Monday, August 29, 2011

My True Love Story

Author's note: Read the hilarious excerpt from my yearbook that I included in a picture in the story. I think it is priceless! ... Oh.. and I didn't mean to have the provocative sexy legs of the Spartan being the only thing cut into the pic... we all just got lucky there. ;)


Day 1890ish
I’m a high school graduate. It’s more melancholy than I expected. There’s a sadness to it, a finality. I keep telling everyone that I can’t wait to go to college, but it’s less about excitement and more about escape. The past year has been an uphill battle, with the most strenuous part of the climb at the very end, when I was the most exhausted, every little jealous incident with Ryan feeling worse, and seeming grimmer as we get closer to adulthood.
On the last day of school, when my friends were having him sign their yearbooks, I handed him mine as well. I knew it wasn’t just a casual exchange. What do you write in a piece of lifelong memorabilia after everything we’ve been through? There is no way “Have a nice summer,” does the trick when you’re graduating seniors. We were way beyond, “Hey call me, and let’s go have some fun.” Shoot, I had people sign my yearbook, teasing me that I was still going to marry him!

I didn’t know what I could possibly get away with writing in his yearbook, so I decided it was genius to have him sign mine first, then base what I wrote on what he wrote.
When I handed him the yearbook, his eyebrows pulled tight over his eyes. He handed his to me in exchange and I sat down nearby. Handfuls of our fellow classmates were sitting next to stacks of yearbooks, chattering and signing all around us. He had a couple of yearbooks in his hands, and he put mine at the bottom. He asked me several times over the next few minutes if I had signed his yet. Obviously I hadn’t, as per the plan, and I think he was hoping to turn the plan around and use it on me. The truth was there was absolutely nothing that we could write that would sound okay on a yearbook page. Nothing. That’s what we ended up writing. We both put it off, left them at the bottom of the stacks we were signing and then ran out of time. Like near strangers, we patronized each other with, “Oh I didn’t get to it yet,” and “That’s okay, we’ll do it later.”
He’s gone now. He moved away to work a summer job selling and delivering pianos with his older brother. We didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t watch him go. I turned away, and told myself that now I’d be able to forget about him for sure.
I keep very busy. I got my first job. I simply enter data into a computer, but I really like it. I’m getting faster and faster at typing, and I prefer being at a computer to other jobs that are available to teenagers. I’m getting to know new people, my co-workers, and I always enjoy that.
Because I’m Miss Peach Days, I got coaxed into participating in the county level scholarship pageant and I won! I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never felt like such a star. I was surrounded by people hugging me, little girls tugging on my sequined gown asking me to sign their programs and take pictures with them. My living room is filled with bouquets of congratulatory flowers. There are responsibilities too. I’m obligated to represent my County in the Miss Utah pageant and other events. I’ll be brushing shoulders with some of the most accomplished girls in the state and, heaven help me, I’m going to have to start preparing for interview questions by watching… the news.
I’m learning so much about who I am and who I want to be. I’m learning more about make-up and hair and fashion too. Sometimes it’s even a little hard to know where my priorities ought to be, because I want to do a lot of good in this world and make a difference, but I also just want to be striking and get the attention of cute boys and… well, honestly… feel like I could compete with all of those barbielicious girls that Ryan dated.
I’m all styled right now with my new make-up techniques and the curls my hairstylist taught me to do and I’m zipping around the shrine of cards, banners, pictures, my crown and all of the fresh flowers, arranged in beautiful glass vases in my house like a busy little bee, taking things out to my car and readying for a photo shoot appointment that I have in half an hour. The sun is shining, but the breeze is cool and there’s a happy, carefree way about my world. I happen to be headed out toward my car with my arms full when I see Ryan’s dad drive slowly by in his truck, and Ryan is in the passenger seat.
I can’t help it. You don’t know how I wish I could, but I can’t. My heart jumps right up into my throat. I see the truck pull into their driveway and I see Ryan get out and start walking down the street, at a fairly brisk pace, toward me. My heart may be in my throat, my hands may be shaking, but he doesn’t need to know that. I take plenty of time arranging my things in the back seat of my car, so he’s close enough to shout “hi” and make his presence known by the time I’m finished.
“Amie,” he says, “Or should I call you Miss Emery County? You won! It’s so awesome! Congratulations!”
He reaches his arms out, like so many friends and strangers alike had that night on the stage, and he hugs me. Just a congratulatory hug.
“Thanks!” I say. “I couldn’t believe I won!”
“I can. I just can’t believe I wasn’t there to see it. I really wanted to be there, and my Mom told me every detail over the phone.”
“Really? I’m sorry you had to go through that,” I say, with a smile and a wink.
“No, no. I asked her. I wanted to know everything. She said you were amazing.”
“Ah. I love your Mom. She’s so sweet and always supportive of me.”
We’re still standing out in the middle of my front lawn and all of the initial, easy stuff to say has almost been exhausted. We’re almost to the, “Oh man, every sentence I think to write in that blasted yearbook is the wrong thing to say,” stage. We’re about to reach the awkward point where we can’t think of any more sentences that are okay.
“You look like you’re getting ready to go somewhere,” he says.
“Yeah, I have a ton to do today. I have to go get pictures taken in just a few minutes.”
I don’t ask him if he’s just in town for the weekend because I know he is and because I’m not supposed to care. Besides, I really am busy. I really do have a life, and for the past weeks it hasn’t involved running into him with a pack of girls at social gatherings or watching for his bedroom light. He’s gone, and I’m busy.
“Well, I better let you go then,” he says with a brilliant white smile.
“Yeah,” I say, “Thanks for stopping by. It was great to see you.” I sound like someone who just won a scholarship pageant, all of the residual confidence beaming from me.
I turn and I walk back into the house, and the really amazing thing is: I just go right back up to my room and gather up the next things on my list. I don’t flop on my bed and take deep breaths, or look at myself in the mirror and try to talk myself out of a freak out. I go right on about my way with a peaceful satisfaction. I think to myself, “If that was the last time we ever talk, I’d like that ending. I could feel good about that memory. I wouldn’t have to bury that one in the backyard.”

