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The One with Him and Her
In kindergarten, he looks at the girl with the pigtail braids and the puffy pink dress and wonders, “How can someone be so beautiful?” He’s a silly little boy to pine over a girl so socially superior to him. She plays in the Housekeeping corner for god’s sake! He just sits at the drawing table and scribbles endlessly, calling his doodles spider webs. He’ll never be able to compete with the boys at the dinosaur table. He just watches her play all day long, hoping that maybe someday she’ll pull out a seat next to him to draw a castle or something so that he won’t have to feel like a creep staring at her pigtails bobbing up and down every day.
He gets lucky in fourth grade. They’re seated next to each other and therefore are partners for any two-person activity. This includes science projects, social studies textbook work, reading each other’s essays, and taking tests of any subject (cheating has no categorical restrictions). They’re finally on speaking terms. It turns out she likes SpongeBob almost as much as he does. The only bad thing about it is that Patrick is her favorite character; he’ll have to deal with that even though Plankton is obviously the best character on the show.
Those other housekeeping-corner girls are turning on her. They call her ugly on the playground. Sometimes he catches her crying on the swings after the session of verbal abuse. It’s become a habit to sit down on the swing next to hers and remind her just how pretty she is. At his bravest, he’ll even wipe her tears with the corner his thumb. That gets her attention and she starts to look him in the eyes more and more. He discovers hers are green, and that they’re almost as pretty as the rest of her.
In sixth grade, she’s his friend. Best friend, actually. They eat lunch together, swap halves of sandwiches, and go to each other’s houses where they sit around watching TV. One day they sit side-by-side watching a movie. Their hands are on the ground, and hers is so close to his. He wonders what would happen if he reached out and maybe put his pinky on top of hers. Would she hold his hand? Would she pull away? He decides it’s too risky a move. They’re only in sixth grade after all. He has six more years to find the time to hold her hand.
Eighth grade, and she’s getting more and more beautiful with every second. She’s an angel in not only his eyes, but pretty much every other guy in school. With her being so beautiful on the outside and inside, she’s become pretty popular, and gets invited to a lot of parties. He’s not as popular though, so he usually just stays home on Friday nights refreshing his Facebook newsfeed, hoping to catch a picture of her smiling and her green eyes shining because that means she’s happy. He just wants her to be happy.
One Friday night there’s a party and she’s hosting, so he gets invited but he’s not friendly with anyone but her so he mostly sits with his cup of soda in the corner watching her laugh with her other friends and watching her eyes sparkle in the way that nowadays he only sees in pictures, only to realize that they’re even more vibrant in reality.
Everyone is gathering for a game of Spin the Bottle but he doesn’t really feel like playing because with his luck, it would never land on her. She looks at him and beckons him over, and with those eyes calling him, how can he say no? So he takes a seat and watches the other girls and boys try their luck until someone passes the bottle to her. He’s suddenly aware that his fists are clenched at his side and his shoulders are tense and his palms are sweaty, but he tries to ignore it as the bottle turns and turns until it finally stops. It lands on him.
Sophomore year and he’s finally built up a little bit of a reputation. People like him now. It’s amazing what kissing a pretty girl in eighth grade and making the Varsity soccer team can do to your social life. He doesn’t want any of it though. It doesn’t matter how many As he gets on tests, how many friends he has, how many trophies he wins, all he wants in the world is for that stunning girl he’s known since kindergarten to love him. But she has a boyfriend. He’s a junior, the wide receiver on the Varsity football team and nothing in the world, no number of tears he’s wiped away on a fourth grade playground, no amount of after-school TV and movie marathons, no stupid eighth grade spin-the-bottle kiss can change that.
Sometimes he thinks about that movie marathon and how things might be different now if he’d inched his pinky a little bit closer to hers. What would life be like if he wasn’t such a coward and told her that he loved her because it’s dawning on him now that he truly does love this girl and would do simply anything to hold her close and make her happy and call her his.
Junior year has arrived and so has she to his front porch on a rainy October afternoon sobbing over her boyfriend breaking up with her. He invites her in and they sit on the couch. She cries into his shoulder and he wipes the tears from her cheeks with the corner of his thumb. She blames it on herself, bawling that it’s all her fault. She’s not pretty enough; not perfect enough, to be the football captain’s girlfriend anymore. He stares down into those eyes again only to find that their sparkle is gone, and it physically pains him to see the absence of a smile on her face so he kisses the top of her head and whispers that she is the most gorgeous, perfect girl he’s ever seen. This goes on for hours and by the end of the night his t-shirt is sopping wet with snot, tears, and slobber but he doesn’t care about any of that because he’s achieved the thing he’s wanted all along; he’s made her happy.
He’s going to college next week. She leaves today for NYU and he plans on seeing her off. He also plans to tell her the truth; the he’s in love with her and has been for what seems like forever.
He helps her load every single suitcase into her dad’s old hatchback before giving her a long hug and whispering goodbye in her ear. And the, “I love you” is on the tip of his tongue as he watches her pile into the front seat of the car but something about the moment holds him back so he doesn’t say a word. His shoulders are hunched and his hands are stuffed in his pocket as she speeds away toward a life clearly much better than the one she has with him. And as he watches the car go he can’t help but think that there won’t ever be a “right time” to tell her, so why not make a run for it and tell her now. So he starts running. He kicks his feet as fast as he can, waving his arms like a madman in hopes to catch her attention in the mirror but he gets nothing. The car drives away and he is left alone, “I love you” still on the tip of his tongue.
In his old age, he reads a lot of books and talks on the phone with his sister every day until the sun goes down. He’s well off financially and has a nice house in suburban California. Sometimes his nieces and nephews, the kids that he treats like his own children because he never gets to have his own, come over and they eat lunch together, taking the leftovers home for dinner with their own families. And at the end of the day, he is happy, but regretful of all the time he’s let get away from him. When they visit, he’s always sure to tell his niece’s and nephew’s sons his story with the hopes that they’ll take him as a cautionary tale. He hopes that someday, when they meet their own girl with shining green eyes, whom they love more than anything in the world, they won’t be foolish enough to let her slip through their fingers, like he did.