One of my favorite YA authors has stopped by to share a memory with us. It’s absolutely fabulous, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Ladies and gentlemen, Mitali Perkins.
I’d liked him—adored him, really—for two years in secrecy. Nobody knew, not even friends who shared their crushes in intimate detail, punctuated by squeals and tears and italics, ad nauseum, et al, ibid.
He’d been the hot new freshman guy, minister’s son, basketball star, strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, bit of a loner. Me? I was the only dark-skinned girl in school, a straight-A nerd, trying to obey traditional Hindu parents, squandering babysitting money on trendy high-waisted jeans and a curling iron to feather my hair.
But we both played tennis. And he needed help in English class, so slowly but surely we became friends. I managed to hide my growing addiction from prying eyes, pouring the truth of it only into journals stashed deep in desk drawers.
Freshman and sophomore year came and went. Junior year careened along, and we grew closer. But there was no way he was going to like me. Not in that way, not a chance. I knew it as well as I knew the vacancy in guys’ eyes as they skipped across my face and body in a crowd of white girls.
Junior year. Early June. “Want to go to the amusement park with my church youth group this Saturday?” he asked, passing our table on the way to eat lunch in the basketball Varsity corner.
I was with my regulars, all friends of his, too, but he was looking at me. Right at me. Only at me.
“Sure,” I said, managing to make my voice as easy and relaxed as his had been. But my heart was in my throat, and I caught myself fingering a strand of hair.
The regulars were quiet, but only for a second or two. I could almost see them shrug and shake it off. A blip, for sure. Guys asked them out in front of me, not vice a versa. I was the confidante they could trust around that boyfriend with a wandering eye, not quite invisible but safely neutered, loveless but beloved.
Saturday dawned, a breezy, summery Santa Cruz-perfect day. We laughed and joked with the others on the drive, but once we got into the park and had ridden the carousel twice, everybody else disappeared.
I promise I didn’t make it happen.
My head buzzed with the nearness of him as we twisted and turned on the roller coaster. I could almost taste the sweetness of his smile when he won a stuffed bear and handed it to me. But I’d become an expert at hiding passion. The buddy banter continued and I avoided his eyes.
On the ride home, tired and squashed in the back with the others, we didn’t talk. But he rested an arm along the back of the car seat. His t-shirt felt soft against my neck. My pony tail was on his skin. Could he feel the acceleration of that traitor, my heart? I pretended to watch the scenery. He closed his eyes after the sunset.
One by one, others got dropped off. Now it was just us in the back seat, but he didn’t slide to the other window. No, he stayed close, denim leg against mine, his free-throwing arm still stretched out behind me. I made myself not lean into him in the darkness.
As the car pulled up to the curb in front of my house, his eyes flicked to the rear-view mirror. I opened the car door and swung a leg out. “Thanks so much,” I said.
In one quick move, as smooth and agile as when he scored a layup at the buzzer, he leaned over and kissed my cheek. “You’re beautiful, Mitali,” he whispered.
The car pulled away.
I don’t remember how long I stood outside my parents’ house.
I think it was a starry night.
I think the plums on the tree in the yard were almost ripe.
I couldn’t know then that we’d date intently through our senior year, grow apart during college, and after a few years never see each other again.
But I knew I’d never forget that kiss, soft on my cheek. Those words, spoken low in my ear. And the dizzy, overwhelming sweetness of being seen, and known, and wanted, for the first time, all the girl of me.
Sigh. Oh my romantic heart. Thanks so much for sharing that beautiful memory with us, Mitali! For those of you who want to know more about Mitali and her fabulous books, you can read more at her website, www.mitaliperkins.com. She has a really active twitter feed too so make sure you follow her @mitaliperkins. Thanks again for stopping by! Stay tuned for more Memories Monday coming soon!