There were no butterflies.
No, I felt like I was going to throw up. Anxiety stretched out the lining of my stomach, and I felt full and flustered.
I can do better- I can do this. It’s just a date.
My flatmate set this up. They always did, the type of social butterfly to give other people butterflies, whose conversations took flight with an ease that made me stand still with shock. So carefree, so easy-going, conversation and laughter flowing unbelievably effortlessly. More friends than minutes in a day, more numbers on the side of coffee cups than shoes, and a glow of confidence that attracts everyone.
A happening both golden-lucky and the opposite of in my favour, was when I became their ‘project’, like Elphaba to Glinda in ‘Wicked’. I was stripped away from my cozy Batcave of a room, with books and blankets and beats and thrust into Raven’s lawless symphony of parties, people, and pandemonium.
Watching the flocks of humans pass by the window of the café had a calming effect on my restlessness, like counting sheep. Each was a character in this great narrative, each with, qualities, passions, goals, secrets, lives.
If only I could manage to get mine in order.
Raven’s newest sub-project was to get me a significant other. A ‘side quest’ they call it, this pushing a bird out into the sea and expecting it to learn to swim. I am no creature of the sea, and I await no magical metamorphosis to allow me to become a flying fish. I’ll be a bird, thanks. My freedom will be where I allow the sky to take me, not where the currents direct me.
A bright colour stole my attention from my thoughts of air, water and existence. Yellow, like an intensive canary. Shouting against the dull colours of surrounding jackets, boots, and other articles of clothing. The woman wore a black leather jacket over a white dress with some sort of yellow print, and black Dr. Martens. They had a familiar presence, and I guess their confidence and style reminded me of Raven.
I watched her walk past the café, feeling uncomfortable in my own outfit. Should I have dressed up a bit more? This is a date, after all.
My nerves bubbled up again. For once I was glad not to have bought a muffin. I sipped my tea with trembling hands, the Lady’s Grey leaving a familiar, sweet tang as it slid down my dry throat.
I was supposed to be meeting a friend of Raven’s for a blind date, which does nothing to narrow things down. I had arrived a half hour early thirty five minutes ago, and while I didn’t exactly value punctuality, I worried in both directions: that they would show up, and that they wouldn’t.
I took off my glasses. I wouldn’t be able to read anyway. I put the case in my bag when a ping from my phone almost caused an embarrassing display on my part in an explosion of anxiety. It was the message from the unknown number Raven had assured was the person coming to meet me.
Number: hey! ;) sorry i’m late, had trouble finding the cafe. i’m here now, where r u?
I texted back, fingers shaking, throat dry: It’s fine :) By the window. In the blue sweater.
Number: I see you! I’m in the yellow hat.
I froze, turned around and locked eyes with one of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. It was the one who had walked past the café briefly before. She had flawless ebony skin and a cream-coloured birthmark on one cheek shaped like Australia. Tight golden curls shot out under her beanie and spilled around her face (great dye job), with large, dark, intelligent, doe-like eyes staring back at me through thick lashes. Her full lips turned up in a smile to blind me.
So this is why it’s called a blind date.
“Hello.” I offered, surprised to have spoken first. She walked closer. She smelled of lilacs.
“Hey! I was worried Ren had set me up with an actual stranger again, but Ḯ'm so glad it’s you.”
Panic level: close to ten. Confusion level: two.
“I beg your pardon?”
Her smile fell. Did I do that? I never wanted to again. The cafe felt cold without it. What do I say?
“I- I’m Terabithia. Do you not- remember me?”
I suddenly felt defensive. “What? No! I would never forget you! I- wait, that came out wrong, I-”
She grew quieter. “We’ve met before. At the bookshop, down Bowery? ‘Fact and Fiction’. You said- you said my name was really pretty, from a book, and then, I told you my mom chose it from one, ‘Bridge to Terabithia’, and . . . . and you . . . . you were so kind. No one ever- opens up like that. Not even Raven. Not even my family. No one treats me like who I am, just, who I was born as. But you didn’t seem to care! You just, showed me books, and I, developed . . . a-” - she winced- “a crush, I think”. We locked eyes again, my mouth slightly agape. She looked frightened again, a startled canary. Her wings closed around herself.
Confusion level: astronomical.
Then the dawn hit me like a Goliath-slaying rock.
“Oh!” I shot upright. “I remember! You’re- you’re- yes! Oh, yeah, I work at that shop, and well, you looked kindof like how I imagine myself to be, more closed and . . .yeah, and so I went up and we started talking and I just geeked out! I’m sorry, it’s just- you’re so- different! Your energy’s different. You’re . . . so . . . bright.”
