Yeah, I’m interested!”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.