Coming of Age Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Teenage boys are like rough, unfinished works of art. They are paint on the canvas, nothing yet blended together with a brush, the final picture imagined but unknown. Clay on the wheel, unspun and uncreated, only glistening with possibility. They are everything their mothers saw in them when they were little boys and everything they’ll one day become, waiting to be born.

But when you’re a teenage girl, you don’t know this.

Adult Grace would study the past and say, there was more to Alexander Laurent than met her eye. There was more to him than just a handsome, exotic, French expat who moved next door the beginning of her freshman year of high school. The one she initially thought was odd; a mirage she eventually fell for. Adult Grace would fall to her knees in sorrow thinking of all the missed possibilities, the endless chances she had to open a door into Alexander’s life.

But fourteen-year-old Grace was not privy to hindsight, of course. She was just an awkward, shy, art kid with a new neighbor who walked into her backyard with a friendly smile. Unaccustomed to exhibiting proper social behavior, Grace had inelegantly waved and then forced herself to smile.

“Hello,” he’d said. There was the faintest hint of an accent, almost as if he’d thought about pretending to be French but changed his mind at the last minute. He introduced himself formally, which Grace thought was strange right off the bat—no one did that. Although he’d grown up in California, he told her, he’d been born in France. He was starting his junior year at the same high school as Grace. He wondered if perhaps Grace could show him around.

Fourteen-year-old Grace did not know how to respond. She was torn between the first rustlings of a crush on a boy who was quite beautiful, and slight embarrassment for how weird he seemed. Alexander Laurent had a clean face of perfect skin and a jawline that he hadn’t quite grown into yet. He was taller than Grace, somewhat slim, with longish brown hair and pale blue eyes. His smile was polite and eager.

It was his clothes and his mannerisms that were strange. Grace thought maybe it was a French thing, but she couldn’t resonate him with the boys she knew, who lived in athletic shorts and hoodies, who hung out at the park. Alexander’s clothes looked expensive, but they were just…wrong. Fancy pressed chinos, an untucked pin-striped shirt and a blazer with the cuffs rolled up. Maybe he was going to church? It was just a peculiar outfit for a teenage boy to be wearing in the last week of summer.

“Um, I guess I could. I’m only a freshman though. I don’t think we’ll be in the same part of the school building,” Grace mumbled.

“Oh, I meant now. You know, like the town? Things to do?” Alexander smiled hopefully at her.

Grace tried to envision herself taking Alexander to the mall or walking to the park where all the kids hung out under the pavilion, bored and rambunctious. Not that she regularly went either of those places, being a self-described outcast, but that was all she could think of.

“Oh,” Grace said. “Yeah, there’s not much.”

Alexander looked visibly disappointed, and adult Grace would always wonder if the disappointment was over the lack of excitement in town, or because Grace said no. Fourteen-year-old Grace hated everything about her appearance—from her long, non-descript mousy hair to her freckles and her boring brown eyes. It would never occur to her that perhaps Alexander found her cute. Adult Grace would look at photographs of herself back then and wonder how she’d been oblivious to the stunning effect of youth.

Two more times before school started, Alexander Laurent tried to talk to Grace, and twice more she shot him down. Grace was hoping that once she started high school, her social life would change from being a shadow on the fringes of a crowd that perhaps knew her name, but nothing else, to something more. What that something more was, Grace didn’t know. How she was achieving it was even more of a mystery, since Grace had a hard time talking to anyone aside from her best friend. She was pretty sure walking in to her first day with a new kid in fancy clothes wasn’t going to help her case.

So, when Alexander asked, the night before school started, if she would like to walk together, she rebuffed him.

“Sorry, my mom drives me,” Grace said, not offering him a ride. She then had to beg her mother to drive her, without explaining why.

The first day of school transpired, and something unexpected began to unfold. Alexander Laurent was an instant, smashing success. His good looks, the novelty of his exoticness (although Grace knew he was only born abroad, his accent inherited from his parents) and just the fact that he was someone new in a boring town all worked in his favor.

