Author's Note: There's no period in the title because FP won't let me, lol.
I really, really hope that all of you enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. That it's something you can come back to and look back on fondly.
As a warning, the style is very different from what I usually write in. And the story itself is a lot more substantial than TDISH and SSS. Thoughts, comments, CC, love/hate, all appreciated! :) Hope everyone is enjoying their summer! (heart)
NOTE: Mikey's name is NOT pronounced Mickey. If you pronounce it Mickey, it will ruin the story for you and I will cry.
Disclaimer: I do not own Right Said Fred or any of their music.
Love: Quinn, Lou, and Mae. This story wouldn't be without them! They are as much a part of this story as I am, especially Quinn, who has literally spent days and days and days with me on this. I love you guys so much! :)
CHASING MR. DARCY
It feels like any other night, but it isn't. The house should feel empty without Lizzie, but it doesn't. Everyone is probably asleep by now. I should be exhausted, and ready for sleep to claim me. Instead, I am wide awake, in bed, holding my dainty pink diary.
Even though I am the author, I don't know what I will find if I open it. The me that was five is a stranger to the me that is seventeen. The me that is seventeen is scared of the me that was five, perhaps like how an elephant runs away at the sight of a mouse.
I insert the key into the lock and it snaps open easily. Is this how Pandora felt upon opening her box? Each page of the diary is filled with the invincible and untouchable hopes of a child—dreams that are both strong and fragile. What if I have disappointed the five-year-old me?
"Are we there yet?" I ask. My butt is tingly from sitting for so long.
Daddy parks the truck and I wobble a little. "We're here!"
"Yay! Yay!" I jump over Mommy's lap and out the front seat.
We are in Canada! Mommy and Daddy are so excited. There are trees and houses and roads... and that's it. It looks just like Washington. But it is called Canada. It is weird.
Our new house is a green giant! Our old house is a brown bear. I don't know which one I like better.
I stop staring at our house because there are a group of boys playing hockey in the street. They are making loud, ugly noises like they are punching each other and someone is dying. Their sticks are trying to kill each other! Boys.
I am about to turn away when I see him. The other boys are bigger than him, but he is all I see.
He is beautiful. The huge blue and green shirt he is wearing is ugly. But he is beautiful. His hair is black, shiny, soft. His face… His face is… My eyeballs are crazy-glued to him and I cannot move. I want to run to him, like he is peanut butter and I am jelly.
This is love.
All of the boys suddenly stop and turn to look at me. Their mouths are open and they are almost slobbering. Especially him.
I lick my fingers and pat down my bowl cut and orange dress. They are staring at me like I am Cinderella at the ball and they are Prince Charming.
"Lizzie, help your dad with the door." Mommy's voice.
"Yeah, Mom. I got it," Lizzie replies from behind me.
Then I remember.
I turn slowly until I see her. I make my eyes small until they are little, tiny holes in my face. There she is. My fifteen-year-old sister.
"Hi, I'm Laura." I hold out my hand, proud. "I'm five."
Even though he is sitting on the park bench, we see eye-to-eye. He is wearing that ugly green and blue jersey again. He does not take my hand.
"Who are you?"
"I told you. Four times. I'm Lau-ra." I emphasize the syllables of my name by jabbing my own chest, once for Lau, once for ra.
"What's your name?" I already know. Michael Darcy. His mommy told my mommy and my mommy told me. I memorized it.
"Mikey." He takes a ginormous bite of his hamburger and goes back to watching the big kids play Frisbee.
I know what he's looking at.
Lizzie is wearing shorts that look like underwear and a T-shirt Mommy and Daddy told her not to wear. Lizzie's curly hair never tangles and she doesn't have spots on her face like the other kids. A few months ago, Lizzie got boobies, and she loves them. They move all over the place when she runs to catch the Frisbee!
Having been ignored, I waddle over to the food table and grab some napkins with flower patterns on them. I do a good job of scrunching them into two almost equal-sized balls. They are a little bit lumpy but I stuff them down my sundress anyway. A little patting, squeezing, and reshaping. To test them out, I jump a few times. They don't move because my dress is too tight.
I amble back to where Mikey is sitting, but not before grabbing a fistful of sour cream and onion chips. As I walk and munch, it feels like there are two humongous bug eyes growing out of my chest. Where are my feet?
I stand before him and cough, like Daddy does when he's trying to get someone's attention. "Hi, I'm Laura."
He reluctantly takes his eyes off of Lizzie, as though it hurts him to part with her, and turns to me. It takes him a little bit of time before he notices my chest balls.
I am glowing, like a Jack-o'-lantern. He is really, really looking at them. A lot!
A Frisbee lands near the side of the picnic bench, catching both our attentions.
"Here, throw it back!" Lizzie waves and jumps and shouts at us.
The jiggling and bouncing of Lizzie's boobies entrance Mikey and my lifeless napkin boobies are forgotten.
He slides off his seat, picks up the plastic disk, and flings it with all his might. It wobbles in the air, then drops, and rolls until it is near his feet again.
Lizzie makes a weird face.
Mikey's white cheeks are red now.
I am making hee-haw noises from trying not to laugh.
September, 1998: First Day of First Grade
We are all sitting in our classrooms with ants in our pants. There are three grade one classes and Mrs. Bowen is going to tell us who is going to which one. We are going to miss Mrs. Bowen but we are too excited to feel that right now. Everyone wants to be in Mr. Crossack's class. He brings donuts and his puppy to school.
I like Mr. Crossack's puppy, Fudge, but I like Ms. Keats. And Ms. Laza, too. Even though she looks like a man.
I wiggle in my hard seat because my legs have become stuck to the chair. It is cold outside but the classroom is as hot as a hot potato. Last night before bed, I wished on a shooting star for Mikey to be in my class. Lizzie kept yelling that it was an airplane, but Daddy told her she was wrong.
"Division twenty-eight. When I call your name, pick up your backpack and stand along the wall." Mrs. Bowen is wearing a cheerful smile and a colorful jumpsuit. "Michaela."
Michaela starts forming a line behind Mrs. Bowen.
"Carmen. Ronald. Cory Hewitt. Cory Liu. Armaleen. Jayden. Sarah. Kristopher."
One by one, everyone is getting up from their seats.
Me! That's me!
I hop over to Sarah and Armaleen with my backpack on. We giggle and laugh about things. I can't remember because I just want Mrs. Bowen to finish so we can go to our new classroom.
Finally, we are ready. They take us down the hall to Mr. Crossack's room where the rest of the class is already there. I stretch my neck like a giraffe to see past Kristopher's big head.
There he is! There he is!
Mr. Crossack booms at us. "Welcome, new elves! Go grab a seat before they're all taken!"
He doesn't have to tell me twice. I burst forward and plop down in the empty seat beside Mikey.
"Hi!" I shout at him because I am so excited.
"Hi," he says back.
He doesn't seem to mind that I'm sitting beside him. His mommy and my mommy always read books together. I am sure he knows my name now. His mommy said once, "Mikey, go get Laura some orange juice." And he stopped playing his Ninja Turtles video game to get me a juice box.
I unzip my backpack and take out a plastic bottle covered in Winnie the Pooh stickers. "I brought gummy vitamins. Want some?"
