What was bound to happen, did happen. Could we really report to each other after each and every date, reassuring that we would have had more fun together? My ego must have thought we could, as it began to compare me to every girl that Ryan even looked at over the summer.
The best portion of my summer vacation was the two weeks I spent away, at a program that I had been chosen for, called Governor’s Honors Academy. New people, a new environment, a new way of looking at myself was just what I needed. There were amazing guys there, amazing, accomplished, funny, confident guys who liked me and who had no idea that there was a Ryan. The Academy claimed to be a program that saw potential in us and aimed to help us bring it out. It was so freeing for me to start to try and glimpse who I am and what I can become, separate from any boy or anyone else. Just me. Just me.
Now that I’m home, and school is back in session I observe even greater changes in Ryan. He has gone through a metamorphosis. Like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon… only… manlier. His confidence grows daily. He’s not afraid to be hilarious. He’s not afraid to be everything that he is, and people are drawn to that. Girls especially. He’s begun to approach every day, every minute like he isn’t afraid to fail and the thing about people who aren’t afraid to fail is- they never do.
He’s made new friends. Plenty of female ones, but also new guys friends. I’m completely intimidated by these new guy friends. They are of the kind that is so good looking, so confident, so untouchable that I want to hold my breath when I pass them in the hall at school. They know about his past with me, as everyone seems to. They’re cute about it actually, teasing him about me when I walk into a classroom by singing “Memories” or some such nonsense. He takes it well, while I concentrate on the ground and try to hide my blush.
I’m not intimidated by Ryan… at least not for the same reasons. I know him too well for that. I’m only intimidated by him because of the power he has over me, because it feels like I am hopelessly and forever in love with him.
Is it a coincidence that his transformation into this indomitable person began after we broke up? Had I been holding him back? I don’t think so. I even think maybe the opposite is true. Maybe I was a catapult. If you’ve seen that kind of admiration in someone’s eyes, directed at you, if you know that you’ve inspired it, how could you not feel like conquering the whole world?
Every once in a while neither of us drive to school, or neither of us find a ride with someone else, or the stars align or whatever… and we both end up riding the bus home from school on the same day. Today is one such day. He’s a back seat sitter. I’m somewhere in the middle. I hurry off of the bus and start the seven block walk from the bus stop to home. My stern face and steady gait say that I don’t want him to bother me; my aching heart is spinning circles around me, hoping that he will.
I feel a ping on the back of the school bag slung over my shoulder. I ignore it. It’s followed by another ping, and another. These pings are similar to the many I’ve heard outside my window at night. Ryan is walking ten paces behind me, playfully tossing gravel at my back. I turn around and acknowledge it by shaking my head, and then I turn back around and keep walking. The pinging of the small rocks gets harder to ignore as he comes closer to me.
“Hey Sparky, wait up!” he says.
I slow down just a little.
“What’s with the speed walking?” He asks, “Don’t you like me anymore?”
“Not like you?” I say with a heavy dose of sarcasm, “I would never dare venture so far from popular opinion. I’m sure my name can be found somewhere on that long list of your adoring fans.”
He lobs another piece of gravel, this time at my head. He’s got a small arsenal still in his left fist.
“…And by the way,” I continue, “Is the list not long enough for you? Do you really have to hit on my friends?”
He makes a humorously guilty face, like the ones when the sitcom husbands are in trouble with their wives.
“They’re my friends too, aren’t they?” he asks.
“No. You lost them in the break-up. They’re my friends.” But I smirk, because we both know that isn’t true, it wasn’t that kind of a break-up and maybe it still isn’t.
“We live in a small area, Amie. We have the same friends. Do you really want to try putting stipulations on who I can date?”
“Far be it for me to lessen your options, you’ve plowed through so many of them already.”
The anger that can materialize in me so quickly is pushing my feet to move faster again.
Intuitive as always, Ryan changes the direction of the conversation as smoothly as the fall breeze changes the direction it blows.
“Look! We’re almost to the tree…” he says, in the lilting voice meant to tempt me into a more carefree mood. “Its leaves are yellow and ready to fall. Let’s play our game.”
Ryan is forever making up little games. The guy wouldn’t be bored sitting in an empty white room. His imagination and competitive spirit would have him… oh I don’t know… playing basketball with a piece of lint from his pocket and the leg hole of his underwear for the hoop.
In this particular game, which has become an entertaining fall tradition for us, we throw a rock up into the branches of this large tree and then we see who can catch the most leaves as they fall. The tree grows alongside a part of the road that happens to be on a steep hill, which adds to the challenge.
He chucks the first rock, hard into the overhanging patch of leaves and a bunch start to flitter to the ground, twisting around and around, and seeming to be able to float out of my grasp in the nick of time. He catches two to each one that I catch, and I soon resort to sabotage. When he targets a leaf, I slap it away. He grabs my arm to hold me back from the next one, and when he reaches around me to catch it, I make a last ditch effort and attempt to blow it away from him with my mouth. The futility and absurdity send us both into fits of laughter. When we stop laughing, I realize he still hasn’t let go of my arm. The smile slips from my lips. I notice that the last few leaves are still gently drifting toward the ground, an easy catch. He watches me notice them, but he doesn’t look away from my face. They fall around us like little bits of magic and he takes a step closer to me. He drops his head just a little, changes his focus to my lips. But I’ve been down this road before, down this steep hill, and I can’t have him viewing me as just another of so many leaves, I can’t be an easy catch.
We have a silent conversation. I see him recognize my hesitation. I watch as his face changes to a sober reassurance that he won’t try to kiss me, but he still doesn’t release his hold on my upper arm. Instead, he pulls me closer and wraps his arms around me. I put my arms around him in return and he squeezes me closer. We stand like this for a long time, yet somehow not long enough. We steal a moment on this fall afternoon, under this golden tree. We hold on to everything that we were and we don’t talk about anything that we’re becoming. In fact, we don’t talk at all. There isn’t much we’re allowed to say under the unspoken rules of our new… situation. We just steal our moment, and then we quietly agree that we should get home. We pick up our bags, he gives me a small handful of rocks and challenges me to see if I can hit the upcoming road sign with them from this distance. Another game. Another carefree joke. By the time we reach my house, the masks are back on. We’re seventeen and we’re dating other people and we aren’t supposed to have feelings for each other… and so we pretend. But he’s better at it than I am.