By: J.D. Wills
Copyright © 2016 by J.D. Wills
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Table of Contents
My name is Tim, but that’s not important. Her name is Sarah, and that is important. This is the story of how we fell in love. Or really, this is the story of how one of us fell in love with the other. We don’t need to concern ourselves with the details of whether or not that love is requited at the current moment. That’s not the point.
The point is that Sarah and I have been friends for a long time, and sometimes you know someone so well that you never think about them in a romantic way until one day you become aware that all along you two are perfect for each other but you don’t realize this until it’s possibly too late. That’s what happened with us. We grew up together. I call her my Day One (since we’ve known each other since day one) and she calls me her FSD (friend since diapers). So yeah, we’re pretty cool.
Our moms tell us we had a lot of play dates together when we were little. They say we’ve been best friends since we were toddlers. I don’t remember much of that, but I do remember middle school because it was the first time having the right friends mattered.
In elementary school, everyone is friends with everyone and it’s whatever. No one cares. Then, out of nowhere you turn eleven and there’s cliques and peer pressure and certain places you can and cannot sit in the cafeteria. It’s all absurd of course, but that’s how it works. Thankfully, Sarah and I stuck together in middle school. We sat next to each other on the bus, had the same class schedule, and hung out together outside of school. Honestly, she saved me from myself because I’m more awkward than most teenage boys (which is saying a lot), and there’s no way I would’ve been able to manage making new friends.
I guess that’s the one difference between Sarah and I. She’s not awkward at all. In fact, I’ve never met anyone better at making friends than her. I don’t really know what makes people like her right away, but they just do. Obviously, she has a lot of great characteristics. She’s nice, funny, smart, sensible blah blah blah, but there’s something different about her that people always notice. Everyone in school knows her name, the teachers adore her, and even the janitor stops and talks to her in the hallway. That’s how Sarah is. She’s the girl who can make friends with the janitor, the principal, the cafeteria ladies, the teachers, the students, and even me.
I think there’s a lot to be said about a friend who sticks with you through middle school because everyone knows those three years are usually the worst of your life. I blame puberty. There’s no way to get through it unscathed. Even Sarah went through the ringer with her braces. She had to sleep in headgear. How hilarious is that? I still make fun of her for it. Of course, only I knew about the headgear, and I never told anybody about it. Not that it matters though. Everyone likes Sarah so much I doubt they would’ve made fun of her for it.
If you think about it though, that says a lot about Sarah. I’m the only friend in her life who can make fun of her. It’s always been our love language I guess (if two friends can have a love language), but I don’t know. It’s not like we are mean or anything. We just poke fun at each other. The way only really good friends can. And because we’ve known each other for so long we know exactly what buttons we can and cannot push. Her dental headgear is fair game, but so is my general awkwardness. It all evens out.
It all changed when we got to high school. That’s when I met Eve. She really threw a wrench into everything.
In her defense, Eve is hot. Tall, blonde, legs, eyes, the whole thing. All of it. Either she is an angel, or puberty was so bad for her that God made her look the way she does now as an apology for making middle school miserable. I didn’t know her in middle school, but one way or the other she must’ve come into contact with heaven at some point to look as good as she does. All I know is that I’ve never been the guy that hot girls talk to, or even notice for that matter. Sarah constantly has guys asking her out though. She always says yes to the first date, but no to the second date. I don’t know why. And whenever I ask her she makes up some lame excuse as to why it didn’t work out. Too tall, not a good listener, weird ears, tried to kiss her on the first date. Stupid stuff like that. I, on the other hand, have never been on a first date.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What a loser. First off, no. I hang out with Sarah all the time, so it’s not like I’m incapable of talking to females (although some have—incorrectly—argued otherwise). I just don’t have a girlfriend. It’s not a big deal. Lots of guys my age don’t have girlfriends. Now, would I like a girlfriend? I mean, yeah obviously. If the opportunity presented itself I wouldn’t turn it down, but I’m not hunting for a girlfriend like all the other guys in school are. I’m not like that. I’m patient…or scared. I don’t know. One of those two things. Whatever.
I’m digressing. There’s one other thing you need to know so I can catch you up on this story. In middle school, Sarah and I had all the same classes, but the high school we go to is way bigger and now we only have 1st, 4th, and 6th period together. It’s not the same as it used to be, but we still see each other a lot, so neither of us complains. What has happened after sitting next to each other in so many classes over the years is that we’ve become pretty good at passing notes back and forth. Sarah has about ten million pads of sticky notes, and that’s what we use to communicate during class. It’s easy because Sarah takes a lot of her actual class notes on sticky notes (another incomprehensible fact about her), so even when teachers catch us passing notes back and forth they think we’re just sharing class notes. It’s really brilliant I think, but I came up with the idea, so I’m unavoidably biased.
Anyway, Ms. Adkins, our Lit teacher, is so old that we could write notes on poster boards and pass them back and forth without her noticing (we still use sticky notes though because they’re cheaper than poster boards). It was 1st period in her class when this conversation took place on one of Sarah’s pink sticky notes.
S: I saw you talking to Eve before class
T: I can confirm that your eyes are working
S: I can’t believe I used to think you were funny…soooo what’s with Eve?
T: What do you mean? And you still think I’m funny don’t lie
S: You have heart eyes for her. I can see it.
T: You can’t prove that
S: Yes I can. You’re face got red when you read that
T: Do you think it’s weird that red and read are pronounced the exact same way?
S: You’re dodging. I think it’s weirder that read can be pronounced two different ways depending on the tense
T: Same with lead
S: You’re not going to answer my question about Eve are you
She crumbled up the note and put it in her backpack after that, and a few minutes later the bell rang. As we walked out of class, I found myself alongside Eve with Sarah a few paces behind us. I started flirting with Eve (if that’s what you can call it) because I don’t know what else to do around her, and we were only fifteen feet outside of the classroom when Sarah brushed between us and walked briskly down the hallway.
