Fourteen. I remember the day I met you, because Mr. Joffrey had just switched our seats in Biology. I was mad because I’d been sitting at the same table as Lex, and we were just becoming friends. I knew her better than anyone else in class.
Fourteen-year-old me rolls my eyes at Lex, now sitting across the room by the window, but she doesn’t see me. Mr. Joffrey is droning on and on about mitosis or something, and I remember wondering how he could expect me to pay attention when he just screwed up my life? It’s the worst when teachers just don’t understand.
That’s when I feel a little tap, tap, tap on the side of my desk. Some kid is fidgeting, which normally I hate, but today I can’t blame them. I turn, and it’s you, sitting at the adjacent desk. You give me a little smirk and motion me to lean closer so you can say something. I ignore you, regretting this new seating chart more than ever. You lean in because I won’t.
“Bored?” you whisper with a purposeful drawl. I roll my eyes and begin to direct my attention back to the front of the room, but you reach out and touch my hand.
Oh my God. It doesn’t stay there for even a second before I yank my own away and glare at you, but you are as oblivious as a slack-off student. “Hey,” you say. “I’m Noah.”
“I know,” I mutter, only because it would be rude not to say something back. When you look a little creeped out, I quickly explain, “You’ve been in my class for the whole year!” and then add “you weirdo” at the end.
It seems like you’re waiting for me to say something else, so I remember and tell you, “I’m Ada.”
You grin a little, and only one of the windows is open, but I swear some butterflies—just a couple—fly in and land in my stomach. “I know,” you say, and I can’t help it—I feel my lips start to spread, my teeth start to show. My hand flies up to cover it.
You reach out again, more slowly this time, gently pulling my hand down and putting it on my desk. It takes everything I have not to push you away.
When my heart slows down a little, I give you a questioning look. You shrug. “Don’t cover your smile,” you say. “You look nice with it on.”
I make it through the next hour just fine, because I have a math test, and I focus my energy on remembering trig formulas and not thinking about anything else. No, it isn’t until English that things start to happen.
I’m sitting at the back of the room and actually doing my work this time when a little nudging feeling enters the edge of my brain, not unlike your taps on my desk earlier. Hey, my brain says. Remember Noah in Biology? I think he was trying to hold your hand, you know. But I whisper shut up and stare really hard at the semicolon handout on my desk, because there’s no way I’m letting that brain of mine ruin this, too.
Fifteen. I’m walking down the hallway after fourth hour, and even though you’re on the other side, the second you see me, you call out, “Ada!” I feel my face burning cherry-red, and I turn to you with just the tiniest bit of frustration, which I try to shake but can’t.
“Hey,” you say, a little out of breath—probably running late, like always. “I missed you yesterday!”
I think back to yesterday. I woke up at 6:30, same as always, but for some reason I started mentally planning out my day—all the people I’d see and talk to, because I actually knew lots of people now. I even had friends now. I even had friends now. And suddenly, my brain was hyperventilating a little and I couldn’t explain it but I knew I couldn’t face them all today, so I pressed the snooze button again to turn it off and crawled back into the blanket cocoon that hides me from the world so well.
“Sick,” I say, shrugging. “Hey, there’s only a minute before class starts, you know.”
You look around for a clock and see that I’m right. “Crap!” you say dramatically and take off in that comical run toward Photography.
I watch you go before I turn and walk in the opposite direction. At first, my brain is quiet, because it can’t settle on one thing to think. But it only takes a minute before my frustration at you turns to anger at myself, because I love you so much and I don’t understand why my head keeps getting in the way of my heart.
Sixteen. Part of me regrets not getting ready with you, because you’re running late again and so I’m standing near the food table instead of dancing, waiting for you. A song comes on that nobody likes, so hundreds of bare, dirty feet make make their way in my direction.
A couple of girls from my chemistry class come over to me. One of them can’t decide whether to ask some guy to dance, and I tell her she should. The other one agrees.
“Where’s Noah?” they ask. “Coming,” I say, and then, there you are, at the edge of the doorway, already scanning the room for me. I break away from them and walk over to you as quickly as I can in my four-inch heels.
“You look perfect,” you say when you see me.
“So do you!” I tell you, then grab your hand and pull you toward the speakers. It’s a fast-paced song, thank God. We join a group of your friends, and they all say “ooooh” and “dang, Noah!” when they see me. I laugh a little and with the music blaring in my ears, I start to relax.