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My True Love Story

Just want to say thanks again for the critiques and compliments on last week's post! They really made me want to keep writing and improve! Love you all!

Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Day 1830ish

One night I went on a double date where they blindfolded us and led us through the rafters of our high school auditorium to a little corner where they had set up a TV with a scary movie, pillows, snacks and the best atmosphere you can imagine. One night I went on a date to the mountains where we played night games among the trees and wildlife, and roasted marshmallows on an open fire. One night I ballroom danced on the roof of our school, under the stars. It was amazing. I’ve dated good guys. Polite. Respectful. Humble. Funny. Fun.
I’m doing it. I’m doing it exactly the way they tell me to. Date a lot of people. Be young, have fun. Look inside, find out who you are, focus on bettering yourself. That’s how you make yourself into someone who can find a healthy relationship. They’re absolutely right.
What they don’t know is that at night, when it’s quiet, when it’s dark, when no one is there but my memories, I still pull back my curtain. Still look down the street to his window. The box of keepsakes didn’t stay buried, and neither will the feelings. The box is tucked away, however, in a dusty, cobwebby, corner of a never-used cabinet out back in the work-shop.
So every morning, when it’s light and the world is watching, I smile. I take care with my clothes, my hair, and I go out. I perform the many responsibilities that I have obligated myself to on the quest to be better. Today it’s an honor choir concert at another school. It’s a three hour bus ride, one way, with a ratio of about three girls to one boy… and Ryan sings.
I find a seat about three rows from the back of the bus and slide in. We’re Seniors now, and it’s usually a given that we choose to and therefore we get to sit at the back. The bus is a flurry of noise and movement as everyone crowds in. I hear a guy from the very back seat yell, “Leonhardt! Back here!” Great. Just Great.
I look to the front of the bus and I see Ryan finishing up a flirtatious conversation with one of the younger girls. She must have told him she’d call him, because as he walks away he yells his information to her. “Ryan Leonhardt. 384-2658…” He looks at me as he passes and throws his address in for good measure, right down to the zip code.
He’s still watching me as he finishes and I give him a sarcastic smile mixed with vindictive eyes and say, “You finally memorized it. Good job.”
He’s pleased with himself, but bristles at my usual snide reaction to his antics.
As the bus gets rolling, the girl and a handful of her friends decide to wander to the back four seats for a visit. They squeeze in next to Ryan and his friends, wondering aloud, in a damsel in distress way, if it’s safe to be crowded into the seats this way and if they’ll get in trouble.
“If we get in a wreck,” Ryan says, “And I get injured, this just means more people are available to give me mouth to mouth.” The giggling gaggle of girls is terribly amused. Then Ryan shoots an angry look at me and says, “Just don’t let her be the one to do it. Anybody but her.”
I face front and sink down into my seat. I say cruel things to him all the time. I cut him down whenever he’s in ear shot, but isn’t that my right? He’s the Casanova here. His ego can take it. I’m merely tossing pebbles at Goliath.
My friend Misty slides into my seat to survey the damage. “Amie,” she says, “Don’t let him get to you.”
“How am I going to endure three hours of this?” I ask.
“Listen.” she says, “Why do you think he’s back there talking so loud? Half of that crap he’s spouting is more for your ears than for theirs. He wants you to be jealous.”
I blink and tears slip from the corner of my eyes and down my cheeks.
“And why do you think he singled you out like that?” Misty asks. “He still likes you. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t even acknowledge you.”
I shake my head furiously. “I know he probably still has feelings for me,” I say, “But I don’t know if that matters anymore. Not after everything that’s happened.”
“Amie, you are beautiful and you’re an amazing girl. That’s the thing you can’t forget. That’s the thing that still matters, even after everything that’s happened.”
Misty is good at so many things, but maybe her greatest gift is the way she sees the best in everyone and communicates it to them so well.
I sit and think about her statement. . I try to block out every loudly spoken innuendo from the back seat, met with every desperate giggle. I focus deep inside, to try and see what stuff I’m really made of. I think back to Governor’s Honors Academy and the week I spent away at the beginning of last summer. I think about the way the counselors built us up, and reminded us of all that we could accomplish. I think of how I could be what I wanted to be without my small town, built-in stigma to categorize me so quickly. I think about the boys there that were really accomplished, good looking and confident… and interested in me. I remember how one of them was from the very school that we are now travelling to, and that he had an amazing singing voice.