It’s interesting. The only difference between girlfriend and girl friend is a little space. I guess that’s profound if you think about it. I sure didn’t think about it until now, but had I known that one of us was beginning to breach the space between girl and friend, things could’ve turned out differently. Who knows, maybe they still can.
Before you hate me for flirting with Eve and ignoring Sarah, you should know Eve is more than just some hot girl. She is exotic.
There are two middle schools that feed into the high school we all currently attend. Part of what makes high school so crazy is that you get used to going to school with the same people, then all of a sudden your class size doubles. Not to mention you go from being the oldest in the school to the youngest in just a matter of weeks. It’s a very tumultuous time.
Anyway, Eve is from the other middle school, meaning she is from a completely different world. We met on the first day of classes because we have first and seventh period together. We were the only two who used our optional period to go to the library. I went there because I like reading books. She went there because she likes looking at the pictures in magazines. I know those aren’t perfectly compatible reasons, but it was enough for us to at least be in the same place at the same time.
I guess you could say we hit it off from there, which is a phrase I’ve never used to describe any interaction with a girl apart from Sarah. It’s a weird phrase if you think about it. “We hit it off.” It doesn’t make any sense at all, but that’s what happened. I was reading The Chronicles of Narnia and she asked me if I thought I was a little too old to be reading children’s stories. I asked her if she thought she was a little too young to be reading Seventeen Magazine. She laughed and my heart beat faster.
Love at first sight is a nice idea, but I think love at first laugh is a lot more realistic. Although, if I’ve learned anything about love recently it’s that I have no idea what I’m talking about when I talk about love.
After Lit class, Eve and I walked to our second period classes being all flirty and stuff. Our relationship is exactly as awkward as you would expect a week-long relationship between two fifteen-year olds to be—but it’s awkward in a cute likeable way. At least, I think it’s likeable. I don’t know. Flirting is, objectively speaking, pretty stupid. All I do during those walks between classes is try to make as many jokes as I can without saying anything inappropriate or offensive. That may not be the best way to approach humor, but it works for me. As we walked down the loud linoleum hallways, she laughed at most of the things I said and I grew an inch taller every time she did.
I told her I’d see her later as I walked into my Spanish class and she continued down the hall to her class. Had I been paying more attention to my surroundings and less attention to Eve’s legs as they walked away, I probably wouldn’t have turned directly into my Spanish teacher, Señora Hayes. This wouldn’t have been a terrible collision except she was carrying a large stack of our graded homework assignments, which she then dropped all over the floor. What made it worse was that when I knocked all the papers out of her hands, the one with my name landed on top of the pile where I saw a, now familiar, red F. What made it even worse was that it was Señora Hayes.
With any other teacher, I could’ve apologized profusely and everything would’ve been fine, but that wasn’t going to fly with Señora Diablo (her lesser known pseudonym). Partly because she hates me and partly because I don’t know how to properly apologize in Spanish. I actually don’t know how to properly say anything in Spanish, which may explain why she hates me. The problem about not being a fluent Spanish speaker is that Señora Hayes doesn’t allow anyone to speak English when in her classroom. Yeah, I know. She’s insane. I managed to mumble “lo siento” a few times while I helped her pick up everything, but I didn’t dare try to say anything more and I could feel her glare on the back of my neck as I stumbled towards my desk.
I’m definitely going to end up failing this class, but the silver lining is that I sit next to Joe in the back. Joe is a year older than me, and he’s taking Spanish for the second time—“numero Segundo” according to him. I barely know the guy, but we’ve gotten along pretty well since I noticed he was reading Ender’s Game (one of my favorites) before the first day of class. I’m not the outgoing type, but I sat next to him and asked him how he liked the book. We talked about Ender’s Game until Señora Hayes made us aware of her Spanish only classroom, and we’ve been friends ever since.
We’re not best friends of course. I mean, I’ve only known the guy for a week, but we share an equal appreciation for each other. Having close friends would be great, but to be honest it’s not too bad to have someone who you know likes you the same amount as you like them. That’s Joe for me. Also, he’s older and a lot cooler than me, and I’ve decided those are two good characteristics. He does this thing where he spins his pen around on his thumb in the back of class over and over again without dropping it. You probably need to see it to understand, but trust me. It’s cool. He’s cool.
Anyway, he didn’t bother hiding his laughter as I finally made it back to my seat after helping Señora Hayes pick up all our homework.
“Are you always that smooth?” he whispered. You had to whisper at all times because even though class hadn’t started yet, Señora Hayes would still yell at you for speaking English.
“Shut up,” I replied, too loudly.
“Timoteo! Que conoce las reglas,” she said from across the room. “No Inglés.”
“Lo siento,” I said.
“How did she hear you?” Joe asked. I looked up to see if she had heard him whisper, but she didn’t seem to have noticed. Joe sat there spinning his pen.
“No sé,” I said. I know three Spanish phrases: I’m sorry (lo siento), can I go to the bathroom? (¿puedo ir al baño?), and I don’t know (no sé). I use the three of them often and without hesitation.
“So you and Eve…” Joe said.
“Why does everyone keep asking me about her?”
Joe looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. “People wouldn’t ask if there wasn’t something to ask about.”
I didn’t respond because I knew Señora Hayes would hear me and because I didn’t know what to say. The truth is I didn’t know what was going on between me and Eve. I had zero experience with this sort of thing. Eve was only the third girl I had ever held multiple full-length conversations with (Sarah and my mother being the other two), and I didn’t exactly know what that meant.
The rest of Spanish class passed with Señora Hayes lecturing on the present subjunctive tense. Six students said “no sé” when called on, two said “puedo ir al baño” also when called on, and three girls said “lo siento” when they were overheard whispering in the back. Other than that, no one made a sound. Joe and I walked out of class together and that’s when we had one of the most enlightening conversations I’ve ever been a part of.
“Seriously though, what’s going on with you and Eve? I see you guys together every day before class.”
