Contest #188 winner 🏆

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Romance Coming of Age Funny

“Stop daydreaming Mr. Delano.”

In a moment, Mrs. Frampton, subjecting the tender wallflower of my affection to the grotesque spotlight of her own indifference, made cease the contemplation of my life’s own end, the one theme of my existence: Andrea Taylor.

It’s the Spring of 2005; I am a 7th grader at Fort Sumter Middle School, home of the Trojans. Andrea sits enthroned one row ahead, three columns to my right. I have mixed feelings about this, for while it affords me an almost uninterrupted view of her during second and fifth period, it also places her immediately adjacent to Kyle Schwimmer: another seventh grader, possessed of summit-less bicep peaks, which forces me to a fixed conclusion that he’s been injecting steroids intravenously since infancy, and whose hair, defying no less than two laws of thermodynamics, I am sure, manages to appear wet and shiny hours after we all have a just expectation that it should be dry. I despise Kyle Schwimmer.

Andrea herself, ah! Andrea, crowned with brown tresses, and bangs; layered alternately and Kevlar-like in Abercrombie and Hollister tank tops; floating on a cloud of all-white Etnies; and tastefully adorned in torn and acid-washed denim: if Helen, Esther, Cleopatra, Meghan Fox herself stood before me, they could, collectively, aspire to light but a Yankee-candle of affection before the blast furnace that is my love for Andrea Taylor.

She dignifies all she touches. Braces, hitherto unthinkable, become the obvious conclusion of several months’ jagged back-and-forth between myself and my mother: she, keenly impressed by the delayed gratification of orthodontics; I, unwilling to suffer an infinite two years of public degradation before my muse. That is, until Andrea arrives one Monday morning, her teeth elegantly arrayed in alternating pink and key-lime green squares – her two favorite colors, and now mine. At best, she freely elected the ornamentation and the entire school, nay the entire world, must soon follow suit. At worst, she was compelled by her parents, and to join her was now a question of solemn solidarity.

“I said stop daydreaming Mr. Delano! You’re not even on the right page! You had better snap out of it before this evening. And to think, you before the entire school!”

As the sole member of my 7th grade class to make the Principal’s List for four quarters consecutively, I was nominated by the Student council, that reverend body, to deliver the customary student-speech at the Spring awards banquet. My entire family would be present, as would a large portion of the student body, their own families included. My speech was already prepared some week in advance, but the grandeur of the event – the achievement of garishly mismatched ties and dress shirts of which adolescent boys seem uniquely capable; the attendance of one’s forebears; the event’s occurring at night! – all of this called for something more than a bare statement of the facts, a weak-kneed acknowledgement of one’s faculty and peers; it demanded romance. 

Everything had prepared me for this moment: by which I mean chiefly Disney channel movies, but it feels like everything. I must take the occasion to declare my intentions, my love for Andrea. I set to work. 

Let it not be supposed that the account I now relate is unrealistic, for I am convinced that if the same series of events does not unfold hourly at middle schools across the country, it is to be attributed less to any want of imagination or romantic inclination on the part of adolescent boys, and more to their own diffidence in making such feelings known. My case may be singular in that I did declare my love, but then, mine was no common love. 

The night arrives. I scramble numbly from the third row of my mother’s van just in time to witness Kyle Schwimmer emerging from the passenger seat of his older brother’s Mazda Miata, a convertible. A pox on all his house! I’m wearing a light-blue button-down, hastily-ironed khakis, and, in defiance of all my mother’s objections, a striped tie: green and pink. Kyle is in all black. I think this is ridiculous. I take a second look. It doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous. I wonder why I did not wear all black. I hate Kyle Schwimmer.

We begin to walk past what should be familiar sights, but in the dark, and on a night of such moment, I recognize nothing. That is… until I hear her voice. Andrea and her parents are following just feet behind us. My younger brother trips over a step. I despise him with my entire soul. She doesn’t seem to notice, or to impute his failings to me despite our near relation. I hold the door open. My mother thanks me with a half-tone of surprise which, I trust, instantly exposes my sham gallantry for what it is. I cannot escape the suspicion that in the short time it took us to move from the van into the school, I have fallen, like one of Milton’s angels, to the furthest recesses of the pit in Andrea’s esteem. She smiles as she enters through the door – I am confident that no door has ever been restrained by such a superfluity of force – and is heard to say, “Hi John!” I ascend all at once from Inferno to Purgatorio to Paradiso. I respond in monosyllables - though, apparently, to some effect, as she graces me with a smile and proceeds accompanied to the cafeteria-made-banquet-hall.

She wears a strapless white dress with black polka dots - I wish she wouldn’t bare her shoulders, what if Kyle Schwimmer sees? - black flats, a red handbag, and a puzzling mix of blush and eye-shadow, the effect of which might have proven comical to an elder member of her own sex, but which appeared to me the very incarnation of beauty.

