Compliments

“I love the way you write,” she said, and it was the beginning of the end.

It was the beginning of the beginning, but I’ve always fallen for easy compliments on things I’m self conscious about.  My hair.  My clothes.  My voice and my writing.  All it took was sincerity in her voice, perceived or actual, and I was overlooking a vast ravine and wanting to jump into the nothingness just to hear her say it again.

“Sorry, what?”  Never take a compliment for a compliment unless you hear them say it twice.  You may have misheard it and they said something different, or they were just being nice and will dismiss anything said previous.

“Your writing,” she held the piece of paper and shook it as if it had bells hanging from the edges, “I love the way you put words down.  The expressiveness.  The visuals.  The oddity and randomness of it.  I really like a lot.”

Does she really like it a lot or does she love it?

“Thanks.  Yeah.  I don’t know.  I just kind of dump my mind onto paper sometimes.  I don’t really know where it comes from.”

“Well its nice.  You should do it more often.”

Now it’s just nice.  I should have just said thanks and left it at that.

I nodded and smiled a closed-lip half smile and kept my head down.  I wanted to write some more but nothing was coming into my head.  Nothing except that she might have been staring at me.  I was too nervous to look up and confirm it so my pen just swirled around the letters on the newspaper in front of me where I had been writing in the margins.

It was out of boredom really.  Sitting random places doing random things.  My cellphone was the high quality, super rare kind that could still only make phone calls.  It probably could take pictures too but computers nowadays didn’t have the sophistication to handle the tens of hundreds of pixels it was capable of capturing.  So busying myself like everyone else in the room with their necks crooked and faces glowing against the light of the tiny screen wasn’t really an option.
So I would grab a piece of paper nearby and entertain myself.  Often times it would be a newspaper or a magazine.  I’d never take a current one in case someone wanted to read it, but there was usually a day old paper laying around so I would grab that and paint the canvas with my nonsense.

Most of the time it was literally complete nonsense.  I would keep my head down and listen to the conversations going on around me.  I would start writing parts of them and then take off from there into a world of the bizarre pieced together with fragments of reality.  When I was done, or my time was up, I would leave the little piece of brilliance on the table for someone else to enjoy or become perplexed by, either way it was out of my head and splashed across the page and I’d never even remember what it was a few hours later.

I wasn’t even sure anybody read any of it.  I thought someone might read a few words and then furrow their brow at the oddness then toss the paper in the trash.  I didn’t think people actually sat down and made it through everything.  It was a chore, and I partially did it as a joke.  I would sometimes end the writing saying that the reader has wasted minutes of their life they’ll never get back reading my nonsense.  Yet, here she was seemingly reading every word.

I finally let my eyes come up for air and took a quick glance at her.  She wasn’t staring at me but it looked as if she might have been side-eyeing my paper as the tip of my pen swirled along the words of the bold headline.  Was she waiting for me to write more so she could watch?  Strange.

When I brought my eyes up and not-so-smoothly took a look at her to see if she was watching me she noticed and caught my eyes with a smile.

“Well ran dry?”  she asked.

I shook my head, “no just the right inspiration hasn’t come along yet.”

“Oh.  What kind of inspiration do you need?”

I looked down away from her engaging smile and interrogating eyes, “I kind of know it when I see or hear it.  It takes a hold of me and my mind unfurls like a flower.  I don’t really control it.”

“Unfurls like a flower huh?”

I nodded.

“That’s kind of poetic.  Those visuals I was talking about.”

I don’t know if it was being conveyed on the outside of my skin but on the inside I was feeling flush and blushing.  I’m not used to praise or admiration in anything I do.  It always felt fake whenever anyone would say something nice and I never know how to take a compliment.  I froze and she kept talking.  I felt like I was sweating.  I completely forgot how to communicate with another person.