"Sure." He shrugs and holds out his hand.
I give him two little bears, one orange and one yellow. I'm not supposed to bring these to school.
"They're yummy, huh?" I chew on mine slowly. "Red is my favorite." They taste like cherries.
"I like the yellow ones."
"Those are Lizzie's favorite, too," I say without realizing my mistake.
Mikey immediately sits up straighter at my sister's name. "Really?"
I slouch and wish I hadn't said anything. "Yeah. But the red one is yummier." I give him one to try. He can't like lemon better than cherry.
He munches and swallows. "Nope. I still like yellow."
I cross my arms and make a Grinch-y face. "You just like them because Lizzie likes them! Copy-cat!"
He makes a rude sound. "You're such a baby."
"Am not!" I make a growling noise that I learned from Fudge. "You can't like Lizzie! She's old!"
"She is ten years older. She's sixteen. She's older than a mummy!"
"She's a babe." He tries to be cool by shaking his head like Elvis as he says it.
I stop being angry for a minute. "What is a babe?"
He sticks his tongue out at me. "I'm not telling."
I squint at him and try to remember what Mommy said about not hitting other kids at school. "You're mean."
We don't speak to each other for the rest of class. But Mr. Crossack has brought Fudge so I don't care anymore.
We are having dinner and Lizzie is telling everyone about bees.
"And so I said to her, right to her face, 'You're just a user. No one even likes you.' So Sherrie gets like so mad at me, because she's best friends with Corrine, even though she doesn't like her. She just doesn't want to piss off Miss Queen Bee. And now they're telling everyone that I called Corrine a bitch—"
"Lizzie, language," Mommy says.
"—and everyone thinks I'm just jealous because Corrine got picked to go to the District Speech Contest and I didn't."
I scoop lasagna onto my fork.
"Lizzie, what is a babe?" I ask.
Daddy snorts and Mommy glares at him.
Lizzie shrugs. "A hot girl."
"Oh." I am not sure what this means exactly. Lizzie uses hot a lot to describe things that are not hot. Like her new dress or the posters on her wall. It is like the word "cool."
"Anyway. I talked to Mr. Capersied today after school, because it's not fair that the other class gets to pick two students to go and our class only gets to pick one."
"Laura." Mommy looks at me. "A babe can mean a baby. Or it can mean a girl who is very beautiful."
"I get it now," I say. Mommy is really good at explaining things. "Daddy, Mommy is a babe, right?"
Daddy laughs so hard that he knocks over the basket full of buns, causing Mommy to yell at him.
Once his body has stopped shaking, he says, "Yes, Laura, your mom's a real babe." Then starts all over again.
Lizzie rolls her eyes and Mommy looks annoyed.
I just take more bites of lasagna, because now, I know what a babe is. Lizzie continues talking about school, and I can see that she really is a babe. When will I become a babe?
I march into Lizzie's room with two furry, stuffed sidekicks, one in each arm.
"Lizzie, do you love Mikey?"
I stomp my feet on the carpet and point out her window. "Mikey says you love him."
"Oh, Mikey next-door-Mikey?" Lizzie lies on her bed. Her hair looks like a web around her head, a curly web. Her face is the spider. "Isn't he your boyfriend?"
Lizzie flips through her book. It has a picture of a naked man and a woman hugging. "But he always comes over to our house."
"Because he loves you." Lizzie is so old, but she is stupid sometimes. I have to explain everything to her.
Lizzie finally puts her book down. I pass her Mrs. Ham while I hold Mr. Pork. This means we are going to have a serious conversation. I sit on the floor while she sits cross-legged on her bed.
"Laura, he doesn't love me. He just thinks he loves me."
I fluff Mr. Pork's belly fur. "I don't get it." It sounds the same to me.
Lizzie bounces Mrs. Ham in her lap. "Hmm. Look at it this way. Mikey is dreaming right now."
"Dreaming? But he isn't sleeping." These adult ideas are too confusing for me.
Lizzie sighs. "Okay, maybe not dreaming. Think of it as… as… he's under a spell."
"A spell?" My jaw drops into Mr. Pork's fur.
"Yes, yes. A spell. So remember when Prince Eric didn't love Ariel anymore because the fat octopus lady put him under a spell? That's what's happening to Mikey right now."
"Oh, no." This is horrible!
"Right. And so you have to break him out of that spell."
I squeeze Mr. Pork's belly hard. "How do I do that?"
"Uhhh… you have to make him see how amazing you are. And then he'll realize how blind he has been all this time."
"How do I do that?"
"Well, what does Mikey like?"
"He likes hockey."
"Okay, that's great! Why don't you learn how to play hockey? And when he sees how good you are, he'll fall in love with you."
"Hockey is for boys."
"Oh, how feminists weep."
I stare at her. Lizzie is weird sometimes.
Later that afternoon, I get Daddy to help me set up nets in the driveway. It takes us hours to find hockey sticks and a tennis ball. By dinnertime, I am able to run after the ball while holding the stick over my head. When no one is looking, I kick the ball into the net. Rah rah!
What a dumb sport.
I ring Mikey's doorbell. He is pounding down the stairs.
"Hi!" I say through the heavy helmet. It's hard to keep my head straight. "Wanna play hockey?"
He looks at me funny. "You don't know how to play."
"But you're a girl."
I hold my stick upright. "Just come play."
He finally agrees. But first, he has to wear his ugly jersey again.
"This is weird," he says when we are face to face in the street. The tennis ball sits peacefully in between our sticks.
"Ready, set, go!" I shout and steal the ball.
"You're not supposed to say that!" he hollers after me, but I'm not listening.
The stick keeps making the ball go the wrong way. I feel like I am running through a maze instead of straight toward the net. Finally, when I'm close, I swing the stick hard.
I miss. And before I can find the ball again, I see Mikey running and moving the stick like a professional hockey player on TV. The ball rolls happily into the net.
He does this a gazillion more times until I am panting and gasping. He is waiting for me to come to the center again, but my underwear is soaked with sweat. I feel like I've peed my pants.
"Do you…" I huff and puff. "Do you love me yet?"
"Eww. No." He leans on his hockey stick. "You're gross."
I am breathing too hard to feel mad or hurt. Lizzie said this would work. Lizzie was wrong.
I throw my helmet and padding onto the ground. "I quit!"
June, 2000: Kastrov Centre for the Performing Arts
Lizzie is finally graduating. Everyone is smiling, laughing, and taking pictures on the grass outside the building. Mom is videotaping Lizzie while Dad is acting like a crazy photographer. He kneels with his butt sticking out, taking a million pictures of Lizzie in her blue gown, by herself and with her friends.
I am wearing my prettiest dress and shoes with heels for the first time. I've been in so many family pictures that my cheeks hurt. But mostly, my feet hurt. The shoes are black, shiny, and really, really hard. My toes are all squished together and walking makes everything hurt more. Each toe is screaming, "Ow, ow, OW, ow, OW!"
I look through the crowds of taller people to see who's calling me.
It's Mikey. He is grinning so wide it looks like when I put an entire orange peel into my mouth.
My first instinct is to smile back. Every time I see him, my heart feels light. But then I remember he is only smiling because he is excited to see Lizzie.