The popular crowd swept him up within the first week of school. The ranks of hierarchy had been set as early on as elementary school, and it was rare for someone to morph from one group to another, but new kids were the exception. They were a curiosity, something to brighten up an otherwise monotonous life where gossip, drama and rumors were the only excitement.

Grace hadn’t expected to walk into the lunchroom on the first day and see Alexander centered at the popular table. She had lied to him; there were no separate parts of their impossibly small school. There Alexander was, being fawned over by a handful of girls and a group of guys, all of them rapt with interest. His clothing seemed to be of no matter, just another element of his glamourous novelty.

Within weeks, he was the king of their school. Lex, as the kids shortened his name to, was adored. He almost instantaneously landed a girlfriend—Cassie, beautiful and blonde—and joined the soccer team as the starting forward. He was a complete package: smart, athletic, attractive, and popular. His fashion sense, which remained unchanged, seemed to be of no consequence.

Grace’s debut into high school, by contrast, was uneventful. There was no transmuting from a shadow to a name, even in a school as small as theirs. She moved silently between her classes, chatting at lunch with the same best friend she’d had since childhood, enjoying little about her days with the exception of art class. Since the school year had begun, Alexander (Lex) had not popped over to her yard once, even though she’d taken to doing homework on the patio after school, hoping perhaps he'd see her when he arrived home from soccer practice.

But it was art class, ironically, where Lex and Grace crossed paths again. There she was, sketching away at the fruit bowl the teacher had placed in the middle of the room, when Lex appeared at the door. He made his way to the back of the room, grabbing a notebook that he had left by accident. On his way back out, he stopped behind Grace.

“Hey, that’s good,” he said. Grace turned and offered a smile. She wanted to start a conversation, perhaps rekindle the friendship that Lex had tried to begin over the summer, but she went mute. Lex returned her smile and left.

Grace realized she had misjudged Alexander Laurent, imagining him to be some sort of weirdo instead of befriending him like a normal human being. She decided from this day forth, she was going to go out of her way to talk to him. Perhaps that was her ticket to a more exciting social life. But it was more than that.

As time went on, as Grace watched him through the slats in the blinds of her living room and in the hallways where his arm was slung over Cassie’s shoulders—she realized she had a maddening crush on Lex. Her and the rest of the school, but…Grace was his neighbor. Grace was the first person he had spoken to upon his arrival to their sleepy little town. Grace didn’t have any delusions of grandeur that Lex was going to suddenly going to drop Cassie for a quiet, awkward freshman girl. But she told herself she could at least talk to him.

An entire year went by like that, with Lex riding on the crest of a teenage life that dreams were made of. The thing was, everyone genuinely liked Lex. There was an affability to his nature that charmed both boys and girls, teachers and coaches, parents and neighborhood dogs. Grace was certain—well, as certain as a young girl with self-confidence issues could be—that if she could work up the nerve to talk to Lex in the hallways of school, he would certainly have a conversation with her. But for unknown reasons, she found herself frozen and silent whenever she came near him.

Grace lurked in the corners near his locker row, went to the garbage can during lunch just to pass his table, always with the intent of saying hello, but her innate shyness took over. When the summer rolled around again, her plans of running into him in the backyard were dashed when the Laurent family returned to California for six weeks.

Grace’s obsession eventually became a quieter part of her, a piece that lingered underneath her skin and in her unspoken words as she came into her own at fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. Lex—graduated and off to college—was no longer a daily fixture, but one of holidays and summer breaks. Grace would think of him now and then, and when his green Jeep Wrangler would inevitably show up next door, she would feel a jolt of ice in her stomach, her crush roused from slumber. Her girlish musings, her diary entries, her daydreams—at once they seemed both silly and powerful.

“Just go say hi to him!” her best friend, tired of hearing about Grace’s unrequited love for years, suggested for the umpteenth time during Christmas break of their senior year.

“What am I going to say? I’ve lived next door to you for four years and finally found my voice? Ugh.”

“Take some cookies,” her friend suggested. “What, it’s Christmas. Tell him your mom asked you to drop them off.”

