Lightning in a Jar: Love Unexpected

“My head keeps spinning,
I go to sleep and keep grinning,
If this is just the beginning,
My life’s gonna be beautiful.
I’ve sunshine enough to spread,
It’s like the fella said,
Tell me quick,
Ain’t love like a kick in the head?”

Lyrics to Dean Martin’s Ain’t That a Kick in the Head

CHAPTER 7:

They say love comes when you least expect it. Like an unanticipated visitor seeking refuge in the warmth of your hearth. Or, a spray of lilacs hidden beneath a winter’s snowfall. In an instant, a cloud of darkness can give way to bright, sparkling love, moonlit promises, and a treasure trove of memories.new_library_outside

But, sometimes in the blush of youth, we confuse lust for love. And, sometimes we never know real love at all. And, as in my case, there are times love opens its arms and we walk away for reasons that later we cannot comprehend.

Like the refrain goes, love’s like a kick in the head. Perplexing and illogical, it’s safe to say, we never learn about love from the mistakes of others. Which is why, the song and dance of love is one that is repeated often, throughout the course of history.

Or, as Sonny and Cher would say, “And the beat goes on.”

Meeting Jake was unexpected. Gregariously handsome, he had all the right lines, which he’d flick at you in rapid procession so that when you fell, you fell hard. Still, if Jake was unexpected, falling for a mere underclassman like James was even more so. James had a soft, youthful quality about him, which is why it was so easy for me to scoff at the thought that there might be anything between us. Too young to consider dating, he seemed more like one of the kids I’d babysit for on the weekends.

Yet, with each passing day, James impressed me with his intelligence, crackerjack wit, and genuine compassion. Unlike Jake, he didn’t have a come-on line. He never tried to be sexy or prove anything he wasn’t. He was just James, a boy who was exactly as he appeared.

In the days that followed my breakup with Jake, James remained his usual self. In other words, James was as attentive as ever. He’d greet me with his usual ray-of-sunshine smile, copy down the homework assignment for me if I skipped out on class—which I did on two occasions—walked with me to my next class, without even asking if it was alright with me, and generally gazed at me when he thought I wasn’t looking. But, I was.

James was always there. Reliable. And, while I appreciated the little things he did to lift my spirits, my mind had been dizzily racing elsewhere. I’d needed something—a spark, a change. I wanted to be reckless and wild, and not the sweet little girl most assumed I was.

But, until the moment that James drew me out of study hall, willing me to give him a chance, it had never occurred to me that the change I needed, the high I craved, might be found in him. That night, I thought about our conversation behind the school—how he looked and how exhilarating it felt to be touched by him. How he held my hand so assuredly, as if it was something he did all the time. And how the recollection now electrified me. I got little sleep that night, playing our encounter over and over in my head.

The following morning, I knew what I had to do. I was going to take the next step, I thought excitedly, as I pumped my legs, riding my bike to school. James wanted me to give him a chance, and that’s exactly what I planned to do, eager was I to discover what he was made of, and what it’d be like to spend time with him outside of school. It was do or die, and put your money where your mouth is, and I was more than ready.

Okay, maybe cautiously ready. After all, there was still the matter of the age difference. What if my friends were to learn about this date I was planning with a sophomore? Would they laugh and make me the butt of their jokes?

As I made my way past Waldbaum’s supermarket, through the parking lot, bypassing the local library, I found myself feeling unsteady. What was I thinking? I was willing, wasn’t I, to give him a chance? Suddenly, I was uncertain. As I eased my bike onto the school grounds, I found my second thoughts were turning into third and fourth ones. I was caving.

I can do this, I told myself.

No, I can’t. No way, no how.

I walked down the hall toward Geometry. The second bell, marking the start of class, had yet to ring, but Mrs. C was already writing on the chalkboard the problems we’d be working on that morning. James and Sam were there, too.

James’ face lit up when he saw me, and I felt my cheeks burn. I can do this I said to myself as I took my seat in front of them, and turned around to face them.

James must’ve also been thinking about our rendezvous the day before, for he asked, with a mischievous grin, “So, did you end up making it to your last period okay?”

I nodded. The words I’d been planning to say stuck in my throat. I can do this. I can invite him on an outing for Saturday. Piece of cake, if only I’d stop backpedaling.

“What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t she make it to her class?” Sam interjected.

“No reason. Just asking,” James quickly replied, realizing he’d nearly spilled the beans.

