For some reason, and at the time, I never gave it another thought on how or why Mr. Irwin never came back for me. Yes, I sweated through history class, waiting and dreading that he would either appear through the door or hear his voice booming over the intercom. It never occurred though. Still, the period was smooth sailing because Tiffany sat three rows and one desk back from me.
Considering the way band class and lunch went, I figured that it would be best to not look at her…as much as I normally did, anyway. So I spent time, get this, actually reading from my textbook.
Which was kind of a half-truth. I was very good with history. I wasn’t great at “making history,” but I could recall the reign of Charlemagne and the population of Cairo, circa 1988.
“How would you like to get her attention?”
My eyes widened as that question boomed throughout the room. I glanced to the side and saw that…well…
“This is getting a bit…no, not a bit, it’s just strange, just outright crazy.”
I turned around to see same girl from PE sitting on top of a desk. The rest of the class, frozen solid.
“I can help you get her attention…get her to notice you. It’s heartbreaking that you’re struggling with this.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking of things to talk about. I’m going to send her a note, to start the conversation.”
“Talk only goes so far. Actions speak louder than words, you know.”
She jumped off of the desk and skipped to the front of the classroom.
“Do you want to know a secret?”
“I know her favorite color is red. Perhaps you could get her a bouquet of flowers.”
“I can’t afford to get—”
“Who says it has to cost money? You could make something for her, but if you want to make a great impression…”
“Of course you do. So let’s start there. Only the greatest and best display of your affection will do. That’s how you’ll show her how you feel.”
The gears in my head were turning. A note, some small talk….yeah, that would work, but I needed something heavy in my arsenal. I couldn’t afford jewelry, and I was too young to drive, but I could ride a bicycle to the store and get a flower. Maybe two, three…perhaps a whole bouquet!
“I can place them in her locker in the morning.”
“Now you’re talking. See how easy it is?”
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Lydia.”
She then faded from sight, and I went back to reading my textbook…or at least I went back to reading the same sentence over and over as I thought about how I would accomplish everything.
My seventh period class might as well have been an exercise in slow torture: like sitting in the back seat of a station wagon on a 450-mile road trip with parents who believe that the car doesn’t stop until it needs gas or it blows a tire. Meanwhile, you have had two cans of Mountain Dew, an apple, and you hope that no one mentions anything to do with running water. The time ticked by ever so slowly until the final bell rang. When I ran out of the building, I was so worked up that I almost thought about running all the way home, or at least maybe across town, but, no, it was best to go home first to scrounge up what little money I had.
“Again, we hiked up here for what?”
I set my bike’s kickstand and got off while Keith merely stepped off and allowed his to crash to ground in front of a small grocery store.
“Flowers. I’m going to buy the biggest bouquet of flowers that…” I fished into my pocket and hastily counted as we walked inside. “…fifteen dollars and forty-two cents can buy.”
We walked through the aisles, to the back of the store, where there was a single cooler filled with all types of flowers. They were all beautiful in their own ways, but I had to find the perfect bouquet.
“Jase, have you looked at the price list?”
“No, what’s it say?”
“Thirty-dollar bouquets for lilies…”
“What does it say about roses?”
“Forty dollars for a dozen, twenty for half, and single flowers for six bucks. The prices don’t make any sense…like you right now.”
I stared at the single flowers. If I only got one, then I would look like I was cheap.
“Do you think two will be enough?”
“Maybe one and some chocolates?”
“I don’t know if she likes chocolate.”
“But you know she likes roses?”
“Don’t all girls like roses?”
“And I think they all like chocolate too. My sister eats it like it’s the last thing on earth…hmm, I don’t think she’s ever gotten flowers before though.”
“So a flower and a box of chocolates?”
“If you’re looking to save some money, you can just buy a bag of Snickers—”
“And a handful of dandelions to go with it?”
“They’re free, right? Perhaps she loves the beauty of nature? Wildflowers can say a lot too.”
I opened the cooler as Keith continued with his pep talk.
“I’m just saying you should save your money. She might ask you to drop dead.”
“I don’t think she’d ask me that.”
I reached deep inside and moved the flowers around, in my attempt to find the perfect one. No droops. No damaged petals. No, it had to be just on the brink of blooming so I could surprise her with it in full bloom.
“This will help me. It shows tha—”
“That you have no idea how this works, do you?”
“You’re right, Keith…I have no idea how this is going to turn out. I’m kind of winging it, but I have a feeling that this will work. These will be my way of getting my foot in the door.”
“Getting your foot in the door? More like getting your face slammed in it.”
We walked up to a register. The clerk took the flowers and smiled at me.