"What are you doing here?" I ask.
He is wearing a nice blue shirt and black pants.
"My cousin is graduating."
"Oh, who is your cousin?"
Mikey points to a group of teenage boys all hitting and hugging each other. "That's Cory. He has orange hair."
"Oh. He's fat."
"Yeah. He eats a lot."
I agree and nod. We stand there looking at Cory and nodding together. The more we look at him, the fatter he becomes.
"Hey!" Lizzie skips over to us. "What are the two little lovebirds doing?"
"Ew! No way!" Mikey jumps away from me.
I glare at Lizzie.
She laughs. "It was just a joke. Here, let's get a picture together."
Lizzie calls Dad over. I am on Lizzie's left, Mikey on her right. I put my arm around Lizzie's waist because she is so tall and I am so short. Suddenly, I feel another hand creep across my skin. Mikey is trying to put his arm around Lizzie, too. I slap his hand away.
"Don't touch her," I hiss at him behind Lizzie's back.
"You're doing it!" He puts his arm up again.
"I'm her sister."
Lizzie puts a tight arm around each of our shoulders and hugs us close. "Shut up, you two. Smile for Dad."
Lizzie then runs off to take more pictures with her friends.
I cross my arms and turn to Mikey. "I'm telling Steve you raped Lizzie." Steve is Lizzie's boyfriend. He is tall with humongous muscles. "He's going to beat you up."
At the mention of Steve, Mikey looks a little scared. "What is rape?"
"Hmph." I smirk. I know something he doesn't. This doesn't happen very often. "It's when someone touches you and you don't want them to touch you."
"Oh. What happens if you rape someone?"
"Mom says you go to jail."
"Oh." He appears to think on this. "You should go to jail then. You rape me all the time."
"I do not!"
"Yuh-huh." He touches himself on the shoulders and makes kissy noises. "Oooh, Mikey. Mikey, you're so hot. You're so good at hockey. Oooh."
"Aruuuughhh!" I kick him in the shin. I do not sound like that! "You—you—BUG!"
"Raper!" He holds his leg in pain. "When I marry Lizzie, I will have the power to get rid of you!"
That sounds familiar. I start to cackle. "That's what Princess Jasmine says to Jafar in 'Aladdin.' You're a girl!"
"I'm not a girl!"
His face is starting to become red, like a mad bull. "Are not!"
"Prove it!" I wobble my head in his face like he does when he thinks he's being cool.
"Fine!" He pulls down his pants, underwear and all. "See?"
He wiggles his peepee at me and I start to scream. "Ew! Ew! Ewww!"
I don't realize everyone is staring at us. Mikey's parents run over to us. Mikey's dad yells at him while Mikey's mom is asking me if I'm all right. Soon, everyone is crowding around us, and we lose sight of each other.
But all throughout the ceremony, I cannot get the picture of his swinging worm-like weeny out of my head.
February, 2001: Valentine's Day Eve
There are hundreds of little red and pink construction paper hearts on my desk. They took all night to cut out. I squirt tiny drops of glue on the card and stick them on one by one. Inside the card is a picture of me and Mikey when we were five. I am choking him and kissing his cheek. It is one of my favorite pictures.
I don't stop until the entire card is covered in hearts and no white is showing. In silver marker, I write letters on a few of the hearts: ONCE UPON A TIME…
I'm not the best card decorator in class, but this is so good, it should be in a museum. On the inside of the card, it says "…THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER" on top of the picture and "THE END" below it.
I kiss Mikey's scrunched up face in the picture. One day, we will be together. Together forever!
Mom doesn't like it when we leave the lights on, but I can't make myself close my study lamp. I climb into bed and turn to face the card standing proudly on my desk. It's so beautiful.
It is hard to sleep because tomorrow, everyone is giving out cards and candy. I keep imagining Mikey giving me something special, or Mikey sharing his chocolates with me, or—or—so many things! Every daydream is like an ant. There are a million of them crawling over my brain, keeping me wide awake.
The next morning arrives sooner than I thought. I did not sleep—I don't think—but I'm not tired. When I get to school, all of my friends are already there. We all get seated and we are all excited. Everyone has bags, trays, and containers overflowing with goodies.
I try not to keep looking at the door, waiting for Mikey to come in, but it is like a tic. It does not go away. All of the regular cards are stickered and resting in a pile on my desk. Only the special card is tucked away in my backpack, hiding until Mikey arrives.
A trillion seconds pass before that happens.
"Mikey! Mikey!" I take the card out and run up to greet him.
He smiles and takes something from his bag.
"I have something to give you," we say at the same time.
It's just like how I imagined it. No—it's better than anything I could have ever imagined. This is my dream come true. My body is tingling all over, pins and needles like. I am about to pee.
"You first," I breathe.
He hands me a large red envelope.
I'm afraid that if I touch it, I'll wake up and see the sun out my window.
He looks kind of shy as he pushes it toward me. "It's for Lizzie."
It takes me a moment to understand what he just said.
Lizzie. Not me. For Lizzie.
I want to be angry, but instead, I feel a weird kind of embarrassment. Lizzie. Always Lizzie. I usually remember, but today, I forgot. Lizzie first. Laura second. This is how it always is. This is how it's supposed to be.
Like a robot, I take the envelope from him. It is poison against my fingers.
"Thanks," he says.
I think he's going to leave but he just stands there. And then I remember that he's waiting for me to return the favor. So I hold out my card.
"This is for you."
It passes from my hands to his. He does not look at it.
"Thanks," he says again in a very tiny voice.
We both stand in awkward, embarrassed silence.
I wonder if last night, he thought about me while making Lizzie's card. Even for a little bit. Like if he used the glue he stole from my pencil case last week. Did he twist the orange cap and think, "Oh, this is Laura's glue"? I know the answer is "no."
"Happy Valentine's Day," I say finally, and walk back to my desk.
I hobble up to my room after dinner, stuffed from Mom's baked pasta. It takes so much effort to crawl up to my top bunk and lie on my back. I am so full it hurts to breathe.
I inhale and exhale slowly, and admire the glow-in-the-dark star stickers on my ceiling. Lizzie's room is quiet, so I know she is doing homework. Because of college, she is always doing homework now. I knock on the wall three times to check.
I get three knocks back, which means she is studying.
One star… two stars… three stars…
I feel myself growing tired. Mom says that after you eat, your stomach hogs all the energy in your body so that it can break down the food. This is why you become sleepy. I close my eyes and rub my belly in circles. Mmm…
Just as I am about to fall asleep, a sound outside steals my sleep away. At first, it sounds like the ice cream truck, but the song is different. It takes me a minute to climb down the bed and reach my window.
Mikey is standing on our lawn with a big CD player. Loud music is blaring and I can feel the bass in my chest. Kneeling on my twisty chair, I stick my head out to see if Lizzie's window is open. It is.
"What are you doing?" I shout down at him.
"Lizzie! Lizzie!" he yells and waves, ignoring me.
The music is so loud that all the neighbors can hear.
Mikey puts his hands on the back of his head and starts moving to the rhythm of the music. He has his "I'm so cool" face on. The words of the song start to blast out of the speakers.