“I uh, yeah.  I don’t know.  I-, uh, uh huh.  I’m like-, uh, heh,” I wanted to bang my head on the desk and groan so loud but she was still staring at me, or at least it felt like she was.  She was still sitting there trying to engage with me and my tongue’s decided to swell three sizes too big and cut the circulation off to my brain.

“You know you could just write about me,” she tilted her head down and tried to catch my lowered eyes.  I looked up with my mouth slightly open in surprise.

“Uh…huh?”  I always gave the most eloquent responses when confused.  This is why I preferred to communicate in written word, I could write a hundred times better than I could speak.

“Me.  If you don’t know what to write about then write about me.  Make me a character.”

She was smiling.  Why was she smiling?  Write about her?  What?

“What would I even write about?”  I had forgotten about my awkwardness and engaged in the puzzle of what/huh/what are you talking about.

“I don’t know.  You’re the writer.  I’m just trying to give you some inspiration.  Selfishly of course.  I want to read what you’re going to write next and if its about me I’m curious to see where you’ll take that story so, yeah.  You can just write about this, right here.  Our conversation.  A back and forth and see where it goes.”

I wish she would stop making eye contact.  It’s so annoyingly polite and she was being too nice.  It felt like a trap but I couldn’t help it if it was.  She was asking me to write.  She requested my words written down for her.  The abyss was long and wide and never ending and I was going to fill it with words for her.  About her.
They would build a bridge from one end to the next and she could walk along it and peer over the edge to see all of the beautiful things I’d constructed below.

And all it took was for her to say, I love the way you write.

So fucking awkward

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for a lot of things but I’m sorry for being so weird.  I’m sorry for being so fucking awkward and nervous.  It’s just that I don’t know how to talk to you.  It’s like I don’t know how to talk at all.  Putting sentences together when you’re around is like trying to do complicated math equations.  You’re my trigonometry and I don’t have anyone’s homework to copy this time.

Mainly I’m just saying sorry for liking that picture of you at the lake four years ago.  Yes, I was stalking your profile.  Yes, I do it all the time.  Yes, it’s always from that summer.  That was the summer I fell in love with you.  It was from a distance and I never told you, not to this day.  It would weird you out so I thought it was best a burden I kept myself.

We always talked before.  We knew each other and were friends.  We hung out as part of a group.  But that summer you started wearing two piece bathing suits.  Your grew what seemed like two feet and your hair went all the down your back.  It shined almost white in the sun and matched the reflection of the water.

So yes, I’m obsessed with you.  At least I am from a distance.  I’ll go on doing that because we could never happen.  Even if by some miracle it did, it would be over just as fast.  I don’t know if I could take having memories of you and I together without the possibility of more.  I’ll keep on speaking of your beauty.  I’ll write about your perfection.  I’ll immortalize you in words.  I hope they do you justice and aren’t just as awkward sounding as I am in my head when scrolling through your pictures.

“Do you want to get some coffee?”

“I’m not really into coffee.”

I know that wasn’t the point of you asking, to go out for coffee, but I always felt the need to say it.  I didn’t like coffee.  It was almost a badge of honor in some cases.  Everyone around me gulping it down like fuel at the gas station.  Sloshing the troughs of cream and milk as stir sticks lay wasted on the counter.  Not me.  I’m good.

I’ve always had a natural state of alertness and didn’t feel the need for a morning pick me up.  Of course it comes and goes, and of course I could probably use some kind of pick me up, but I always felt that if I succumbed to the coffee bean devils then I’d become reliant on them.  I’d be a walking Starbucks zombie.

You were staring at me with a perplexed look on your face.  Shit, I did it again.

“Well I mean, like, I don’t really like coffee, but of course we can do something else.  If you want.  If you want coffee we can go get coffee, or like I don’t know, something.  I mean, I could get something.  I’m sure-, well like they have other stuff.  Did you want coffee?  We can do whatever.  It’s-, I’m-, like whatever you want.”

There, that ought to fix it.  Jesus.