She smiled, shy and glorious, and I saw at once that she had been able to crawl out of her shell since then, a miracle I had always strived to achieve, and it was only due to the mention of the bookshop and the moment where her protective wings returned that I had been able to piece it together.
I moved my bag so she could take a seat beside me. “Here.”
“Thank you,” she said, feathers unfolding.
I wondered briefly if this is how people felt with me, like they had to tread carefully, exhausting themselves by holding back. I noticed my exclamation earlier: how it had felt so natural, so natural to have displayed emotion to that degree to another person. It was almost extroverted. Me? I felt a sharp twinge of pain and realized I had done it again, dug my nails into my wrists. Sharp crescents were imprinted into the skin, pink and angry, skin peeling in some places.
“So . . . . weird start to a first date, yeah?”
I noticed how she said first. The butterflies became happier.
“Yeah. I’m- I’m sorry.” I opened my mouth to continue but she cut me off.
“No, no, it was me, sorry. I was just really excited to see you and I didn’t realize . . . .you, um . . . .”
I closed my eyes in a wince, squeezing my teacup. “Sorry.”
I remembered something she said before. “So you, had a crush on me?”
“I do.” She looked me straight in the eyes as she said this, and I felt every part of my face turn to fire. I gaped a bit then cleared my throat. How to respond to that? I drew a blank.
I saw her smile out of the corner of my eye and felt my smile too.
Thank you, Raven.
I turned to her again, using every ray of confidence I had.
“You also mentioned how no one treats you as who you are, but who you were born as. What- what did you mean by that?”
“I um, oh gosh, I said some nonsense there, didn’t I. Well, um, we- ugh. We also met before. Before the bookshop.”
She looked me in the eyes again, and I saw a challenge in them. She was testing me.
“And my name was not Terabithia.”
Jordan’s eyes were so easy to read. They seemed to tell stories, as much as the brain attached to them loved to absorb stories. One a warm, expressive amber-caramel, the other a distant, pale blue. Heterochromia. Unforgettable.
These eyes had home in two of my core memories. One, that day in the bookshop which meant more to me than I could put into words. This stranger was kind to me, either out of ignorance, civility, or something else. I still hold onto that something else, if only to believe that a human, this human, accepts me where I have yet to wholly accept myself. So sweet and raw, so intelligent and lovable.
The other memory, many years ago. I would be surprised if Jordan still remembers it. Middle school, fourth grade.
Before everything. Before I came to terms with myself. Before ‘Terabithia’.
Before I transitioned.
My name was Alonzo.
I played basketball, like my older brothers. I noticed this deja vu, this person always sitting on the sidelines, the younger sibling of one of the older players. Always with a book in hand, glasses sliding down their nose. I never talked. Would you have? Would you have gone up, sweaty and unsure, to a cute person when you were nine?
Eventually, a day came, straight out of some work of fiction, where a book in Spanish was waiting for me on the bleachers after practice. Alas de Fuego. It had a dragon on it.
I grabbed it, expecting to return it the next day, but then I saw the kid walking in the hallway. I ran up to them in a moment of blank mind, and handed them the book.
I finally saw their eyes. Stunning.
“Thanks.” They smiled.
“Sure.” I held out my hand, my body not my own. “I’m Alonzo.”
They took it, their hand small and skin smooth, but grip firm. “Jordan.”
“Like the player?”
Jordan cocked an eyebrow. Something about that was attractive. My nine-year-old heart didn’t know what to do.
“The basketball player. Michael Jordan.”
“Ah.” I could see in their eyes the words held no meaning to them.
I looked down at their shoes. My dad said you can tell a lot about a person from their shoes.
Plain black tie shoes, but a bit of sock poked out. They had avocados on them. My lips quirked.
“Well, um, th-thanks for the book, and I’ll, uh, see you around?” They said, glancing away. No, no, I wanted to see those eyes again.
“Yeah, sure. See you . . . . around.”
Jordan walked away, and I felt a strange tingle at my fingertips. My mind sang with instructions, with logic and instinct conflicting.
I turned to walk back into the gym.
I continued to notice Jordan, but I never was able to reach out more than commenting on a book or to say goodbye. Jordan was my second crush, and my first real one (the other was on a fictional character I’d rather not name in order to retain my remaining dignity).
Those eyes, warm and cold, welcoming and calculating, and so, so beautiful.
