Lightning in a Jar: The Walls of Jericho

CHAPTER 8:

Another year of school was winding down. Pretty soon it’d be time for finals and the Regents Examinations. But first, there’d be the senior prom. For months, I imagined I’d be going to the prom with Jake. We’d hold each other tightly while slow dancing, and when it was over, we’d end up on the beach, as most revelers did, making out beneath the glow of the sunrise. The one time when talk of curfew would be excused.

Jericho always had the best apple cider bar none.

Jericho Cider Mill. The best apple cider, bar none.

It promised to be the perfect night. Me, on the arm of my boyfriend, wearing a long flowing dress sewn by my mother and her Singer sewing machine. That had been the plan, but now Jake would not be taking me, but rather, his new girlfriend, who seemed to always look like she’d swallowed a bag of prunes, pits and all.

Two months had passed since spring vacation and the devastating breakup. Two months of uncertainty and hurt burrowing inside me, taking hold like a vice constricting my body. Two months that found me sometimes doing well, sometimes so high I had to lay perfectly still to keep my head from spinning, and sometimes longing for a boy who I knew was too young for me. I couldn’t help but wonder, how different things might have been if we hadn’t moved here at all. Jericho. For better, for worse, it sometimes felt as though the walls were tumbling down around me.

Located on Long Island, in the Town of Oyster Bay, Jericho didn’t really start to see a boon until after the Second World War. Like all suburbs, the houses there looked immaculately pristine, with only slight variations to tell them apart. We were a traditional community, where women mostly stayed at home, and men caught the Long Island Railroad from Hicksville, the next town over, to their jobs in the city, which was about an hour away. We kids had our run of the neighborhood, but often you’d find us hanging out at the local shopping center, springing for a strawberry or chocolate parfait at the Gertz department store. Our version of the soda shoppes of yesteryear, I suppose.

Once, Jericho had been a haven for Quakers, who ended up giving the town its name. I imagine that then it was nothing but farmland and gentle hills, nurtured by the sun, and the rains of a thousand storms, with earth rich with minerals and nutrients, giving forth to tall oaks, maples, rambling roses, untold brambles and foliage that grew darkly rich and plentiful.

I never gave much thought to how we ended up leaving Queens for Jericho, but knowing my father, he probably bought the first place that came on the market, sight unseen. It was a split level with a large backyard, and the front yard was caddy corner to an off ramp of the Long Island Expressway. With no fence to protect our plot of land, cars speeding too fast as they exited the highway were known to end up in our yard, leaving tread marks across our lawn and my mother’s daffodils.

For a little while we planted roots, if only fake ones, because when push came to shove, there was no tying my family down. My parents, having left their home in South America 20 years earlier, were nomads and we kids, were along for the ride. Seems fitting that we lived so close to a major thoroughfare, as we were constantly on the move and nothing, not even owning a home, could keep us tethered to one place for very long. Seemed we were always about leaving.

I was 12 when we moved in, 14 when we sold it, and 16 when we bought a similar house on the same block, this time facing a different highway, the Northern State.

I lived on the west part of Jericho and James lived on the east, with the main thoroughfare being the dividing line. On the west side was the neighborhood park, where we’d spend summers at the pool, and winters at the ice skating rink. There was also a drive-in nearby, which we never went to as my parents didn’t like sitting in the car to watch a film, and the Ho-Jo’s, a family sit-down restaurant, where every Monday featured all you can eat fried chicken.

On the east side was the public library, the Waldbaum’s supermarket, and the Jericho Cider Mill, which served cider so flavorful and naturally sweet, you felt like you were tasting a little bit of heaven. The high school was down the road a ways, along the main thoroughfare, and just beyond it was the Catholic Church. The synagogue was located above the firehouse when we first moved to Jericho, but later moved to a building of its own, still close by, so that devout congregants could walk, not drive, to services on the High Holy Days, as was expected of them.

