School was getting tougher. We were given quizzes every week in Calculus, and I struggled to keep up with them; Ms. Mallery in Psychology had assigned the class a heavy-duty research project due in a few months; Mr. Malmgren, who had been fairly lenient on our senior English class, was making us do book reports; and the Physics quarterly exam was coming up right around the corner. And not to mention that I still had band to deal with.
At least the football games were finally getting interesting, as I learned which of those blue and white action figures on the field was Stephen and started watching him.
When we weren’t at practice or at games, Stephen often came to my house after school or I would go to his so we could do our schoolwork together. Thanks to him, Calculus was making more sense, and my quiz scores were improving. He even let Reina come study with us a few times, because she needed the help in math just as much as I did.
He kept his seat next to me in Physics and in Art, and it just became as natural and casual as with any of my other friends. He probably would have hung out with me at lunch, too, if he didn’t have a different lunch period than me.
Everything just started falling into a normal, quintessential pattern. I hadn’t seen that Asian guy since that day on the bus. And, as more and more days passed, I started doubting my reasoning from before. Maybe it really was just a coincidence that he got on the bus with us and then followed me off. Maybe he really did live around here somewhere, in my neighborhood. And maybe my boredom-induced, science-fiction-crazed mind had just perceived the situation in the way that it would be most exciting. That was possible…
Stephen asked me out a second time at the end of September.
“All we ever do is study together,” he said one day while we were doing Physics homework at his house. “We haven’t actually been able to get out just to hang. So after the game on Friday, why don’t we go see a movie or something?”
For some reason, it made me uncomfortable that he was asking me out, for it once again brought up the question, “Do I like him?” He and I had become friends, and I liked his personality and sense of humor. And, try as I may to delude myself, I was attracted to him. But I didn’t want to get distracted from what I really wanted… What was that again?
But, then again, what would it hurt if I did like him? Would it really be so horrible allowing myself to get close to someone who wasn’t the flawless dream guy from my favorite book series? Surely I had come to know by now that not all mortal men were like my deadbeat dad. At least Stephen would be a break from normalcy, from the monotony. And just because we went out a few times didn’t mean that anything would come of it, so I really had nothing to contemplate this hard about.
“Sure,” I answered at last. “It will be nice just being able to hang out for once.”
“Sweet! And I’ll even let you choose the movie,” he said.
Despite myself, I got excited when Friday came around. When I went home after school, I tried to make myself look as cute as I could without looking like the cheerleaders I hated.
While I was looking in the mirror in the bathroom, I heard the front door open and shut, followed by the jingle of keys being tossed into a purse.
“You’re home early, Mom,” I said as I went into the kitchen where she was digging around in the cupboards.
“Oh, yeah, I have to cook for the guys at work tomorrow, so they let me off early to get a head start,” she said.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here so that I can tell you not to pick me up after the game tonight.” I leaned up against the island as I talked to her. “Stephen wants to take me to a movie tonight, so I probably won’t be home until pretty late.”
“Hmm, you’ve been talking a lot about this guy, and yet I’ve never met him,” she hinted.
“You want to meet him?” I asked snidely.
“Well, if you’re going to be spending so much time with him, I think I should.”
“Mom, you’ve never met most of the guys I hang out with,” I pointed out.
“Yes, but this guy is obviously different. You don’t spend personal time alone with your other guy friends.”
“Fine, you can meet him,” I said before she could say anymore; I didn’t want her second-guessing at what Stephen and I might do when we spend time together. “He’s coming to pick me up at five-thirty. You can see him then.”
She smiled contentedly and continued about her business in the fridge. I went into the living room and threw myself on the couch to watch TV while I waited for Stephen.
Right at five-thirty, Stephen knocked on the door.
“Hi, you must be Stephen,” Mom said when she opened the door.
“Oh, hi, you’re Crimson’s mom,” he said. “I was wondering whose car that was in the driveway.”
“Why don’t you come inside,” Mom invited.
“Oh no, Mom,” I said, jettisoning off the couch and darting for the door. “We actually have to get going. Don’t want to be late. Okay, bye.”
I pulled Stephen’s arm outside toward the car.
“In a hurry?” he asked as he unlocked the car.
“I just saved your life,” I said. “If you had come inside, she would have kept talking and talking, and we’d have been late for the game. That alone would lead the coach to kill you.”
He laughed. “Yeah, he would kill me.”
Once at the school, we parted ways and I hurried to the band room to get ready.
I tried to make the game go by faster mentally, but it wasn’t working—so I wasn’t psychic. After the game was over, I sprinted back to the band room to change out of my uniform and back into my street clothes. Then I hastened to Stephen’s car in the parking lot to wait for him.
“I thought you’d beat me here,” he said as he approached.
We both got in and he headed for the cinema on Broadway. When we got out to look at the playboard, I spent three minutes deciding on a movie. I didn’t want to see a romance movie, because that might complicate things. And I didn’t feel like a horror film. So I picked a comedy; that was neutral enough.
He bought the tickets and we went inside.
The movie was actually really good, and we had a lot of fun. I was really glad that I did this, and it wasn’t weird or awkward, at all.
Until we got to my house.
He stopped the car on the curb in front of my house. Then he moved in as he always did to hug me. But this time, when he pulled away, he only pulled away enough so that his face was close to mine. I saw the glint of his hazel green eyes inches from mine and I froze, all parts but my lips helpless to react when he kissed me.
At first, all I felt were his lips. But then, as nervous as I was, I opened my mouth and felt his tongue take advantage of the opportunity. His tongue danced around slowly in my mouth, as my tongue struggled to keep up with him.
But finally, I drew backward and closed my mouth, and he pressed his lips softly against mine as a formal conclusion.
We stared at each other for a moment after that. I could feel the blood burning beneath my cheeks. My hand fumbled for the handle, found it, then opened the door and I stepped shakily out of the car.
“Goodnight,” he said, and waited for me to get to my door before he drove away.
I couldn’t help myself. Over the weekend, I told my girlfriends about it. I couldn’t get over the fact that he kissed me. I had never kissed a boy before, and I had been caught totally off guard on Friday night. Robert was jealous, of course, yet at the same time, he encouraged me to go further.
“Robert!” Reina and Amber scolded at his suggestion.
“What, I’m just trying to help,” he said.
“Telling her to give it up to a jock is not helping,” Amber chided.
Everyone was quiet for a moment as we lay across Amber’s bed.
“We haven’t hung out together for weeks,” she suddenly complained. “We should do something fun.”
“Yeah, we should,” Robert agreed. “I need a break from all those tests.”
“What should we do?” Reina asked.
“Oh, I know!” I said, sitting up on the bed. “We should go to Madera Canyon! Next weekend!”
“Yeah, good idea,” they all said together.
“Great! I have been dying to go there ever since Labor Day,” I beamed. “We’ll need to get chips and soda and make sandwiches, and bring a cooler to put it all in…”
“And leave the dessert up to me,” Reina said. “I’ll bring stuff for s’mores.”
We started planning our little hiking escape for next weekend, all excited to be getting as far away from school as we could get.