That moment, awkward and hesitant, short and sweet, and so, so wonderful.
Jordan, to me, is unforgettable.
So why did they forget me?
“You’re name wasn’t- oh, you mean, before you transitioned?”
“Yeah, wait, what? You, knew?”
“Yes. I have a photographic memory. I remember you from middle school. You were great at basketball. I’m just really surprised I didn't remember that day at the bookshop as soon as I saw you. I’m usually great with faces. I think you just kindof . . . . stunned me.”
“Stunned you?” Terabithia echoed, face falling. I needed to catch it. How? Then I realized how I might have sounded. Oh, Jordan, stupid, stupid! There’s that anxiety again. I cannot ruin this chance.
“No! Not that way. You’re just so beautiful.” She blushed. I relaxed a bit, surprised at the positive transition. My tongue isn’t usually this smooth. “Your, ehm, aura, I guess, is a lot different. You seemed very reserved, at the shop, like you were unsure of yourself. Your confidence now is- it’s- amazing. You seem to have found yourself or something.”
“Wow, I- yes. I think so.” She turned her gaze out of the window, her thoughts right here next to me or too far out of reach.
My relaxed tongue fell away as quickly as it had arrived. What to say, in the silence of someone reminiscing what you can only hope to be happy memories?
She spoke first. “You know, I was really surprised to see you today. Greatest moment in a long time, that, seeing you in a blue sweater.”
“And you, in that yellow hat. You were . . . . glowing.” I said softly.
She grinned, and turned her eyes to meet mine, a free bird and a sun and smiling at me.
“Ever since I met you after practice, then, I wanted to talk to you again. And, I only knew it was you at the bookshop after I went home. I was going through a rough time, and for you to treat me like, like I meant something, even as just a customer, even as just a human being, it made me remember.” Her words made me forget we were in a cafe, with other people, with another world out there. It was just us and a pair of memories, a pair of surprises.
She looked down at her folded arms, her elbows on the window seat ledge. She had a silver ring on each pinky, with three intricate sunflowers carved into them. I realized the yellow print on her dress was also sunflowers. Great style.
My good tongue was not yet back, but I wanted to say something.
“I was- also surprised. I-” -what to say, what to say?- “I would like to go on another date with you, if you don’t mind. I think, there, could be something here. You. Are, uh, amazing, so I want to- I want to get to know you.” I stumbled.
Hope level: Ten. Worry level: . . . . also ten.
She grinned, and I felt so happy that I had that. I had caused that beauty to appear! “Of course!” She said.
A bridge. I could feel it building.
“You already have my number, so, perfect. I think I’ll go buy a muffin, they looked so great. Do you want one?”
“Oh! Yes please.”
Her smile had not yet left. “Blueberry or raspberry?”
“K-k! I’ll be right back.”
Thank you for coming here today.
Thank you for smiling.
Thank you for making me smile.
Thank you, Raven.
Thank you, Terabithia.
I turned to buy a muffin for my fourth-grade crush, my bookstore-crush, my there-might-be-something-here crush. Oh, joyous day. Oh, Jordan.
Those eyes, dimples, freckles, glasses, so cute and this might be dangerous. It’s only the first date and-
And what? I already want to kiss? Already won’t forget a single thing said here today? Already am setting things up for what could possibly be my worst heartbreak ever if this goes poorly? Too attached, too attached, too quickly, Tera. Are you desperate?
But it’s Jordan.
I bought two raspberry muffins and a Cappuccino.
We talked for hours, ended up walking through Central and I learned, studied, listened as I never have before. The book they’re writing. The classes they’re taking. The games they like. The music they love. Cats or dogs? Dresses or pants? Beaches or mountains?
I felt so open. So comfortable. Is this what having a best friend is like? A person to listen, a person to listen to, laughs and gentle touches and warmth. Her great wings were around me, our mouths racing, hearts singing, spirits flying. My hands shook not with nerves but with excitement, or floodgates opening up to another human being for the first time since the accident. butterflies, true, legitimate, happy fluttery things tickled the lining of my stomach. I felt like a different person, when I was with Tera.
* * * *
Tera and Jordan each went their separate ways after their first date of many. There would be no forgetting this time. For Jordan, the yellow, the smiles, the happiness and friendship. For Tera, the blue, the eyes, the acceptance and love.
A beautiful blue butterfly; easily startled, easily flustered, and easy to love.
A yearning yellow canary; crazy, colourful, complicated, confident, and caring.
This is where their story begins.