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Pennies This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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“What about the minute chance that we actually survive senior year and this summer?” I said.

“That doesn't seem likely,” Julie said.

“But what if it happens?”

“Stop thinking so much.”

“I don't think I want to date in college,” I said.

The thing I've always liked/hated about Julie is that she is an absolute pragmatist. She isn't romantic, and it's reassuring to know exactly where I stand at any given time.

So many of Julie's behaviors have both a light side and a dark side. Because of this, I always imagined her personality as a penny. I couldn't have heads and not tails. I couldn't have pragmatism and logic but also sentimentality and romanticism.

But I can never forget that I was the one who spoke the words that broke us up more than a year later. The simple phrase “I don't think I want to date in college” turned out to be so much more significant than I ever thought.

And yet, I had broken up with her before.

I couldn't always stand Julie's degree of detachment. I was tired of always trying to reach out. I was disgusted that I felt so far from her after a couple months of dating and years of friendship.

When she told me nonchalantly that her youth group was the only reason she was glad she didn't graduate early, I was frustrated and jealous. But most of all, I was done.

I tried to talk to her about it, but it wasn't going anywhere, so I gave up. I was breaking up with her because I was unhappy and didn't see any other choice. I could only see half of the penny.

As I sat with her in my car outside Borders, ready to say those final words, a truck crashed into us. I should have taken it as a sign. God was clearly pissed. Instead we broke up a week later, and I started to date someone else a month later.

This was not my proudest moment.

A month after that, my new relationship turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and mercifully ­imploded. I took some quality alone-time.

Months passed, and then Julie and I arranged to meet at a local café to talk about everything that had happened. As I approached her, I caught her scent and a tremendous weight hit me in the chest. I stopped walking. I was frozen.

I guess what I was perceiving was shampoo, because Julie is an all-natural kind of girl. I couldn't stand it when she wore makeup, which thankfully she only did for dances. Makeup looked like plastic on this girl's face. Perfume would only have been a further insult.

I can't begin to outline all the memories that small sensory reaction set off in me. My heart beat in different directions as my mind raced. I thought several things, the most important being that Julie had loved me as best as she knew how, and that was all I could have ever asked for. I had more faith in this fact than I had in God, and I knew that I wanted her back.

Weeks later I told Julie, for the first time, that I loved her. I hadn't said it in the six months we had dated. In fact, I had never said it to anyone else. I ­always hated the way others threw that term around. I wanted it to mean something. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol played in my head – “Those three words, said too much, but not enough.”

I think that she had been waiting to hear it. It must have counted for something because, miraculously, we tried again.

At heart, I'm far more of an emotional person than Julie. She is the logical one, the cold one, the thinker. Our biggest arguments have been about whether it is better to be guided by our minds or our hearts. Clearly, we were not normal.

But what bothers me is the thought: what if I am not the emotional one? What if I am the cold one? What if I am everything I argued against? What if I am a penny too and my personality has its own dark side that must accompany what's good about me?

Trying again was hard. During the school trip to Europe, we weren't back together yet, but I was sick and she took care of me. When we walked into stores, we played a game. I would pick out her top three favorite articles of clothing, and if I got one right, I won. I was actually fairly good at it, because Julie's style is pretty simple. She likes bright clothes with flowers and anything with a Spanish influence. Her clothing reflects her personality.

Toward the end of the trip, we walked into one store, and I was trying to describe how a shirt would look on her. I went on and on about her body type and how it would make her look beautiful, and suddenly she kissed me on the cheek. It was so powerful that I was speechless.

It took months to get back together from there, but I always consider that innocent kiss the turning point. We talked about the future during my time in relationship purgatory, and that's when I told her I didn't want to date in college. Little did I know that this statement was both more innocent and more significant than Julie's lips on my cheek.

I asked myself, “What do we live for, if not to make memories, despite whatever pain may come of them?”

If it wasn't some inherent warmth that made her take me back, then she must have been either dumb or crazy. Logic should have told her to run. But she gave me a second chance. She loved me far better than I loved her. In our relationship, we were certainly two sides of the same coin. But which side was me and which side was her? Am I cold or caring?

If I had ever asked Julie this, her first question would have been “Why am I a penny and not a quarter? Is that all I am to you?”

But here's what I know. Julie found a penny on the road heads-down. She turned it over to make it good luck. She made me better.

The summer before I left for college was the best of my life. Our relationship was exponentially stronger than it had ever been. She was my best friend and my first love. She put up with my quirks and I had faith in her love. I don't think I had ever had faith in anything before I had faith in her.

She and I traveled over the summer. We camped near Frank Lloyd Wright's “Falling Water” because Julie was interested in architecture. I remember watching “Toy Story 3” at a drive-in and being thankful that no one but Julie could see my man-tears at the end.

We drove to Charlottesville, down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Myrtle Beach, and then to the Outer Banks and Chapel Hill. It was 75 degrees on the last day of our road trip. We were listening to the radio and I had the T-tops off my freshly waxed Firebird and a Slurpee in my hand.

“Why does everything keep breaking?” I yelled.

“You mean in our relationship?” Julie asked.

“I mean in my damn car. Relationships can be healed. My car requires time, pain, and money. You're relatively cheap.”

“Why did you buy a 13-year-old Pontiac?”

“Because it's awesome,” I replied.

“Well, the CD player is skipping, the pop-up headlights don't work, we don't have turn signals, we can't open the trunk, and the sun visor just fell in my lap.”

“We don't really need the sun visor. Although the CD player is unfortunate. Plus I have a tool kit and I'm a future journalism major,” I coolly added. “What could possibly go wrong?”

She just shook her head and turned up the radio.

“The car's still moving, we have one sun visor, and I'm with you,” Julie said. “Everything's okay.”

I thought for a second and then replied, “Like I said, you're relatively easy.”

We had our moments and our chemistry, freaks though we may have been. And it was, to summarize, a damn good day.

I popped in a mix tape and Semisonic's “Closing Time” blared through the speakers: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”

My summer ended when I watched the girl I loved leave for college. I did not know the meaning of bittersweet before that moment. I did not know how easily our love could dissipate. I cannot forget that it was me and not her who spoke the words that broke us up twice. I have not yet been able to figure out whether I regret giving in to cold-hearted logic.

More significantly, I do not know which side of the penny this makes me. I hope one day I will be sure that I made the right choice, but throughout this first year of college, my mind has been awash in regret and indecision every day.

The lyrics to “Closing Time” echo continually through my head.

“I know who I want to take me home. Take me home.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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