We all stand in a circle and dance for the rest of the song, and for the three songs after. My feet are starting to hurt and I’m wondering if I should take off my heels when a slow song comes on. You step away from the circle, and even though I feel your friends’ eyes on us, I put my hands on your shoulders and we sway, back and forth, to the sound of Ed Sheeran’s voice.
The song picks up, and we sing along, a little. When it goes back into the chorus, I rest my head on your shoulder. “I love you, Noah,” I whisper.
“I love you too,” you say.
And it’s all so perfect, and I just want it to last forever, you and me in the moment, not in my head. But then, I remember how I said I loved you. Remember? my brain nags. Of course I remember—it just happened. Who cares? I’ve said that before. My brain doesn’t like that. Yeah, but not when you were dancing. But why does it matter? You know it matters, Ada.
It goes on and on like that, and suddenly I’m more focused on my mental argument than on the dance. I sway a little too far to the right, and I knew I should have taken off those heels, because I lose my balance and my ankle buckles. When Ed Sheeran sings his last note, I’m sitting ungracefully on the floor.
“Ada!” you cry. “What happened?” A few people look over. I don’t answer because I’m so ashamed—not ashamed that I wore these ridiculous heels, but ashamed that my brain had to ruin this, too.
You help me up, slowly, and it takes four tries because I can barely balance in these stupid things. I can stand, at least, but my ankle already looks swollen. More people are coming over, too, and I don’t want to deal with them or anybody.
“I’m going to leave,” I mutter to you. You reach out and grab my arm. “Wait!” you say. “Let me come with you.”
I quickly shake my head, putting a laugh in my voice. “You just got here, Noah! I can walk to the bus stop by myself—just stay and have some fun.”
You try to walk with me to the door, but I push you away, a little harder than I mean to.
I don’t want to ruin this night for you, too.
The next day, I walk through the courtyard instead of through the halls after classes so I don’t have to see you. I should go apologize, I know, but I stayed up for two hours after I got home last night, just thinking, and my brain is tired. I’m afraid of letting my guard down.
After school, you find me on the bench near the bus stop. My brain has finally calmed down a little, and I’m thinking about how I wish I had my license so I wouldn’t have to wait around for the bus so much, when I see you. You sit down right next to me, and I don’t move away.
“Here,” you say, holding out my gray sweatshirt. “You left this at the dance last night.”
I hadn’t even realized. I reach out to take it, but the minute it touches my hands, they feel like they’re burning. I let it fall to the ground.
You look at it and then at me. “Hey, so about the dance…” you begin. “You left pretty quickly—everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I say. “I just didn’t have a reason to stay if I couldn’t dance. How was it after I left?”
“Not as good as it was before you left,” you say, smiling.
I hate myself for lying to you, but I can’t explain, really. So instead of trying to, I take your hand in mine.
The bus is running pretty late, apparently. While I keep waiting for it and you keep waiting with me, we talk about meaningless things. You mention a movie that’s coming out and how we should go see it, and I’m trying to listen, really, but it’s suddenly becoming hard.
We’ve held hands so many times before—I don’t know why this would be any different. For some reason, though, I can’t stop thinking what have you done? at myself.
Please, my brain begs, this isn’t any different than all the other times. But it is—last night, you told him you loved him, remember? Yeah, but I’ve said that before, too! But now you’re holding his hand—the day after, it’s too soon, it’s too soon. This makes my brain mad. Why does it even matter—just let me enjoy my life! I’m just keeping you safe—why can’t I just have a normal life—you’ll be hurt if he leaves—and normal relationships with friends and boyfriends—that will never happen—why am I afraid of getting too close?
Half of my brain starts screaming at the other half, and then it’s all just screaming at itself, and then I scream too, out loud.
All I can see is confusion and the look on your face, and I think you’re saying something, but then two teachers and a hall monitor are running towards us, so I get up and run towards them instead. They open their arms to me like the lifeline they think they are.
No, I want to tell them, he’s my lifeline.
They just look at you, and I do, too. Your jeans have dirt on the bottom, and I’m pretty sure there’s still one of my lipsticks in your backpack. My sweatshirt lies crumpled at your feet. Even though I hadn’t been wearing it before, I stand there shivering.
They look at me now, and I keep looking at you instead of at them, and then they ask you to follow them.
I don’t say a word.