I hit the girl’s restroom as soon as I finally emerge from the bus ride of doom, and I don’t walk away from my reflection until it reveals a new girl. I wipe away the smeared mascara, reapply the eye-liner and plaster on a glowing, though still not entirely genuine smile. I pray. I know that might sound silly, an emotional teen-age girl praying over boy problems, but I do. Then I meet up with a group of friends, and we gather in the crowded hallway, chattering and looking around at the foreign hallway of this high school and all of the new people.
That’s when I see him. I can’t believe my eyes. Dark tan skin, short black hair, deep brown eyes…. I remember him saying his roots were Italian, and it’s written all over his coloring, but the thing that stands out most about him is his approachable smile. Anybody he turns it on would be hypnotized into believing that they’ve known and counted on him all their lives. It’s Marcus, from Governor’s Honors Academy.
His hypnotizing smile, coupled with the “what have I got to lose” bus ride moves me toward him before I know what I’m doing.
“Marcus?” I say.
He turns those brown eyes on me. “Amie! Wow! It’s been awhile! How have you been?”
We gather a lot of attention while we catch up on our GHA memories and what we’ve been doing since. I can feel some animosity from the girls that attend his school. They’re watching me with that territorial look. The girls from my school love every second of it, and the boys from my school are calling out some teasing one-liners.
Marcus glances down at his watch. “Oh shoot!” he says. “I’m singing a solo in the concert tonight, and I was supposed to go practice.”
“Oh!” I say, “Well, let’s go find a place for you to practice then!”
His smile deepens. “Come on,” he says, and leads me down a short hall to a sound room. The door he closes behind us cuts us off from the commotion outside, but there’s a huge window, and the curious students are gathering around to see what the two of us will do next.
In the center of the small room, sits a well used, but forever beautiful, grand piano. He plays a chord and sings through a normally boring, but completely enthralling under the circumstances, choir song. Despite my not being a huge fan of most high school choir music, I am thoroughly impressed with his voice and I gush and flatter appropriately when he’s finished.
The praise falls on him well, making him warmer and closer to me than would normally be the case after our spontaneous reunion in the crowded hall. He says, “Well, enough of that! I could… sing a song for you now.”
“I would love that,” I say, a little out of breath.
He sits down at the piano and sweeps his hands across the keyboard. Oh my goodness. I quickly pull up a metal and plastic school chair, for fear my legs may not be able to hold me up.
He plays an intro and then, as if anything could improve the lovely music, his voice… the voice of which dreams are made begins to sing. He looks right into my eyes, his ultra-friendly smile, muted into a smile personalized for me. I lose myself in the words that float like angel wings around my head, “When you're weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes I will dry them all. I'm on your side when times get rough and friends just can't be found, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down.”

I think about the bus ride. I think about Ryan… because, that’s right, not even a gorgeous Italian sitting at a grand piano and playing and singing a song just for me can completely bury those thoughts. Not even a shovel and a goodly portion of dirt can bury those thoughts… but the point is that this is my bridge! This moment, this other-worldy moment, this music and these onlookers, and that voice coming from that boy are my bridge over troubled waters! This moment is my protection. It’s my hope. It’s my passage through this day and maybe more hard days to come. I think about an emotional teen-age girl praying over boy troubles, and I believe those prayers are heard.