I'm too sexy for my shirt too sexy for my shirt
So sexy it hurts
And I'm too sexy for Milan too sexy for Milan
New York and Japan
I shout at him again. People are peeking out of their curtains to watch.
And I'm too sexy for your party
Too sexy for your party
No way I'm disco dancing
I'm a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I do my little turn on the catwalk
He does the moonwalk up and down our lawn, and then starts to take off his shirt.
"Stop!" I scream. He's loony! Completely loony! "You're so embarrassing! She doesn't like you!"
I'm too sexy for my car too sexy for my car
Too sexy by far
And I'm too sexy for my hat
Too sexy for my hat what do you think about that
He is so into the music that nothing I say is doing anything. He tosses his shirt onto the grass and continues to dance.
I'm a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I shake my little tush on the catwalk
"Woo woo!" He cheers himself on and then rips off his pants. The buttons on each side snap open and it comes off in one tear.
"Ewww! You're disgusting! Disgusting! Disgusting!" My vocal chords have fainted and my voice starts to break and croak. "You goon!"
He waves his pants like a cowboy at the rodeo, rotating his hips and thrusting his pelvis.
I'm too sexy for my too sexy for my too sexy for my
'Cos I'm a model you know what I mean
And I do my little turn on the catwalk
Yeah on the catwalk on the catwalk yeah
I shake my little tush on the catwalk
"Uugghhh!" I recoil from his butt-shaking. I am throwing things from my desk, but none of them hit him. Pencils, erasers, rulers, none of them fly very far. Only the bouncy ball lands near him. But he's acting like he doesn't see them at all.
I'm too sexy for my cat too sexy for my cat
Poor pussy poor pussy cat
I'm too sexy for my love too sexy for my love
Love's going to leave me
And I'm too sexy for this song
When he is done, he blows Lizzie a wet kiss. I feel nothing will be able to get rid of the large grin on his face.
Out of breath from attacking him with desk objects, I chuck Mrs. Ham at his head and then slam my window shut.
Worst day ever.
"Thanks, Linda. I'll be by to pick him up at around ten-ish?"
Mom waves her hand. "Sure, no problem. You and Ralph better get going."
When Mikey's parents are gone, Mom turns to us and smiles. "Why don't you two go upstairs? I'll make lunch."
Mikey climbs the stairs two at a time and I race up after him. "Slow down. No one's chasing you."
"You're too bossy."
"Bosses make lots of money."
"So do hockey players."
"You're too short to be a hockey playe—Hey! Where are you going? That's Lizzie's room!"
I tug on his shirt. "You're not allowed in there. I'm not even allowed in there when she's not home."
He makes a puppy-dog face with his lower lip out. "Please? I just wanna see. I won't touch."
I know this is wrong. I know I should shake my head. But I hate it when he gets mad me. And he's asking so nicely…
"Okay. But don't touch anything!"
He doesn't even wait for me to finish.
Lizzie's room is fun and pretty. She decorated it herself. There are pictures and volleyball trophies everywhere.
Mikey looks like he's in heaven. He looks at each frame and each shelf lovingly, as if he is trying to memorize what it looks like. He's even admiring her homework and college textbooks. When he gets to Lizzie's modeling photos, he is practically hypnotized.
I clap my hands three times and snap my fingers.
Well, bah-humbug. It's not that special.
"Okay, let's go." I tap my foot even though it can't be heard on the soft carpet. "If Lizzie finds ou—What are you doing?"
Lizzie's dresser drawers are open and Mikey is holding up one of Lizzie's bras.
"Put them back! Hurry! Put them back!" I try to take the purple lacey bra from him, but he is stronger.
He sticks his face in one side and inhales deeply. I cry out and smack him over the head. "You're so immature. So immature!" I finally wrestle the bra away from him. "You are going to get into so much trouble."
"Laura." He turns to me with the dumbest grin on his face. "It smells so nice."
"Eww." I do not understand how he can say and do these things. Normal people don't do stuff like this, right?
I suddenly remember the one time I went to his house last summer and smelled his pillow. That was different.
I drag him to my room. "Stay."
"Your room is boring."
"I have games."
He walks over to my bookshelves. "What are these?"
He points to the pink one. "What's this?"
I realize what it is and immediately run over to distract him. "It's boring school stuff."
He looks at me suspiciously. "Why does it have a lock on it?"
"Because." I block him from trying to see them. My heart is thumping up and down fast—faster. "Wanna watch a movie? I have Spider Man."
"Why can't I see them?" He tries to reach for them.
"Because they're boring." I'm pushing at his chest. Even though he is shorter than I am, he doesn't budge.
"I want to see."
We both stop for a moment and look at each other. He really has not changed very much since I met him. Except for his hair. He used to have big, fat black curls. Now his hair is straighter. He is disgusting and weird and many things unpleasant, but he is still so amazing to me.
"Got it!" His arm is as fast as a snake, and before I know it, he has my diary in his hands.
"You don't have the key." Even though I know he can't open it, my heart goes th-thump-th-thump from seeing it in his hands. All these years of dreaming about our dates, our wedding, our house, our kids, our grandkids… "Give it back."
He dangles the diary. "You left the key in the hole." He then tucks it into the waistband of his pants.
I realize he is right. I have left the key in the lock. "Don't make me hurt you." I try to sound mean and bully-like, but inside, I am whimpering like a mouse.
He pulls a face at me. "I'm gonna go home and read it."
At this moment, I do not know what comes over me. It is as if an alien has entered my body. It takes control, and suddenly, I am flying forward, tackling Mikey like I am a big, muscular football player. We are both on the ground and he is screaming like a girl.
"Give it back, give it back!" I attack him with my feet and fists.
"Laura!" It's Mom. Things clatter in the background. "Laura! What are you doing! Get off Mikey now!"
I get in one last kick before I am lifted into the air and placed on my bed.
Mom helps Mikey stand up. "You, young lady are going to sit here until I come back. Violence is not tolerated in this house."
Mikey pats the hard rectangle on his stomach and wiggles his eyebrows at me before leaving with Mom.
The angry alien throws a pillow at the open door before tiptoeing out of my body.
Thirteen marks my entry into the world of teenhood. Thirteen is the year I am introduced to cliques, rebellions, and sexual experimentation. Thirteen is when I discover the world of literature and mythology. And on that note, did you know that there are four, not three, Fates of Greek mythology? Neither did I. May I present to you the Moirae: Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos, and Jane Austen.
It is a boring Monday morning and I have nothing to do. Mom, Dad, and Lizzie are all at work. No one is home. No one is picking up their phone. Everyone is too busy today. No, everyone is on vacation. Hawaii! Disneyland! I am stuck at home because Lizzie's boss is a troll and won't let her have fun. So I run around the house looking for something interesting to slaughter a few hours of time.
I go into Lizzie's room and attack her bookshelf. Now that she is working, she has money to buy even more books. I am glad Mom isn't letting her move out. I would miss her stuff, and her, of course.
The Sound and the Fury, To the Lighthouse, In Cold Blood... I run a finger along the spines of the books. None of the titles are very interesting. There are a row of books which have white covers on them. Those are Lizzie's romance novels. 1984, Beloved, Pride and Prejudice…
I remember Mom and Lizzie renting and watching it on TV. It's supposed to be a really good love story. Disney corrupted my childhood and has made me addicted to love stories. So I take it, run along to my own room, and plop down into a comfortable position among my pillows.