A half hour passes during which I’m ushered to a seat onstage by Mrs. Frampton, the cafeteria grows steadily more full, and my bowels become a butterfly house. Finally, it is my turn to speak. I address my peers, their parents, our faculty and administration, make some general remarks about the progress of the year. In short, I read the entirety of my two-minute speech which had passed successively beneath the careful scrutiny first of my father, then of Mrs. Frampton, then of the assistant principal. But I am not done. Unfolding from my shirt pocket another sheet of college-ruled paper, scrutinized by none but myself, I begin. 

I am catatonic. The few claps which do follow serve only to foreground the vacuum I’ve made of this middle school cafeteria. I’m shushed down the steps by Mrs. Frampton to the empty seat between my father and younger brother. The assistant principal clears his throat and continues as though I’d never said a word. I don’t dare meet my mother’s eyes. Shuffling ensues as the guests are released to the buffet table. My parents think it best that we excuse ourselves. The sole glimpse I catch of Andrea is of her staring directly down, neither white nor red, but somehow both, entirely, simultaneously – with a parent’s hand on each of her shoulders.

We drive home in silence – at least as far as dialogue goes: the radio insists on playing, and I wonder why every single song seems a mockery of the events of the last hour. 

It would be true to say that I spend the evening in agony. It would be equally true to say that I was very nearly buoyant. It was like one of my track meets: an agonizing affair so long as it continued, and even immediately after the race was run, but it just felt so good to have it over with.

I spend time in front of a book, though not quite reading; in front of my television, though not quite watching; and finally, I turn to the family computer. Dare I? She wouldn’t…? I log in to AOL Instant Messenger and there, carved in black pixels is AndreaaaT93. Petrified, mortified, ossified: like some antediluvian fish buried beneath the waves of judgment and become stone, I undergo internal decomposition in a moment. I move to log off when a window appears:

AndreaaaT93: I love you too. :)  

She moved to Colorado that summer; her father received orders to a new base. 

It’s the Spring of 2023. I’ve not seen her since. I’ve loved others, or at least said I did. Still I can’t help but wonder how much happier the world might be if we all married the first girl we fell in love with. Has my love ever since been so disinterested? I used to wish that a bear would burst into the halls of our school, so that I’d have something to behead, something to lay at her feet. I wanted to become a soldier, just so I could perish carrying a small portrait of her in my breast pocket. I plundered songs and movie scenes for lines to express, if only to myself, what I could not but feel. It was idolatrous, but, perhaps, not without meaning. Why was I so soon enthralled? Why, in 7th grade, looking for a dragon to slay, a princess to save? 

It will be observed that the contents of my panegyric have been excised from the narrative. The reader may rest assured that Andrea was wooed with all the accumulated prowess an eleven year old may be justly expected to muster. I invoked Shakespeare, Noah Webster; several verses of Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” and more than one Coldplay song were flagrantly plagiarized; in short: I declared my love to her in no uncertain terms. Kyle Schwimmer teased me ferociously until the end of the year. But then, Kyle Schwimmer was never, if only for a brief moment, loved by Andrea Taylor.

March 11, 2023 02:45

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125 comments

A.K. Pittman
13:50 Mar 18, 2023

You did an excellent job describing the intense feelings of that age. I felt all his pain. I particularly liked that you showed us a glimpse of him as an adult with perspective. If it turns into a book from there, we can hope he finally gets Andrea! Good job. Glad you won!

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Tom Bombadil
00:59 Mar 20, 2023

It can be a rough time can't it? Thank you so much- it means the world!

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Sarah O'Neill
11:55 Mar 18, 2023

Absolutely loved this!!! Amazing language, really funny, brilliant characters! Have you read The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru? I think you'd like it.

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Tom Bombadil
01:00 Mar 20, 2023

No, but I've just looked it up on your recommendation! Thank you so much Sarah! And thank you for taking the time to read!

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Paula Hernández
19:06 Mar 17, 2023

Hahaha really funny, I like it!

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Tom Bombadil
01:10 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much Paula!

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David Sweet
18:33 Mar 17, 2023

Congrats on your win! A well-deserved accolade for this piece. It caught the quintessence of middle school in a way that Jean Shepherd captures that childhood feel in "A Christmas Story." Lookong forward to more from you. Thanks for sharing.

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Tom Bombadil
01:11 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you very much David- it means the world, and I'm so grateful!

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Reina Mendoza
18:15 Mar 17, 2023

"I'm catatonic." All things around me faded when I read the story. It was like I was being zapped to the time when I was in middle school. 😅☺️ Well done. 👏👏👏👏👏

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Tom Bombadil
01:12 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much Reina; thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to read!

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Richard E. Gower
18:02 Mar 17, 2023

Sound of many hands clapping.👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏 Bravo. RG

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Tom Bombadil
01:12 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much! Thank you for reading!