She raised her eyebrow at me and stared for a decade or two.  Her lips were together and still.  She had the biggest, rounded eyes I had ever seen.  I believe people often described them as saucers, big and bright and a perfect circle.  While I’m staring back into her stare all I can think of is the moon and if it had a twin that lived alongside it.  Two giant celestial circles floating in the sky staring at me through a blanket of night black hair.

“You can get whatever you want.  You don’t need to get coffee.  It was just a front to talk.  Geez, calm down,” she hardened her stare enough that it was obviously in jest.

“Calm down?  I’ll definitely pass on the coffee then,” I smiled in response.

“Yeah, because you don’t drink it right?  You’re not really into it.  I heard that somewhere,” she said while turning to walk away.

“I can stand it in the right company.”

I followed the moon for coffee as it faded below the horizon.

Secret Santa

“I don’t accept things that were bought with money.  I only want it if you made it, grew it or stole it.”

These were the kind of things she said.  These were the kind of things that made her enigmatic personality burn into my skin so it tingled whenever she was near.  Then, when she left, the hairs on my arms felt singed.  Being near her was like walking through a forest on fire, scary yet beautiful.

“You want me to steal something for you?”  I was surprised I could think clearly enough to respond in a coherent sentence.  

I pulled my hand back and clutched the small wrapped gift a little tighter.  I wasn’t afraid it was going to fall out of my hand or someone was going to take it, but my mind tried to cope with the rejection she just swatted my way.  It wasn’t that she said no thank you, it was the ambiguity in which she declined my gift.

“Or make it or grow it,” her tone was even.  She either practiced sounding like a pretentious bitch or it came naturally.  I hated how that made me want her even more.

“I’m sorry,” I fumbled the words out and looked away as if I offended her.  Jesus Christ, I’m pathetic.
“I didn’t know there were rules to this Secret Santa thing.  There was a dollar amount I think but other than that,” I trailed off.  Not because I didn’t know what to say but because the look she was giving me made me feel as if I was speaking a different language.  It was that or she just didn’t care.

“I know the rules.  I would have announced during the draw my further limitations but I was at a protest.  Tear gas.  Police in riot gear.  Arrests were made.  Sorry to inconvenience you after the fact.”

I’ve always hated roller-coasters, the thrills were too much for me.  Moving from lusting after her to hating her within a short conversation is more than a teenager’s fragile emotional state can handle.  

Why does she keep staring through me like that?  

“No.  It’s okay.  I mean.  Never mind.  Was it fun?  Shit, I mean, did you- are you good now?”

Good.  Fucking.  Lord.  Did I just ask her if she had fun at a protest that turned into a riot?

“No, I’m not.  They’re using chemical weapons on children at the border.  I am most definitely not good now.”

Make it stop.  Someone please, make it stop.  Is there nobody that can come interrupt this conversation?  Why is she still talking to me?  Help.  Please.  Anyone.

“I guess I could get you something else.  Although you know who your Santa is now so I don’t know if that means I’ve ruined it.  If you don’t mind I guess.  I’ll take into consideration your rules in excess of the others though.”

I wasn’t even making eye contact anymore.  I couldn’t look at her.  She made me weak.  Most girls did but somehow she was worse.  I only decided to participate in this Secret Santa thing because I knew she was in it.  The chance at pulling her name was slim but I managed it. 
I was ecstatic and barely able to keep my composure when I unfolded the piece of paper with her name written across it in her hand writing.  Block letters she wrote in.  There were no girlish swoops in cursive or hearts over her i’s.  They lines were straight and cold as if they were written by someone at the bank writing out a loan document.

“If you want.  No money though.  I don’t support capitalist ideals.  Don’t whore yourself out to Wall Street,” she said as she was dressed in her True Religion jeans, Guess shirt and Hollister hoodie.  

