Cole and I sit at a lunch bench in a shaded area, the leaves from the tree above casting a patternedshadow over us and the grass. His long legs cross at the ankles, stretching a few feet out onto the lawn. A few inches of empty air is occupying the space between our thighs, but his shoulder leans heavily against mine as he looks around and there’s a chorus of angels singing in the clouds. My heart is racing. I really hope that he can’t hear it.
He looks at me and grins, folding his hands over his lap. We don’t say anything for a while and it feels so awkward. Am I supposed to talk first? What should I say? I smile back at him and look away. I can’t. I’m so nervous! I’ve never felt this way before. If Kelsey were here, she’d know what to do. Between the two of us, she’s the boy expert, having been dating since the fifth grade. She’s had plenty of experience to be a guidance counselor for socially awkward girls everywhere.
Back in the ninth grade, there was this guy named Aaron who I had the biggest crush on. He found out that he liked me too, so we started hanging out quite often. Then, one of Kelsey’s friends had a party and Aaron invited me to go with him. I was hesitant at first, but Kelsey urged me to go, even came along with one of her other friends. So we all went together and about two hours into the party I found Aaron making out with Josie in the kitchen. Josie is such a man stealer. She tries to get a hold of any guy a girl in our grade likes. I was stunned, shocked that I hadn’t seen it coming.
The next day Aaron tried to tell me that he didn’t know what he was doing, that someone had slipped some alcohol into his cider, and Josie just pounced on him. I wouldn’t have any of it, telling him that I was over it and it was no big deal. We haven’t talked since then.
“You so quiet,” Cole says, nudging me. “What you thinking about?”
“Oh,” I say, not looking at him. “Nothing. The shadow makes the grass look pretty.”
“Yes. Very pretty,” he says.
I nod and watch the shadows of the leaves sway with the wind. It gets quiet between us again. I really wish Kelsey was here.
I still see Aaron around school and sometimes we make awkward eye contact. Over the last two years he grew into himself, his shoulders more broad and his legs much longer. Last I heard he’s almost six feet. He acquired a bit of bad acne too, looking as if a squirrel clawed at his face.
Cole’s skin is impeccable, not a blemish in sight. It’s so smooth, like the skin of a baby, and his blond hair flows with ease, like the currents of the ocean. They’re long and crash together at the back of his head.
“Has your hair always been blond?” I ask him, and then bite my tongue. Think before you speak!
He grins, runs his hands on his thighs. “Yes. But I want to dye black. My mom says yes, next week.”
“Black will look nice.”
“Thank you.” He looks at me and plays with my hair. “Your hair always brown?”
“Yeah. It’s so boring.”
“Not boring,” he says, shaking his head. He twists my hair into little knots and they fall out in waves. “Very beautiful.”
“A lot of girls have brown hair,” I say, looking at him.
“No, yes. But yours is pretty.”
I feel my cheeks heat up and he smiles at me.
“Look, it’s Christian,” he says.
I look at where Cole points, and there is, indeed, Christian. He sits on the other bench across the lawn, watching me. He smiles and waves. I stretch my arms over my head and, without really thinking about it, flip him off. I see him smile, feigning shock, and forms a heart with his hands over his chest.
“What he doing?” Cole asks. He looks up at my hands and I put my finger down before he could see. I can’t believe I just did that. I never do that.
“I don’t know. He’s annoying.”
“Did teacher let you switch? He not your partner anymore, right?”
“Mr. Flounce didn’t let me,” I say, looking at him. His face shows the disappointment that I feel. “It’s okay,” I assure him. He only nods and looks at the ground.
I curse Christian. He’s always there, like he’s stalking me. Everywhere I turn I see him.
“Do you…want to move?” Cole asks me, hanging on to the strap of his satchel.
Instead of picking on a spot, we walk around the yard, cringing in the presence of the sun, shielding our eyes. Every time we encounter the sun I have to look at Cole because his eyes crinkle as he cringes and it makes the butterflies in my stomach go crazy. I just want to touch him every time I look at him, brush my fingers over his lips every time he speaks with his Korean accent.
Cole has a baby face, which I think is what makes him so desirable. I could picture him with the black hair, when he walks through the halls looking like a total bad boy.
We walk down the halls which are mostly empty. Some freshman wander the halls alone, still looking scared of this place a month into the school year. I wonder if I ever looked so scared when I was a freshman. That’s when I met Kelsey. For about two weeks, before I met her, I would wander the halls alone and sit at vacant lunch tables alone, scrolling through my phone to make it look like I was busy.
P.E. was the worst class I had that year. I was always picked last for teams when we would play volleyball or capture the flag, and whenever we had running days, I would run the mile by myself, watching everyone run with three or four of their friends. Luckily we were able to bring out our iPods on running days so I always focused on the lyrics instead of my loneliness.
One day, the P.E. instructor decided to play a new game, flag football. Kelsey was chosen as one of the team captains. I was surprised when she chose me first. At first I just looked around because I wasn’t really listening. I had assumed that I would be picked last again, so I wasn’t paying attention when Kelsey continued to call my name.
“Hello! Earth to Melinda!”
I had turned to look at her and she impatiently waved me over, mouthing yes, you! I made my way over and stood beside her, and as she called on other people for her team, she had her arm strung around my shoulders as if we were already friends. And I guess in some way we were. That’s what she made it seem like. It was easy to get comfortable around her after that. We would always go to lunch together and wait outside of each other’s classes when the bell rang after school. We’ve been tight ever since. Sometimes it still baffles me.
The bell rings and Cole looks at me, the expression on his face totally unreadable. “You okay?” he asks me.
“Yeah. Where’s your class?”
“We have together, remember?” he says, smiling at me.
I close my eyes. “Oh, duh. Sorry.”
We try to make our way through the now crowded hallways, squeezing past freshman and the rowdy sophomores. Cole and I head to our last class of the day, Environmental. The teacher always allows us to play musical chairs, so no one has a designated seat and Cole sits next to me in the back. I start pulling stuff out of my backpack and my sketchbook falls out. Cole already has it in his hand as I’m reaching for it. I blush, say thank you and try to straighten the pages that got bent when it fell open onto the floor.
“You like to draw?” he asks, looking at the sketches over my shoulder.
Instinctively I close the notebook and he sits back, looking a bit upset. I never show people what I draw, not even my mom, who claims to be my biggest fan. But how can you be a fan of something you’ve never seen? I have full faith in you she always says to me. I’m not sure about that faith.
“Yeah I love to,” I say, giving him the most apologetic smile I can manage. “I’m not very good though.”
“Can I see?” he says, tugging at the corner of the notebook.
“One day,” I tell him.