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Steven Rensch
17:45 Mar 17, 2023

Absolutely loved it. John and I would know and understand each other on first meeting. . . . Self-condemning, taking comfort in fantasies, compelled to shout the truth regardless of the consequences, embarrassed after the fact by everything we do. My "Andrea" waited 60 years to tell me she felt the same way about me. Fiction at its best.

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Tom Bombadil
01:13 Mar 20, 2023

That sounds like it would make for a great story! Thank you so much. Thank you for taking the time to read, Steven!

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Odile Glatz
17:38 Mar 17, 2023

This is how I want to write, bravo! Well-deserved win!

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Tom Bombadil
01:13 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you for such kind words Odile! Thank you for reading!

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Odile Glatz
10:51 Apr 04, 2023

You're welcome!

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Aleta Davis
17:29 Mar 17, 2023

You captured the brutal self-consciousness of middle school perfectly. Congrats!

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Tom Bombadil
01:13 Mar 20, 2023

Brutal is right. Thank you so much Aleta!

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Mary Bendickson
17:27 Mar 17, 2023

Well deserved win n a great pool of winners!

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Tom Bombadil
01:14 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you Mary!

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Miriam Culy
17:14 Mar 17, 2023

Really well done Tom :)

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Tom Bombadil
01:14 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much Miriam! Thanks for reading!

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Angela Winters
17:05 Mar 17, 2023

This was a great story to read and took me all the way back to my embarrassing moments in middle school, of which there were a lot! Your main character was so relatable and funny. I loved the other characters, too, because I could immediately picture them and I loved their descriptions. Excellent job, and congrats on your win!!!

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Tom Bombadil
01:15 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much for your kind words Angela- it's so encouraging, and I'm glad (err. sorry) you could relate!

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Nathaniel Miller
16:31 Mar 17, 2023

Really nicely done, Tom. Very very well deserved win. I think what I liked most was the innate comedy of it all, although it manages to be almost deep in the end. And the writing just adds loads to it; the metaphors hit so so well. Really a thoughtful, painfully funny read. So happy you’ve won this week :)

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Tom Bombadil
01:16 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you for writing this Nathaniel; it means so much!

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Kendall Defoe
16:29 Mar 17, 2023

We have all had an Andrea Taylor in our past. Congrats on the win and I look forward to more from your pen!

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Tom Bombadil
01:16 Mar 20, 2023

Thank you so much Kendall! Thank you for reading!

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Zack Powell
16:25 Mar 17, 2023

Yeah, I totally see why this won. Fantastic story, Tom! The voice and tone are so playfully over-the-top and dramatic, which is just perfect for a middle school story/narration. Great characterization throughout of John/Andrea/Kyle in particular, and a clever choice not to show us what said during the speech, because our imaginations are probably conjuring something even worse than what the narrative might've provided (I know mine is). The last two paragraphs are gold. I'm usually not a fan of 'timeskip' endings, but this one concluded the ...

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Tom Bombadil
01:18 Mar 20, 2023

Zack, this meant so much- thank you for taking the time to comment, and for reading. I hope whatever you conjured up was satisfying! Cheers!

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Laurel Hanson
16:25 Mar 17, 2023

Oh, I love this narrative voice, the tone of this whole piece, the self-aware absurdity of this young chap, the fantastic diction. The cameo of Mrs. Frampton captured so well when she subjects "The the tender wallflower of my affection to the grotesque spotlight of her own indifference," The character of that impossibly wonderful "other" Kyle "whose hair, defying no less than two laws of thermodynamics," is so perfect along with everything else about him. The language of this lad, the references - "A pox on all his house!" make the read e...

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Tom Bombadil
01:19 Mar 20, 2023

I appreciate everything you took the time to write Laurel, but especially: Making anything from middle school enjoyable is an unappreciated art form. That's gonna stick with me, haha! Well said! Thank you for writing and for taking the time to read! Cheers!

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T C Milton
16:22 Mar 17, 2023

Congratulations! Quite a feat, winning with your very first story. Keep writing! And fill in that bio so everyone can learn more about today's star.

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Tom Bombadil
01:20 Mar 20, 2023

On my way, haha! Thank you so much- it's a great encouragement!

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Kelly Sibley
23:09 Mar 15, 2023

And it's those brief moments that count for so much. Awww, that took me back! Really well written and totally enjoyable ... if not reminiscently painful to read! Well done.

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Tom Bombadil
01:20 Mar 20, 2023

I'm happy and sorry you could relate : ) Thank you so much Kelly!

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Alexis Araneta
15:32 Jan 04, 2024

Late to the party, but my goodness, I enjoyed this. And TBH, the way John speaks reminds me so much of my 11 year-old self. Hahahaha ! Amazing job !

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Matyn !!
14:40 Dec 09, 2023

This is one of my favorites story

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