I came to know my town well and the surrounding ones, too. Eisenhower Park was about six miles away, which is why I figured it was a better place to meet James and Sam, rather than the park down the street from where I lived. I feared that the park by my home would increase my chances of running into someone I knew, and I couldn’t fathom having to explain what I was doing, or who I was with, to anyone.

I woke up late on the morning of our outing. After trying on several outfits, I decided on a floral top and shorts. At precisely 12:05, I pulled my bicycle out of the garage. It would be about a 30-minute ride to the park, but I was too excited to wait another minute. I wanted to be sure I was on time, since it wasn’t in my nature to be late for anything. As I straddled my bike, with my right foot on the pedal, I heard my mother open the front door screen. Cupping her hand to the side of her mouth, so she could be heard across the traffic din of the highway, she shouted.

“Teléfono!”

“Quién es?” I asked, hoping she could just take a message for me.

My mother shook her head. “No se. Un muchacho.”

A boy. Could it be James calling me to let me know he was going to be late or worse, that he wasn’t coming at all? Yet, I didn’t remember ever giving him my phone number. Something told me to take the call just in case. Leaning the bike against the garage door, I ran inside, and headed down to the basement to take the call there, out of earshot.

“James?” I said hesitantly into the receiver.

Click. My mother hung up the line in the kitchen.

“I was just getting ready to leave. What’s up, Kiddo?”

“That’s what I was going to ask you. You haven’t been retuning my calls and maybe I’m wrong, but you seem to be avoiding me at school. Keep it up, and I might reconsider inviting you to the prom.” I heard a hint of sarcasm in his laugh.

It wasn’t James at all. It was George, Jake’s pal, whom I hadn’t seen since the night at HoJo’s, when we ran into Jake and Miss Pinched Face.

“And, who the heck is James, anyway?” He added, with a certain bravado in his voice.

Something told me I was going to have to back peddle pretty hard to explain this one.

(To be continued.)

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

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: Go Ask Alice

“One pill makes you smaller, and one pill makes you tall,

and the one’s that mother gives you don’t do anything at all,

Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall.”

– Lyrics to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit

CHAPTER 6:

Most mornings, I’d awaken with a pungent taste on my tongue. The taste of loneliness, frustration and an overwhelming ache that made it hard to swallow. And, I couldn’t help but think, this is what a ravaged heart feels like.alice03a

I was still hurt and angry with Jake, and jealous of his insipid girlfriend, Miss Pinched Face. I’d pour through all the notes he’d ever written to me, and the letters, too, in search of clues as to why he broke up with me, yet found none. And, I wasn’t too pleased with myself for getting involved with George, but couldn’t figure out how to get out of it without telling him the truth. That I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than spend another moment with him. Let’s just say, any feeling I had for him flat lined somewhere between our first date and curfew, which for once I was grateful to have. After all, the original intent I had for the relationship had been made null and void the moment I realized Jake didn’t care.

Jake didn’t give a hoot, and the sour taste kept spreading across my tongue, inching down my throat, like an acidic spider crawling down into my stomach, and into a black, vacuous pit.

Nothing could assuage me except for one thing. A tiny, almost innocuous twinge that soon became a burgeoning desire to rebel. For the first time I found myself caught between adolescent rebellion and, as The Who called it, teenage wasteland. In other words, I felt a need to push the limits. No more Miss Goody Two Shoes. Instead, I wanted to be reckless and fancy free.

All my life, I’d been a good girl. I knew the drill. Respect your elders, ask for their blessing, and above all, obey your parents. I knew that if I broke any of the cardinal rules, my father would be brutally unforgiving. I had been told what to do, and what to say. I was, more or less, the obedient daughter, and fully aware that none of my friends had to deal with parents as strict and traditional as mine. A source of embarrassment and humiliation on more than one occasion.

