February, 1986

My favorite class. Contemporary Literature, three mornings a week, and he always takes the same spot. Middle row, three desks back. When he turns his head toward the windows and parks his chin in the palm of his hand I have the perfect view of his profile. Hair like honey, eyes like the sky. A jaw line rough with stubble by Friday and smooth again by Monday. The fact that I know his shaving regimen thrills me, makes me feel close to him. Like maybe the idea of the two of us together isn’t so ridiculous after all.

Most of the time I know better. He has no idea who I am. The few times I’ve run into him unexpectedly he walked right past without even seeing me.

I can’t blame him. I’m so out of his league.

Today he’s dressed down, in rumpled jeans and a heavy sweatshirt. A late night, maybe, and I script that for a minute, sick with jealousy. He just broke up with his boyfriend a few weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s not getting his dick somewhere else. I watch as he yawns, then stretches his arms above his head, invading the space of the girl sitting behind him. She doesn’t care; she’s in love with him, too. Everyone’s in love with him, and he does nothing to deter any of them. He smiles at them all, teases them, coaxes them into false rapture. Goddamn him.

I hunch over my desk, sulking. Dandruff sifts from my skull when I scratch at my head. I’m so stupid, aching with adoration. Last month when I heard that he and Taylor broke up I swear I felt my heart stop. Like I actually had a chance now or something. Like the only thing that had been holding us back was his boyfriend. Like it has nothing to do with the fact that Adam Atwater’s a fucking god and I’m the serpent beneath his feet. I hack at my desk with the tip of my pen: a rickety heart, shot through with resignation. I’ve been watching him for two years. He’s never going to notice me.

The second the thought forms in my mind my professor trains her eyes on me. She’s smiling, but I’m instantly suspicious. The only paper, she’s saying, With a true sense of scholarship. I blink as everyone turns in my direction. I think the class would benefit from hearing your introductory paragraph, Bobby, she says, Why don’t you come to the front?

Oh my God.

I slide out from under my desk and wipe my clammy hands on my jeans as I walk to the podium, aware of everyone’s eyes on me, my scrawny ass and concave chest under bargain basement clothing that’s still a stretch for my coal miner father. When I finally get to the front the first trickle of sweat slithers down the back of my neck. Excellent work, my professor tells me as I take my graded paper from her hands.

She steps away and I start reading, in a voice crackling with so much anxiety that a couple of students titter in response. My cheeks flush, a mottled rush of blood working its way toward my hairline. Shaking, I make the mistake of looking up and instantly meet Adam’s eyes. How could I not since he’s sitting smack in the middle of the room? My voice trails off; now I’ve lost my spot, and I scour the paper in front of me, trying to find my place. Identity Crisis in Don DeLillo’s White Noise: I wrote the paper and I don’t recognize a single word. I finally give up, picking a sentence at random from the middle of the paragraph and plowing ahead. I don’t lift my eyes from my paper again, and when I finish reading I slink back to my desk in a silence that condemns me.

I would’ve rather had an F.

One week later I’m close to missing dinner in the cafeteria but can’t leave the library because he’s just one table away from me, chewing a piece of gum and reading something that has held his attention for the better part of the past twenty minutes. I was working on Trigonometry exercises when he descended on this corner with three of his friends, disregarding every posted notice about silence and widening my eyes. One by one his friends have bailed, and now he’s by himself, closer to me than he’s ever been. I could watch him all night, skip dinner and eat this up instead: fingers absently twining through wavy hair, the gentle pulse of his jaw as he works his gum. He’s the only sustenance I need, and I sigh the sigh of the damned, a pencil gnawed by frustration in my hand.

He looks up.

Instantly I throw my eyes back to the desk, where I panic for fifteen seconds before I take a chance and raise them again. He’s staring right at me. I duck over my book, not fooling anyone. But I can’t take the rejection, the yawn, the look of oh, please. I’ve been mauled enough, from the time I was small, and what I don’t need now is to find out that Adam Atwater’s just like every other asshole.

From the corner of my eye I see him smacking his books closed. I’ve chased him away, acting like a stalker, and I keep my gaze on the Trigonometry formulas in front of me as he gets to his feet.

Then he’s yanking out a chair across from me.

My mouth opens as he turns the chair around and straddles it backward. So, he says, You want to go out Saturday night? I spit out a half a dozen unrecognizable syllables before I hit on the one I want. Yeah, I finally blurt. Do you even know who I am? he asks, leaning closer. You’re Adam Atwater, I say, in a voice tinged with the sort of awe that indicates how far I’ve fallen. One corner of his mouth curls slowly to the right. I’m Bobby Kowalski, I admit, and now he laughs. I know who you are, he says, You’re in my lit class.

He recognizes me. Oh my God, he knows who I am, and I stare into his eyes and fumble for something to say. He moves his gaze to my lips, then slides them back up. I need your number, Bobby, he says, and I scrawl it on a sheet of paper strewn with triangles. The shock that passes between us when our fingers touch surprises only him, and for just a second he frowns. Then he gets to his feet and shoves his chair under the desk. I’ll call you, he says, and I nod, watching as he disappears around the corner. My hands, when I lift them to my head, tremble uncontrollably. I’m struck: with love, with fear, with a palsy attacking my heart.

Adam Atwater and I have a date.

Copyright © 2010 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

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