Where she came from I didn’t know. Maybe she had just moved to our little brain-numbing patch of sprawl west of Syracuse, NY. Maybe I’d just not noticed her at school before, but that seemed unlikely.
Or maybe she had descended from heaven. This theory was backed up by the glow that was emanating from her. It was like traces of stardust were being released from her wavy hair into the world of mortal men every time she moved her head to giggle at one of the girls she was with.
“Are you going in, man?”
I didn’t answer.
“Matt, you heading in to get those smokes, dude?”
Chas’s question seemed to be coming from behind a thick pane of glass. It was meaningless. I would never smoke another cigarette if that’s what she wanted. Or I’d smoke every last goddamn one on the planet if that was her wish.
“Uh, yeah, you should probably go in. You know, just to make sure you’re almost straight or whatever.”
He hesitated, which I took to be a silent calling of bullshit, but after a few seconds he started across the street.
What would I say to her? Best not to think too long. Just go.
But she was with three other girls. And they seemed more sinister and threatening than the owner of Korky’s Pool Hall. Fuck.
I had always hated this. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred I would have stood there and waited for Chas to come out with the cigs and then continued walking. Maybe find his friends who supposedly had a hefty bag of weed. The safe play.
I could see Chas inside, fumbling with the cigarette machine, probably terrified that the owner was going ask him for ID before our precious box dropped into the tray.
I looked at her again. Maybe it was some confidence I had gained by convincing Chas that I was some sort of enlightened misfit, the fact that he had dug the handful of poems I had shared out of my notebook, I don’t know. But something other than my own volition catapulted me across the street toward that circle of girls.
When I was halfway across the street our eyes met. At least I think they did. Time was suspended. We were “bodiless apparitions in the eternal sea of night” I wrote in my notebook the next morning.
I couldn’t feel my feet moving but they must have because before I knew it we were almost face to face. The other girls around her were a burst of obscure light, of staticky noise. They could have been the annoying dinging and flashing of the pinball machines inside. It was just her and me in empty space.
But then the world came into focus.
Jesus! What the hell was I doing? I was just standing there. All I could do was keep my eyes on hers, trying to look as much like a mysterious poet as I could.
The faces of the other girls came into focus. And they were all staring at me. I felt paralyzed. Had I come this far just to geek out? I had to say something.
Her lips, tucked into an amused smile at first, began to descend as awkwardness overtook the situation.
“I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you.” I had never said anything with more confidence and poise in my seventeen years on Earth. I flipped my dark curly hair back and kept my eyes on hers.
“Uh, weirdo,” I heard her friend say.
I ignored her. “But, uh, I guess you might have a little say in that too,” I said.
“I don’t know, seems like you’ve already made up your mind,” she said.
“That’s true. Either way I’m going to write a poem about you tonight.” I took half a step toward her. I heard a collective gasp. I was pretty sure her friends were either swooning or thought I was the biggest dork of all time. Either way I didn’t care.
She seemed to be holding back a blush, like she was unwilling to give me the satisfaction of reading her just yet. Or maybe she wasn’t sure how to react.
“How do you know I’m not the world’s biggest bitch?” Her smirk now matched mine. She started putting her hair up into a ponytail.
“I don’t know, maybe you are. But it wouldn’t keep me from wanting to know everything about you.” She blushed for real at this.
“Is this loser for real?” someone said.
“What’s your name?” I asked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her friend cross her arms.
“Go for a walk with me.”
“I’m with my friends.”
“Uh, so am I. We can all go.” I looked right at the girl who’d called me a weirdo. “That’d be pretty cool, right?”
She might have sighed “whatever” but I was already making my way across the street. When I got to the other side I peeked back to see them conferencing. Chas was practically running out of Korky’s brandishing the pack of smokes like a trophy.
“What’s up? We going to find my buddies, see if they still have some nugs?”
“Change of plans,” I said without taking my eyes off of Jenna. I didn’t have to wait for the results of the conference. Something told me she’d follow me anywhere.
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