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Joey was an artist, and a good one at that. Spotted from across a crowded classroom on my first day of grade twelve in a brand new school, he immediately became a fixation for me. He was mysterious, seeming to avoid everyone else, to drift by himself. Moreover, he wasn't a loner; they thronged around him, vying for the attention he would not give. He was aloof and disconnected. He icy blue eyes held dark secrets and his pencil drew conceptual images that only the misunderstood and pained could understand. I watched him from afar. I wanted to get to know him in a bad way, but his deep voice only issued from his mouth when requested to answer a question in class. I lived out my senior year burning with desire for him, but holding back out of shyness.
My graduation day was bittersweet for me, happy to be rid of the hassle and drama that epitomized high school, but fearing the uncertainty of the real world. Joey sat next to me during the ceremony, as our last names began with the same letter: A. He was silent as usual, but at the end of the long procedure, after we had tossed our hats into the air with a glorified cheer, he turned to me, and most surprising of all, extended his hand.
"Congratulations and good luck, CJ," He said to me. I shook his hand limply, surprised that he knew not only my name, but also the nickname I used with only my closest friends, of which I had one at Henry Johnson School.
"Thank you," I replied almost silently, cursing my shyness. We rose from our seats and began the march outside.
As soon as we exited the large double doors into the bright sunshine, Joey disappeared from my side and I was met by a screaming, jumping girl, my best friend and part Mexican Jumping Bean, Melanie. She hugged and jumped and took pictures, and then ran off in search of another to attack.
I climbed into my red 1967 Mustang, a dearly loved possession my brother had left behind after he had hung himself from our basement rafters last summer and drove home where The Price is Right was blaring from the TV,and my mother was draped on the couch, snoring with an open bottle of Smirnoff in her hand, at a tilt that almost caused spillage onto her SuperStore smock and dirty brown blouse. I lifted the bottle from her hands gently and covered her with the afghan my grandmother had knit me when I was six, now ruined from exposure to my mother's excessive partying.
I stayed up late that night; watching movies and vegging out. I needed the time to myself to think about my life. Should I stay home and care for my mother, get a job at the grocery store and go to the community college? Or should I move far away, get a better job, go to a better college, and let my mother die alone? I pondered those questions until I finally fell asleep.
I woke up late in the afternoon. I looked at the clock Three-thirty, it read. I sighed. I hoped my mom was at work, but from the sounds coming from the kitchen, it was clear she wasn't. Not wanting confrontation, I crept out of bed and silently put my clothes on: a black tank top and slimming jeans. I slid my window gently open and snuck out. From outside, I could see my mother's silhouette in the kitchen, refilling her glass of whatever alcohol she felt like. I opened the back gate and strolled onto the sidewalk in front of our house. I didn't have anywhere in particular to go, just somewhere quiet, somewhere away from my mom.
I checked my pants to see if I had any money, and, finding three dollars, I decided to stop at the local ice cream shop, and who should be in there, but Joey; sitting by himself at a table in the corner. I walked to the counter and ordered myself a large bowl of Double Chocolate Fudge Delight. My plan was to sit at a table near Joey, but when I got closer, he looked up. He swept his long shock of black bangs away from his eyes and gestured for me to sit with him. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Unsure what to do; I slowed my walking to an almost pause. The corners of Joey's mouth turned up and he pulled out a chair. I almost stumbled settling myself into it, but managed not to look too dumb.
"Hi," I quaked out nervously.
"Hey," Joey said, his deep voice resounded with ease, "Your ice cream looks good."
"It's my favorite," I told him. It was then I noticed he was tipping his bowl up so I could see inside to the large mound of Double Chocolate Fudge Delight.
"Mine too," He answered. His smile grew wider and I realized I had never seen even an inkling of a grin cross his strikingly handsome face.
"We should form a club," I joked. My shyness was disappearing slowly with the realization that I had somehow captivated him as no one else had. Maybe much in the same manner as he had done to me that first day of school ten months ago.
We ended up talking forthree hours that day. Joey revealed himself to be greatly humorous and entertaining, as well as philosophical and wise. He had no friends, he couldn't stand the way everybody was fake and played up to him because he was good looking. He had noticed the way I looked at him, and admired the way I had read him and left him alone.
Our wonderful conversation was broken up when Joey announced that he had to go to work, at a bar downtown. He handed me a rolled up piece of paper from his backpack, and like a phantom, he disappeared.
I unrolled the paper to find a drawing of me. The detailing was perfect, down to the tiny freckle by my eye. It was as if I was looking into a mirror to see my reflection, unmarred by the cracks customary to the mirrors in my house.
I rolled the paper back up carefully, smiling shyly to myself. Black marks on the back caught my attention and I unrolled it again. In small print at the top left-hand corner, he had written a message.
I'd like to get to know you better. Meet me at Hamburger Hut at noon tomorrow.
I sucked my breath in sharply. Why did I catch his attention? Why would I be the person he wanted to get to know better? I rolled the paper back up once again and held it carefully as I walked back home in contemplative silence. Finally, I had the chance at something I'd been hoping for all year, and my stomach wouldn't stop jumping.