The first boy she ever dated asked her out in sixth grade science class. He wrote the question in pencil on the black, sterile table, and looked shocked when she wrote back, “Yes.” Raeburn wasn’t cute; in fact, she probably would’ve said he was ugly and fat, but at eleven she felt herself above such shallow matters.
He asked Abbie Kitchen out the next morning on the bus.
She never spoke to him again.
By the time she was twenty, she’d figured out her own M.O.: she was a creature of convenience.
Raeburn wasn’t the first boy she’d ever crushed on, of course. Every little girl has myriads of young crushes, and she was no different. There was Junior in kindergarten, before she knew that she wasn’t supposed to crush on Hispanics. He turned out to be no good, so it was probably for the best that she never acknowledged him after her sixth birthday.
Dacre Wardrobe in the third grade. Her best friend at the time, Romayne, also found Dacre cute, a topic they never once discussed after they stopped wandering the mean halls of Rickard Elementary together. Romayne used to pull on her ears and puff out her cheeks in an imitation of a monkey whenever Dacre tried to talk to them.
Romayne turned out to be a lesbian.
A boy named Rodney with a classic bowl cut caught her eye in fourth grade, though she would be hard pressed to tell you his last name now. Osborn in fifth grade.
Convenience. All had been in her classes; all had been forgotten when classes got redistributed year after year.
She never acted on any of these feelings. Never once. In sixth grade, a boy named Evander left her a hand drawn note professing his feelings for her. She never told anyone, but she kept the note her entire life. She never responded to Evander. She just showed up to class and pretended as though she had never gotten it. He never mentioned it, not even when they dated for six months when she was fifteen.
In fact, Evander was the only boy she ever dated in grade school. He was cute enough, funny, awkward. She told herself she liked him, but mostly she liked the attention he gave her.
He turned out to be a musician.
In seventh grade, Sylvester left her a note in a science fiction book she borrowed from him. This note she at least acknowledged, with an “I don’t want a boyfriend,” though in reality, she didn’t want a ginger boyfriend who ran cross country and read science fiction. He moved to Florida the next year, though not before telling her she didn’t need to wear makeup. In front of her friends.
High school brought a new dearth of boys, and it brought Evander back into the picture, and before she knew it he was coming to the movies with her friends and IMing her and her best friend until the wee hours of the morning. He had crushed hard on her friend Autumn in eighth grade, but Autumn went to a different high school so she was back in the picture.
He asked her out over text message, and she agreed. A week later, he kissed her, though she thought he was just going in for a hug, so she moved in the wrong way and he missed and they were both mortified and he tried again, found her lips, and pulled back immediately and they went separate directions. Summer rolled around and she realized soon enough he would be buying her a birthday present, so she tried for days to break up with him but couldn’t find the nerve. So while she was out of town, their text conversation got a bit too serious and she broke it off from another country. He was crushed; she was relieved. He pleaded for her back a week later and she promised him he would find someone else. She hated every girl he dated after her.
He had never held her hand. They had never bought each other presents or hung out with each other’s friends. The kisses had never progressed past awkward pecks, though his mother was convinced they were sexually active, and okay with it.
She listed all of these things as reasons they broke up, but the truth was she had never really been that into him, and besides, she was too lazy to have a boyfriend.
At fifteen, she had no idea who she was, so how could she learn someone else too?
There were others.
Zechariah the Asian asked her to prom, though she was the sixth or seventh girl he’d asked so she was never sure if that one counted.
She said no.
She had thought she was flirting with Asher, but he’d asked her friend to prom instead. She ended up never going to prom, neither junior nor senior year.
She had been in love with the quarterbacks because, well, they were quarterbacks, but she doubted whether they knew her name.
She had hoped college would bring a new set of cards to the table, but it was more of the same.
Grahame who thought she was cute but too religious; Troy who was into her but also shorter than her; Sinclair, her best friend, the Jew who’d asked her out twice. She’d tried to be emotional about that one, but truth be told she didn’t like him and the process of letting him down was wearying.
It came when least expected.
She met him at work about three weeks before her end date. She was nineteen; he was twenty five. They worked on the thirty first floor of a skyscraper. She’d never seen him before he introduced himself on the elevator. They began emailing, a true You’ve Got Mail get-to-know-you. His words made it clear that he wasn’t being romantic, but his actions said otherwise. He was way out of her league, but she forced him into thinking she was out of his. He was a talker, a charmer, and he took her social ineptness for a sarcastic analysis of his person. She was infatuated quickly.
He invited her over, and before she knew what she was doing, she was at his apartment and she was okay.
Nothing happened, but he paid for her dinner.
She didn’t tell anyone about him, not yet. She had no clue what she was doing, but he invited her over again and she went.
It was the first time she’d felt like she really knew him, like he wasn’t just trying to impress her and vice versa.
He slipped his arm under her and pulled her into him. It was an awkward position, but she let him, and he moved her until they were both laying flat on the couch. She’d never cuddled with a boy, but his arms were big around her and she told him her secrets and forgot that he was a ladies’ man and that he hadn’t told her happy birthday on her actual birthday (she was twenty now) and he kissed her cheek and her forehead but nothing else and she didn’t want anything else.
He walked her out and she avoided eye contact because she didn’t know how to say she’d never kissed a boy before so he kissed her cheek again and they said goodbye.
For her it was perfect. She was happy.
The texts came less frequently and the emails stopped altogether.
They got some coffees but then it was her last week.
She went with him to lunch and he said, “We could make out across the table,” and she smirked and said, “No,” and he said, “Yeah, you shot that one down the other day,” and she realized he wasn’t happy. She got scared and overanalyzed and complained too much and then it was her last day and they made plans for Saturday and he never called. She got clingy and couldn’t figure out how to respond when he made his excuses and that was that and she realized it was her fault it was over and she had never even figured out if she wanted it to start.
He had been promising. A real, actual possibility in her world of nonpossibilities and second-choices and making-do and he thought she wasn’t into him and she wasn’t experienced enough to tell him she was so she tried to cry herself to sleep, realized she was just crying to be a girl and couldn’t get the tears out again.
But she missed him. She thought about him nonstop. It was as though she’d become too invested in a TV series and watched every episode and known everything about it for two weeks and then she’d accidentally cancelled her cable and she couldn’t watch anymore and she didn’t know what to do with her time and she missed the characters and the food and the conversation and the adventure of a new show and she knew her idiocy was the only reason it was gone but she didn’t have the capability to get it back. Because she was twenty and lost and inexperienced and naive and because he thought she was much more put together than she was but she could feel his mouth against her cheek and she wanted to cry but couldn’t.