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The hallway swam with adolescents exasperated and apathetically digressing toward their next destination. Down the clogged arteries of teenage society, I strained to see above the bobbing heads. I clutched my books to my chest and dove around each impassible body, eyes searching. Each footstep bringing me closer. Face after face, my anticipation teased at my heart. As I neared the long staircase, I leaned over the banister. Copper coils of a wild mane drifted into my eyesight, blocking me from a great visual of human overpopulation. Impatiently, I tucked what I could of the great mess behind my ear and forced my eyes to see clearer into the crowd flowing down the steps. Nothing. My feet patted down the stairs as quickly as my peers would allow me. Reaching the landing, my head whipped left to right to left. My eyebrows knit together. Where was he? My instinct directed me to the right and around the bend. Leaning against the wall, smiling, effortlessly dazzling his audience, I finally found him.
My eyes whispered to my heart of the great discovery, and it leapt with joy. My ticking brain took a deep breath. Every inch of me calming. I watched him enchant the small group that had gather around him, waiting patiently for him to see me. I felt a smile stretch across my lips. I remembered when I was hopelessly captivated by his silver-tongued stories. I had lost count of how many times I rolled my eyes at his ridiculous tales and jokes. As his spectators laughed at his antics, his gaze drifted down the corridor toward my direction. I flung my hand in an awkward wave, trying to not grab the attention of the wrong hurried soul. His lips shared with me the glistening smile I had been craving to see. I tried to suppress my own smile. After all, I had a tough guy image to uphold. At the intimidating height of 5’3”, attitude was my only defense against the morons of this Earth. I couldn’t be throwing that doe-eyed naïve smile around everywhere. However, my heart was very persistent and a tiny smirk escaped. I dropped my head to hide it and he lifted himself off the wall, excusing himself from his heartbroken fans. Each cast a jaundice eye in my direction as they departed. I fought the urge to stick my tongue out at them. I watched him stroll closer to me.
“Well, hello there missy.” He baited.
He slid his arm over my shoulders and pivoted to be next to me. I clutched my books closer, trying to keep my heart from bursting through my chest.
“Sorry to interrupt your adoration. I honestly thought the one girl was going to start drooling.” I countered.
“I saw that too. Thanks for giving me an excuse to leave. That would have just be uncomfortable for all involved.” He joked.
“Happy to help,” I replied.
“My God is it hot in this hell hole. You’d figure we pay enough to go to this damn prep school, they could at least afford some air-conditioning.” He adjusted his already loosened tie to relieve another button of its service.
It was hot. The sun didn’t make it any better. I slid my sunglasses off the top of my head, while he flipped the towel obnoxiously next to me.
“Whenever you’re done being three years old, I need your help putting sunscreen on my back.” I pleaded.
“I don’t know, babe. Maybe you shouldn’t put any on. I mean it physically pains me to look at your skin. You’re so pale, the light is actually reflecting off of you.” He jeered.
“Nevermind. I’ll just get it.” Eye roll #593.
“I’m just kidding love.” He stretched across the space between our towels and kissed my bare shoulder. “I don’t care if you’ve caused children to go blind with your pastiness.”
I smacked his chest and felt his body vibrate with laughter. I tried to retreat to my towel, but he grabbed my arm and pulled me into his.
“I love you,” he sang into my hair. My sunglasses were jumbled across my face. Toughness was faltering and a smile was stretching across my helpless mouth. He continued to kiss me until I couldn’t contain my laughter.
“Stop!” I protested, suddenly very conscious of the multitude of people surrounding us.
I broke free from his arms and searched across the glimmering water at the middle-aged overweight pool-goers. Everyone was in their own world.
“I’m ignoring you.” I said, pretending to still be angry. Mettle restored. I placed earbuds into my ears, not bothering to untangle them. No one has that much time in a day to untangle earbuds.
“Fine, I’m getting a pretzel.” He leaned down to get money out of his bag and snuck a kiss from my cheek. I watched him strut to the food stand. I shut my eyes and relaxed into the healing sunlight.
From behind me, I heard the high-pitched laughter of girls that inhaled too many hair product fumes. I, then realized I had no actual music playing to drown them out. However, their conversation was interesting, in a “Oh my Lord, how has Natural Selection not taken care of you yet?” kind of way. I resisted the need to fidget in order to convince them I was not in any way, shape, or form listening.
From what my ears were able to gather, there were three girls. One was snacking on something rather loud. Chips, perhaps? Another was brushing her hair, I could tell by the painful sound of hair being ripped out with the force of the brush. I’ve experienced this far too often. I couldn’t have mistaken it. The last one appeared to be the sister of Chompy, just tagging along.
Chompy stated, “I mean I’d expect that in like the ghetto or whatever.”
Her intelligent friend Tangles chirped, “Yeah, like I thought this was a nice neighborhood. It a shame it’s basically fallen to s***.”
Chompy retorted, “I mean honestly, like that’s just disgusting.”
The tiniest Tagalong added, “Yeah, like can’t they find someone of like their own kind?”
Under the shade of my sunglasses, my eyebrows began to meet in confusion.
Tangles mocked, “ Like can you even imagine what their kids would look like? Like I’d be so mad if my kid looked nothing like me.”
My head slightly turned to make sure I was hearing correctly.
“Yeah like and he’s so dark and she’s so pale, you wouldn’t even be able to tell it was her kid.” Chompy joked. The airheads rewarded her with laughter that could break the sound barrier.
Heat took over that was no longer from the August sun. The fire spread from my angered heart to my clenching fists and then finally springing my legs into standing. My neck snapped behind me. Glaring at the jackasses before me through the tinted shade. Their charming laughs became silent. An internal battle began within myself. What to say, what to do, how many years of prison was it all worth. I forced myself to walk away, abhorrence and disgust gripping my throat. I stomped to the food stand to seek the only source of calm I knew I could rely on. I watched the glittering water and the ignorant people splashing, each in their own paradise. Footsteps approached me with pretzel in hand, easy smile. Fire doused.
“You alright there bud?” He questioned.
“Just peachy.” I stoically answered.
I slipped my arm around his and our elbows fit perfectly within each other. I watched him from the side of my eye. Disgusting? Different? I saw happiness and a mouthful of pretzel. Past his handsome visage, a flash of water caught my attention. Then, the eyes caught my attention. Sunglasses protecting me from their sharp gazes. My head snapped away from their hostile eyes. But, I noticed everyone was staring. I checked to make sure I wasn’t having a wardrobe malfunction. Then, I checked my phone to make sure I was in the right year.
A leathery hand squeezed mine. The gentle pressure brought me out of the nightmare. His dark eyes glowed with light. The eyes that knew me. The eyes that comforted me, praised me, challenged me, loved me.
“Are you okay, love?” his soothing voice questioned.
“Yeah, just thinking.” I answered with a smile.
Hip to hip, we strolled through the sea of mindless exhaustion. Hearts leaping and laughing. Joy in a sea of bleakness. We are different, and I thank God we are.
San Francisco, California
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