The book is just black with the gold title stomped into the hard cover. I crack it open and smell the smell of a book which has been read over and over again.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife...
Some time into the night, many, many hours later, I turn the last page. It is a painful last page because I am crying from happiness and grief. Even though I did not understand some of the parts, and even though certain scenes were boring, and even though the English was odd, I am in awe of the love story. Of Elizabeth "Lizzy" Bennet. Of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Of their perfectness for each other.
And it is with this tragic thought that I fall asleep.
"Lizzie! What is this! Explain yourself!" I wave the book of doom in my hands.
Lizzie looks up from her laptop. "It's a novel."
"Elizabeth," I accuse, seeing if she will make the connection.
"What?" She does not.
"I found it in your room."
"That's because it's my book."
"Do… do you like it?"
"Of course. It's one of my favorites. You should read it, but you might be too young to appreciate it."
Sister! And she calls herself my sister! Betrayer!
I am sitting on one end of my bed while the book of nightmares sits on the other. We stare at each other, squaring off.
How can there be such a cruel coincidence? Jane Austen, you witch. You witch with a 'b'!
I pull out a pen much like how a knight pulls out his sword. En garde.
Pride and Prejudice, prepare to meet your recreator.
"Hello?" It is some abnormal hour of the night or morning and I have a test tomorrow.
"Laura," I hear my name hissed from the earpiece.
"What do you want?"
"Laura, can you let me in? I'm outside your house."
I groan. "No. Go away."
"Laura, come on." He is whining now.
I look over at my alarm clock. 3:49am. I want to shove those numbers down his throat. Instead, because I have issues saying no to the person I have been desperately in love with since the age of five, I haul my limbs out of bed and stomp downstairs—quietly.
I unlatch the backdoor.
As he walks past me, I smell alcohol and other illegal substances. "Have you been smoking weed?"
"Shh! Keep your voice down." He doesn't look or sound high. "No, not me. Ray and the other guys."
"But you've been drinking."
"I'm going to be in so much shit if my mom finds out." He puts his face in his hands, probably remembering the last time he was caught.
"Can't you go to someone else's house? Go keep someone else from sleeping? This is like the fourth time."
He looks down and shuffles his feet. "I can't."
I cross my arms. "What? Because I'm the only person who knows that you're not actually a party animal? Afraid your reputation is going to be ruined because they'll find out who you really are?"
I sigh. "Let's go upstairs."
It is difficult for me to imagine Mikey doing these things, but at the same it is not. To me, Mikey is still the boy I used to chase around the driveway, still the boy who is a naïve and innocent pervert, still the boy who doesn't care about anything but hockey and Lizzie. This is mostly because he hasn't grown. We are still the same height. He looks like an elementary school student among the bigger guys in our grade—like someone's younger brother tagging along.
"Do you want some water?"
I gesture for him to sit in the chair while I take the bed. "You can take the top bunk if you get sleepy."
"Thanks." He turns from side to side in the chair, not sure where to look.
"I have a test tomorrow. I'm gonna sleep."
"Oh, for which class?"
The conversation ends because I am annoyed and he knows it. I lie down and pull the covers up to my chin. "Goodnight. Don't rape Lizzie in her sleep."
"Okay. Don't rape me in my sleep."
I close my eyes and ignore him. If only he knew. The first time this had happened, I was so tempted to. So tempted just to climb into bed with him and pretend that we were Romeo and Juliet, boyfriend and girlfriend, lovers who couldn't keep away from one another. So many nights after, I fantasized about it, wished for it to be true.
I hear him turn off the lights and flick on my desk lamp. I exhale into my pillow.
It's going to be a long, long night.
It is surprising how much of a difference one year makes. Puberty is a monster.
Mikey is no longer a dwarf. His body has become infested with hormones, and it is manifesting into shoulders and hair and Adam's apples and bones and bulges—with much emphasis on the bulges. How is it physically possible for a human being to grow ten inches in one year? Magic. It's magic.
At first, he is not comfortable in his new body, but with a little bit of practice, and a lot of female admiration, comfort does not even begin to describe the way he moves in his new skin. Suddenly, Aladdin has become Prince Ali Ababwa. The Jasmine in me is torn between being attracted to the prince and missing the street rat.
Even She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has noticed Mikey's transformation.
"Laura." Lizzie stops me on the stairs and has a breathless look about her. "Who was that boy at the door?"
I give her my best are-you-kidding-me face. "That was Mikey."
She returns the look. "Mikey?"
"Since when did he look like that?"
"What, are you interested?"
"What? No." But she doesn't sound too sure.
"You're such a cougar."
"God, Laura, no. I'm not a pedophile. I already have Kris." She laughs—unconvincingly. "But you, you. You should totally go for him."
I can't believe this. "Are you stupid? Have you suddenly turned blonde? That's what I've been doing for the past seven years. 'Going for' him. But nooo. He only has eyes for you! Lizzie this. Lizzie that. You could be fat, ugly, and a cocaine addict and he'd still marry you. And you know it."
Lizzie is silent as I push past her and lock myself in my room for the rest of the day.
I go to the Darcys' for dinner because Lizzie is out with friends and Mom and Dad are treating themselves to an anniversary dinner downtown.
I put my napkin in my lap. "Mr. Darcy, could you pass the pepper, please?"
After Pride and Prejudice, that will never sound the same again.
Mikey's dad passes the pepper.
"Mrs. Darcy," I say. "How does it feel to be married to Mr. Darcy?"
Mikey's mom is the girl version of Mikey, and it is easy to see what Mikey's dad saw in her. She is also a bookaholic, a bookworm, a literary nerd. It's hard to believe I've never asked her this before.
She laughs, but before she can say anything, Mikey cuts in. "Mom and Dad role play all the time. She prances around their bedroom going, "Mr. Darcy, oh, Mr. Darcy!—"
"Mikey!" Mrs. Darcy is severely embarrassed and Mr. Darcy is gulping down a lot of water.
If it were my own parents, I would be disgusted but I am swept off my feet by how romantic that is. Even though Mikey's dad looks more like an older rendition of Charles Bingley.
Mr. Darcy—I will never tire of saying this—changes the subject and starts talking about taking a joint trip up to the Okanagan this summer.
After dinner, I follow Mikey up to his room. We are supposed to work on our English lit assignments—character analyses from Othello.
For a long time, there is no sound except for the scratching of pencils against lined paper. We are sitting on the ground with pillows for desks. My hands are writing about Shakespeare and Iago, but my mind is thinking about other things.
"You know…" I never understood it before, how people could say things even though they didn't want to, and even though they knew it wouldn't lead to anything pleasant. It must be some variation of masochism. "Lizzie said something about you a while back."
The scratching noises stop and he immediately perks up.
Oh, like taking candy from a baby.
"What did she say?"
We look at each other across the table. There is curiosity, expectation, and anxiety in his eyes.
"She thinks you're pretty good looking."
He is wary of this information, but the hope is unmistakable. "Really?"