I don’t know if Ryan sees the crowd gathered, I don’t know if he gets a peek inside that window, but I know for sure he’ll hear about it. There aren’t many choir students who aren’t talking about it.
My place on the rafters during the dress rehearsal is right behind Ryan, so close that I can smell the once alluring smell that is all him. At one point, Marcus moves to the front and center of the stage to sing his solo. I hear two girls a few people to the right whisper. “He’s so hot.” “I know, but we don’t have a shot with him. He’s so into Amie Gee.”
Ryan’s head whips around to glare at them, and then he turns almost completely around and I can feel him looking square at me for a long, long time. I stare straight at the conductor, immoveable as stone. There can be no argument that Marcus’s song is incredible, that his voice is a gift. When he is done singing, the people next to me elbow me and grin, smile at me and tell me how good it was as though it were my own accomplishment. Ryan tells them with venom dripping from every word, “That kid is a loser. A loser! I’d love to punch him.”
I continue to stare straight at the conductor, but the corners of my mouth creep up to barely reveal a dimple on each cheek.

Monday, August 22, 2011

So Darn Much Going On!

In all my life, I never dreamed I could be as busy as I have been these past couple of weeks. I just told my brother on the phone, "Whenever I think back, I tell my past self to stop my dang whining because I didn't know how good I used to have it!" :) I gave my best efforts to getting this story done, and I just don't feel good about rushing to get it posted when it isn't in tip-top shape yet. It's close and I am going to post it tomorrow morning! The compliments and critiques I recieved last week made me soooo happy and challenged me in such good ways! Thank you! Thank you!
Just wait until school is back in session and I can get rid of my kids without having to tell them eighty-million times to give me some space and some quiet and to please understand that this is important to Mommy. Pshhhh. You lose kids entirely when you try and explain that something is important to someone besides them. :) Anway, the school year is going to bring lots more posts to this blog and lots more editing time to my novel!
Please check back tomorrow!

