Not If I See You First
Molly sits with me on the stairs, waiting for Aunt Celia. It’s routine now for her to walk with me to the parking lot to hang out till my ride comes.
We’re not talking. I think about this, like always. We’ve either run out of things to say after only a week, or she’s in a mood I haven’t been able to detect, or she’s working out how to ask an awkward question, or she’s—
“Do you know Scott Kilpatrick?”
“I used to,” I say lightly. “At Marsh Middle School. Why?”
“You know he sits in front of me in Trig?”
“Yeah, I heard his voice. Do you like him or something?”
“I don’t know him well enough.”
“Plenty of people don’t let that get in the way of a good crush,” I say.
“He looks at you sometimes.”
I stiffen. I don’t want to have this conversation, yet I also don’t want to draw attention to this.
“I’m sure people look at me all the time. The Resident Hallway Obstacle. The Bull in the China Shop.”
“And your blindfolds do draw the eye.”
I’m wearing tie-dye today. I sense an opportunity. I grab the tail and hold it up.
“You like this one? I made it myself. What’s it look like?”
“You don’t know? I mean, no one’s ever told you?”
“Tie-dye is hard to describe. It’s like a Rorschach test. What’s it look like to you?”
“Mostly blues and greens and some aqua. Blotches of red, streaks of maroon, some purple. Parallel stripes, vertical but probably just how you folded it. Looks almost like you rolled up a hippie version of an American flag. What does that say about me?”
“Practical, objective, nothing fancy. Faith says things like burgundy and fuchsia instead of maroon. Some people say it’s swirly or project a lot of dreamy feelings into it.”
“How do you know that’s what you’re wearing?”
“It’s tagged, see?” I show her the tag at the end. “I make these plastic braille doodads and sew them in. Most everything I wear is tagged.”
“That’s cool. But that’s not why Scott looks at you.”
My throat tightens. I’m getting warm again. I think Molly and I are becoming friends, maybe good friends, so she’ll find out eventually. If that’s true, I don’t want to spend ten times more effort now avoiding what’s inevitable.
“We were best friends since fourth grade. Then toward the end of the eighth grade we … started kissing. That’s all. It didn’t last long. We broke up and then went to different high schools.”
“Must’ve been some really bad kissing.”
I snort. “It sure wasn’t. But it … I mean he …”
I take a deep breath.
“We’d only been together a couple weeks. Then at lunch one day we went into an empty classroom we would go to, you know … then I heard snickering.”
My breathing speeds up. I can’t explain this without feeling it all over again, like it’s happening right now. The suffocating panic of trusting someone so completely, drinking them in, and having it suddenly turn to burning hot poison. I deepen my breaths to slow them down.
“There was someone else in the room,” Molly says.
“Seven someones. At first it scared the shit out of me and I jumped and Scott and I bumped teeth and everyone in the room started laughing. Then they were all talking at once. I don’t remember what they said, mostly congratulating Scott and jeering about how I’d been scammed. I pushed Scott hard and he knocked over a bunch of stuff, and I was halfway down the hall before he caught up with me, saying he was sorry, that he told them because they didn’t believe we were a couple, and other bullshit I don’t remember anymore. I ducked into a bathroom and waited there till class started. Then I went to the office and called home and my dad came and picked me up.”
“Scott kept calling me … I didn’t answer and deleted all his messages without even listening. He kept trying to say he was sorry in school but I wouldn’t talk to him and my friends helped keep him away, especially Sarah and Faith. Then he came to the door and Dad sent him away—chewed him out, too—I didn’t hear what they said. After that he stopped calling or trying to talk to me. When we were in the same room at school I just pretended he wasn’t there. Then we graduated and went to different high schools and that’s really all there is to it. Ancient history.”
There. All the gory details, nothing hidden, casually delivered. Done. We can move on.
“I don’t know what to say,” Molly says softly. “That’s awful.”
The unexpected tenderness makes my heart pound.
“No big deal—just kid stuff,” I say and immediately wish I hadn’t. I don’t want this to turn into a big thing so I’m trying to toss it off lightly but not dishonestly. Saying it’s no big deal isn’t honest. It was a big deal. Still is.
“Are you kidding? It’s a nightmare. It’s horrible. You say Scott was your best friend before that?”
“For years. Actually four years: one, two, three, four.”
I’m getting dizzy. If she shrugged off this story like a trivial childhood drama I’d be fine, but hearing her voice, agreeing that it means a lot more than it sounds …
“Kissing you with seven guys secretly standing around watching? I’d have killed him. I want to kill him now.”
My chest tightens some more. I can’t talk about this much longer. I didn’t want to kill him when it happened; I wanted to kill myself. I saw a side of the world I knew existed but thought I could protect myself from, and in that moment I saw that I never could. There’s no absolute safety to be found anywhere. Not the kind I want anyway.
“So, yeah.” I sigh. “I knew Scott Kilpatrick. Or I thought I did. Then I found out I really didn’t.”
Because no one can know anybody, really. Not completely.
Molly shifts and jostles me a little. I feel her hand on my shoulder. I get it that she nudged me first so her hand wouldn’t be a surprise, to touch me without startling me and also without having to awkwardly ask permission. I’m so grateful for her understanding Rule Number Two this well after only a week, I wonder if I can keep it together.
I don’t have to wonder for long. Aunt Celia arrives and saves me. The irony almost makes me laugh. Almost.
Pretty typical week. Good things happened, bad things happened, like always. I’m sorry we don’t talk after school anymore; it’s too hard to get time to just sit alone. Petey thinks I’m bored or at least not busy. From now on I think I can only talk to you right before bed.