“Yeah, right,” Grace said, but in her head, she thought maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.

On Christmas Eve, Grace, seventeen years old and unsure of much other than the fact that something about Lex made her want to gravitate towards him, asked her mother if she should take cookies to the neighbors. Her mother was a baking machine, and cooling racks covered with cookies lined the counters.

“That’s a wonderful idea, sweetie. I’ll make up plates for the Johnsons, and the Martins…”

“And the Laurents,” Grace added. “I can run them for you.”

As she walked next door, Grace’s heart was beating madly. Be cool, be cool, she told herself. It was just Lex. She’d been waving and exchanging smiles for four years. Speaking to him was not going to be that difficult. She could do this. As much as she wanted to follow through with her plan, she found herself secretly hoping someone else answered the bell.

But when the heavy red door swung open, there was Lex, looking impossibly more handsome up close. Grace could feel her face stupidly blushing.

“Um, these are for you. For your family, I mean,” she mumbled.

Lex smiled. Facial hair and a bit of weight had matured him, but he still had a boyish essence and a look of innocent congeniality.

“Wow, thanks!” he said, opening the storm door and taking the foil covered plate.

“Okay, well. Merry Christmas,” Grace forced herself to meet his eyes as she said this. She wasn’t sure what else to say. In her grand scheme of finally speaking to the object of her desire, she had failed to devise any type of subject matter. Fortunately, Lex spoke instead.

“Hey, some friends are coming over tomorrow night. You know, after the family festivities and all,” he said, his voice buttery smooth with touches of his accent. “Do you want to come? Everyone’s welcome!”

“Okay,” Grace heard herself say. As she walked away, she couldn’t stop her face from breaking into a grin. It was so easy! She could kick herself for how much time she spent lamenting over something as simple as speaking.

Christmas Eve and morning passed by in a blur. Grace opened gifts with her family, and the morning turned into afternoon and afternoon inked into evening. When cars started appearing next door around dinnertime, she casually told her parents she was popping by the Laurents as if it was something she regularly did.

Giddy and nervous, Grace slipped on her coat and crossed the threshold between their homes. The wood door was open, so she stepped inside, and immediately felt that things were wrong. There was nothing festive in the air; the vibe that hung visibly was a cloud of gloom. She searched the faces of the people crowding the entryway and the living room of the Laurent home, looking for someone she knew. Everyone was in tears, as if someone had died.

Suddenly, she caught sight of Cassie. Lex’s old girlfriend. They’d never been friends, but at least it was someone with a familiar face. Sliding over to her, Grace stared at her questioningly. Cassie’s eyes were rimmed with smeared mascara, and she reached out and wrapped her arms around Grace, even though Grace was pretty sure Cassie didn’t even know her name.

“What’s going on? Um, Lex invited me over…”

Cassie broke into a sob. “Haven’t you heard the news?” she choked out. But Grace had not heard the news. And as she gazed around the room, she had the sinking feeling that she didn’t want to know.

It was a random patch of black ice on a back road, they said. Lex was driving a little too fast—he always did, they said. It happened on Christmas Eve, just an hour or so after Grace had dropped off the cookies. Lex had been running an errand for his mother. He spun on the ice and his Jeep was thrown into the tree line. It was over an hour before the paramedics got to him, and he died en route to the hospital. All of that had been happening last night, while Grace was drinking eggnog, still high on her tiny little conversation with Lex.

Now, swirled around her, his real friends were in shock. There were young men and women wiping their eyes and holding each other. Somewhere, deep in the house where Grace did not venture, Lex’s parents sat stunned, their friends around them, contemplating their shocking loss as if it were a nightmare. Grace knew, in an instant, that she did not belong here. She wasn’t part of this: this group of people who had known Lex, really known him. Who knew what he was made of, what he loved, what his dreams were.

Grace was just the girl next door with the silent crush. She didn’t have a right to be mourning him.