“I legitimately don’t know.”
“Well what phase are you in?”
“What does that mean?” I was worried Joe would realize how completely oblivious I was in the ways of women, but I knew I could only fake competency for so long. Plus, I was worried that if I didn’t get help soon, I was going to ruin whatever it was I had going for me. “We might be in the honeymoon phase I guess.”
“Ha! You wish.”
“I didn’t know there were any other phases to be honest.”
“Oh, there’s way more. I don’t know why everyone always talks about the honeymoon phase like that’s where all relationships start. There’s so much more. See, you really start with the ‘second introduction’ phase. This is where you may have met before, you probably follow each other on social media, but you’re nothing more than acquaintances who wouldn’t know what to talk about if it was just the two of you in a room together. I’ve found that the second time you formally meet someone usually clears up the confusion and makes you more than acquaintances but less than friends.”
“I didn’t know there was a middle ground between acquaintances and friends,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” responded Joe. “Then, after you get past the second introduction there’s the “you’re pretty but I don’t know how to tell you that without seeming aggressive and/or creepy” phase. I’ve been there more times than I can count. It’s a terrible place to get stuck.”
“How do you not get stuck there?”
“It’s actually pretty simple. You just have to force yourself to the next phase. The “make her laugh and don’t let her find out how weird you are” phase.”
“Oh. Yeah, that’s probably where I am.” I tried to sound aloof during this conversation, but I was feverishly taking notes in my head.
“Well that’s good then. The make her laugh phase is the last phase before you can ask her out on a date. After the first date, there’s a bunch of other phases before the honeymoon phase, but the worst will be behind you.”
“So, I should ask her out then?”
“Do you make her laugh?”
“Do you like it when she laughs around you? Don’t answer that. Of course you do. Does she know you’re weird?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then yeah, you should ask her out.”
“Cool, asking her out doesn’t sound too hard.”
I’m not sure if my cavalier voice fooled Joe, but I knew I was lying before the words even came out of my mouth. Well, I guess I was only partially lying. The truth is that asking Eve out didn’t sound hard. It sounded terrifying.
“I still don’t understand why there are so many phases you have to go through,” I said as we continued walking. The hallway was crowded with students between classes. Lots of people were going to their lockers to get different books, but mostly kids were just standing around talking. High school hallways are like rivers where half the fish forgot they’re supposed to be swimming in a certain direction.
“Do you play sports?” Joe asked.
“Then you have to go through all the phases.”
“You mean if I played sports I wouldn’t have to?”
“Yeah. Athletes are exempt from the general rules of adolescent romance.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
“No, it doesn’t, but I didn’t make the rules. Look man, I gotta go, but you should ask her out.”
“Alright, I will.”
I don’t know why I told Joe I would ask Eve out. I was not nearly as sure of myself as I pretended to be. I hadn’t even committed to that idea in my head, but here I was saying it out loud as if it was as simple as deciding between chocolate and blueberry muffins in the cafeteria (obviously chocolate). I needed to ask someone for help, but the person I would usually go to in this type of situation is Sarah. She’s all around smarter than me, so I always go to her when I need help. She’s also really good about being helpful without being patronizing, which makes it easy to ask her about anything I don’t understand.
Anyway, I don’t understand women and seeing as I wasn’t going to see Sarah until 4th period, I decided to text her during Biology. Now, I don’t normally text in class. I think it’s rude to the teachers. Also, my Biology teacher, Mr. Henderson, has a very strict rule about not texting in his class. He does this thing where if he catches someone texting he takes their phone from them and reads their texts out loud to the entire class. It’s always super embarrassing for the student who gets caught, but super entertaining for the rest of us. Normally, his class is the last one I would ever text in, but I sit in the back left corner and we have tables instead of individual desks. There’s no way for him to see under the tables and he never walks to the back of the room, so I figured I was in the clear.
After the bell rang, I pulled out my phone and texted Sarah.
T: hey i need your help
S: whats up
T: its about a girl
T: i wanna ask Eve out but idk how. what do i do?
That’s when my whole world came crashing down around me. I don’t know if it was the dead silence of everyone in the classroom or the slight sound of breathing behind me that alerted me to Mr. Henderson’s presence over my shoulder, but either way it was too late.
“Tim, it appears you have something you’d like to share with the class,” he said.
“Umm…no sir. It’s nothing. I’ll put it away sorry.”
“I don’t think so Tim. You know the rules.”
“Yes sir, I just think it’d be best…”
“Do you want to read it out loud, or do you want me to?”
“I want to crawl into a hole and die,” I mumbled.
“I didn’t quite catch that Tim.”
“Now Tim, don’t be selfish. Whatever conversation you were having on your phone must have been much more important than whatever I was talking about, so I think it’s only fair that we all know what it is that couldn’t wait until after class.”
Mr. Henderson’s sarcasm usually made me laugh, but right then I wanted to throw up. I slowly handed him my phone and watched as he walked to the front of class with my life in his hands as if he were a surgeon—with each step I could feel the scalpel pressed a little harder into my chest. This was one of those moments when I knew something was about to happen that people would never forget. Joe has this friend that everyone calls Pants. When I asked Joe where the nickname came from, he told me that when they were freshmen another kid pulled down this kid’s pants in front of the varsity cheerleaders. The kid who did the pants pulling was suspended for a few days, but the nickname Pants had been around for over a year. I didn’t even want to think about what nickname I might get stuck with after this.
By the time Mr. Henderson reached the front of the classroom I had sunk so far down in my seat that my chin was even with the top of the table. This was it for me. I was going to have to drop out of school and transfer somewhere abroad. Probably Australia.
“Let’s see what we have here,” Mr. Henderson began. My forehead was now even with the top of the table. “Text from Tim to Sarah ‘hey i need your help.’ I think I could’ve helped you Tim, but oh well let’s see what she says.”