How I yearned to wear long scarves like Isadora Duncan and drive at high speeds in sports cars with the top down, while the silky fabric billowed behind me in the wind. What I’d give to belt out torch songs, accompanied by a virtuoso jazz pianist, and feel the haunting melody and lyrics overcome me with sorrow. Or, dance madly like Zelda Fitzgerald and drink gin from a flask. Sit at the Algonquin Roundtable, drinking and smoking with the rest of them, regaling everyone with stories as pithy as Dorothy Parker’s. I wanted to live hard and play even harder. Be daring, while shocking people by my behavior. And, I wanted to–no!–make that, I needed to get high!

During this time, being high became a natural state for me. Just about every weekend, word would get out that someone was having a party and it was always someone whose parents were out of town. Seemed that here in the suburbs, parents were always going on vacation or weekend getaways, leaving their children to fend for themselves. (Save for mine, that is.) These parties proved to be a teen paradise—plenty of booze, pills and pot. Plenty of room to zone out in while listening to The Who, the Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, and making out. Anything your little heart desired. Go ask Alice, and in a way, Alice was me.

Drugs were a part of the culture, available to me freely and abundantly. Even at school. Once I got so high, that a friend, whom had shared his weed with me, out on the school grounds, had to escort me to my social studies class, and help me into my seat. I could barely sit upright, and yet my teacher never noticed. I was unraveling, listening to the music pounding through my head. Tommy, can you hear me? People are strange…It’s only teenage wasteland…Go ask Alice when she’s ten feet tall…We’re all wasted!

The bitter taste kept growing like a cancer inside me, and my rebellion continued to manifest itself in a number of ways. Like playing hooky. The first time with Aliana, a senior who had moved here from Turkey. Sneaking her mother’s car out of the garage one school day morning, we made our way from Long Island into the city and onto the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey, just so she could surprise her boyfriend who was already a freshman in college. I might add that neither of us had a driver’s license, though Aliana did have a learner’s permit. It took us the entire school day to get there and back and we had a few harrowing close calls when we were sure we’d be pulled over and arrested, but we never got caught, not even by our parents.

Another time, I was already at school when three of us slipped out and headed to the local movie house to catch a matinee, Secret Ceremony, starring Mia Farrow and Elizabeth Taylor. Though I got away with it, I have never again been able to bring myself to see that film again. Guilt can be as unforgiving as parents.

And, then I remembered James. Just the day before, he pulled me out of study period, and inadvertently distracted me from the destructive course I was on.

His appearance in study hall had taken me by surprise. Even more astonishing to me was how easily I followed him out. Gladly, willingly. I wanted to ask where we were going, but remained silent, listening instead to the joyful ache in my heart to have him so close. With boundless energy, we began to race down the hill, toward the back of the school, past the tennis court, to the field below. And then we stopped, in a spot, shielded by shrubs and out of sight of the school. I was out of breath and so was he.

This was a bolder James, who clearly had skipped out of class and taken me out of mine. Who was still holding my hand, allowing a smoldering sensation to grow between us.

“Give me a chance,” he sputtered between breaths. His grip on my hand tightened and I felt myself swoon.

Breathe. Above us, a flock of sparrows cut a swath across the cloudless sky, and I could feel the sun, vibrant and fresh on my face. Taking in the scent of the leaves, the grass and the blue violets around us, I willed myself to remember this moment.

How funny life is, I found myself thinking. For weeks, I’d been avoiding James, hoping that whatever this was between us would pass. But it hadn’t, had it? And now, here I was, seeing him with renewed eyes. Beautiful, constant James.

James, so young, who’d been here for me all along.

“I wish.” He paused, staring intently, hopefully, into my eyes.

“I wish,” he repeated gently, leaning in, “That you’d give me a chance.” His lips barely brushing against my ear. His breath sweet and warm on my cheek. And, for the first time, I realized that I had run out of reasons not to give in to him.

In the distance, I could hear the school bell ring, announcing the last period of the day.

(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.)

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