He walks up to you, slapping you a high five. His blue eyes glint down at you, sparkling cobalt as always, but missing their usual mischievous spark. You know the spark, you’ve stared at it for years.
You’ve been friends since you beat him in the first-grade spelling bee. You’re tied for the top of the class, have air hockey battles, and know things about each other no one else does.
His middle name is Bartholomew.
You were the one who took your sister’s homework that one time.
His parents think he’s going to the library, but he really hangs out at Burger King.
You write poems in a blue leather-bound notebook.
Before, you told each other everything. You could say anything you wanted around him, and he might laugh but it would always be a joke. Everything was a joke to the two of you (rare was the recess that you weren’t huddled at the top of the slide laughing) and though your other friends giggled and whispered that you were a couple, you didn’t care. You weren’t of course- how dumb would that be?
You started high school and realized it wasn’t dumb at all.
You start noticing him, the way his blonde hair falls across his eyes, the way those eyes, a brilliant cobalt, have flecks of silver. How when he’s nervous, he shuffles his feet, and how he can do more push-ups than the rest of the class. He bikes every weekend, and brags to you about the distance. He’s smart, practically a tech genius, and takes apart iPhones to see how they work. He’s cool regardless, though. He’s cool and you aren’t (not that that especially bothers you), but he pays no attention to rigid high school hierarchy, ignoring confused glances when he sits at your lunch table. You notice that he has a freckle, right under his right eye, and that he always gets the cafeteria French fries. You hide it from your friends (they’d only laugh) but you notice everything.
Now you laugh at his jokes when they aren’t funny, and try your hardest to impress him with your wit. You pretend to be knowledgeable about stuff he’s interested in, and don’t talk as much about stuff he isn’t. You compliment him and beam when he compliments you. You start putting on nice jeans and lip gloss when he comes over, and it bothers you when he partners with Claire instead of you.
Even now, you instinctively smile a little brighter and stand a little taller as he comes over to you.
The two of you walk around the soccer field behind the high school, where the school team will play once the weather warms up. He’s nervous, you can tell. He keeps biting his lip and shuffling his feet, and sweat beads on his forehead. You walk with him in silence, unsure why he brought you out here, but willing to go along with it. Hell, at least you aren’t doing math homework.
He stops, suddenly, so quickly that you take a few steps before realizing he’s stopped. Then he’s staring at you, intensely, and you feel the thumping heat of your jack-rabbit heart. He’s looking at you, nervousness lining his face.
“I have to tell you something,” he says, and his voice trembles slightly. You rise onto the balls of your feet, heart pumping, blood rushing to your face, knowing it’s impossible, but he said he needs to tell you something and he’s looking so serious and his hair is in his eyes again and...
And the floor drops out from under you.
You can’t breathe, all of a sudden. How could have you been so wrong? And now he’s looking at you, worried, and he says,
“This doesn’t... change anything, does it?”
So all of a sudden, you’re scrambling for words, trying to put cohesive sounds together. Because, of course, you aren’t homophobic; you don’t have any problem with people being gay.
Did it have to be this person, though?
“Wow,” you say, “That’s a lot. Thanks for telling me,” Was that the right thing to say? You don’t want to be offensive. He seems to accept that, though, because he smiles at you, a flashing white grin, and you and him walk, together, but totally separate, into the school.
It’s only once you get home that you allow yourself to cry.
A week later, you’re over at his house, sitting on the snowy swing set that his dad built in the second grade. You’re talking in low voices, trying to keep your words from his little sister, playing nearby. So you ask. You don’t know why you ask, why you feel the need to rub salt in the wound.
“How did you know?”
“I don’t know. It just… felt right.” He says, and your chest squeezes, tighter. He smiles, a small twisting grin. “Plus, I got a crush on Henry C.”