The worst part about Mr. Henderson reading texts out loud was his commentary. As if what the actual text message said wasn’t bad enough, he made sure you were thoroughly humiliated. “She responded, ‘whats up.’ I’m not an English teacher, but I would like to point out that she forgot to include an apostrophe and a question mark here. I do wish you guys would use proper punctuation when texting.”
Everyone was laughing now. I remember being on their side when Mr. Henderson was reading someone else’s text. His cruelty was funny when you weren’t on the receiving end of it.
“Alright Tim, let’s see what it was you needed help with.”
I began packing my backpack to walk straight out of class as soon as he finished reading. I didn’t even care if he kept my phone. I was going to walk straight home and never show my face in this building again.
“Text from Tim…” I started wondering what the public school system is like in Australia. I would need to adopt a cool accent like them in order to fit in. Put anotha’ shrimp on the barbie. Dingo babies. I figured it’d be best to start practicing right away.
“‘It’s about the geometry homework.’” My head shot up and I saw Mr. Henderson looking back at me. “Well Tim, I can’t say that your geometry homework is super interesting or pressing, nor is the rest of the conversation on here. How about we get back to my lesson and you can have your phone to worry about your geometry homework after class.”
I nodded my head, not sure what to say. Mr. Henderson had just saved my life.
I spent the rest of class furiously taking notes in hopes that my attentiveness would in some small way convey my gratitude. I don’t know why he did what he did, but I hung back when the bell rang so it was just the two of us in the classroom. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but I needed to somehow thank him for not ruining the next four years of my life.
“Tim, just walk up to her in person and ask if you can take her to dinner and a movie. That’s all. Don’t overthink it.”
“And one more thing,” he said, walking towards me to hand me back my phone. “Please don’t ever text in my class again.”
I had to wait for everyone else in the class to leave for Mr. Henderson to give me my phone back, so I knew I was going to be late to my next class, but I didn’t care. Mr. Henderson. My savior. Who would’ve guessed? I will be turning in every Biology homework assignment on time for the rest of the year…or at least the rest of this week.
As I walked down the hallways towards my next class, I couldn’t stop touching my back pocket as if to double check that my phone was really there. Eventually, I remembered that I hadn’t even looked to see Sarah’s response. I clicked the home button, but the screen popped up to show no notifications. Sarah is normally pretty good about responding to my texts, but I didn’t think much about it. Honestly, I was too relieved to have my phone, and its contents, safely in my hand to think much about anything. This relief was short-lived.
I totally forgot about my math test.
Mrs. Martinez, my teacher, is one of my favorite people in this school. She’s really cool and almost like a friend, but there was no way she was going to let me out of this test. I knew I was one of her favorite students, but that wasn’t going to save me now. I didn’t have a chance. Here’s the thing: algebra is my kryptonite (if you’re willing to think of me as Superman for the purpose of this metaphor). I’m okay with numbers. I’m good with words. But when you put letters and numbers together, I’m completely hopeless. Solve for x? What does that even mean? Whoever came up with the idea to combine letters and numbers deserves to die a slow and painful death. Not to mention there is no feasible way I will ever use any of this information in the real world. At least teach me about how to pay taxes, or what a mortgage is. Stuff I know has value…On second thought, I don’t want to learn about that either.
Anyway, there was one way I could buy some time.
Fourth period at our school works like this: it’s divided into four 25-minute increments A,B,C, and D. You have class for two of these segments, lunch for one, and flex time for the other. It seems complicated, but if you think about it from the cafeteria ladies’ perspective it makes sense. I have AB class, C flex, and D lunch. If I could convince Mrs. Martinez to let me take lunch and flex early, I could use A and B periods to study and take the test during C and D. I wasn’t sure how I would convince Mrs. Martinez of this arrangement, but I had to try.
I rushed into class as the bell rang (not being late was a great start) and walked up to the front of the room. Everyone else was already in their seats ready to take the test, but I stood in front of her desk with my tail placed firmly between my legs, fully embracing the role of teacher’s pet.
“Mrs. Martinez…” I began.
“Are you ready for the test?”
“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Don’t tell me,” she said, looking up from her papers. “You’re not ready either.”
“Yes ma’am.” I’ve found that good manners can get you far in situations like these.
“And you want to use A and B to study, so you can take the test during your flex and lunch periods.”
“Well, I already let another student do the same, so I guess I don’t have a reason to keep you.”
“Really?” I couldn’t hide my shock, but I tried to quickly cover it up with more manners, “I mean, thank you so much.”
“Tim, you should know it’s really too late at this point. If you haven’t been studying, one more hour isn’t going to save you.”
“Yes ma’am, you’re right, but I have to try.”
“Alright, be back here before the bell rings. If you’re late, I’m giving you a zero.”
I couldn’t get out of that class fast enough. I went straight to the cafeteria, ate my peanut butter and honey sandwich in three bites before eating an entire bag of pretzels in thirty seconds, and went to the library. I wish I could say that this extra hour of studying helped prepare me for the test, but Mrs. Martinez was right. It was too late. I went through review questions, study guides, and random scraps of notes I pulled from the dark corners of my backpack, but they may as well have been hieroglyphics. I was drowning in an ocean of letters and numbers that made absolutely no sense to me, but I did my best to stay afloat. If Columbus could find America despite being lost in the ocean looking for India, I could find a way to pass this test…right?
The bell rang too soon. I had barely gone over half of the chapters, but it was all I could do. I walked towards class like a death row inmate walking to the electric chair. My head was down, my feet shuffled, and all I could think was that I should’ve chosen something better than a peanut butter and honey sandwich for my final meal. It was on wheat bread too—what a waste. When I walked into the classroom it was empty except for one girl sitting near the front whose name I did not know. I figured this was the other student who had received an extra study hour. The look on her face was even more hopeless than mine.
I sat down at my desk, put my backpack down, pulled out my pen and calculator, and prepared for the worst. Mrs. Martinez gave the other girl her test, then walked over to give me mine.
“No pens, Tim. You need a pencil.”
