By Laura Horton
I sat in the corner desk in every classroom with my legs contorted to fit curled onto the seat with me. It’s likely that no one, save the teachers who tried to drag commentary from their ‘A’ student, would remember me from my classes my freshman year of high school. The corner hid me from the bothersome boys who were too cool for homework and their giggly groupies who together laughed at the quiet boy in the front row with the giant backpack and the turtleneck sweaters. I sat in the corner, filling my margins with hearts and scribbling the names of boys I obsessed over but with whom I would never dare to speak.
I had friends – good friends. They were not invisible. They knew me before I started camouflaging myself with the walls. Liz was a churchgoer with a love for dirty dancing and explicit rap lyrics. She made no apologies for the contradiction. We were lunch friends, movies friends, beach friends. We were not hang-out-with-boys friends because I didn’t hang out with boys. I sat in my corner and watched other people hang out with boys. She knew from experience that dragging my along wouldn’t change that.
Liz dated this boy, Lewis, for a bit. They were totally wrong for each other; it was one of those we’re-both-cute-let’s-date relationships – doomed from the start. I didn’t think I would even need to get to know him, but Lewis and I started talking eventually. We didn’t have real conversations; we just exchanged words occasionally. He wanted to be friends with all of Liz’s friends. I didn’t really want to buy into the charade, but he was a hard person to brush off. He was genuinely nice –the kind of guy who can wink and not simultaneously be the creepiest guy ever.
After they broke up, Lewis didn’t stop talking me the way all of the other boys Liz dated did. He would sit next to me and ask me about the book I was reading or the song I was listening to, or he would walk to class with me if we were going in the same direction. The next school year we had lunch together, and he would wave me over to his table. At first I was just an extra body, listening and not participating. After a few weeks, I started to feel comfortable enough to say something occasionally. Usually I was correcting someone, or helping someone think of that word they couldn’t remember. I always said it with a slight smile, so I didn’t appear condescending.
One night, late in the spring of my sophomore year, I was lying on my floor, flipping through photo albums and listening to Death Cab for Cutie, when my phone rang.
“Hey it’s Lewis.”
“Oh, uh, hi. What’s up?”
“Nothing, just felt like talking to you.”
“Oh, err, okay.”
“So did you hear the Pope died?”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“I’m not Catholic,” he said.
“I know. Me neither.”
“It’s weird though, because like, all my friends are Catholic because I went to Catholic school and stuff, so all their families are like, devastated.”
“Yeah, I can imagine. All my Italian neighbors have their flags at half-mast and stuff. I guess he was a pretty good Pope though. I mean, I don’t know what makes a good Pope, really, but like, he was pretty progressive with international relations and stuff. I heard he was the first Pope to enter and pray in an Islamic mosque.”
“Yeah, he was the man, I guess. But yeah, I don’t really want to talk about the Pope.”
“Me neither. How was soccer?”
We talked. We talked for hours. About sports, about school, about family, about nothing, about everything. Talking to him was like breathing. I had never before been so unguarded. I was born to keep secrets, but not from Lewis. For the first time, I wasn’t just listening; he let me talk.
We went to the movies. The movie was awful, but he kissed me. It wasn’t my first kiss, nor my first kiss with someone I liked, but it was a good kiss. It made a forgettable movie my favorite for a few weeks; certain scenes kept running through my mind. Like the one where Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz first meet because Lewis held my hand, or when Matthew McConaughey lost the satellite phone because that’s when Lewis turned my face toward his.
We went to a carnival the next weekend.
He didn’t do the top-of-the-Ferris-wheel kiss or win me any plush toys, but he made me laugh.
Then someone at school asked me if we were going out.
“Um, well, I mean, we’re just, together I guess. Nothing . . . official.”
And then another person.
“Oh, well, no, not exactly.”
Then another boy asked me on a date.
“Err, well, I’m kind of seeing Lewis, sorry.”
Lewis called that night. He was flustered. “Have you been telling people we are going out?”
“No, but people have been asking.”
“What do you tell them?”
“Just that, I don’t know, that we’re nothing official.”
I was silent. I was fuming. It hadn’t bothered me until that moment that we didn’t have a label. I had been completely content with the nothingness until he seemed so complacent to not change.
“I think I’m gonna go to bed.”
“Wait, err, I mean, it’s just that . . . well, with soccer season I’m busy and I guess I just don’t want to feel obligated to. . .”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be an obligation, Lewis.”
“Golly, no Lewis, it’s just swell that you call at all, I don’t mind being a pity case.”
“You know it’s not like that.”
We were fighting, or I was fighting while he was apologizing. Either way nothing was being resolved. The entire relationship, I had been waiting for him to tell me it was a joke, that he could never actually like me because I was supposed to be invisible to people like him. I was done not challenging anything. He wasn’t perfect either. “I’m gonna hang up, Lewis. We’ll talk tomorrow.”
But we didn’t talk the next day, or the day after. It wasn’t until eight days later when I finally got the nerve to approach him. In those eight days I picked him apart in my mind. I hated that he thought his music was better than anyone else’s, and that he wore his velour sweatpants in public. I was armed so that when I looked him in the eye, I had the strength to tell him that I didn’t want any part of whatever this was anymore. He only tried once to change my mind.
Later that week, I sat down for lunch with a friend from class and got pulled into a conversation about sailing. One of the kids mentioned that he had gone out in really nasty weather the previous weekend. I smiled and told a story about a hailstorm I had been caught in on my sunfish and how I had ended up washed up on a private beach whose owner threatened to call the police on me. They were hypnotized.
The conversation went on, and at the end of lunch, one of the girls, Christina, invited me to her boat party that weekend, promising to cancel ahead of time in case of hail.
The heat of summer arrived later than usual that year, but at its onset I was prepared with my sunscreen, string bikini and summer reading. I lay on the beach digging my toes into the sand and twitching my nose to see my sunglasses move. On my left, Liz had fallen asleep reading Sense and Sensibility, and on my right, Taylor, a girl I met at Christina’s boat party, had started to draw in the sand with her pinky.
“God, you guys are such slackers,” I sighed.
Liz groaned out of her nap, “Whatever, librarian-lady, we’re allowed, it’s summer.”
“Besides,” Taylor added, “If there weren’t people like us, we’d all be honors students, and how dull would that be? You’re the smart one here.
You read your book, I’ll make my sandcastles. You’ll make money, I’ll marry rich.”
“Well fine, but don’t sign any pre-nups.”
Taylor shook her head, and Liz stood up, brushing the sand off of her arms. “Yes ma’am, lawyer-lady. Swim?”
The days started getting shorter again, and with the start of the new school year came the welcome home parties for the campers and travelers.
I walked into the basement of the house of a nameless, faceless hostess with my recently acquired boyfriend, Nick. There was an epic struggle to master Dance, Dance Revolution, which we failed to win, but we had the room laughing along in our awkward missteps. As the beginner level mocked our failures one last time, he pulled me into an exit, stage left. I wrapped my fingers in his t-shirt and turned around to kiss him just in time to see Lewis and his new girlfriend walk in. He looked at me as though I was supposed to be afraid of him, but even though I was anxious, I couldn’t have forced the smile off of my face. In our brief moment of eye contact, he smiled back at me, and winked. It was not at all creepy.