-The Exact Shade of Plum-

Before I knew his name, or his age, or what sort of shoes he liked to wear (you can tell a lot about a boy from his Rainbows and Nikes), I knew the boy in the purple shirt was meant for me.

I just knew. There was no thinking, wishing or wondering. I just knew, because love is the sort of thing you know absolutely nothing about until the instant it happens. And then you know everything. The second day of school, I was sitting in Spanish class, sketching falling gray hearts on all my binders, while the teacher drawled on about conjunctions. Or something along those lines. I expected a failing grade.

Anna Jane Nichols Adams tapped my shoulder. I did not feel like turning around, because her breath always smelled like stale smoke and made my eyes sting. Her nails bit into my shoulder. I tipped my head back and she tipped hers forward, and I was especially careful to breathe through my mouth. We stared silently at each other for a minute. Anna Jane Nichols Adams had a lot of hair around her pointed face, except half of it wasn't real.

When she still didn't say anything, I went back to my hearts and hoped for peace, until she tapped me again. Before I even turned, her mouth came right up to my ear. "Glance sideways, to your right. Don't make it obvious," she said, but the smoke in her words tickled my asthma so badly that I snapped my head around before she finished enunciating ob-vi-ous. Two rows of students sat between me and the door. Two rows of boys and girls and pen-scratching and note-passing.

I frowned. "What's wrong?"

She dropped her chin onto her palm, eyes closed in apparent euphoria as air whistled through her nostrils. "See that boy in the purple Pink Floyd shirt, with the rainbow? The one in the white shorts? Well, look at the guy behind him, and tell me he's not completely gorgeous."

Only, at that particular moment I was incapable of looking at the boy behind the boy with the purple shirt, because my eyes had cemented themselves to the boy in front of the boy behind the boy with the purple shirt. The boy with the purple shirt.

His lips, pink as strawberry gum, stretched thin like a rubber band when he yawned. He left his mouth uncovered and tongued his steel braces in a fashion some would call crude, but now he was perfect because he was mine. Mine. The hearts stopped falling and started swelling on my binder.

Anna Jane Nichols Adams nail-bit my shoulder again. "Do you seem him? He's gorgeous, yeah?"

"Yes." Yes, the boy in the purple shirt was gorgeous. I flipped open my Spanish dictionary and yanked out a sheet of paper, plus a pink pen for love, because I loved him yes indeed, and he would love me too. Yo te quiero, el nino en la camisa morada. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Again, nails shot a yelp to my mouth that almost escaped before my teeth slammed down on my tongue. I spun around. She gave me a little finger-wave. "Should I talk to him?"

As I adjusted my glasses, she swerved in and out of focus. Who was she talking about? Oh, right, the boy behind mine, the boring boy with the Hollister top and the Velcro sneakers. He was beyond my capacity of caring. But as not to be rude to Anna Jane Nichols Adam's hormones, I shrugged. "If you want."

"You don't think he's gorgeous?"

I turned back around. Her nail jammed into the small of my back--this time, unable to supress myself, I shrieked. Hollister boy and the boy in the purple shirt glanced over as embarrassment and pain heated my cheeks. Smoke breath hissed at my ear. "I said, you don't think he's gorgeous?"

I wiped my eyes and didn't answer. Anna Jane Nichols Adams would never, ever know about the love that I learned just from glancing at the boy in the purple shirt. She would never understand the connection he and I shared--would share--had shared from the very second my eyes lit on him. Let her have her Hollister boy. Mine was the one in the white shorts, with the pink lips and the big yawn that showed all his teeth, and the acne on his tan skin and his long, straight nose. He sat with a hunchback and we were made for each other.

Anna Jane Nichols Adams jabbed me out of my daydreams for the sixth time in the past half hour. We were supposed to be working in our textbooks, I think. She cocked her head. "What were you thinking about? Not my boy, were you, not Rex."

Hollister boy. I winced. "I don't want Rex, thank you, now quiet please. It's work time."

"Freak."

I stuck out my tongue just as the bell rang. I elbowed aside the other students and shot straight to the boy in the purple shirt's desk as he rose to pack up his bag. And then I froze. No one else would see his beauty, no one else would understand the secrets and turmoil buried inside this boy. I realized that.

I also realized half a second too late that thirty juniors were stampeding towards the very door before which I stood. And that my mouth was incapable of making any sound. And that the boy was looking straight at me.

The juniors shoved me into the hall in their frenzy to escape and punctuated this action with the smashing of feet on mine and pushing of my shoulders. No matter which way I turned, other students surrounded me, closed in; I was four feet of invisible matter. When the hallway cleared at last, I found myself pressed against the wall, hyperventilating and traumatized.

The boy in the purple shirt was gone. Everything I'd thought to say to him--"For the first time, I really saw you, and I love you, and you will love me too if you just get to know me, you will!"--circled uselessly in my head. Anna Jane Nichols Adams was gone too. She never helped me find my balance, never waited, never thought it seemly to teach a poor freshman how to safely navigate hallways full of eight-foot-tall seniors.

My legs didn't seem to be working. I stood limply against the wall and felt myself sliding, down, down... Teachers glanced at me but stayed dutifully by their doors to await a second wave of students, to resume their soulless jobs until the final bell released them to trudge back to their apartments, grade stacks of scribbled homeworks and poorly written essays, squeeze in six hours of sleep and repeat the process tomorrow. They were on their own. So I was on my own. I wobbled upright and shouldered my bags.

I did not know it then, but Rex in Hollister shirt was watching me, following me with his eyes, standing in the shadow of Spanish class as I ambled for the exit. I did not know it then, but the boy in the purple shirt would never marry me. I did not know it then, but the next day Rex's shirt would be the exact shade of plum, and I would like it very much, and he would save me from being trampled.