Monday, August 15, 2011

My True Love Story


Day 1820ish

Cue a week or two of the silent treatment. Cue a chance encounter. Cue Ryan pouring on his charm. Cue us. Cue the other girls. Cue fury and hopelessness. Repeat over months and months and that brings us to now. We’re nearing the end of our senior year of high school, and we’ve just had the “chance encounter” part of the equation.
“Hey Amie, I drove to school today. Come and ride home with me.”
He probably tells himself not to do this. Wait a minute, no he doesn’t. He really should tell himself not to do this, not to keep making me believe there can be something between us only to shatter it upon the lips of a hundred wanton teenage girls.
I know I tell myself not to do this.
“Okay, sure, I’d like a ride home. Thanks.”
I know my friends would want to smack me around. They keep trying to tell me how he’s poisonous for me. I know my Mom would tell me that she can’t watch me come home crying another time. I read somewhere that the most powerful magnet in the world could slow a locomotive travelling on the moon. So what happens when the magnets are attached to the front of two passing locomotives?
“I got to see my cute little nephew over the weekend,” Ryan says.
“Which one?” I ask. “Munch or Loops?” I’m showing off my knowledge of the crazy nicknames he gives them. I’ve never seen someone better with kids than Ryan is.
“Loops,” Ryan tells me. “I taught him to say, ‘I love BYU’, only he says it ‘Beee-eye-oooo’.”
I laugh a little as we pass under the shade of a couple of trees, walking alone together toward his car.
“I love his soft, chubby, little cheeks. I’m gonna be one of those crazy uncles that pinches everybody’s cheeks well into their adult years.”
“I’m sure they’ll appreciate that,” I say, throwing him a half smile and a glance from the corner of my eye. Already this topic and this short walk are feeling too intimate to be safe.
“I’ve been doing this thing with my nephews and nieces called ‘cheeks’. I say ‘Let’s do cheeks,’ and they come up and put their face next to mine,” he takes me by the arm to stop my footsteps and brings his face close. “Like this,” he says, “And then we put our cheeks together… like this.” I won’t think about how his traitorous lips are within inches of mine. After all, he does this cheek to cheek thing with his little nephews and nieces. It’s purely innocent. Purely adorable. Purely irresistible… but not just to me.
“That’s a really cute line Ryan. Did you maybe use it on that girl from Price last weekend?” I say, pulling away and resuming progression toward the car at a resolute pace.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“I’m saying that story is a sure winner with the ladies. How many of us have you used it on?”
“Oh. I see what you’re implying. I don’t really need to re-use material, Amie. I do just fine with the ‘ladies’ with my natural wit and charisma.”
“Oh yeah, your charisma never fails. I accuse you of re-using material on me, and the first thing you think to do is assure me that you have plenty of material to go around and that despite the growing numbers of girls at your disposal, I shouldn’t worry myself because making them swoon is not a problem for you. I feel so much better now that we got that straight.”
I finish my tirade by letting myself into his car, and fairly slamming the door shut behind me. We both fume as we drive toward home, both of us thinking of a thousand cruel ways to fill the silence.
“I’ve been operating under a new theory,” he says at last. “It’s better to kiss a lot of girls one time, than to kiss one girl a lot of times.”
“Did it ever occur to you that you have the option to not kiss anybody at all?”
“Why am I not surprised?” I mutter. “So I’m just one of the ‘lot of girls’. Just another one of Ryan’s conquests.”
I don’t pose the idea like it’s a question, but it is one. Just give me this, Ryan. Just tell me I’m not like all of the rest. Tell me I mean more to you than that. Tell me that you know you should stay away from me rather than break my heart over and over, but you can’t resist me the same way that I can’t resist you.
The space is thick with everything he doesn’t say.
There are probably better ways of getting answers than making a mockery of his cute little “cheeks” ritual, and accusing him of using it to take advantage of me, but I don’t know what they are just like he doesn’t know how I want him to respond.
Now it feels like the car is careening toward home. We’re only blocks away, and just breathing in this air makes me feel ill, like there is an epidemic I’m being exposed to. I want to purge it, but I only spit out more accusations.
“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” I don’t know what I’m saying. That’s the last thing I want him to do.
“Why did you give me any hope for our future? Why did you make me believe that there was any chance for us at all?” That hope was a gift, and now I’m throwing it back at him. “I’m not someone you can just keep around for convenience! I’m not just going to keep bending to your will whenever you pay me a little attention because you’re bored or there’s nobody better around! You use me! You’ve cheapened it to that.”
He pulls into his driveway, too furious, I think, to bother taking me two houses down to my own door. He turns to me, his blue eyes like ice.
“Fine, Amie. Fine. If that’s what you want to hear, so be it. You are just like every other girl. You’re just one of the many.”
My heart shatters, and for a split second, it shows in my expression. His face registers surprise, as if a part of him really thought that would be a good thing for me to hear, instead of it being my very worst fear spoken aloud.
I do something I never thought I would do. I swing my open palm toward him to slap him. Though he’s completely shocked, his automatic reaction is to throw an arm up in defense. He ducks his head a little and blocks the slap with his forearm. He couldn’t even give me that.
I throw open my car door and run for my house, holding the gasping tears in until I’m closed up in my room. I dig through the closet and pull out the box. I’ve covered it in shiny silver paper. I’ve tucked every memory inside it. Every note. Every little trinket. Napkins from restaurants, fortunes from fortune cookies, pictures, caricatures we’ve had drawn of the two of us, fancy doodles of the name Amie Gee Leonhardt. I look, desperately, around my room for anything else that might remind me of him. I throw a few more things in the box and close the lid with haste. I wipe the tears from my cheeks with the back of one hand and march out into the back yard, grabbing a shovel from the garage on my way through. I choose a patch of dirt as far away from my bedroom as I can get and I start digging.
I toss a bit of dirt away for every time I’ve looked out my bedroom window to see if his stupid light is still on and to wonder where he is. I dig deeper and toss aside another shovel-full for all of the girls I’ve had to watch him go out with. I place the box deep in the earth and I toss another shovel-full on top of it for all of the times I was sure it was over and that we’d never talk again. I think of my brother, Justin, (one of the few who still believes in Ryan and me). I think of all of the times I’ve confided in him after a fight with Ryan and how he always says, “No. I don’t buy it. This isn’t the end. It’s not over between you two.”
My energy is almost spent as I tamp down the loose dirt with my foot and I say, “This time it is over. This really is the end.”

The next afternoon, like death warmed over, I tromp down the stairs to the kitchen for breakfast just in time to see my little brother, Jordan, walk in the back door carrying a dirt-covered, silver box. I freeze, mouth agape, a look of horror to top any zombie movie on my face.
“What is he doing with that?” I shriek.
“He’s six years old, with dreams of buried treasure and there was a freshly dug hole in the backyard,” my Mom says. “What did you expect?”
“You should have just burned it,” says my brother, Jeremy.
But my brother, Justin, looks up from his cereal with a knowing smile that indicates the possible metaphor in the return of the box and he says, “She can’t burn it, because this isn’t the end. It’s not over yet.”

Author's question: How am I doing at keeping both characters likable? I mean, obviously you hate Ryan for what he's doing to me (and deservedly so :) haha), but I think a big part of the success in the "will they/won't they" stories is for authors to make sure that, as they're keeping the couple apart, they don't end up making the readers hate one or both of them. It's a tougher call on this one because it's a true story.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My True Love Story

Hero Or Villain?