"Yeah…" Why am I doing this to myself? Why? "Are you happy? You know you guys will never be together. She's already engaged. Why do you still like her? What's so great about Lizzie that no other girl in the world can hold a candle to?"
He doesn't answer, as if he senses the matted maliciousness in my tone.
I am about to continue when I catch sight of something underneath his bed.
"What is that?"
He and I both recognize it in the same moment, but I grab it before he has a chance to hide it. The black cover is suspiciously familiar. "Why do you have a copy of Pride and Prejudice?"
I ask, but I already know.
He doesn't answer.
Inside, just how I remembered it that night, are all the purple pen markings. Each "Elizabeth" is crossed out and "Laura" is written on top.
"How did you get this?"
"How did you get this?"
He looks away, guilty. "I took it from your room one of the nights I crashed over."
"I… don't know."
He read it. He now knows with confirmation from literary critics and the high heavens that he and Lizzie are meant to be. It is a sign to him. An omen of truth.
But why? Why? Why Lizzie and not me?
I am the same age that Lizzie was when Mikey first met her. I am as tall as Lizzie was then, my boobs are as big as Lizzie's were then, I am smarter than Lizzie was then. Does he not realize this?
Why not me?
I throw off my books and the pillow. I cannot describe what has taken over me. Sleep deprivation, embarrassment, desire, and frustration, perhaps. "Mikey."
He looks confused at my outburst. "What?"
"Do you want to have sex?"
"You're horny, aren't you?"
Even I am taken aback by my own vulgarity. But he's a teenage boy. He can't possibly refuse. I take off my T-shirt in one motion. Goosebumps slither across my skin. "What about now?"
"Laura—" He is on the verge of looking scared.
"Not enough skin?" I kick off my sweats. "Still no?"
Is he looking at the lace? Or imagining what's underneath?
Mrs. Darcy must have spiked the steamed asparagus. How is it possible to know what you're doing, and be unable to stop it?
I crawl over to him, papers and erasers underneath my palms and knees, and push everything in his lap away. I am straddling him and our faces are infinitely close. "You don't want to have sex? Or just not with me?"
I have no idea what I'm doing. No clue how to strip, how to seduce, how to kiss. But I do it anyway. Our lips, teeth, and tongue mesh. We are sucking and biting and it's messy, chaotic, confused. We both taste like baked fish.
I hold his shoulders and press my boobs against him. "Okay?" I ask one more time.
He is completely dazed, drunk on my stupidity. "Okay," he says.
Time flits, and soon we are both naked, on top of each other on the carpet. I hear sirens, but all I can feel is the way our skin is touching, rubbing, chaffing. Inexperience and wanting push out good sense. We fumble with need, like Adam and Eve.
"What are you doing?" my sanity screams.
And then I am sitting on my butt, crying. Maybe I am PMSing.
I howl and wipe away tears with my arm. What am I doing? I stare at Mikey's bewildered face and then at his erection and burst out again.
Any girl. It could have been any girl. Any girl could have thrown herself at him and he would have said yes.
I am hiccupping and there is snot dripping from my nose. I feel cheap and dignity-less. What have you made me become? I want to say to him.
Instead, I pick up his shirt and blow my nose in the collar. "I hate you." I say it over and over again, hoping that with each time, the tears will stop. But they don't.
I hate him, hate him, hate him. I have lost control over my tear glands, over my body, my emotions, myself. I hate me.
Mikey doesn't look at me, but he takes my sweats and places it over my lap. Neither of us can say anything.
April, 2010: Lizzie's wedding
Mikey and I do not talk about it. It is one of those forbidden topics that we both repress into our unconscious and bury into our closet of skeletons. Each day, every interaction is another shovel of dirt we pad on top. The humiliation that is age fifteen is now sleeping deep within the ground, eternally dormant.
"You're choking me!" Mikey flails and gasps.
"Stop being a drama queen." I pull the tie tighter just to get my cheap thrill of pseudo-suffocating him. "There."
"See? What would I do without you?"
We are standing, in a suit and dress, and for some reason, the sentence doesn't sound as benign as it usually would have.
I cough forcibly and pat him on the chest. "You'll be fine."
He appraises himself in the mirror and frowns. "This tie is ugly."
I think he looks divine in a three-piece suit. "It's black. How can it be ugly?"
"I don't know."
I roll my eyes. As if he has any right to complain. "Where's the clip?"
He points to his desk. It is covered with paper clips, loose staples, and other small metal items.
"You are such a nuisance," I mutter. As I pick out the gold tie clip, a miniature skeleton key catches my eye. The heart-shaped hole and the ornate curves in the bow startle something within me and I pick it up.
"Is this... the key to my diary?"
"Oh, my God. It is." Mikey's face is turning kind of purple, but it may be from the tie and not from the guilt. "How long ago was this from? Six, seven years?"
"Something like that."
I had completely forgotten that he had it. "Did you read it? All of it? Where is it?"
"Are you mad?"
"Are you sure?"
I give him a pointed look. "Where is it?"
"You're mad, aren't you?"
"I'm not mad, Mikey. Where is my diary?" Sometimes, I feel like, with the passing of time, I am becoming older and wiser while Mikey is becoming younger and, well, less wiser.
With great reluctance and caution, he finally fishes through his desk drawers until he finds it. All of his movements indicate that he is afraid I will erupt into hot rocks and lava at any given second. But it's been too long for me to dredge up any anger or embarrassment.
When he finally hands me the diary, I feel a surge of nostalgia and a smattering of light, happy emotions. My diary.
I tuck it away in my purse along with the key. It seems like I've just found myself some new bedtime reading material.
"You're really not mad?"
"Nope." I loosen his tie and put the clip on. "Let's go. We're going to be late. The car's been waiting for us."
He is still wary of my good mood as I drag him down the stairs and out the door. But then again, so am I.
We all arrive at the outdoor venue to be greeted by two sets of families. Everyone is dressed in their best and it really is a beautiful sight. The Japanese botanical gardens have been transformed into a page out of Lizzie's fantasies. It is the picturesque outdoor wedding that she has always wanted.
I am greeted with "Laura darling, you look lovely!"s and "Lavender looks wonderful on you!"s and flashes of cameras. Everyone is smiling and happy. Today is a day of celebration.
Soon, the rest of the guests arrive and we are ready to begin. Everyone runs to their spots, like a puzzle on auto-solve, where the pieces are embedding themselves into their respective places on the board.
Mikey and I are standing, my hand in the crook of his arm, waiting for our cue.
"Are you going to cry?" I ask.
"Because Lizzie is getting married."
He smirks. "You think a ring is going to stop me?"
I smack him hard, to which he grunts.
"Calm down, Hulk. I was kidding."
"You never did tell me why you like Lizzie so much."
"I don't know." He shrugs. "Maybe for the same reasons why you like me so much. Childhood infatuation."
I am unable to say anything. It feels too strange hearing it. Like a novel stimulus my brain has never encountered before, and now it doesn't know how to react.
For thirteen years, I pointed and laughed at Mikey's endeavors to catch Lizzie's attention, scoffed at the way he pined after her, and disregarded his so-called love for her. But… how am I any different? I did all of those things, and more, just for a morsel of Mikey's attention.
"Do you still have feelings for her?" I ask in a quiet voice.
