A couple of hours later into the evening, I answer the knock at my front door to see Tony Paulson standing there.
“How was the rest of your shift?” I ask him.
“Riveting,” he says sarcastically with a smile.
“Oh, the life of a cashier in Hartford City.”
“Nothing beats it,” he says shrugging.
He follows me up the stairs to my bedroom where I have all my artwork.
“Is your dad home?” he asks. “Will he care if I’m up here?”
“He would care if he was here but no, he’s at work. Like he always is.”
“I saw him at the pageant. He was sitting a few rows away from me.”
“And I disappointed him beyond belief by losing. I don’t want to discuss it.”
“What about Doug… your boyfriend?”
“Pause. When did that happen?”
“Very recently. I couldn’t deal with his nonsense anymore.”
“If I’m being completely honest, this is another topic I’d rather not discuss.”
“Alright, alright. Sorry.”
I don’t know if or when I’m ever going to be ready to talk about my break up with Doug. The twins certainly didn’t understand it and trying to explain it to anyone who was never directly involved seems impossible. On paper and in pictures, Doug and I appeared to be the perfect couple.
Young, attractive, in love, graduated from high school together, etc. The list goes on. Us being together just made sense. Now that I’ve decided to end things with him, it seems like something that I have to suddenly try to explain to everyone around me. It’s not fair that I should have to dignify my reasons for not wanting to be with him anymore. It’s obvious that he and I aren’t on the same page about the important things in life. When your girlfriend is distraught over something tragic, don’t try to convince her to give you a blowjob. The fact that he even thought to do that totally blows my mind.
“You’re an inquisitive one, aren’t ya?” I ask.
“Always have been,” Tony says shrugging.
“What are your plans now that high school is over?” I ask.
“I got really good grades in high school but I only applied for a small handful of colleges,” he tells me.
“Ball State here in Indiana, of course. Bloomington also… And UCLA.”
“UCLA in California?! That’s amazing!”
“I applied sort of as a fluke. I didn’t expect to get in.”
“Well are you going to go?”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty content with my life here in Indiana. I really like where I live. I like the peace and quiet. I like my job at the store. It just kind of suits me here.”
“You don’t find it to be extraordinarily boring?”
“Trust me, I do. But there’s beauty in the absence of action.”
“What are your plans now that high school is over?”
“Doug and I made plans to go to the same local community college here together but now that he and I are done, I really have no clue anymore.”
“Do you want to go to college?”
“I mean I’m not opposed to going. School doesn’t interest me but since I have no real direction in life and I’ve now tragically become a washed-up beauty pageant loser, college might just be the ticket.”
“You are far from washed-up.”
“You don’t have to sugarcoat with me. I know my reality.”
“Once again, I’m not sugarcoating anything. How can you be washed-up at 18 years old? You’re barely just getting started.”
“Crazy we’ve been in school together since the first grade and this is the most amount of talking we’ve ever done.”
“It’s not like I didn’t want to talk to you more before.”
“Really? Well then why didn’t you?”
“Social circles I guess.”
“You were always part of the popular crowd and I never was.”
“That’s no excuse. You still should have talked to me if you wanted to talk to me.”
“Fair. Well, why didn’t you ever talk to me?”
“This is going to sound really mean but... I’ll still be honest with you anyway. I guess I never really… noticed you. Like, obviously I always knew you were there. I always knew you were around. It’s not like you were invisible or anything like that. But you were just… unnoticeable I suppose. If that makes sense.”
“Yeah… that was definitely mean,” he says, taking a deep sigh.
“Not a big deal. You were always busy with Riley and Ruthie when we were all growing up. And then towards the end of high school you were always busy with Doug. It’s understandable.”
“I hope I never came across as one of those shallow mean girls we see in movies.”
We stand there in silence for a minute, mentally rehashing high school and the school years below that. Strange times.
“Can I see your artwork?” he asks.
“Oh… yeah. I have a bunch. Hold on a second.”
I pull out my stack of large portfolios and hand them over to Tony. He sits down in my desk chair and begins flipping through everything I have.
The main thing I have been drawing over the past few years are fashion designs. I keep my favorite female celebrities in mind as I draw. I imagine Lady Gaga wearing my designs at an award show. I envision Megan Fox rocking my designs for a photoshoot.
After about ten minutes of sifting through everything, page by page, Tony looks up at me.
“You can’t be serious,” he says with a look of concern on his face.
“Um. What do you mean?”
“You’re letting THESE collect dust in your bedroom? You can’t be serious.”
“So… you like them?”
“Nora. Your ideas are so incredible. You can’t let these waste without going anywhere.”
“Okay. Well… what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. But you have to get these out there for the world to see.”
“There’s this fashion designer I really look up to. She’s an executive who runs a fashion line and magazine in Los Angeles. Her name is Mary Ashford… she would be the person I would want to show these to.”
“Okay, then you have to go to her.”
“It’s not that simple. She’s a high-level fashion executive located in Los Angeles which means that getting a meeting with her is most likely… not even possible. And I can’t afford a splurge trip to LA anyway. I would never ask my dad for that kind of money either. A round-trip flight, a week-long hotel stay, food, Ubers to get around, and everything else would come out to like… at least $1,000 if not more. I don’t have that.”
“Then I’ll help you.”
“I don’t have that kind of money myself either because, as you know, I’m a cashier at a convenient store. But I will help you raise the funds.”
“You’d do that?”
“Of course I would.”
“But why? Why the sudden interest in me and my designs?”
“Let’s just say… there’s really nothing sudden about it. I wasn’t aware of how incredibly talented you are, but my interest in you is far from being something 'sudden.'”
He likes me. It’s wildly obvious. I decide to play coy.
“Alright. What ideas do you have for me when it comes to raising this money?” I ask.
“I have a good one. But I need to talk to my boss at the store first.”
After he leaves my house for the evening I sit on the edge of my bed and wonder: How was someone like Tony Paulson so unnoticeable to me before?
What type of shallow, superficial, surface-level world was I living in this entire time not to notice him? He is a really nice guy.