Minutes seemed to tick by at an agonizing slow pace Friday, and I tried everything I could think of to distract myself from this afternoon. When lunch finally arrived, the day now half over, I expected it to go faster.
That didn’t happen. Instead of counting the minutes to the end of last period, I began counting the minutes to when Elijah might show up. It was the longest forty minutes of my life, but worth it when he walked in again fifteen minutes earlier than his usual (twenty minutes before the end of lunch), causing my heart to leap into my throat. It didn’t help when his gaze slid my way for a split second, his lips twitching towards a smile before he was gone seconds later, his friends behind him snickering.
I couldn’t breathe.
Did he really just send a smirk my way?
“Dude, did you SEE that?!” Autumn exclaimed. Slowly, I looked at her, and slowly my brain became painfully aware of how that had really happened.
“Wait, you saw…”
“Elijah give you a grin as he passed, yes!” She was looking so excited.
“Stared right back.”
“So he saw…”
Her smile began to wane. “You’re looking panicked.”
She wasn’t wrong.
Elijah wasn’t supposed to, like, see me staring at him. His friends no doubt told him about it, I’m sure he knew, but like…I don’t know. It was different when the subject of your crush actually fully sees you staring at them. Oh god, what have I done?!
I felt a hand on my arm and jumped at the touch. It was just my sister; her hand stayed.
“Hey,” she said soothingly, “it’s okay, Luke. I’m sure he’s flattered.”
I shook my head. No, he would not be flattered. He’d be horrified. He was simply nice enough not to show it…around me.
I folded my arms on the table, and let out a groan as I rested my head against them. It was all over now.
I stood outside those theater doors later on, knowing what…or rather who…would be on the other side. My anxiety-riddled brain went through scenario after scenario of what could happen the minute I stepped through those doors, all of them unpleasant, all ending with everyone in the theater laughing and making fun of me.
Reality: I walked in, and nothing happened. Nobody looked up, Elijah least of all. He didn’t start in on how someone like me dared to crush on someone like him. Nobody pointed, nobody laughed. The only significant thing that happened was the director expressing his relief that I was here. I didn’t dare look at Elijah as I headed towards the back of the stage. Oh, it was going to be a long afternoon.
Around five, the director called all of us, cast and crew near the stage, to “try something new” as he put it. What it entailed, much to my horror, was the cast was to run lines with people they’d never run lines with before, which involved the crew. He left us to pair off and everyone in the group found a partner, except Elijah…and me. Apparently he’d already run lines with the crew outside of class, having taken initiative to challenge himself creatively (that was insanely attractive to me).
“Is there really nobody here who’s never run lines with Eli?” the director asked.
That’s when Elijah’s gaze fell on me.
That’s when my brain realized the truth.
I was the only one.
I stood absolutely frozen in fear.
The director noticed Elijah’s stare, and looked at me. He began to smile.
“Found him?” He asked, looking back to Elijah.
He nodded, his eyes seeming gentle, though his expression serious.
Oh god, I chanted in my head, oh god, oh god, oh god…
“Alright, guys! Get to it!”
Cast and crew spread out through the theater; Elijah headed towards his bag on one of the theater seats in the front row. I remained, still frozen by the steps to the stage, knowing I should move so he didn’t do all the work but literally unable to. He approached slowly, holding two scripts, looking like he felt as awkward about this as I did, but then, in a blink of an eye, he offered a smile, a script, and said:
“I don’t bite, you know.”
I forced a laugh that sounded too obviously forced, took the script, and said:
“I know. I’m just…not good at…uhm…”
His eyes grew softer still with total non-judgmental understanding.
“All you gotta do is read the cues. I have them highlighted as such.”
I opened the script and saw what he meant.
I could do this.
…If I didn’t focus on the fact that I was standing two feet away from the one guy in the whole school that I had a massive crush on. Heh. I could …totally do that…yeah.
“So, we’re going to, if you don’t mind, start with scene three. It’s the one I have the most trouble remembering.”
I nodded, found scene three, and saw I started first with a cue; and so we began. My hands shook so badly and it took everything I had to get them to stop, not that it really worked all that well.
By the time we got to the end of the script though, about forty minutes later, I had relaxed and realized I was having a little bit of fun. I got to watch his expressions up close, marveling over how beautiful each and every one of them was. I got to see what he looked like when he was concentrating. I even got to share some laughs with him when he got lost in the moment and over gestured or spoke too loudly. His passion was limitless. His passion was marvelous. I was completely enthralled.