She quietly extracted herself and walked home, holding back her own sobs. She slipped into her house, and her parents—who must have just heard the news—came at her, but she waved them off. She ran to her room and shut the door before something wracking overtook her. On her bed, she cradled her pillow and let her sorrow seep out.

What was she crying for anyway? She hadn’t known Lex. She’d made up some version in her head, but she’d been too lame to bother to know him—not like his friends next door. She thought back to the very first day, when she was a stroppy fourteen-year-old and Lex had so earnestly sought her friendship.

Lex was buried on New Years Day, and though Grace waffled on whether to attend, her parents insisted. They sat far in the back of the church, behind rows and rows of people who had known and loved Alexander Laurent. Grace sat like a stone and watched his death, much as she had watched his life: as an observer.

She listened to the eulogy given by his father, and she learned that Lex was charming and devious as a little boy. From his friends she learned that he was a prankster, the first one to suggest an adventure, and the kind of person who would do anything for anyone. From Cassie (who, unbeknownst to Grace, had become his girlfriend again) she learned that Lex was loving and romantic and funny. From his mother, who spoke through long silences, she learned that Lex’s incredibly bright future as an engineer was cut short and that the world, in particular his mother’s, would never be the same.

Adult Grace’s maturity taught her that she hadn’t been lame, or insignificant, or abnormal. She had simply been what so many teenage girls are: unsure of herself, who she was, and how to speak her mind. She was kinder to the past version of herself, knowing that her feelings for the boy next door were very real, and so was her grief.

Grace eventually met and married the man of her dreams. She always held on to some of her shyness—socially awkward is how she referred to herself, but she eventually found her voice. Much like the way that teenage boys eventually mold and chisel the rough parts of themselves, so do teenage girls, and so did Grace. As an adult, she understood what a gift this was…a gift Alexander Laurent was never able to realize. 

December 22, 2022 13:08

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Wendy Kaminski
16:57 Dec 23, 2022

What I got from this masterfully told story was a great reminder to seize the day. Grace's story is to some degree one of heartbreak from beginning to end, at every turn thwarting her own chance at happiness. Obviously, what shy girl at that age would not, and I am grateful the older Grace has the wisdom to accept those actions and outcomes, rather than punish herself for them. Regret can be a powerful emotion, leading us to make decisions that are incredibly self-detrimental. Young Grace's maturity in accepting her true place in Alex's wor...


Lindsay Flo
13:40 Dec 25, 2022

Thank you Wendy! I wasn't feeling particularly inspired this week, but the prompt had me thinking about adolescent life this week lol. I really appreciate that thoughtful and thorough observation :)


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Jody S
00:56 Apr 01, 2023

What a sad and beautifully written story. The twist caught me off guard and brought such sadness. Well crafted and we'll developed.


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Cailie E
14:36 Mar 10, 2023

I love this short story, and ughhhh it's so good I have no other words to describe it. Good doesn't even cut close to what I'm feeling after I read it. I can relate to some of Grace's experiences, and it definitely hit too close to home.


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Stevie Burges
23:52 Dec 31, 2022

Hi Lindsay - gosh, this brought back all my teenage awkwardness - loved the way she judged that his clothes would somehow reflect back on her. It was a lovely story that will keep me thinking and remembering. Loved it.


Lindsay Flo
13:14 Jan 04, 2023

Thanks for taking the time to comment! Yes its funny the things that stick out when you're only 14, 15, 16 years old.


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AnneMarie Miles
14:59 Dec 22, 2022

Good morning, Lindsay! This is another well-told story full of real-life scenarios and real-life people. You captured the complexities of personalities and human interactions well. This also brings up the theme of "what if?" Things could have potentially been vastly different for Grace if she had accepted Lex at his first hello. They could have fallen in love, and she could have been popular with him, or unpopular together! It reminded me how important it is to say how we feel, when we feel it, because we never know the consequences of our i...


Lindsay Flo
13:14 Dec 27, 2022

Thanks for catching that, its fixed! And as always, thank you for your comments!! It is interesting to imagine how things may be different if one small detail is changed...or if the opposite is true and things happen how they're supposed to, regardless of our choices!


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