“Shoot, sorry,” I responded. A quick inventory of my backpack brought back no pencils. “I’ll just borrow one of Sarah’s,” I said, trying to force a smile and act like I had everything under control.
Algebra was one of the three classes we shared, and we sat next to each other. I knew she wouldn’t mind me grabbing a pencil from her backpack, so I reached over and began rummaging through the front pocket where I knew she kept her pens and pencils. When I pulled my hand out, I realized I had both a pencil and a sticky note in my grasp. As I moved to put the sticky note back, my eyes quickly scanned over the words on it.
S: This test is going to be hard
T: I’m not worried. Mrs. M is too nice to make it that bad
S: I hope you’re right
T: I love Mrs. M
S: I love you
The sticky note was back in her bag and the test was in front of me before my brain registered what it had seen. I remembered that note. It was from class yesterday, but I didn’t remember that last line. I definitely would’ve remembered reading that. When did she write it? It must have been after class or something. I thought back and remembered passing her the note right as the bell rang. She must’ve written the last line as we were leaving and then put it in her backpack. But why? Could that possibly mean what I think it means?
Suddenly, the math problems on my desk were the furthest thing from my mind.
So, I think it’s safe to say I failed my math test. For some reason solving for x didn’t seem like the problem I really needed to solve at the moment. Is it possible that Sarah could love me? I didn’t even know she liked me. I thought she simply tolerated me as a friend. It’s remarkable how much I’ve learned about how little I know today.
When the bell rang for the end of fourth period, I looked down at my test and realized I didn’t recognize most of what I’d written, but I guess you can’t win ‘em all. I turned in my test quickly and decided to get out of there before Sarah came to get her backpack for her next class. I had no idea what I was going to say to her, but I knew if I tried to think of something off the top of my head, it would end in disaster.
On my way to fifth period, my mind was all over the place. Why would she write ‘I love you’ on one of our sticky notes? Was it a joke? Am I in the wrong hallway right now? Is it even possible that she would like me? How do two people who have always been friends suddenly become more than that? Do I even want us to be more than friends? Where is my fifth period class? Is Sarah my type? Do I even have a type? Why am I outside of the school right now? How long has she felt this way about me? Could it be possible that I love her too? What is happening?
I was so distracted by my thoughts that I walked directly into the last person I was expecting to see.
“Oh, hey Tim, might want to watch where you’re walking there.”
“Eve!” (insert any and all curse words inside my head) “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention at all.” As I picked up the books I had knocked out of her hands, it dawned on me that I’m a complete idiot. Who actually walks into someone else? It’s a wide sidewalk. There is plenty of room for everyone. Clearly, one half of the sidewalk is going one direction and the other half another way. This shouldn’t happen…but here we were.
“That’s okay. Where are you going?” she asked. “I’ve never seen you walking this way.”
“Yeah, I’m on my way to history class with Mr. Bordas.” I now realized how far away from this class I actually was.
“Isn’t his class over there?” she said, pointing in the opposite direction I was walking.
“Yes. Yes, it is…I just like taking the scenic route sometimes. You know, stretching my legs, seeing the sights. That sort of thing.” (I’m a moron).
“Oh…cool.” I handed her back the books I had finished picking up.
“Where are you going?” I asked, trying to sound casual as I turned to walk the same direction she was going.
“Hey, how’d your math test go today?” she asked.
“How did you know I had a math test today?” I responded, holding open the door as we walked back inside the school and down a hallway towards our classes.
“You told me yesterday you were nervous about it.”
“Ahh,” at least one of us remembered I had a math test today, “ya know, it wasn’t my best showing.”
“Well,” she said, “you can’t win ‘em all.” As we parted ways to go to our separate classes, she turned back to me and said, “See you in the library later?”
“Yeah,” I replied. Watching her blonde head weave its way through the crowded hallway, I started to forget why I wasn’t following her, but then a voice came up behind me and reminded me where I was going.
“You coming to class, Tim?” It was Mr. Bordas, my history teacher. He is a tall, middle-aged man with glasses. He has short blonde hair and a face that is friendly despite rarely showing a smile. Mr. Bordas is a tough teacher, but he is also the type of teacher you want to succeed for. You want your work to be done well so that he is proud of it, which is the main reason I enjoy his class. I never found history interesting until Mr. Bordas started teaching me why it matters. His fascination with the subject he teaches is contagious.
“Yes sir,” I said, pulling my eyes away from where Eve was walking, “I’m heading there right now.”
“Great, I’ll walk with you,” he said as he followed where my eyes had been looking “Unless there is someone else you’d rather be walking with…”
I watched Eve disappear into her classroom. “No sir.” We started walking towards class. The hallway steadily emptied out as students entered their respective classrooms.
“Tim, can you tell me who the 26th president was?” he asked.
“A pop quiz? We’re not even in class yet,” I responded.
“This won’t be graded. I promise,” he said. “I know you know the answer.”
“Correct,” said Mr. Bordas. “One of my favorite quotes of his is this: ‘In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.’” We walked for a few seconds before arriving at the door to his classroom.
“Mr. Bordas, why are you telling me this?”
“I honestly don’t know, Tim.”
We walked into class, and I took my seat near the front. Whether Mr. Bordas knew it or not, I was definitely in a moment of decision. If Sarah really had feelings for me, I was going to have to choose between her and Eve, which is a decision I didn’t even begin to know how to make. As I began to wonder about what type of girls Teddy Roosevelt might have dated in high school, Mr. Bordas began his lecture. Fifty minutes later, I had half a page of incoherent and scrambled notes, which matched the state of the thoughts inside my head.
Gym class can either be my favorite class or my least favorite class. It all depends on the clipboard. Coach Brad is exactly the person you have in your mind when you think of a stereotypical high school gym teacher, and he takes his class about as seriously as you’d expect him to. He spends the entire period walking around taking notes on his clipboard and grades each student on his or her “effort.” I hate his clipboard.