Day 1700ish

When I answer, I’m shocked to hear Ryan’s voice on the other end of my phone.
“How was your Thanksgiving?” he asks me.
“It was really good. How was yours?”
“Good. It was fun. I was just thinking… you should come over tonight and we could catch up.”
What? This is crazy. Ryan is calling and asking me for… what? A date? I mean, not an official date to be sure. A non-public, nobody is ever going to know about it and we’re just hanging out at his house- non-date. Not really a date, no. Not even a big deal really, so I should go ahead and tell him that I’ll come… just because I have nowhere else to be tonight, of course.
“Okay. Sure. I guess I could come over for a little while.”
“Cool. You should bring that Christmas CD we like. We could listen to it.”
A plan? The non-date is planned? I mean, it’s a small plan, just listening to sentimental Christmas music that we mutually love and that he obviously remembers that we mutually love.
“Oh, yeah. Sure. That would be fun. I’ll bring it.”
An hour later, I find myself standing on Ryan’s front porch, clasping the CD in one hand, and reaching an unsure fist up to knock on the door with the other.
He answers right away.
“Hey Sparky. Come on in. Follow me. I’m just gonna grab a blanket from my room. I’ve got everything else set up downstairs.”
I walk by the floral couch where we’ve sat together looking through family photo albums. I see into the dining room, to the oak table we’ve gathered around for meals and games. I follow Ryan up the stairs, past the 8x10 photos of each of his siblings, their spouses and their children. How often I’ve dreamed of having my picture hanging there alongside them.
We enter his room. It hasn’t changed. Here’s the light switch that he used to flick on and off every night, three times meant “I love you”. There, at the head of his single bed, just above where his head rests at night is the window he used to look out to see my light turn on and off three times in response. There’s a small weight set in the corner. He passes it to get a blanket out of the closet.
There’s a chest of drawers against one wall. On it, there’s a set of books. They all look the same, but I know one is different. One is hollowed out. I walk over to the books and just look at them. He comes up behind me, curious.
“Do you still have the secret one?” I ask.
“I do,” he says.
He pulls it out from its place among the others, and opens it up.
They’re all there. All of the notes I’ve written him. I can see my swirly writing, my hand drawn hearts and smiley faces. “You still have them,” I say.
“Of course,” he says, “Don’t you still have the notes I wrote to you?”
Of course. “Yes, I do.”
He closes the book and puts it back. Those notes are full of things that shouldn’t be unfolded and let out again.
“Come on,” he says, “We’ll listen to the CD in the basement.”
There is one large room in Ryan’s basement that has no windows. His Dad finished the room, and built benches along each wall. They’re perfect for sitting on, but they were also built wide enough to work as beds for several of the kids when they were all living at home. The walls are ornate with exotic hangings and trinkets, purchased by Ryan’s parents on their travels. The room is so quiet, and when the lights are off, so very, very dark. Some have called it the Bat Cave, and I find that perfectly fitting tonight. I’m here with this masked stranger, reasons unknown.
Ryan crosses the room and lights a candle.
It’s all too much.
“Ryan,” I say, “What’s going on here?”
“What? I just thought this would be fun.” He gestures to the candle and the CD player.
Good ol’ fun. Good ol’ simplistic sounding fun. How complicated it can be.
He motions for me to sit next to him. He covers us both in a quilt, chases away the cold winter chill in this basement room. We listen to the Christmas music and he doesn’t say much. He doesn’t talk about how last year, for a Christmas gift, he wrote me my very own love song and sang it to me with a singing voice that he was just starting to use. A voice which has now become even more pure and melodic and confident, and yet another secret weapon in his girl magnet arsenal. He doesn’t talk about how the words to that song promised forever.
His face is inches from mine now though, and I swear I see it all in his eyes. I swear his expression is telling me that he remembers it and that he still feels it too.
“What are you thinking about?” I whisper.
His eyes drift to somewhere above us as he considers how to answer. Then he gives me a half smile and says, “I’m thinking that you think too much.”
He kisses me… and I stop thinking.