“For a girlfriend?”
“I hope so.”
“Well, good luck with that.”
“Lady," Keith interjected, "I’ve been telling him that all along.”
I bolted out of the store so fast I still do not recall if I got my change.
I hung the bag on my handlebars as Keith scraped his bike off the ground.
“Keith, it’s the thought that counts. Girls like to be shown that they mean something to you.”
“By buying them dead flowers?”
“They’re not dead.”
“Ah yes, I recall your past science test score on plants. Go on.”
“If I could buy her a diamond, I would.”
“You do know what that means, right?”
“That I might possibly love her or that I’m crazy?”
“Both, but with more emphasis on the crazy!”
“I’m going to walk into that school, give her these, and then…”
We had biked over a hill crest, and at that time, I started to feel a pit building up in my stomach. It wasn’t the flowers, and it most likely was not the pent of fear of what I would say to her after she sees the flowers….no, it was the fact the brakes on my bicycle had stopped working. I squeezed the rear brake handle…nothing. The brake line was there, but it was dangling from my handlebar.
“Jason, bail, man!”
The bike continued to accelerate…to a point where I could no longer safely turn or stop, but I could move to the side of the road and jump onto the grass. I steered to the left, grabbed the bag with the roses, and prepared to jump from the bike. However, the bag didn’t exactly come off the bar with ease. I jerked the bag, which caused the front wheel to turn ninety degrees from the rest of the bike.
I don’t exactly remember what happened, but I remember the pain as I got tangled in the bike while it slid down the hill. In slow motion, I could see the flowers—the two that took so much time to find just THE right ones—become mangled and cut apart by the front tire like wood through a chipper.
“Yeah,” I replied as I stared at the road.
“You okay, man?”
“How are the flowers?”
With Keith’s help, I stood up next to the remnants of my bike…and the flowers. Let me also point out that my left leg and arm were bloodied, and my jeans were…well, I was early for the grunge movement.
“Keith, what flowers grow wild in Alabama?”
Later that evening, after my futile attempts to hide the damage done to my bike and body from my parents, I laid in bed with a notebook in one hand and an ice pack for my knee in the other. I had never written a love note to anyone. I had never even written a Valentine before. What does one write to someone without sounding like a complete fool? Simple poetry or epic sonnets? Should it describe how I felt? Should I compare her to a summer’s day…whatever that meant.
“I don’t have any ideas, no words to say, nothing to give, and nothing to show. Oh wait, I do have something. I can say, ‘I scraped my knee for you. Come, let me whisk you away as long as we don’t go too far because my bicycle is destroyed, I can’t drive, and my leg looks like a Halloween decoration.’”
I threw the notebook off the bed in disgust. My chances were now blown. I had no other options…Keith only knew about Alabama wild grass, not flowers.
“There’s another way to show her.”
I looked up to see Lydia, standing, no, more like leaning, on my bookshelf.
“First, I need to let you know that sometimes people can steal your chance away from you.”
“Anybody. People you don’t know or people you trust. Enemies or friends, they can plot to take things away from you.”
“Are you saying that—?”
“I’m saying you shouldn’t guard your heart but let it fight for you. Tomorrow, you’re going to go and ask her, but be prepared to fight for her.”
“This may be shocking for you to hear, but please try to follow me here. Whose bike were you riding?”
“Who helps you fix it when there’s a problem?”
“Keith sometimes helps me. We had to work on the brakes last week and—he fixed it?”
“Fixed it…yes…He didn’t want you to buy those flowers for her, did he?”
“No, he tried to talk me out of it.”
“Exactly. Now think upon that.”
The next morning, I arrived at school and stood in front of the building. For weeks, I had felt apprehension, nervousness…butterflies all over my digestive system, but not that morning. No, this was the day that I would make my stand, in front of the whole school if I had to.
Today would be the day. I was going to ask her out…somewhere, maybe a movie, maybe just a walk together. Perhaps a dance, our school was known to have one every other week for some reason or another. It didn’t matter what we’d do later on. What mattered was what I was going to do that very moment.
I took one step forward. It was a booming step too, I must say.
“Gotta work beyond hello.”
I took another step. If I had an orchestra around me, they would have been playing a triumphant march to victory.
“No matter what…”
And another step. I didn’t need flowers or chocolates. I didn’t need trinkets or gifts of jewelry.
“People can trample on me, they can threaten my life, and they can—”
I opened the front door and took an earth-shattering, high-flying step into a new day.
I turned the corner, on the way to my locker, and froze. My vision sliced through the obstacles in the hallway and locked on something that I could not believe I was seeing. My hands clenched, and I could feel a deepening anger in me.