The real purpose of gym, however, is to see how active you can be without breaking a sweat. No one likes to sweat in school, except for a few of the over-zealous athletes, but Coach grades us based on participation points, so you can’t just sit around and do nothing the whole time. I’ve found that four square is a great mix of activity and passivity. It’s also in the corner by the bleachers, so you can get away with spending most of your time sitting down.
Joe is in this class with me and he feels the same way about sweating in school that I do, so we both do our best to do as little as possible while still getting participation points. There are some days where Coach forgets his clipboard, which basically means no one is receiving a grade for the day and we’re free to do as much or as little as possible. These days are when gym is my favorite class. For us, no clipboard means no sweating and today was a no clipboard day. Joe and I were sitting in the corner of the bleachers near where four square was being played when I decided to tell him about my dilemma.
“So you have to choose between two girls?” he asked after I finished telling him everything.
“Well, it’s easy. You just have to run them through the formula.”
“The what?” At first, I thought he was messing with me, but when he pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket, I realized he was serious.
“Hey Sally,” he said turning to the girl sitting behind us, “do you have a pencil I can borrow?”
Sally was Joe’s girlfriend. I don’t understand their relationship at all because I’ve never seen two people who are more different from each other. Sally is quiet and studious, and Joe is…well…not. Coach Brad gives her more leniency than the rest of us because she’s in so many Honors classes, so she is allowed to sit in the bleachers unabashedly. Most days, she doesn’t even dress out.
“No,” she responded. “Last time I gave you a pencil you never gave it back.”
“I hate it when you call me babe.” She had yet to look up from the book she was reading.
“Babe, please. Please…babe. Help me out babe. Babe, just this once.” I’m not sure whether Sally found Joe annoying or endearing, but either way she handed him a pencil from her pocket without looking up and we bent over the scrap of paper. On it, Joe wrote:
3H - 2C + 1C = _____
“It’s called the HCC formula,” Joe explained, “or the Hot-Crazy-Compatible Formula. It rates a person’s attractiveness, and it’s pretty simple. All you have to do is give values to the three different letters for Eve and Sarah and then choose whichever one scores higher. A perfect score is a 32, but I’ve never seen someone score higher than a 30,” He added as he handed me the pencil.
“So, are the two C variables supposed to represent different things?” I asked. “You really should clarify or at least simplify and…” As I spoke, I realized I should’ve studied more for my math test.
“I’m not a mathematician man. Just give them each the value you think best represents them. Do Eve first. Hotness on a scale of 1-10?”
I didn’t have to think long. “9,” I said.
“Nice,” Joe replied. “Fill it in on the paper. Now, how crazy is she on a scale of 4-10?”
“What happened to 1-3?” I asked, as I wrote a 9 for the letter H.
Joe looked over his shoulder to make sure Sally wasn’t listening. “No girl is less than a 4 crazy, dude.” I thought about it for a second and decided that sounded fair.
“I don’t know if I know her well enough to know how crazy she is,” I said hesitantly.
"Then you have to go based on her reputation. Also, she's blonde so that's +1 for crazy."
“I didn’t make the rules, man. I’m just telling you how it is. Blondes trend one point higher on the crazy scale.”
I was under the distinct impression that Joe did make the rules, so this sounded strange to me, but I didn’t have any way of proving otherwise. After thinking for a moment, I decided I couldn’t think of any reason that Eve would be crazy, so I wrote down 5, which was the lowest a blonde could conceivably score.
Joe nodded his head in approval and said, “Alright, last part. Compatibility on a scale of 1-10. How well do you get along with her?”
Again, I felt like I didn’t have enough data to give an accurate representation. We got along fine, not exceptionally well, but good enough to be semi-comfortable around each other. I decided 7 was both accurate yet arbitrary, so I wrote it down. The formula read:
EVE: 3(9) – 2(5) + (7) = 24
“That’s a pretty good score,” said Joe. I could tell he was comparing it to other scores he had calculated using this formula. “Really good for a freshman.”
“Now Sarah?” I asked.
“Yeah. Same thing.”
It was easier to come up with numbers for Sarah because I had known her for longer. Hotness was the only one where I hesitated, but only because it felt weird to think of her that way. She was certainly very pretty, but I had never associated hotness with Sarah and it felt unnatural, so I gave her a 7. Crazy was a 4 because she was the sanest girl I knew and compatibility was a 9, but only because I didn’t feel comfortable giving anyone a 10 for anything. Her formula looked like this:
SARAH: 3(7) – 2(4) + (9) = 22
“The numbers don’t lie,” said Joe. “Eve it is.”
I looked down at the two different formulas and Eve was clearly the winner, but it still didn’t feel quite right. Something in my gut felt off, but before I could figure out what it was I heard Sally’s voice from right behind me.
“Oh, not the formula again,” she said. “Joe, are you serious? This is barbaric.”
“You’re only saying that because you didn’t get a perfect score,” he retorted.
“No, I’m saying that because it’s wrong,” she said.
“Babe, the formula has never failed and you know it.”
“Wait, you know about the formula?” I asked. This seemed to me like something Joe would want to keep away from his girlfriend, but they had clearly discussed it before.
“Yes,” she said, “it’s stupid.”
“It’s not stupid,” Joe replied, seeming offended. “She just thinks the variables should be weighted differently.”
“No, I think you shouldn’t be using a stupid formula at all,” said Sally.
“Look, we’ll try it your way,” Joe said. He grabbed the paper, wrote down a new formula, and handed it back to me. “The difference is that she thinks compatibility should be weighted more heavily than hotness. Some might disagree, but here it is.” This new formula was only a slight variation of the first.