"Laura." He says my name as if the answer should be obvious to me. But it's not. "It's in the past now."
And then, there is no time to think, because I am being tugged forward.
"Let's go," Mikey says out of the side of his mouth.
Hundreds of eager faces turn to us, and we have no choice but to wear the smile we have practiced over and over again in rehearsal.
Together, on our cue, we walk down the aisle.
Dear Mr. Darcy,
Just once, I wanted to be able to write that, and pretend that I am Elizabeth.
Only recently have I come to the realization that you are to me what Lizzie is to you. For thirteen years, I threw myself at you with diligence and vigor. The moment I laid eyes on you, I wanted us to be together. It was love at first sight. I had forgotten how much of our future I had planned out until I reread my diary. According to my excellent calligraphy, our daughter's third birthday should have been yesterday.
With this letter, I return my diary to you. If I am to die prematurely one day, you must promise me you will publish it as a memoir. Mark my words, it will be grander than Pride and Prejudice.
Over the years, my feelings for you have become a part of me. But more importantly, they became a part of my childhood, just like vanilla popsicles or roasted turkey weiners. (The phallic symbolism is unintended.) Ten, twenty years from now, I will still love these things, because they are special to me. And I will forever love and cherish them.
But I am no longer the child I once was. I am now a bewitching, intelligent young lady. And you, well, you no longer wear that ugly jersey and have learned to eat with a fork.
You see, we have both grown up. In a month, we will both be graduating, and then who knows where the world will take us? (For the record, I am not bitter that Cornell gave you 75k and not me. Beating you with my physics textbook and ripping up your scholarship letter was not a product of my jealousy. You know I generally become possessed when I have my period. Don't take it to heart. You have my unconditional congrats.)
I promise you, this letter sounded so much more coherent and cohesive in my head. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have found closure for my feelings for you. As I move forward into the future, this innocent (sometimes not so innocent) puppy love, just like the rest of my childhood, is ready to be put in the past, locked away in a special place.
Once upon a time, we met. And for me, that was happily ever after. But now I see that our happy endings still await us. I do not regret all that precious time and effort I wasted on your ungrateful behind. In fact, I will always, always have a soft spot for you. This, I have accepted.
But with this letter, I mark the end of our torrential one-sided love affair. Unbeknownst to you, you have been my genie. My childhood would not have been the same without you. Wish after wish, you've granted me more happiness than you can imagine. And today, with a heavy and light heart, I free you.
Thank you for everything.
The great thing about living across the street from you is that I don't have to buy stamps. :)
June, 2010: Graduation Day
Just yesterday, I was four, bouncing in the front seat of a moving truck. Today, I am seventeen, about to embark on a journey to a different destination.
"Thank you." I hug both Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. "Where's Mikey?"
"He's getting the tripod from the car," Mr. Darcy says.
I nod and smile. It feels like déjà vu. Even though I am the one graduating now, I can still see myself, at age eight, running through the shadows of all the big kids. Just a little shrub among all the tall oaks.
I want to run to find Mikey, but there are still too many pictures to smile for. Ever since I sent the letter, he has been elusive. Any time I get near him, he has meetings, practices, or dentist appointments. And with so many exams and events for graduation, we are always working beside each other, but never with each other. He gives no indication that he's read it, and I don't want to ask. I don't know if anything is different. Sometimes I think there is, sometimes I think there isn't.
I just… I just want some acknowledgement that he's seen the letter, or any sign of what he's thinking. Anything. I'm not greedy.
I turn around to see Lizzie arriving with Kris. There are hugs all around. "Hey, you made it on time!"
"Sorry, traffic is a nightmare today." Lizzie looks fabulous in a green dress and dark blazer. "Where's Mikey?"
"Oh, he's…" I wave my hand in a random direction and smile. "Somewhere."
"I wanted to say goodbye before he leaves tonight."
I blink a few times. "What?"
"For his summer internship..." Lizzie looks at me oddly. "…in Venice."
"Umm…" Lizzie realizes she has told me something I don't and maybe shouldn't know and fiddles with her wristwatch. "Maybe it was meant to be a surprise."
Surprise? A surprise? And when would this surprise be revealed to me? In a week, when I'm knocking on his door to see if he wants to go to the beach?
"Yeah, of course," I say.
Mrs. Singh has just finished her speech, and I did not hear a word of it. I have decided that if Mikey wants to be an ass, I will let him.
We have been sitting in our extremely comfortable seats for three long hours. The principal, vice principal, head of the school board, head of the school district, and two benefactors have spoken already. The diplomas have been given out, and the graduation film has been played. There is only one last…
Mrs. Singh smiles her big Julia Roberts smile. "And now I present to you, your class valedictorian, Michael Darcy."
Everyone claps, and Mikey walks onto the stage amidst the steady applause and cheers. He looks dashingly academic in his gown and cap. At the podium, he looks out at all of the faces in the audience and grins. You know, one of those grins where you think it's just for you, but it's not. It's his this-secret-is-between-you-and-me grin.
"Classmates, teachers." He inclines his head. "You have chosen me to stand here on this commemorative night to speak words of wisdom, humor, and inspiration. To remember our time together, to congratulate ourselves on our successes, and to wish everyone the best of luck in the years to come."
I flick the blue tassel out of my face and pretend that it's his charisma.
"Five weeks ago, I received a cheap, unstamped letter of goodbye from one of your fellow classmates."
Up go the cat hairs on my feline back.
"Coincidentally, I just finished writing my reply last night." He casually takes out a folded sheet of paper. "And I felt that it was especially appropriate to share with everyone on this momentous occasion."
No way. No way.
He clears his throat. "Dearest Laura."
Oh, my God.
Like a ripple, or people doing "the wave," I feel all heads turn toward me. My whole body groans.
"I know that right now you are fantasizing about coming after me with a sharp blade. But remember that deep down you are a kind, gentle person. And that in the case of my attempted murder, I will have two thousand witnesses.
"You wrote to me, 'I have found closure for my feelings for you. As I move forward into the future, this innocent—sometimes not so innocent—puppy love, just like the rest of my childhood, is ready to be put in the past, locked away in a special place.' You have found closure and I am happy for you. But Laura, sweetheart, it doesn't work that way."
I think I'm going to keel over in my seat.
"Apparently, you are under the impression that this day is somehow meaningful. That just because we are graduating, you can put everything that has happened in the past in a box, duct tape it, and not open it again until you're eighty, dying, and want to relive the glory of your youth.
"You are right. We have both grown up. I am now an intelligent, bright young man. You, well, you are getting there, too. But let me tell you something. You may be taller now, smarter now, more attractive now than you were before, but I still prefer the you of the past. The violent, monstrous little thing that you were. Because you weren't afraid to go after what you wanted."
He presents it like an English commentary, and even though I am the recipient, he speaks as though I am not in the audience.
"As children, we dream, and we dream big. We pave paths of greatness with no limitations, no boundaries. We are freest then.
"Today isn't about commemorating our childhood. What is high school graduation? What exactly does June the twenty-ninth mean? Nothing. It is an arbitrary date set by the school board to hand us our diplomas. To say, 'Congratulations, you have survived the Canadian education system.' Graduation isn't about putting a lid on the old and starting anew. Of course we should celebrate all that we have achieved, how far we've come, and all the good memories of the past, but it shouldn't end here.