I’m crazy to invite him anywhere. People would definitely talk if we went out. If I’m seen alone with him, away from school, they’ll wonder. Unless, unless…a thought came to me. No one would say anything about three friends hanging out. Three, not two.

Practically choking on my words, I began to sputter, only to be interrupted by James, who lowered his voice and spoke directly to me. “Hey, any interest in going on a bike ride with me tomorrow? I was thinking we could head out to Eisenhower Park.”

Yikes. His invitation, while pleasing, caught me off guard. I can’t do this. Not without Sam.

Nervously, I brought Sam into the conversation. “Great idea! What do you think, Sam? Can you make it?”

James was puzzled by this turn of events. Clearly the invitation was for me alone. He said,  “I think Sam has plans with his folks.” He paused, then added, “Am I right, Sam?”

Sam didn’t take the hint. “Um, not really. I can make it. What time?”

A flood of relief came over me. I’d be seeing James but, in case we ran into anyone, it would be obvious it wasn’t a date. There was no way I could be seen dating a sophomore, plain and simple.

Still, to make doubly sure we wouldn’t be seen together, I said, “Actually, how about I meet you both there? Is 1 o’clock okay?”

“Sounds good,” said Sam. A sullen James looked away.

“James?” I said wistfully.

He seemed deep in thought. I knew he wanted it to be just the two of us, and was starting to feel bad about my decision to include Sam.

Say something, James. Tell me you cant wait to see me, anyway. Tell me youre as excited as I am. Tell me you understand. Its better this way, dont you see? Were friends, the three of us. Friends, thats all, JamesJames? Why cant you say something?

Sam pressed him. “What’s wrong with you?” The second bell rang, signaling the start of class.

James finally looked up and sighed, “Sure, 1 o’clock is fine. We’ll meet at the park.”

Only I could see the flash of confusion in his eyes that seemed to be asking me, ‘What are you afraid of?

Everything. Falling for you. Being with you.

Hurting you.

The truth.

I was afraid of myself.

But, frankly, I hadn’t a clue.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the page, Lightning in a Jar: High School Years.

Lightning in a Jar: A Perfect Childhood

CHAPTER 5:

When you think about it, there is no such thing as a perfect childhood.

So much can go wrong, so much can happen. You can be five and playing hopscotch on the sidewalk in front of your home, and suddenly you miss a beat and fall in a heap of scrapes and bruises. You can have a much older half-brother who doesn’t think much of you and doesn’t give a second thought to scooping you out of your bubble-bath bliss, and dropping you naked and wet on the hallway carpet, simply because he needs to use the bathroom to take a piss.Me, June 1972 2 1

Maybe you’re playing with a brother you adore, and he’s jauntily carrying you across the living room, making you giggle in ecstatic glee as you anticipate being tossed on the couch. He drops you too soon. A genuine accident, and you land on the edge of the coffee table, your head striking the sharp corner of the table, causing a small puncture. Blood splatters across the table and onto the rug, and you end up requiring six stitches. Enough to make you scream and your brother to get a beating.

Think about it. A president can get assassinated just like that, and the world forever changes. Seemingly overnight, you can be eight years old and sent away to live with relatives in a far off country, and when you return, a year later, everything’s changed. Your family has moved, and no longer live in your childhood brownstone, but by the corner of Main Street and harsh reality, in a modest apartment, so small that you now are relegated to sleeping on the living room couch, after everyone else has gone to bed, that is.

You move again, this time out of the city and out to the suburbs of Long Island. You become deathly ill and are bedridden for months. Meanwhile, everything keeps changing around you.

Nothing stays the same and you can keep coming around the bend as many times as you want, and still you can’t stop it. Change, that is. It’ll happen, it always does. You keep moving, and time keeps passing and before you know it, you’re 15, and you find yourself living alone, as a boarder in someone else’s house, all because your own family has dispersed—parts unknown.

There is no such thing as a perfect childhood, but finally, your family settles down and you’re in high school. You meet a boy and go steady for the first time. A boy who’s a senior, and you’ve fallen in love. Then, life smacks you in the face, and you’re tossed to the curb in a wrenching breakup.

But, there’s someone in math class and for a fleeting moment you think, he is a friend but he could me more. If only the age thing didn’t bother you so much. That’s how you feel. Terrified that you find yourself liking him. Drawn to him and looking forward to seeing him each day in class, but ignoring him. Mortified that he’s so young. A whole year younger. If only, you say. He’s caring and you aren’t used to such sincerity. Yet, he doesn’t care about appearances, and you do. But then you never asked for this, all the same.

