I’ll make this quick, it’s a long story, but I’ll give you the spark-notes. Let’s say my name is Frank and let’s call her Natalie, not that it matters since this isn’t a story about names.
See, I had spent half of my senior year going after this girl. I eventually made an impression and then came the lengthy late night talks on cell phones that left my battery dead the next morning. Gifts and dates to the point I lost track of the cash I was spending. Her looks were worth it alone but she also had a stubborn personality that made any conversation with her turn into an argument, which I loved.
I forget if I loved her, it’s been so long and despite popular belief it is the type of thing you forget, but I like to think I did. I also like to think we had the right amount of contradiction that made being around her a challenge and the least amount in common that didn’t make being around her boring. I felt lucky.
Then and now, I always thought she could do better and I should do worse, but I was glad we didn’t. In joking manner, we would ask each other why we liked each other, she would ask the most, I only remember asking twice. I would answer that it was because of her looks or that it was just to copy her homework or that it was just a phase or that I didn’t know and she should just deal with it or something else. The first time I asked her she said it was because she wanted free stuff. She gave a somewhat serious answer the second time, she gave me that corny line that she believed the gates to the soul are in a person’s eyes or something like that, and that she liked what she saw in mine. I didn’t ask what it was she saw in my eyes or my soul or whatever because not only did I take it as a joke but I also didn’t want to know what it was she saw because I was sure it was false.
We were never formally a couple, that didn’t stop people from thinking otherwise and both of us were, for a lack of a better word, loyal to one another.
Prom season came around and before I could decide if I even wanted to go, she formally asked me to go with her. Of course I accepted, it only seemed to follow.
So she got her dress and I got some decent clothes and we found a way to match upon her request. My brother let me borrow his car and I got nervous-as-hell because I had gotten my license only a few weeks earlier and still didn’t believe I could drive well enough. But I sucked it up and grabbed the keys. Right before I left, my brother called me to his room and handed me a suit jacket. I could tell it was old but had been taken good care of, it was elegantly faded. He explained that our father had worn the jacket when our parents got married and both my brothers had worn it to their prom and now it was my turn to wear it. I complied with the tradition, if only to leave sooner, and took off my new jacket for the old one, said goodbye to my brothers my sister my parents and headed out.
I picked her up and we headed to this hall uptown where the high school always held their prom. We walked in and met up with friends and took pictures and sat down to eat. We took official overpriced prom pictures after we ate and then we danced, she was a hell of a dancer. Best dancer I’d ever seen. I couldn’t keep up, not because I got tired or anything, I just couldn’t stand dancing for too long. I was more of a singer, I could sing for hours with a terrible voice and out of tune, but give me singing over dancing any day.
So I sat down at a table with my friends as she kept dancing with a friend. Me and my friends were deciding what we were going to do after prom was over. We were throwing out ideas and I looked over at her on the dance floor, she threw me a sweet smile and a stare that hit me like a twelve gauge, I was never able to forget either.
The stare didn’t last that long, it was more of a glance, it only lasted a few seconds that seemed like an hour. It was probably on my mind for an hour. I didn’t know what to make of it, it almost seemed murderous-insane-paralyzing and so on. I almost bought into her whole eyes are the gateway to the soul garbage. I excused myself from my friends and went out to the parking lot for some air. There was nobody out there and I sat on the hood of my brother’s car.
I’m not the superstitious type, I wasn’t then and I’m not now. Screw destiny and karma and meant-to-be and fate and so on, and the ten commandments while you’re at it. But if you’re driving down the street and the light turns yellow, you bet your ass it’ll turn red in a few seconds. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to hit the brakes, you can slam the gas pedal and, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll make it.
That’s what I took her beautiful, psychotic stare for, a yellow light about to turn red. I had just started driving but was young enough to not to stop at a yellow light. I depended on my luck to get me through, because hell, it was my luck that got me the girl. But my luck was bound to run out and I wouldn’t make the light when that would happen. And the moment I didn’t make the light, she would break me down and rip me up and toss me out and do me in and leave me in the gutter and sue me for all I had afterwards. Heartbreak, for you romantic bastards. That’s what the stare meant, and I felt foolish for not recognizing it before since it was probably there the whole time. But I didn’t make such a big deal out of it since it didn’t change anything, I had decided to go for the light every time for this girl long before I knew the light would turn red. The whole thing just shook me up.
I stuck my hands in my coat pockets and felt a small box. I took it out and it was a box of Marlboro Reds, half empty with a lighter inside. My brother’s didn’t smoke, in fact, they hated smoking. The only one in my family who smoked was my father, and he hadn’t worn the jacket since he’d married my mother. This meant the pack must’ve been a little under thirty-years-old. My brothers must have noticed it and just kept it there like it was part of the jacket or something.
My first cigarette was ten years older than me and belonged to my father. I just puffed it the first few times and finally inhaled. At first I only did it out of curiosity, but then came this light headed calm that distracted my mind from thinking of that look she gave me. So I finished the cigarette and put the box back in the coat pocket and decided to buy my own pack later since it didn’t feel right finishing my dad’s.
I went back inside and went straight to the bathroom where I more or less got rid of the cigarette smell. Then I went back to the dance floor and danced with her the rest of the night. Afterwards, my friends and our dates went to a diner that was open late, so we got some food and had some laughs and called it a night and went our separate ways.
I took her home and walked her to the door. We talked for a bit and then she asked me if I knew what love tasted like. She liked asking things like that, maybe she thought it was cute or something and it usually was. I thought about her question for half a second and kissed her for the other half and let it linger for a while. Then I answered, “Like wet gunpowder.” It caught her by surprise and she took it as a joke, we said our goodbyes and she went inside while I drove away happy I had made the light.
Three months later I didn’t make the light and everything I mentioned, everything I knew would eventually happen, finally happened.
I felt terrible, like hell, in hell, depressed and angry at who-knows-what. I wanted to speed off a bridge with the car on fire, I wanted to punch a guy in the face and stab him in the gut, I wanted to be left alone and just sleep, I wanted to drink even though I had never even tried alcohol and I’m now glad that I didn’t begin drinking under those circumstances. But I did stop smoking.