The next morning at school I’m singing songs in my head as I bounce down the halls. Ryan still has feelings for me. I wonder what he’ll say when he sees me today. Will he flirt with me in front of my friends? Will he seek me out to say hello? Or will we just pass each other in the hall and share a secret look, a knowing smile.
After third period one of my friends finds me at our lockers. “Have you heard the rumors going around about Ryan?” she asks.
This isn’t unusual. People tend to want to keep me informed about Ryan and his antics.
“No,” I say, “What’s going on?”
“He kissed somebody over Thanksgiving break.”
I can’t keep my mischievous smile hidden away. “Oh he did, did he?” I say. Don’t I know it.“Yeah. He’s telling everybody about it too, like he’s some kind of hero. She was a stranger! A girl from Logan that he didn’t even know.”
The happy little song in my head screeches to a halt. My playful expression slides down off of my cheeks and drops to the ground.
“Apparently he looked through his cousin’s yearbook, found the cutest girl in there, called her and went out with her! Who does that?”
Who does that? A hero? A villain? It depends on how much of the story you know.
At the end of the day I’m walking down a near empty hallway with Tiffany. Ryan approaches me, all smiles.
“Hey Sparky, can I get a ride home with you?” he near shouts as he comes toward us.
I stop in front of him, my face like ice. “I heard about the girl from Logan,” I say. “Who needs the confines of a little black book when high schools print yearbooks? Right?”
He looks at the ground. It’s impossible to tell whether he’s sorry or just annoyed that I have the nerve to confront him about it. After all, we aren’t together anymore. Last night, somebody should have told that to the music, the candles, the Bat cave and the kisses.
“Anyway, I can’t give you a ride home… I… I don’t have my car.”I feel Tiff’s eyes steal a surprised glance at me, and then at my hand which conceals my car keys. I give her a nod, knowing she’ll play along. I can see that she’s a little uncomfortable, but mostly impressed that I’m finding myself able to turn Ryan away for once.
“Come on Tiff, let’s go” I say.
We go to our lockers to pick up a few things and as we’re making our way to the doors of the school, I see Ryan talking and laughing with two girls. It stings worse than usual. A boy named T walks toward us and reaches us just steps from where Ryan and the girls are standing. “Hey,” he says to us, “I’m looking for ride home. Do either of you-“
“Sure T,” I say, syrupy sweet and plenty loud. “I can give you a ride home. My car is right outside.”
“Thanks gorgeous,” he says and puts his arm around my shoulder. I put my arm around his waist and we walk away together. I can feel Ryan’s eyes boring into the back of me. I know he has seen and heard. I know he deserves everything he gets… but I feel certain now that there are no heroes here. In the land of Can’t Be Together, Can’t Be Apart- there are no heroes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My True Love Story

What Happens On The Way To Vegas...