Just as we finished the script entirely, the director said it was time for the cast to come back together for more practice. Truthfully? I was sad by this. Nonetheless, I went back to work; it was hours before we were done for the day.
When that came, a glance at my watch told me it was nearing nine in the evening. I mean, it was Friday, so that was okay homework-wise, but still, it always shocked me how late we went sometimes.
Just as I was about to head up the aisle to leave, Elijah approached me near the front row that was (with your back to the stage) off to the left, sending my heart massively aflutter.
“Hi,” I said quietly, unable to hold his gaze for long.
I’d noticed the warmth in his expression, though.
“Hey. So, I had a lot of fun running lines earlier.”
I looked at him, utterly shocked. He’d had fun? With me??
There was no way.
“How?” I blurted. Immediately I regretted it and didn’t know how to rectify it.
He laughed. “That right there is how. You’re not a snob. You don’t judge me for not knowing my lines already. And you don’t try to out-act me. Don’t get me wrong, I love this group, but a lot of them are insanely competitive.”
I’d noticed. This time I kept my silence; who knew what other stupid thing I’d say?
“So, anyways, I wondered if you…maybe…wanted to go again tomorrow? Outside of school?”
My heart became far too loud. I barely heard myself agreeing over that and my mind instantly panicking over this.
“Yeah?” he looked…was that relief? “I mean, that’s great!”
I was so confused.
“Don’t most want to practice with you?”
He shrugged, his expression shutting down a bit. “It’s Saturday, most want to be having fun on the weekends which really sucks because there’s a lot of lines to memorize and not a lot of time and I—”
“I’d be happy to help any way I can,” I interrupted, immediately once more berating myself. “Sorry, that was rude.”
He smiled a little bit. “I appreciate it, though. I. Uhm. I guess we should exchange numbers?”
Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, God.
You need to breathe; a voice in my head reminded me.
Easier said than done, I retorted.
With trembling hands that I hoped he didn’t notice, I offered him my phone so he could put in his number. When he offered me his phone afterwards, I felt like I was going to pass out. Was this really happening?? Or was I daydreaming again?
With my number in his phone (which I had to triple check to make sure I’d put it in right, I was so nervous), I handed it back and pocketed my phone. I completely blanked on what to say next.
“So, thanks for your help today.” God, his eyes were so blue. “I’ll text you later?”
“Are you going to the dance?” I asked then.
He blinked. “There’s a dance?”
At first I thought he was being serious and couldn’t understand how he’d missed all the posters. Then he grinned, and I realized he was pulling my chain. I really needed to get a grip.
…That sounded wrong.
Oh, crap, now all I could think about was—
Luke! I yelled at myself.
I forced a laugh; aloud to him I said: “You got me!”
He was smiling now. “Seriously, though, yeah, I was thinking of going even though I don’t have a date.”
I bit my tongue so hard on that one, refusing the desire to ask him myself. No way was that ever happening.
“You’re the most popular dude in the school. Everyone’s gonna be thrilled that you showed up. Plenty will dance with you.”
He nodded. “You’re right. Are you going?”
“I wasn’t planning on it.” His look of surprise had me adding on: “Because I have social anxiety and…it’s just…”
“Oh, I understand. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen you at any of the dances.”
I nodded at him. “Social anxiety.”
He smiled yet again, his eyes were so kind, and his lips looked so soft. I bet he was a good kisser.
“You helped me today, so I wanna help you. Will you grant me one dance tonight?”
And there went my breathing again.
“Y…you want to…dance…”
He nodded. “It’s a lot of fun, I promise.”
“Yes, they will give me shit, but it’s my life, and you should experience at least one high school dance.”
Oh god. Oh god.
Oh. My. God.
Now I had to be hallucinating.
Then he touched my arm, sending me further into my frenzy. “Please, Lucas?”
I heard myself saying “Yes, of course, sounds like fun,” before I could think up an excuse as to why I couldn’t.
Elijah beamed, looking so adorably thrilled. What is air??
“Okay. I need to go home to change but I hope to see you soon.”
I just…nodded and he walked away.
As soon as he was gone from the auditorium, strength left my legs and I collapsed into one of the seats, breath heaving out of me. My hands were shaking so badly, my whole body was, actually, and there was only one person in the whole world that I could talk to about any of this: Autumn.
It…just...took me several minutes to get my fingers to work to text her to pick me up.