You never liked Henry C. You look down at your feet, pushing against the snowy ground until the swing lurches into movement. You swing higher, higher, delighting in the sting of the snow against your face as you fly against the wind. You can barely feel your fingers in your thin gloves, but you also can’t imagine stopping. You know that in the grand scheme of things, this does not matter at all. That someday, you will look back on this and laugh. But somehow, you find it impossible to laugh at all.
If you could just stop watching him, it would be easier. But he’s one of your best friends, and so you are subjected to a lot of hang-outs and get-togethers. And every joke, every flick of his summer-wheat hair, is another stab in the heart. You tell yourself it doesn’t matter. That you never liked him anyway. But even your sister, who never pays attention to you unless it’s to either wear your clothes or insult your clothes, noticed that something is wrong. You feel like you can’t talk to anyone. It’s the first time since you started high school that you’ve actually felt like the moody teenagers depicted in movies and books. It’s the first time your heart is broken.
Which is how you find yourself sitting at your desk, staring at a blank sheet of paper. Your purple-shaded lamp, painted with elephants dancing, sends a beam of light, dust dancing in the glow, down at that plain white sheet. Thin blue marks make lines on the page, waiting for your words. The narrative pumps through your head, fills your very veins, and the words flow onto paper, pencil a natural extension of your mind.
When I first saw you…
It’s a love letter, of sorts, a letter you’d never send. A letter of acceptance and farewell. Because you can’t like him anymore. It’s over, even though it never really started. So you breathe words instead of air as your pencil flies over the paper, the words that slide out spinning and dancing across the page. You even put it in an envelope, because you’re so caught up in the moment that it feels like a good idea. But it’s not a good idea- thankfully you realize that in time. He’s realized who he is. You must move on. You must heal, piece the broken fragments of your heart back together.
So you tuck the letter into your bottom drawer, under sketches (mostly of pandas) and report cards from fifth grade, and you vow never to look at it again.
The vow lasts. You, honestly, weren’t expecting it to. You thought you wouldn’t be able to deal with the heartbreak, that you would yank it out of its dust-bunny hiding place, read it over and over till tears stained the page. But you aren’t in a romance novel, and so you leave it there. You get over your heartbreak and loss. In fact, you even forget the letter is there. For years.
“Hon?” It’s your mom, looking over at you from where she kneels next to your desk, by the piles of junk you didn’t know were in there. “Should I trash all these old report cards and stuff?” You shrug. You don’t care. You are leaving this house - maybe forever, off to college and new adventures. What do some old report cards matter when-
“There’s a letter here too.” What? Your brow wrinkles in confusion. What would a letter be doing in your- And then you remember. In freshman year.
You’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean the memory doesn’t sting a little. You stare at the letter, addressed in neat, if somewhat shaky, lettering, and you make a decision.
“Actually, I’ll keep the letter.”
You keep it for three weeks. It lives on your desk, newly emptied and cleaned. Your whole room has been cleaned, scrubbed of almost any trace of the girl who lived there. The girl, suddenly, doesn’t even feel like you. You’re a college student now!
A college student with a letter on her desk, staring at her with pleading ink eyes.
On the morning you leave for university, you drop it in the mailbox.
Nothing will come of it, and you don’t want it to. He is comfortable in his own skin, and you would never try to change that. Not that you even want to anymore. He is still a good friend, but you are leaving for college, and you don’t think you will see him again. Of course, who knows? But it seems unlikely. You want to give the letter to him, as a record of us at that time, to show him how deeply someone felt about him at the tender age of almost-fifteen. Because it changed you, that first heartbreak. Not in a bad way, necessarily. But you are different. For example, you started writing more, after that letter you poured your heart into. You and he never got a chance for love, but his friendship was more valuable to you than anything. Then. And now? Now you are someone (college student!!!) who has adventures. A girl who mails letters from years ago, and a girl who once loved a boy who could not love her back.
But that first love, though it changed you, no longer defines you. You are setting off on a new journey, one you would never want changed. With the letter dropped off in the mailbox, you are letting go of the one sadness still tying you to your childhood life. You are beginning a new one.