If looks could kill, I would have murdered the fifty-plus people in front of me. I dropped my backpack to the floor, along with my heart, with a sickening thud. Down the hall, in front of my unbelieving eyes, my friend, Keith, next to him stood Tiffany, their hands entwined.
“Imagine that,” Lydia said as she picked my backpack up and looked into my eyes. “They got together yesterday afternoon.”
“Isn’t he your friend?”
“Is, well, was now.”
“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”
“I’m going to kill him.”
“You shouldn’t want to do that, but you should challenge him. You have to fight for her love.”
“Why? If she’s already made her decision?”
“There’s always a way to make people see the way it ought to be. Fight for her.”
I approached the band room with anger in my heart, well-hidden, of course, once I opened the double doors.
Tiffany looked at me, waved, and called out the center of the band room. “Good morning, Jason.”
I waved back to her. She was now talking to me…now that she was going out with Keith. But there was a chance…I had to prove myself.
My next three classes flew by in blur as I found myself walking into the lunchroom. I moved to the table I always sat at and stood next to Keith.
“Hey, Jase, I—”
I pushed him off his seat.
“Okay, what was that for?
“I think you know.”
“No, if I did, I wouldn’t have asked.” Keith stood up…he seemed a bit taller now.
“You’ve known how long…and now…”
“Now, what? You’re not making any sense, I—”
I punched him the chest, and he staggered back.
“You’ve asked for it now, Dennereck.”
Keith pulled back and moved to slam me with his right fist.
I was able to block the right, but his left hand collided with my face. The pain was unbearable as I reeled a bit but then recovered to take a run at him. If I had been thinking straight, I would have thought that a sling and a stone would have been a better weapon of choice than my feeble arms.
He swung out to strike, and I jumped onto the table and ran down it a bit. I skidded to a stop, ran back the other way, and took a running dive at him.
We tumbled to the floor, rolled a bit, and broke away for a second, but we were then locked in a wrestling grapple.
“What are you doing, Jase?”
“What do you think? Settling a score.”
I tried to break free and strike, but Keith was too fast, and he slammed me in the face and onto the floor.
When I was able to open my eyes, I looked around at the now-empty lunchroom. Empty except for me and Gabe.
“And this happened because—?” He reached out his hand to pull me up.
“Because of what he did.”
“Keith, who-who’s no longer here.”
“He asked her out.”
“Really? You sure?” Gabe asked as he took a few steps away from me and jumped onto one of the tables.
“I saw it.”
“So you decided to show your strength, in front of her, so she could see how you feel? Well, look around. She’s not here. In fact, she’s in the band room.”
The eeriness of the situation was beginning to come on to me. The room even had an echo; it was so empty.
“Can I ask you one more question?”
“What time is it?”
I looked at my watch and then at the clocks on the walls.
“It’s eight twenty? That can’t be right.”
“Lucky for you, it is.”
I stood, once again in front of the school, with my backpack in hand and Gabe at my side.
“Let’s hear it for not going with our first impulse.”
“But he’s still going to ask her out.”
“Kind of hard to do that, considering he didn’t ride the bus this morning.”
“Right, he wasn’t on the bus this morning, but I know he’s in there, and—”
“Really? Well, stranger things have happened: water into wine, life on Earth in general. Let’s go see.”
We walked into the school, and I turned the corner, expecting my world to fall apart for the second time that day, but she wasn’t there…
“She’s not there, is she?”
“Wow, how strange is that?”
“But I saw them, they were—”
“Remember when I said you know what you think you know?”
We continued walking down the hall, dodging students who couldn’t care less they were not watching where they were going.
“You’re thinking of the bad things that could happen, and you’re letting those thoughts control how you think.”
“Kind of hard not to.”
“Then you’re afraid of her.”
“No, I’m just not sure of things.”
“Which is it: fear or confusion?”
“I’m not afraid of her.”
“You’re afraid of rejection. So you won’t try.”
We walked out of the first building.
“If I asked her and she said no, then what would I do?”
“Do you mean to tell me that you’re content with just looking at her each day?”
“You do know how weird that is? I suggest that you never mention it to her—ever.”
“I don’t stalk her, I—”
And walked into second building, the cool air-conditioning was a welcome feeling, considering that I wasn’t feeling very well at that moment.
“You admire her by far.”
“Yeah. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s time to get closer.”
“No? No, what? Let’s go.”
“Perhaps a change of scenery is in order.”
He drew his sword and struck the floor. The blade went through the tile, shattering it and the ground beneath it.
“May be a bit of a bumpy ride.”
The hallway collapsed into a deep chasm, taking us with it.
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