1H - 2C + 3C = _____
“Use the same numbers and see what you get this time,” Joe instructed. I did as I was told and the two formulas came out like this:
EVE: 9 – 2(5) + 3(7) = 20
SARAH: 7 – 2(4) + 3(9) = 26
“See,” Joe exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air, “now the numbers are completely skewed.” From his perspective, I could see why he thought the numbers were skewed, but for some reason I felt relieved to see the new formula. I don’t know why, but something about it felt better. Still, with each formula telling me two different things, I wasn’t any closer to making a decision. Joe had implied that the formula would bring complete clarity to my situation, but the math seemed just as confused as me.
“Compatibility is more important than hotness,” interrupted Sally. “Giving hotness the highest weight is shallow and you know it, Joe.”
“I’m more compatible with hot people. I don’t know what else to say,” Joe replied holding his hands up innocently.
Sally rolled her eyes and looked at me. “This formula won’t give you an answer,” she said. “You can’t calculate a feeling or put numbers to romance.” Joe now rolled his eyes. “If you thought you’d find the answer to your problem in a formula, then you’re dumb and you don’t deserve either of these girls.” I felt like I was in the middle of a lecture from an adult, but I also could tell she was right. Something felt off and I knew it was the formula.
“C’mon Tim, you already know the answer,” continued Sally. “Ignore the formula. You knew before you wrote down any numbers. Follow what you feel.”
At these words, the bell rang and we began to clean up the gym equipment. Usually, I’m eager to get to my last period, but today I was dragging my feet in a vain attempt to delay my decision. There was nothing I could do though. Optional period was next and it was time to choose.
Trust me, the irony that I have to choose between two girls during my optional period is not lost on me.
I’m sitting in the library now with the book I’ve been reading unopened on the table in front of me. The bell signaling the start of seventh period should ring in a few minutes. Eve isn’t here yet. I thought that looking back over everything that happened today would help clarify my thinking, but I don’t feel any less confused than I did on my walk over here. Sally was right about the formula. I want an easy way out of the decision, or maybe just something else to make the decision for me, but I think I always knew it would never really work.
“Follow what you feel.” That’s what Sally told me before we left gym class. She might as well have said, “Listen to your heart.” What a stupid cliché. What if I don’t trust my heart? What if my heart isn’t well informed? What if my heart has never made a decision before? When I was 10, my parents took me to the pet store to pick out a goldfish they were getting me for my birthday. It felt like a pretty big deal at the time as I narrowed it down to two goldfish. That was a pretty hard decision, but I’m not sure my heart was super involved then. We set Sir Smilesalot free in the ocean via the toilet three days after we got him anyway, so I don’t think that situation is super applicable here…
The other problem I have with people telling you to listen to your heart is that my heart is remarkably quiet. Maybe that’s just me, but even if I strain to hear anything from my heart, I’m almost always greeted with silence. Listen to your heart may be great advice, but my heart doesn’t speak.
As I look around at the books, I can’t help but wish my life was like these bookshelves. Orderly. Everything has its place. Each book knows exactly where it’s supposed to be and what books should be on either side of it. At least, all the books on the shelves know where they’re supposed to be. Then there are the books on the cart, including the one book that’s fallen off the cart and is on the ground by itself. That’s me.
That book is sitting there in limbo. Not on the shelf, but not checked out either. It’s waiting for the librarian to put it in the place where it belongs. I wish I had a librarian who would put me where I belong, with who I belong with.
How am I supposed to decide between two girls? Here’s the rub: someone’s heart is going to break, right? I mean, no matter which girl I choose I’m going to hurt the other one. It’s funny that I say “choose” like I’m the only one making a decision, but I have no idea what I’m doing over here. Let’s not even get into the possibility that I may have misread everything and could end up breaking my own heart. Eve might not be interested in me at all, and Sarah might not have meant what she wrote on that note. Now, I would point out that the evidence doesn’t lead towards either of those conclusions, but I’m no Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been wrong before…once or twice.
Eve is here. She waves at me as she walks in and then sits down in the chair across from me with her usual Seventeen Magazine. The cover has several headlines surrounding a picture of some girl I’ve never seen before. They read: “Find The Perfect Jeans For Your Butt – And Your Budget,” “How To Have A Happy Haircut,” “698 Ways To Look Pretty,” and “What Turns Guys On – You’ll Be Surprised! (page 104).”
As I’m reading these and thinking of the different ways I can make fun of Eve for reading that garbage, I realize she is talking to me.
“Sorry, what?” I say, pulling my eyes away from the neon lettering to look up at Eve.
“Do you see something that interests you?” she asks, pointing back at the cover of the magazine.
“Yeah,” I respond quickly, “Couldn’t anyone think of two more ways to look pretty so they could call it an even 700? I feel like they quit a little early on that one.” She laughs, and I can’t help but think that if there really are 698 ways to look pretty, then Eve has to have most of them covered. Life would be easier if I was supposed to listen to my eyes instead of my heart because my eyes are speaking loud and clear as she flips her blonde hair off her shoulder.
“I would also love to find the perfect jeans for my butt and my budget,” I add. “Does it have any suggestions for boy butts in there?”
“I think the jeans you have on right now are perfectly suited for your butt,” she says with an exaggerated wink. I can’t tell if she’s being funny or serious, but either way I can feel my face turning red. I’ve never had a conversation about my butt before, and now I’m regretting bringing it up.
“Yeah, you’re right, what about happy haircuts?” I mumble, trying to cover my embarrassment. “Is it the hair that’s happy or the person with the haircut? What I really want to know is can hair feel emotion? These types of questions need to be answered and I have to applaud Seventeen Magazine for having the journalistic wherewithal to pursue such truth.” She laughs again and looks down at the magazine with a smile. For the second time now, I find it easy to listen to my eyes. Her smile covers her whole face, starting with her mouth and shining through her eyes. I am too distracted to hear what she is saying. She’s turning the pages of the magazine and I mimic her by letting my book fall open on the table.
I’m reading The Magician’s Nephew, although reading is a loose term in this sense. Normally, I just have it in front of me while Eve and I talk during the entirety of seventh period. I’m only a few pages in to the first chapter titled “The Wrong Door,” and as I open the book I realize I’ve marked the page with a blank sticky note; a sticky note that I’m sure belonged to Sarah. I pull it out of the book and stick it on the table in front of me.
