Yearbook photo of my high school in Long Island, New York.
Time passed. Winter was loosening its clutch on the North Shore of Long Island and signs of spring were beginning to emerge everywhere. In my mother’s daffodils and in the hydrangea bushes in our backyard. In the local park, where they were mowing the lawn and adding fresh sand to the ground by the swings. And, in my bicycle, which had become dusty in the garage, from non-use during the cold months. Now that it was getting warmer, I could once again ride my bike to school in lieu of taking the school bus. These signs were a reminder of the old adage taught to us in grade school. “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”
Spring break was just weeks away, and I couldn’t wait, though I was hoping to stay home for the break so I could hang with Jake. He seemed a bit aloof lately. I asked him if anything was wrong but he looked at me tenuously and then shook his head.
My parents had other ideas for the break. They were making plans to go to Washington, D.C. to see our nation’s Capital. This was their way of making it up to me for not allowing me to go on the 11th grade field trip to D.C. in October. The idea that girls and boys were going to be sleeping in the same hotel (though not in the same rooms) caused my traditional, Latino parents to forbid my participation altogether. I remember being crestfallen the entire week, when nearly all the juniors were away on the trip and I had to stay and attend school, business as usual. Going to D.C. with my parents just wasn’t going to be the same, and I was doing my best to talk them out of it.
Meanwhile, for the first time, I was excited about math. Turns out, when explained s-l-o-w-l-y, geometry is relatively easy to comprehend. But the real reason I was excited was Sam and James. I enjoyed their company and loved hanging out with them in class. We’d get there early, and gab before class started, during class—whenever we could get away with it—and afterwards. It was the “afterwards” part that annoyed Jake, because he’d be waiting for me in the hallway to walk me to my next period, and more and more, I was one of the last to leave as I tried to squeeze in more time with James and Sam. Something Jake didn’t understand at all.
“Why bother? They’re just kids!” he asked, exasperated.
“Because they’re helping me with my homework, I guess.” Not entirely true, but I wasn’t about to let him know that I genuinely liked my sophomore friends. So instead I said, “It’s okay if you can’t always meet me after class. I don’t want you to be late for yours.”
He seemed relieved. I looked back at the classroom and spotted James gathering his books. He looked up at me and smiled warmly. I was trying to think of something pithy to say to him, when Jake grabbed my hand and books, and pulled me away.
The next day, there was no sign of Jake after class. For a moment, I was disappointed. But then I heard a voice behind me say,
“Hey, Bubbles, mind if I walk you to your class?”
It was James. Quietly soothing James. Who seemed to know as much about old movies as I did, and could crack me up with a wry observation. Because of his shyness, he seemed like a lamb, but there was a hint of wildness underneath his demeanor. James had already conjured up a nickname for me, Bubbles, because, as he said, I had a “bubbly” spirit. I wasn’t sure about that, nor was I crazy about a nickname that sounded like it belonged to a stripper, but secretly I was digging that he had his own name for me.
“Where’s Sam?” I wasn’t used to seeing one without the other.
“Oh, he’s staying. He wants to talk to Mrs. C. about the grade he got on the last test.”
“Well then, I suppose you can walk me, but don’t you normally make a left here to go to social studies? I’m actually headed the other way for my English class.”
“I don’t mind,” he smiled, adding rather expectantly, “Would you like some help with your books? You’ve got quite a few there.”
I reddened. True, I had a lot of books in my hands because I’d been to the school library earlier for a report I was writing and was going to continue working on it during study period, but somehow, I felt James was getting too close for comfort.
“Um, no thanks.” I then paused and said, “James, last I heard you’re not my boyfriend. I don’t mind walking with you, really, because you’re a friend. A very nice friend. But that’s all. It’s weird for you to carry my books.” Ugh. Why did I just say that? I could see how deflated he looked.
“Sorry. Just thought I’d ask, that’s all.” This wasn’t going well and I had a feeling it was my fault. It felt so awkward being here without Sam to balance us out.
James must have felt it, too, because suddenly he surprised me and quietly said, “Maybe you’re right. I thought it’d be nice to walk with you, but I should just probably get going before the bell rings. Later.” With that, he turned and walked away.
After school, as I was unlocking my bike to go home, I ran into Sam. He was alone and about to head to the public library. I glanced around hoping to see James, wanting to make sure we were okay.
Sam greeted me and said, “If you’re looking for James. His mom picked him up earlier. Doctor’s appointment.”
“Why would you assume I’m looking for James?”
“I just figured,” he remarked matter-of-factly.
“Figured what, exactly?”
“Well, it’s kind of obvious. He’s crazy about you and I think you feel the same.”
I stammered. “Sam, no way. You’re crazy!”
“You think so? From where I’m standing, you seem to be all he thinks about.”
I was aghast. As Sam took off on his bike, I zipped up my windbreaker, and started to think about what he’d said.
James liked me? Suddenly I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie mystery, when all the suspects are gathered together at dinner and all the clues start falling into place, revealing the identity of the murderer. Only instead of exposing the killer, the clues were now revealing this attraction that had caught me unawares. Did I feel it, too?
But now, I could see. Sam was right. I began to remember how my cheeks would burn each time I felt James’ seemingly constant gaze upon me. How he’d wink at me as if he and I were the only ones in on a joke. How he’d hold the door open for me when we got to class. The electric current I felt when my arm briefly brushed his. And, I remembered just how much I looked forward to seeing him, and how, despite his shyness, James had proven to be even funnier and more scintillating than Sam. And his eyes, how beautiful and open there were to me.
I pedaled feverishly all the way home, and by the time I arrived, I knew what I had to do. Two things were certain: James was too young and Jake was my boyfriend. There was only one solution. I had to stop talking to James!
Yet, nothing really is certain, is it? That night, the wind blew furiously, bringing with it a new morning frost that made it too cold to ride my bike to school.
So much for spring. Seems like the lion wasn’t yet ready to yield to the lamb.
(To be continued.)
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