Pen to Paper: “Him,” an excerpt

He has blue eyes like a worn-in pair of jeans. He has blond hair that grows too fast and always falls in his eyes. He’s skinny but not fit, cute but not sexy. He wears t-shirts with the Dispatch logo and jeans with paint stains on the legs and has things always hanging from the belt loops, like keys or a Swiss Army knife. On one pair of jeans, there’s a small, black, inky heart on the outer left knee. He’s probably thrown them away by now, bought another pair with a fresh left knee for another girlfriend to draw on.

We met soon into our freshman year of high school, in Ms. Yolles’ theater class. We paid little attention to each other at the time. He was a basement kid, I was a library kid. He spent his afternoons running cross-country while mine were spent under a spotlight on stage. Our worlds didn’t interact much. Little did we realize that, come spring, our worlds would collide headfirst.

The musical that year was “RENT.” I was one of three freshman girls cast. He was the assistant stage manager. As our eyes started to lock for longer, we became more and more intrigued by eachother; me by his shy and blocked off persona, him by my apparent confidence and need for attention. We soon developed a routine: whenever I would see him, I’d practically scream, “Hi, Tom*!” and he would shyly smile, his eyes cast downward at his Keen hiking boots, and mumble, “Hey, Carli.” It was small and insignificant to everyone else, but not to us. It was ours.

During “RENT” hell week, otherwise known as hours of dress rehearsals and late nights spent backstage, we had our first kiss—in a classroom. He was studying, and I hadn’t gotten the memo that my geometry exam had been moved upstairs. Somehow, we ended up standing so close to each other that you couldn’t stick a pencil between us, our horny teenage hearts bursting out of our chests. I made the first move, leaning in and placing my lips on his, just for a second. His lips were so soft, like pillows or clouds. “Hi, Tom,” I whispered right after I pulled away. “Hey, Carli,” he whispered back, pulling me backwards into the corner.

We spent the next few weeks before school let out sneaking kisses in secret corners, giggling at inside jokes that neither of us thought were funny or even understood, late night texts and whispered phone conversations under blankets, and many walks to his favorite Starbucks for lattes and iced lemon pound cake. He shared things with me that he said he had never told anyone else, for example, how scary ski patrol training was and he hated reading out loud in class because of his dyslexia. He told me about how his parents practically disowned his coked out and dysfunctional brother Andrew* and the pressure he felt to be better than him. His voice quivered as he shared stories about his mom’s abusive alcoholism and about how much he hated his step siblings. He let me draw a black heart on the outer left knee of his favorite pair of jeans.

*Names have been changed.

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