The present clutched in my hand behind my back made me angry now, as if it were at fault for what just happened.  It had lured me into the mall and down the halls of crowded shoppers.  The store it took refuge in was practically blinking red and drawing me in.  Each item I picked up and looked at in consideration must have had a foul stench attached so I wouldn’t consider it until I finally made my way to the back and picked up the present to be.  
The small intricate horse pulsated and when I picked it up it vibrated in my hand.  It must have.  It’s the only explanation as to why I purchased it.  Not that she used to love horses and wrote a book report on them in the 3rd grade.  Not that she used to have a horse sweater she would wear every day to school in the 6th grade.  Not even that time in the 10th grade I overheard her tell a friend her favorite movie of all time was Flicka.  

The horse was returned to the store and put back on the shelf.  The wrapping paper and the box were tossed in the garbage and I was left with nothing and no idea what I could get her that wasn’t purchased that would get anything more than an, “oh, thanks.”

Nobody listens to mixed tapes.  I took drama instead of wood shop because the idea of spending an hour a day with the wood shop boys made me cringe worse than having to preform stupid skits in front of artsy kids.  I was desperate and leaning towards picking a flower from the neighbors garden and hoping it didn’t seem to lame.  It was hopeless.

The worst part of it though was that the horse was perfect.  She still loved horses.  We had a few classes together and I’ve overheard her telling friends about going riding on the weekends.  I think it would have made her lips break into a smile.  Teenage lust is such an annoying disease to suffer from.

“Make it, grow it or steal it,” I muttered to myself in an annoyed tone.  
People who say things like that never mean it.  They just don’t want to be bothered with finding something unique for someone else.  

I often resorted to resentment when struggling with my Jekyll and Hyde dilemma.  Love her for who she is or hate her because those same qualities make her difficult.  People have such a hard time accepting things for what they are and try to reason them until they fit inside a box that makes it easier to understand.  While reasoning they cut off corners and shave down edges until it fits just right but lose important parts along the way.  I tried to make it a point to not do that, although it was really fucking hard sometimes.

I looked over at the wrapping paper and box that were sitting in the garbage can and pulled my vision back out of focus.  The trouble with reasoning something into a box that makes sense is that you don’t have anywhere else you can go with it.  It is what it is and nothing else.

The next day, before school I caught her attention again.  With somewhat of a found sense of confidence I handed her my Secret Santa gift, “I hope you like it.”

She looked at it then back at me.  The thing with her that was the hardest to figure out was that she didn’t give an expression either way.  She rarely smiled but she also never rolled her eyes or sighed from annoyance.  I could never tell if she hated me, tolerated me or cared that I existed.

The gift unwrapped fairly quickly and she pulled the top off of the small box then looked at me, “I said I didn’t accept anything that was paid for with money.”

“It wasn’t,” I quickly replied while a smile was held back from spreading into a grin.

“You didn’t make this,” she picked up the same small intricately detailed horse that I had originally bought for her.

I shook my head no, “I didn’t.”

She stared at me halfway between confused and aggravated. 
I caught her building vexation, “I followed your rules.  I didn’t buy it.”

“Well?”  

“I stole it.”

She was surprised by the answer.  I could tell by the way her face dropped its defenses and softened.  Her head tilted in curiosity, “you did?”

I nodded, “I did.  Well I did buy it first.  It’s the same gift I tried to offer you the other day but when you said you didn’t want anything paid for with money I returned it.  After trying to reason what to give you I came to the conclusion that it was the perfect gift so I went back to the store during the busiest time of day and swiped it.  I’ve never had an adrenaline rush so high as I did in those few minutes of entering the store and leaving it with hot merch.”

It felt so strange to have the upper hand that I was rambling.  She was taken off guard by my forwardness, as if she had only said for me to steal something as a protest of society and didn’t actually expect it to happen.  The feeling wouldn’t last long though.  Eventually I would remember who I am and who she is and clam up.  She would do the same and build the wall around her again, but for those few moments I felt as if I had just won the Secret Santa gift giving.  I felt as if I had won Christmas.  For a day I felt as if I wasn’t a bumbling teenager trying to talk to a pretty girl, but just a boy telling a girl how much I liked her.