So, therein lies the rub. And, what do you do? You start hanging out with George and Max. Jake’s best friends. Max is all right. Hefty and tall, with a moon-shaped face, deep set eyes and a crooked grin. And, most of the time, stoned out of his mind.

But, George is another matter. He likes you, he really likes you, but you find him boring and dull-witted. No personality and if you think about him for too long, you become repulsed, but mostly with yourself. You can’t even stand it when he touches you. Yet, you agree to go out. Not one time, but several. Over and over and each time you dread it. You do this because you are a girl on a mission with one goal in mind: To make Jake jealous. And, what better way than by dating his best friend?

Yet, Jake doesn’t care. Not one bit, and he’s shown you that by his indifference. Witness the other night. You were at the Ho-Jo’s, sitting across from George, sharing a dish of chocolate ice cream. George kept going on and on about how nervous he was because he still hadn’t heard from his first choice for college, Plattsburgh State, and all you kept thinking was, Plattsburgh? Why would anyone want to go to a school with a name like that? And the more you said it in your head, the more peculiar it sounded and soon you burst out laughing, and George, who didn’t see the flash of scorn in your eyes, couldn’t figure out what had you in stitches. And, there you were, glaring at him as if he was the crazy one. Plattsburgh, indeed.

But, then Jake walked in with Little Miss Pinched Face. That’s what you’d taken to calling his new girlfriend because she always appears to be in flinching in pain. And, all you could think of was making Jake jealous, which is why you started flirting with George, suddenly gushing at his every word. And, while you did, you felt sick inside while George was beaming, taking it all in. He fell for you, after all. Jake gave a polite nod and sat down with Pinched Face, in a booth near yours, his back toward you. Why? Because he didn’t care. And, the rest of the night you felt stuck. Stuck with George and talk of Plattsburgh, watching his mouth form words you couldn’t hear, because your mind wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere, but there.

You’re young and foolish and can’t see the forest for the trees. You should know better, but jealousy has you by the throat. Jealousy and your own insecurities and self doubt. And, why do you keep pushing away the only boy you really care about?

Tap, tap.

What is that? Then you remember. You’re in study period and someone is tapping you on the shoulder, pulling you out of your self-defeating thoughts. You look up. It’s James, curiously staring at you, willing you to smarten up and see what’s in front of you. Wake up, he ought to be saying. Wake up!

“Thought I’d find you here,” he softly whispers. He crooks his finger and adds, “Follow me.”

You look around apprehensively. It’s study hall after all, and you haven’t really given James the time of day, and you wonder if his patience with you is wearing thin. The teacher assigned to study hall, who is more like a warden, seems to have left the room, and the prisoners, ahem, students, are on their own. James isn’t even supposed to be there, but somehow that doesn’t matter. Before you can reply, he takes your hand and pulls you up, and you feel your hand tremble as it meets his. His palm is tender and hot against yours. You grab your things, as he gingerly guides you out of the room. And suddenly, you’re taking flight, and you feel like an escapee. Where are you going? You don’t know, but there’s no time to ask. All you know is that, for the first time in weeks, you feel a lift in your step.

There may be no such thing as a perfect childhood, but sometimes there are moments that come close.

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the Lightning in a Jar: High School Years page.

Lightning in a Jar: Petulant Me

My high school in Long Island, New York.

My high school in Long Island, New York.


CHAPTER 3:

Had I been leading him on? Encouraging him in some way? I wracked my brain, trying to remember every conversation, every word we’d ever uttered. Seemed to me I was just being myself, playfully laughing and joking around with James and Sam. We were practically the Three Musketeers of Geometry! Doing our homework together, studying together. And, it was always the three of us, not two. Three!

So, why was I feeling anything? Why did I care so much? We were friends! And yet…

And yet, I was in love with Jake. With all my heart. Which is why “Operation Don’t Talk to James” was put into effect right away. Of course, it was impossible to not speak to James at all. We were still classmates and that wasn’t about to change any time soon. But, I did everything possible not to encourage conversation beyond class-related stuff. I wouldn’t look at him, even when he spoke, and even when I replied.

And, if that wasn’t going to work, there was always Plan B. The cooling-off period. With spring break just a few days away, it seemed almost a relief to know I wouldn’t be seeing him for an entire week, which would provide plenty of time to put this in perspective.