Suddenly, I know what it means to listen to my heart.
For the first time, I hear something. It’s not audible, but it’s loud. I look up at Eve who is looking at me with an innocent smile on her face. She seems to be waiting for me to speak, but if she just asked me a question, I didn’t hear it.
“I have to go,” I say. She tilts her head to one side and then looks down at the sticky note. Her shoulders sag slightly and she looks back up at me. She still wears a soft smile on her face, but it stops at her mouth. Her eyes are a dull contrast to her smile. She knows.
“Okay,” she says, squinting her eyes and forcing her mouth to stay in a smile. I can hear her heart breaking, and I am now wishing I could rewind to a few minutes ago where I couldn’t hear my own heart, let alone hers. She puts her head down to the magazine in front of her. I hesitate to move, but I already know what I’m going to do. It’s as if the whisper I heard when I saw the sticky note has turned itself into a loud yell inside my chest, and I pick up the sticky note from the table. I notice Eve glance briefly at the spot where the note was before putting her head back down, and I get up to leave.
When I get to the entrance of the library I look back at Eve, but all I see is the back of her head. I knew someone was going to get hurt today, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. I’m starting to feel guilty and part of me wants to turn back. I don’t know what I would say to her, but I need to say something, don’t I? Maybe I’m acting too quickly. Maybe I need to be patient and give myself more time with Eve before I…
I look down at the sticky note in my hand and I hear it again. There’s a thump in my chest pulling me out of the library. It’s too late for my head to talk me out of listening to my heart. I walk out the door and down the hallway.
I realize now that I don’t have a plan, but I have a sticky note in my hand and I’m walking, so at least that’s a start. Sarah is in study hall, upstairs and two halls down. I know exactly where I’m going but I know nothing about what I’m doing. I’ve never been big on having a plan in most situations, but I feel very differently today. I need a plan. I’m about fifty feet from Sarah’s classroom, and before I think too hard about it, I pull a pen out of my backpack. I stop and use the wall as a hard surface to write on the sticky note. I still don’t have a plan, but this is better than nothing. I know if I sit here and analyze it for too long, I’m not going to follow through, so I put the pen in my pocket and walk towards the classroom door.
Knocking gently, I open the door and see Mr. Estes sitting at the front of the class reading a book. Everyone in here is quietly studying, but now I realize they are all looking at me. Sarah is sitting in the back, and I give her a quick smile.
“Can I help you?” asks Mr. Estes.
“Yes, I have a note from…er… the counselor’s office for…um…Sarah.” I should’ve thought this through more, but Mr. Estes motions with his hand towards where Sarah is sitting. Suddenly, I’m extremely nervous, but it’s too late to turn back now. My heart is beating so loud in my chest I’m sure everyone in the room can hear it, and I realize my palms are sweating. I hold the sticky note with the tips of my fingers to avoid dampening it. The time it’s taking me to get to the back of the room is agonizing, and I am wondering if I’m even moving forward at all.
Finally, I’m standing in front of her desk, and before I can think and convince myself to turn and run, I stick the note on her desk in front of her. She has been watching me the whole time with a curious look in her eyes, and for the first time since I’ve ever known Sarah I realize she has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. It’s as if I’ve always looked at her eyes but never really into them. Before she blinks and looks away, I receive a sudden surge of confidence and I smile. Her eyes narrow at me, still holding me where I stand, and she looks down at the note. When she looks up her eyes are wide.
“But how…” she begins, but I put my finger to my lips. I motion with my head towards the door, hoping she takes the hint. Her face still looks shocked, and I can’t help but let out a small laugh, which she returns with a blush before touching her hand lightly to her forehead. She begins to pack up her things and glances up at me quickly while her head is down. Her eyes are still wide and look like they’re suspicious of me, but they don’t stop sparkling.
Her backpack is packed and I begin to lead her towards the door.
“My mom is here to pick me up early for a doctor’s appointment,” she says to Mr. Estes. Her lie comes off much smoother than mine did. He scans our faces curiously, and it looks as if he is about to reach out and ask to see the note. “See you tomorrow,” Sarah adds quickly, before he is able to question either of us.
“Have a good day then,” he says to our backs. Once outside the classroom, Sarah and I walk no more than a few feet before I stop and face her. I take a step closer and reach my arms around her. Our faces are inches apart.
“Tim, what…how did you…” she begins, her feet remaining where they are. I unzip the front pocket of her backpack and reach in to where I know the sticky note I found earlier is. I pull it out, bring it over her shoulder, and hold it up. I can’t help but laugh a little as her eyes look from me to the note I’m holding. The shock returns to her face and she begins to redden.
“Well…that is…obviously…what I meant was…” she stammers, but her eyes don’t leave mine. Before she is able to put together a coherent sentence, I close my eyes and put my lips on hers. I pull back to see her face, and her eyes slowly open and look back at me. Both our faces now wear the same shade of red and our blushes turn to smiles, which turn to laughs. I can’t take my eyes away from her.
Slowly, she puts her hand in mine and I grip it firmly, noticing her hands are as damp with nervousness as mine. I continue to grin at her and she smiles wide in return. We walk down the hallway towards the front of the school, neither of us saying anything. After several moments of silence, Sarah turns and looks up at me.
“So, how was your day?”
For more stories like this one, visit: www.jdwills.com
"My name is Tim, but that's not important. Her name is Sarah, and that is important. This is the story of how we fell in love. Or really, this is the story of how one of us fell in love with the other. We don't need to concern ourselves with the details of whether or not that love is requited at the current moment. That's not the point. The point is that Sarah and I have been friends for a long time, and sometimes you know someone so well that you never think about them in a romantic way until one day you become aware that all along you two are perfect for each other but you don't realize this until it's possibly too late. That's what happened with us..."