I know what you’re thinking. Or at least, I know what I’m thinking whenever I read a story about unrequited love or a couple facing so many obstacles. I think, “Do whatever it takes, move heaven and earth, love is all you need, love conquers all, love is more important than anything else.” There was one night that Ryan and I put those theories to the test. I try to remember it whenever I start to let myself get too close to him again. Yep. Whenever we… let’s say… start up a challenging game of who can catch the most fall leaves and end up in a prolonged embrace while silently repeating the words, “We cannot kiss, we will not kiss” over and over in our minds… that’s when I remember the night of our Junior Prom.
We’ve always planned on going to prom together. Ryan is very gallant in asking me to be his date, despite the fact that we have broken up. He’s a boy, and he holds all of the cards. While girls are waiting and pining and scheming for their dates, boys are biding their time, playing it cool, trying to convince their mothers to let them spend the tux rental money on video games and skip prom altogether.
The practices for promenade, the preparation, the date… it all has me tied in knots. I love him, I hate him; I hate him because I love him. I see him charming some other girl and I seethe, he charms me and I melt. We try our best to be friends, but a step too far one way puts us in a headlock, and a step too far the other way puts us in a lip lock.
So here I am at prom, walking on a fine line in heels and yards upon yards of glistening white fabric. We’re stiff and practiced and perfect through the showy part, and finally… finally… the audience begins to disperse and the students are left to dance with their dates, relaxing into the usual poor posture and occasional smashed toe.
Ryan and I lose ourselves in a sea of colored ruffles and sequins out on the dance floor. The stern look of concentration softens away from the outer edges of his eyes; his fingers rest more leisurely at my hips. We dance and we mingle.
After awhile, Ryan pulls me to his side and moves his lips close to my ear. “I hardly dare get close to you with all of the fluff and flowers between us.” He gestures to the corsage pinned to his lapel.
“I’m more concerned with what surrounds us than what’s in between us,” I say, and when my eyes sweep the room, it’s a dizzying kaleidoscope of noise and giggling girls that are a possible threat to me.
Ryan reads my expression. “You wanna go for a drive?” he asks.
I nod, and he takes my hand and leads me from the gym. We load me into the car, my dress taking up my entire seat and half of his. The lone sounds of his car door closing, of the key turning in the ignition feel so intimate and welcome.
He drives a few blocks and we pull up in front of the playground at the local elementary school. I gasp and turn to him with eyes alight. “I get to swing in my prom dress?” I ask.
“Do you want to?” he asks.
I like the way the corner of his mouth twitches into a half smile and tells me that he’s surprised that I can still surprise him.
I open my car door and jump out, carrying the majority of my dress in the circle of my arms in front of me as I run for the swings.
He walks behind me, snickering quietly at my eagerness.
I plop into a swing, kick my shoes off and start to sway back and forth, the wind fluttering the soft layers of my dress as I pick up speed. I’ve never felt more beautiful.
Ryan sits in the swing next to me, and twists a quarter turn so that he can watch me.
“Have you had a good prom?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, “Thank you for asking me. I know you didn’t have to.”
“I wanted to,” he says, “And I’m glad I did.”
We’re quiet for a minute, taking in the stillness around us, the twinkling night sky.
“We survived another rite of passage,” I say. “I liked dancing the first dance with my Dad. He made it a point to tell me that he’s proud of me and that he loves me.”
“He did?”
“Yeah. My Dad has a gift for always saying the right thing at the right time. I know I’m lucky. I know that not all dads say those things out loud.”
“Your Dad is a good man. I always want to be on his good side… which is the side away from where he’s pointing the many rifles in that gun safe he keeps in the basement.”
I giggle.
“He probably hates me now doesn’t he?”
“Nooo,” I dismiss this silly notion. “He tries not to get involved in my boy issues… but he does take those rifles out for target practice quite often…”
This is us. Confiding in each other, making each other laugh. We continue for awhile as more time slips away. Then he steps in front of me, debonair in his tux and bow tie, and stops my lulling swing. He helps me up and I stand facing him, barefoot in the woodchips, white ruffles spilling out around me. We look like two sweet-cheeked porcelain figurines atop a wedding cake, I think to myself. There’s that forbidden word again. Husband, husband, husband. Apparently the forbidden words haven’t heard that we broke up.
When we get back in the car, I see that we still have a good hour until I have to be home.
“Look! The night is young!” I say.
“I’m young,” he says. “Being with you reminds me how too young I am.”
“Well,” I say, reaching out to place my fingertips along the side of his face, “You’re not looking so young. You look more like a grumpy old man.”
“That’s because fighting off the temptation to kiss you is exhausting,” he says.
My smile shines brighter than my dress in the moonlight and I lean in close. “I’ll bet…” I say, “That I know just how to rejuvenate you.”
I touch my lips to his. He moves fast for someone so exhausted, his hand pressing at the back of my neck, coaxing my lips to stay. It wouldn’t have required coaxing. Soon the car fills up with the other forbidden H word. Honeymoon, honeymoon, honeymoon. I can hear the word, and I let it whisper to me for awhile. I can taste it, and I savor it. But then it’s so potent that I’m breathing it in and I reach up and push Ryan away, gasping.
His eyes are intense and his voice raspy as he says, “Can’t you see how impossible this is?”
I shake my head like a scolded child.
“We can’t stay together and then we can’t stay away from each other!” he says.
I just continue looking at him with round, fearful eyes.
“We’ll go to Vegas,” he says, as though he’s determined his recourse. “We’ll drive to Vegas tonight and we’ll get married.”
Husband, husband, husband.
“Okay,” I say, still sounding like the lighthearted girl on the swing.
“You better mean it, Amie, because I’ll do it.”
“Let’s go,” I say. I think I’m calling his bluff.
He faces forward, starts the car, and pulls out of the parking lot without glancing back at me. He doesn’t even drive slowly. We’re ten miles down the highway, headed south before I let the idea sink in.
How much of my dream would I give up? Would I give up the part where our family members stand around us smiling? Would I give up the part where Ryan has grown into a man who knows who he is and where he’s going? Would I give up the part where we look into each other’s eyes with confidence and know for certain that we’re doing the right thing?
I see a million scenes flash before my mind’s eye. I see us scrambling for some sort of makeshift wedding ring. I see us sitting in my living room, across from my parents and trying to explain ourselves to them. I see only the beginning of our problems.
Then I see Ryan in a suit and tie, a missionary name tag on his chest. I see my Mom holding her first grandbaby, with joy in her eyes and not worry. I see my Dad dancing with me at my junior prom and telling me that he’s proud of me.
“Ryan,” I choke the words out, “Pull over. Stop the car.”
He does. He pulls right off to the side of the highway.
“I understand now,” I say. “I see that this isn’t what we want and it’s stupid to wish for it.” Somehow I know he’s already seen everything I just imagined. I think he’s already thought this option through. He just needed me to see it.
He takes me home. We sit on the porch talking until midnight and I whisper to him that I’m still not giving up on the real dream. The one where I don’t have to make any concessions. I still want it all, but now I understand that love is not the most important thing. What you value and what you feel is right- those are the most important things. I still believe in happily ever after, but I have to be careful how I get there.