Sigh. An entire week of not seeing James seemed almost like a lifetime! Worst, I wouldn’t be seeing Jake either, as my family was definitely going to D.C. for the week and there was absolutely no way to get out of it. I was so mad.

It didn’t take James long to figure out something was amiss. On the Friday before vacation, as I left class, he caught up with me, beckoning me to follow him outside the school. Reluctantly, I did.

We walked down a slope toward the back of the school. In the distance, a girls’ field hockey game was underway. James’ face leaned into mine.

“Bubbles,” he said almost tenderly, like a guy who is trying to make amends with his girlfriend, “Did I do something wrong? You seem mad at me and I want to know why.”

I hesitated. I could like this boy, I really could. If only things were different. I could feel myself caving, giving into his strength of character, his goodness. But Jake, coupled with James’ age, pulled me back. Why did James have to be so nice? Why did I enjoy his company so much? It was all too confounding to think about.

“James,” I finally asked, “Is it true? Do you like me?”

James raised an eyebrow and looked at me quizzically. “Is this a trick question?”

“No, I’m serious. I need to know how you feel.”

“Well, yes. I like you very much, Bubbles. I love your smile and, well, you make me feel good.” He gave a half smile.

So, now it was out there. The attraction between us, alive and kicking. No one could deny. Yet, this wasn’t supposed to be like this. Sure, it felt good to hear, but all it did was confuse the issue, blur the lines, and make me feel all kinds of crazy inside. I was at a crossroads. I could’ve flung my arms around him or rejected him out flat. I chose the latter.

“You’ve got to stop this, James. And, you need to stop calling me Bubbles, do you understand? I already have a boyfriend, and you’re just in 10th grade, James. A kid! That’s what you are, don’t you get it? THIS ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN!”

I was ablaze in anger and frustration, but the real source of my rage was not James. It was me. I had somehow turned myself into a petulant, churlish child, unable to express myself in any other way than through an emotional meltdown. And, I had taken it out on James. If I had venom in me, I would be spitting it about now. I hated that he was seeing me like this and so, before either of us said another word, I quickly turned and ran back to the school.

Jake came over that night, after I’d finished packing for the trip. I wanted him to hold me and tell me it was going to be okay, but he didn’t know any of what transpired between me and James, and I wasn’t about to tell him. Nobody knew and I wanted to keep it that way.

I was too mortified that I had encouraged this young boy, that we had come this far so quickly, and that I’d acted like a maniac in front of him. I cared for him and worried that I may ruined our friendship for good.

I turned to Jake. Was it me or was he still being a bit distant? Certainly, he could see what mood I was in, couldn’t he? Yet, he asked me nothing about my day. I couldn’t pinpoint what was different but I had other problems to occupy my mind, so I decided not to give it further thought. It was troubling, though, that I couldn’t remember the last time he wrote me a romantic note or love poem.

When it was time for Jake to go, I held him tight, letting him know I was going to miss him everyday and every night. Then, I gave him something personal of mine to hold on to while I was away. I gave him a ring I’d wear most every day, that had been a gift from my parents for my Quinceñera when I was living in Venezuela.

Jake kissed me on the cheek, and said we’d see each other again soon. One week is a short time, after all. Still, I got teary as he left, and told him I’d call him the moment we returned.

How long one week can seem when you’re young and in love, and resenting your parents for separating you from the object of your devotion. It is the pain of teen angst and insecurity, and all you want to do is rush time. Make it go faster. Hurry for I can’t wait to see Jake again. Seven days felt like, from here to eternity.

I don’t remember anything about the trip except for one thing: I wanted it to be over. I needed to go home. Home is where the heart is, after all. I had to see Jake and the week seemed like it would never end.

And, then the trip was over and we were home at last. I practically jumped out of the car and dialed Jake’s number. I couldn’t wait to hear his voice again. That’s all I wanted after seven days with nary a word. And, when he picked up the phone, my heart was elated.

“Oh good you’re back,” he said rather somberly. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’ve been seeing someone else for a few weeks now, and she’s very special to me. I know this is probably upsetting to hear, but you should know I waited for your vacation to be over before telling you, because I didn’t want to spoil it for you.”

Then, almost as an after thought, he added, “Let me know a good time to stop by so I can return your ring.”

(To be continued.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

Lightning in a Jar: In Like a Lion

My high school in Long Island, New York.

Yearbook photo of my high school in Long Island, New York.

CHAPTER 2:

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.)

Missed an installment? Catch up by visiting the High School Years page.

