Many people say that in love, opposites attract. What do these people consider opposites? Does different count? Because for me, Charles Baker Jones, I am in love with Riley James-despite the fact we are very different. She has blond hair and blue eyes and mine are both a creamy chocolate brown. She lives with her brother Davis, her mom, and her dad. Her parents are still in love. Her house is full of love and support. My family doesn’t even feel related anymore, let alone in love. I live with my mom and dad comes in and out every month or so. Despite all of that, the only difference people see when they look at Riley and me, is that she has three copies of the 23rd chromosome. I have two. Riley James has Down syndrome, and I do not.
When most people look at Riley, they see her small eyes, short arms, drool, flat nose, and her “weird” shaped face. They see the Down syndrome, not the girl. When I look at her, I see the love in her eyes, the caring of her heart, the best hugs in the world, and the passion in her head. I see Riley, not the disease.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Chalie!” shouted Riley, who is now running across the hallway.
“Hey Ry, how has your day been?”
“Really (it sounded more like “willy”) good, better now,” replied Riley with the biggest smile ever on her face. Riley has a hard time with her R’s. It has never bother me, I kind of like it.
“You always know how to make me smile Ms. James,” I sayed in 100 percent honesty as stretch my arms out for a hug. “Do you want to hang out this weekend, maybe go to a movie or out for lunch?”
“Ya! Sound fun,” then her smile quickly faded. “Davis is home.”
“Today after school I’ll talk to him. Okay?” The bell started to ring as Riley was nodding and I headed off to class.
The mile and a half walk from school to Riley’s house is one I had made so many times, I could do it in my sleep. When I finally arrived, I saw Riley through her bedroom window looking down on me. Looking up at the house from the stone walkway, it looks like the whole thing came out of “House and Garden” magazine. As I approached the steps, Riley’s older brother Davis opens the door and closes it halfway behind him.
“And you are?” demanded Davis. For the record I am not a small guy; I am a starter on the football and basketball team. And by all means not short. However, Davis is looking down at me like I am a cockroach. As if he could squash in one quick and painless movement. His deep booming voice fills the whole state of Indiana and almost drowns out the life from me. “Still there?” he asked with the uttermost sarcasm. I stepped back, startled, and almost fall off the porch. He laughs.
“I am Riley’s...umm...friend. Charles” The nanosecond pause felt like forever to me and telling by his face even longer to him.
“I am sure you have a lot of friends, Charlie did you say? But-”
“Hey Char!” Riley almost shrieked as she ran down the stairs. “I didn’t think you was coming by now,” Riley said in confusment and joy at the same time. She went over to her closet to grab her coat, not fully aware of what’s going on.
“Ry, take off your coat and go back to your room,” Davis said in a harsh but kind voice.
“Now,” repeated Davis. And with that Riley went up the stairs to her room without bothering to take her jacket off. He turned to me and continued, “You can do the same and leave. You can see her at school but never here again.”
Right there, in that moment, all I wanted to say was that I was in love with her, but somewhere between the harassment in his voice and perfection of their house, I couldn’t. And I hate myself for that.
The next day at school was a living hell. I couldn’t bring myself to go see Riley in her room. I couldn’t focus on anything in class or at practice. I know I couldn’t get her out of my mind, but if I saw her she would not understand why I never came over. I was torn.
I decided to go talk to my counselor. The only person who seemed to understand my situation without being in it. She is the only person who doesn’t judge me for it. The only person that doesn’t expect the worse of me all the time. I only person who believes me.
I told her everything that happened. She politely nodded. Maybe she didn’t understand as much as I thought she did. I go through the pros and cons of seeing Riley with her, but I am doing it more for me. She’s just there.
By the time I left her office, I decided I had to go see her.
After school I walked over to her house and was praying that Davis was gone. I rang the doorbell and those few seconds it took for the door to open felt like an eternity. I could hear someone coming down the stairs. The time between each thud of a step felt as a year was passing by. My head was telling me to run, but my heart told me to stay. My heart was stronger. Even if I wanted to run I don’t think my legs could have move if I had tried to. I heard the the fidgeting of the handle through the pine door. Riley opened the door. I could breathe again. A title wave of relief flooded through me. I nearly jumped into her as I gave her a hug. I then quickly realized that she didn’t understand what was happening.
“Hi Chalie!” Riley says matching my excitement. “Why ah you here?”
“Hey, is Davis home?” I asked as I poke my head through the door, into the house.
“No, latea,” she answered. “Why?”
I then realized I didn’t have a plan for when I got there. “Let’s go! Let’s get out of here. Let’s leave for a while. Let’s just go.” I blurt out. And with that, she came running down the porch and out the gate. She turns around to see where I am and in that moment I realize how much I love her.
It didn’t matter what Davis thought. It didn’t matter what society thought. It didn’t matter how many chromosomes she had. The only thing that did matter is the way I felt right there.