As a bit of a disclaimer before I start here: from now until about Valentine’s Day, I’ll be publishing what I guess are vignettes, little short stories related to Valentine’s Day and all associated actions and feelings. None of these are things that have happened to me, personally, in real life. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The protagonist may or may not shift every day, depending on how dry or not my well of ideas is.
It must have been Eileen.
I remember, after seeing her for the first time in my grade eleven English class, thinking something along the lines of why have I never noticed her before? I was so inside my own little world when I entered into high school. I associated myself with a few people, and once I was secure in my knowledge that I was friends with enough people, I closed myself off a lot. I stopped looking at people as potential friends, which is kind of a dumb thing to do, I know now.
So anyways, I was sitting in my English class, first day of school, and I was one of the first few people there. I did my nervous glance around the room to look for people I knew. From the four or five people who were there before me I could spot no one, but I knew to be patient before I started getting anxious for no reason.
Eventually my friend Dave walked in, waved, and sat down beside me.
“How was your summer?” he asked.
“Oh, you know, just hung aroun–” I froze in mid-sentence. There she was. I can remember the moment so clearly. She entered the room slightly timidly- rather than walk in like she owned the place (like several other girls did) she walked in with caution, probably, like many others, wondering if she was in the right room. Freckled, a redhead, big and kinda watery green eyes.
She took a glance around the room, much like I did when I sat down, and she took a seat in the second row from the front (I was one row from the back, so there was one row in between her and me).
I immediately pulled Dave close to me so I could whisper. “Who is she?” I hissed. I had to know.
“Who, Eileen?” Dave replied. “That’s Eileen MacGregor. She started high school the same year we did.”
“She did?” I was stunned.
“Yeah, I guess it would make sense if you never saw her around, she’s usually pretty quiet, hangs out with a very small group of people.”
“Good to know,” I said. I could feel myself shaking a little bit. “Anyways, as I was saying about my summer…” I started telling Dave about my nothing of a break, all the while thoughts about what kind of person Eileen might be completely filled my head.
That night I went home and flopped down on my bed, I hadn’t said a word to my mom or dad when I walked in, so my mom knocked on the door lightly, as I was still a slightly moody teenager back then. “Is everything alright?” She asked this cautiously too.
“Just fine, mom,” I was happy the door was closed or she would have seen my roll my eyes. I heard her footsteps as she walked away from my room and down the stairs. The first thing I did was find my yearbooks from the last two years. I flipped through the “mug shot” sections and sure enough, there was Eileen MacGregor.
I think flipped open my laptop, opened up iTunes, and decided to be whimsical, playing Sam Roberts’ song “Don’t Walk Away Eileen.”
I sang along with the lyrics, changing the second line slightly to reflect my current circumstances:
Don’t walk away Eileen/I’ve been living for you since the age of sixteen.
Which is funny because I had really only been living for her for a couple of hours.
A week or so later, my English teacher split is into pairs in a fairly novel way- there were 20 people in my class, so she took cards from a deck and gave them to each of us. We were to be paired with whomever had the same card as us but in a different suit. I say it was a novel idea because it actually required us to get up off our asses and talk to people.
I decided to finally summon the courage to ask Eileen if she had my card. I had talked to girls before, obviously, but I was always a wreck around the girls I liked. “Hey Eileen,” I said. I felt confident that I could call her by her first name because the teacher took attendance every class.
“Oh, hi,” she said, in a kind of small voice. “I’ve got a seven of clubs, how about you?” I could feel the happiness bubbling up inside me.
“Seven of diamonds,” I said. “I guess we’re partners! Let me just go grab my chair.” I pulled it up beside her desk just like everybody else did with their partners.
Our assignment was to analyze a passage from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and hand in a sheet of paper with all the appropriate literary devices listed. Eileen and I worked well together and in the end got a decent mark.
A few more weeks passed, and I was ready to take the next step. Eileen and I talked a little bit before every class officially started, and I learned a lot of interesting things about her. She traveled a lot with her parents and so had seen a lot of the world (I hadn’t); she hated math (so did I); she was active in the school’s drama club (I was a band kid myself). I gradually told her stuff about me, too.
So finally I worked up the nerve one day. We had just finished our now-ritual of the pre-class chat. “That new Iron Man movie is coming out, do you want to see it with me?”
“Sure!” she said. Her face broke out into a smile. “Let me give you my cell phone number so we can find each other at the theatre. When do you want to go?”
“How about next Friday? Opening weekend will be crazy so it would be good if we waited a week or so.”
“Sounds good to me.” She gave me her cell number and I gave her mine. In my head I was jumping up and down with glee.
So the week passed, and there we were at the theatre. She wore a pretty blue peacoat and a sheer white scarf. “Hey!” she said, and gave me a hug. I blushed as she hugged me; we were at the point where we could hug each other but I was still embarrassed.
“Ready to go in?” she said.
“Of course!” I smiled and we went into the theatre. The movie was not quite as good as the first one- I find Robert Downey Jr. sometimes goes a little too far with the “fast-talking eccentric” character, but it was still enjoyable. We didn’t say too much to each other during the movie, as it should be. But as we got up to leave, and then exited the building. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I knew I had to say it.
“Hey, Eileen, um, there’s something I meant to tell you,” I said. “I…” I swallowed. “I… I like you.”
“Well I like you too,” she said. I could tell she didn’t get what I meant.
“No, I mean, I… I like like you.” I gave it a second before I continued. “I’ve had a crush on you since I saw you first walk into English class.”
Eileen was silent for a second. “Oh, Julia…” she trailed off. “I’m… I’m flattered, but… I don’t…I don’t like girls that way. I didn’t know…”
I could feel hot tears streaming down my face already. I had embarrassed myself, and my first impulse was to run away. I started to do so, but before I knew it Eileen was running beside me, in fact, faster than me, and blocked my way.
“Stop it!” she said.
“What?” I was sniffling and wiping tears from my eyes.
“I can’t return your feelings, but we can still be friends, can’t we?” She smiled and wrapped me in a long hug. I cried all the rest of the tears I had to cry. “Now don’t go running off like that again,” she said, as if she was my mother.
“Promise,” I said, my crying now turned to laughter.
It was a disaster, but a disaster with a better ending than I hoped.