"Adulthood means you now have the ability to make those childhood dreams come true. Whatever it is that you want to do, whatever it is that you want to be, do it. Prove society wrong. Prove reality wrong. Don't disappoint the you that you were meant to become."
He turns to look at me and my heart beats violently.
"Laura, those dreams are yours for the taking.
"Love, always. Mikey."
The entire venue is silent as Mikey raises his cap and smiles out at the audience.
"Class of 2010, here's to our future."
Cheers, whistles, and roaring commence. And the ceiling is a sea of blue caps.
August, 2010: New York University (NYU)
I drop the last box onto the floor and grunt. Room 202. Home for the next eight months. It is about the size of a closet, but at least it is clean.
It's taken me all morning to unpack most of the suitcases. There are still a few boxes left, which I do not want to touch. Who needs cutlery and laundry detergent anyway?
Most of the other doors in the hallway are open, with students, parents, and RAs coming and going. Everyone's door has a bright orange or green nametag.
I sit with Mr. Pork on my new bed. He seems to like it here, and he matches the pink sheets.
Just as I am hopping off of the high bed, I see something that makes me forget that I have feet and land on my butt. Oh, the pain. I wince, stand up, and rub my bruised behind. It is like a scene out of a movie. I squint, to make sure I am seeing correctly.
I grab Mr. Pork and approach carefully. Room 203. Across the hall. The door is open and the room is empty. Five feet later, and I am standing in the doorway, on the verge of trespassing.
It can't be.
I knock just to make sure.
I take a few very careful steps in until I am right beside the bed. On the dark blue sheets sits a stuffed pig in a purple apron and white bonnet. There is a chocolate stain on her crotch.
The mind is furiously working through the logistics of how this is possible, rewinding at quadruple speed through history. Long, lost Mrs. Ham… Where have you been? How is this possible?
When was the last time I saw Mrs. Ham? It was so many years ago, when… I see Mrs. Ham on my desk, and I see myself picking her up… and…
I turn to see the sign on the door at the same time I see him standing there. The green paper taped on the door beside him reads "MICHAEL."
"Can I help you?" He leans back against his heels, hands tucked in his pockets.
"Are you from next door?" He points behind him innocently, oblivious, with neutral friendliness. The attitude of a stranger.
He comes up to me and holds out his hand. "Mikey. I just moved in yesterday."
And then I see that familiar, mischievous, knowing expression in his eyes. I take his hand. "Laura."
We are too close to shake properly.
"Nice to meet you, Laura."
"It's…" I smile. "A pleasure."
That feeling, that old feeling again. Warmth. Happiness. Familiarity. Except, this time, it's different. His expressions, his mannerisms, the way he's looking at me… something is different.
"I see you were admiring my friend over there." He nods toward Mrs. Ham.
I had forgotten about Mr. Pork still lodged under my armpit. "She's very meaty. May I ask where you came to her acquaintance?"
He shrugs, nonchalant. "A girl threw her at me out her window when I was ten."
"You start young."
"I've been told."
I pick up Mrs. Ham. "So… does she have a name?"
"Fetching." I stroke the fur on her back. "And what was Mrs. Ham doing all of this summer?"
He takes Mrs. Ham from me and appears to think it over, as though it is a very serious question. "Well, Mrs. Ham had the time of her life in Europe this summer, but was also very lonely. She spent a lot of time thinking and realized that she missed home very much. She missed her friends, her family, and most of all, she missed Mr. Pork."
I watch him carefully. "Mr. Pork was a little sad this summer. Mrs. Ham didn't return any of his calls or Facebook messages. Mr. Pork would have at least liked a postcard from Italy."
"Mrs. Ham is sorry and hopes that Mr. Pork will accept her sincerest apologies. She will try her best to make it up to him."
"She has thirteen years to make up for."
"Then thirteen years it will be."
The implied promise stills the air and we look at each other.
"Mr. Pork will consider it then." I make a pensive expression. "Mr. Pork is surprised. I think he was under the impression that Mrs. Ham would be attending Cornell in the fall."
"Well, I think Mr. Pork might have underestimated how awesome Mrs. Ham is. Mrs. Ham received a full scholarship plus stipend from NYU."
"Mr. Pork is very jealous to hear that." I look down and twirl Mr. Pork's tail. "But—"
A white rectangle appears under my nose.
I meet Mikey's gaze. "What's this?"
"It's the letter Mrs. Ham wrote to Mr. Pork in Venice."
My fingers are unsteady as I take it from him. "And—and why didn't Mrs. Ham mail it?"
"She didn't want to pay for stamps."
Mikey grins, and my heart aches.
"Well then." I hug the envelope close and smile back. "But I guess Mr. Pork will forgive Mrs. Ham. Because he is kind of sort of maybe perhaps very happy to see her."
"Mrs. Ham is pretty damn happy to see Mr. Pork, too."
It is a quiet Sunday morning, and I am sitting on the white stone steps of the Fondamenta delle Zattere, a patron of the Guidecca Canal, overlooking the San Giorgio Maggiore Island Church. I still don't speak a word of Italian, and I have to say, ironically, that it feels liberating.
Don't be jealous. We'll come here together after graduation. That's a promise. And to France, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand. There are so many places in the world we haven't seen. Being here makes me feel small, insignificant, like a speck of sand in the Sahara Desert. But so free, Laura. So free.
After Lizzie's wedding, after your letter, I thought—yes, believe it or not, I do think—about you, about Lizzie, about myself, and then about you some more.
I was an inconsiderate ass for most of your childhood. As kids, we were stupid. Christ, Laura, we made so many mistakes. Okay, I made so many mistakes. (But you had your fair share.) You put up with me for thirteen years. You are a saint. But know this, Laura. I am not to you what Lizzie was to me. I was your vanilla popsicle and turkey weiner. Lizzie was my… Damn. I don't know. It's so much harder finding foods that look like a vagina.
Being infatuated with Lizzie was a part of my childhood. You being infatuated with me was a part of your childhood. Neither of us can change that, and neither of us should. It may seem like you and I are the same, chasing after people who couldn't care less about us, but that isn't true. Strip away the infatuation and Lizzie and I have nothing. Take it away from you and me, and we're still standing. We have more than that.
Laura, I don't know what this is. We have been friends for so long that I don't know what this is. But I do know that you're important to me. Maybe almost as important as I am to you. ;)
We're not kids anymore. We have the freedom now to explore what we have as mature, intelligent individuals, who may or may not be a little sexually attracted to each other. I don't know where these four years will take us, but at least we'll be doing it together.
By the time you read this letter, you will have already fallen into my (very toned) arms with joy. Come knock. I'll be waiting.
Note: www . venice-sights . co . uk / images / Venice102 . jpg (URL without the spaces.) This is a picture of where Mikey is sitting as he's writing his letter to Laura in Venice. :) In case you're curious.
NOTE #2: Some of you have asked, so I thought I'd clarify. At my high school in Canada, the class valedictorian was chosen by popular vote. (All the grads vote on who they want.) I didn't know until a few months ago that in the US, it's based on academic merit.