James at 16

Last week, I opened the door to high school memories when I posted about my first love. Well, with every first love, there’s also “the one that got away.”  Can you think of someone in your past who might fit this bill? I can.

In fact, I have very few regrets in my life, but if I’m honest with myself, I know that this is one of them, for I have never forgotten James. (Note: no real names, other than mine, are used in the telling of this story.)

Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook.

Photo, courtesy of my high school yearbook.

Like anyone else, I’ve had my share of highs and lows. That’s a fact. And, while some might say you should have no regrets about the past, and that everything happens for a reason, I believe we are active participants in our own destiny just by the paths we choose. So, please read what I’m calling, James at 16 (not to be confused with the old TV series by the same name, by the way). Set during those last years of high school, before we all part company and move on, it is based on truth and yet sometimes, the truth is stretched and re-imagined.


James at 16

Prologue:  This is where I screwed up. The scene of the crime. Twice. With James and then later with me. I can kick myself. I can feel the pain in my shin the instant I do. Take it back, I cry. Take it back. I want to take it back. Thank God, the execution went poorly. It was a poor act to follow, anyway.

And yet, I got a second chance. A second chance, but not with you, James. Maybe once, yes. But, coulda, woulda, shoulda, right?

James, I’m sorry. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry. Know I feel bad, so bad, I wish I could take it back. Put me in the game, Coach, I need a do-over. This time I’ll get it right. No mistakes. I won’t blow it. One for the Gipper, and one for me. Just one.

The more I live, the more I see. How gentle you were. How incredibly kind. You were there when others turned away.

Yet, I did this. I did this to us, snuffing out the sparks of our love because I didn’t think anyone would understand. Now I know what I didn’t know then. Who cares what they would’ve said? Who cares?

I guess I cared.

You’re so handsome, James, right down to that schnoz on your face. So exquisitely chiseled, bump and all. I see you, and you haven’t changed. Exactly the same. The black hair, shiny long against your pale skin. The way your hand keeps coming up to your face to brush the strands out of your eyes. Those narrow hands of yours. I want to touch them again, so gentle, so loving. I want to kiss each fingertip and call you my angel. You really loved me, didn’t you? I could see it in your eyes. Unbridled, innocent, offering it to me with your open heart. And that mischievous, half smile of yours. Was I your first love?

I think I was. And, what did I do?

I snubbed you and did all those horrible things. I was cold. Screw you, James! It’s how I felt, and couldn’t help it. That was me, and I was on fire. No, I was desperate. So lonely, too. My heart, James, my heart. I was embarrassed by my feelings for you. Ashamed, really. Did I tell you how much I loved your soulful black eyes? They took me in. Twinkling, hypnotic eyes.

I fell for you and couldn’t live with myself because of it. It wasn’t right. My 17-year-old self, James, and you barely 16. It wasn’t right. How could a junior like me date a sophomore? It was absurd to even suggest! Can you understand? It was the times. Have they changed much? Is it that different now?

Can you forgive the choices a dumb fool like me makes? Still a child myself, not seeing the big picture. There was nothing practical about my choices. Do you have any regrets, James?

Look at me. Look at me right now, James. My hands open, I have nothing left. Nothing to hide, but what I did. And, what happened with Max, that was not my doing. I know you believe me. He was my friend, yes, but I should never have introduced you. You’ll never know how swiftly I became your fierce protector.

Come closer, James. I want to see you. Feel you. Wrap my arms around you. Lay next to you again, this time wearing my heart on my sleeve. I can almost smell the scent of you on my skin. Burnt sienna, musky and dark. I want to be next to you, in the crook of your shoulder, the way we used to be, spending hours upon hours before your mother would come home. Thankfully, she never caught us, and I would’ve been mortified if she had. She never knew what we did in your room after school. Nor did mine. Our secret rendezvous. No, no one knew except Max, and also Sam, funny Sam who made me laugh when the three of us were together. They each saw the signs–how could they not? But they didn’t know it all.

It should’ve been you, James. My beautiful boy. It should’ve been you. Can we be honest? No more games this time. Let’s go back to where it all began. Let’s ride our bikes to Eisenhower Park as fast as we can–top speed!–with the wind in our face and the sun on our backs. And, when we get there, let’s lay on the grass together, as we once did. But, this time with renewed spirits, as we take in the scent of blue indigo flowers and apple blossoms, so strong this time of year. We’re almost there, James! I can feel it. Side by side, you and I. Breathlessly happy once more.

Lightning in a jar.

(To be continued.)