Unobservant? That's me. In capital letters. I don't know if you realize this, dearest reader, but people have very distorted views of themselves. Most girls see themselves as much prettier or uglier than they really are. Everyone thinks they're smarter, or more talented. Low self-esteem just means you're less delusional than everyone else.
I don't have low self-esteem, fear not. I've always hated reading those stories, you know. The ones where the girl looks in the mirror and sees a Plain Jane, even though she's prom queen material. I look in the mirror and I see me, Natalie McKendry. I see my too-big grey eyes, my too-small nose, and my favorite attribute- my manageably curly black locks. I don't hate myself when I look in the mirror, but I'd be lying if I said I'm ever willing to leave the house without makeup on.
But you don't care how I look, do you? Besides, I've gone and digressed. I'm afraid you'll have to put up with that rather frequently as you read this, the book I've written so that, when I'm old and haven't got my memory anymore, I'll be able to remember the best year of my life- and the worst parts of it. If I digress, it's only because I'm positively bursting with emotion. Being around Felix does that to me, and I see him every day I don't have work.
Right. I was talking about being unobservant, wasn't I? Well, yes. I suppose that the reason I miss so much is that my mind is always in about a million places at once. You know, maybe that's why I digress so much…
Just look at me, digressing about digressing. And here you must be, looking for the story. I promise you, there is one. There aren't any vampires, and don't expect any incest or a student-teacher romance or anything else that people seem to be so fond of these days. No, this is a true story. It's the story of how I found Felix, and how I was almost too unobservant to see it. That doesn't sound so bad, does it?
Would it make you feel better if I promised to swear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Because, to be honest, I've always really wanted to do that. Consider it promised.
Now, most people like to start in the beginning, and for good reason. I should tell you this first, though. I'd known Felix all my life. We never talked, but I had seen him around school. That happens, even in schools as big as mine. I'd always loved to watch him walk. You can tell a lot about a person from a walk, you know. If they're slouching, there's a reason for it- insecurity, the feeling that they're too tall, depression, an aching back from slouching so much…. You name it. And some people, they just glide across the floor. Some people walk with a bounce in their step; they're generally more cheerful.
Felix's walk, though, didn't tell me much of anything at all. Confident, but not arrogant. Bouncy, but not so that his vision would be impaired (honestly, how did those people see?). And he always had this rhythm going. I could have danced to the sound of his footfalls.
But I wouldn't. I might be odd, but I generally don't make a spectacle of myself.
Right, right. Back to the story.
It was the first day of school, and I was standing in the lunch room, looking like a big dope. None of my friends- not one!- shared my lunch period. Who was I supposed to sit with? What would they think if I sat alone? I tried not to care about what people thought, but let's be honest, we all do. I was just considering hiding out in the bathroom like those girls in the movies on their first days of school, but someone called my name. I sighed in relief when I caught sight of Maddy waving me over. I approached her table hesitantly. There were a lot of people packed in, but she gestured to a chair wedged in next to her and smiled and I had nowhere else to go, anyway.
Maddy was probably the nicest girl in my class. She just got people, you know? And she knew how miserable it was, sitting alone. Her table was full of all sorts of misfits, who, like me, had nowhere else to go. The spectacular part of it was that, because Maddy was there with her easy personality, there was zero awkwardness. I was able to joke around with someone I'd never spoken to before on my left while bumping elbows with the person on my right without being totally mortified and self-conscious.
I nodded my thanks to Maddy and quietly tucked into my cucumber sandwich, when the boy next to me said, "Hey, you're Natalie McKendry." I nodded and smiled and wondered what that had to do with anything. He blushed a little. "I know about you because your mom watches my little sister during school. She talks about you a lot."
I hit my forehead, I really did. That was so like her. She enjoyed bragging about me. She meant well, and if she knew how embarrassing it all was, she would have stopped, but I didn't want to hurt her, so I tolerated it. "Let me guess: you know my GPA better than your own, as well as the list of colleges I'm applying to and the number of jumbo marshmallows I can fit in my mouth at once, for starters." The guy, whose name I later learned was Padric, grinned.
" 4.1. Princeton, Duke, and Rockefeller. Thirteen," he said easily. "I've always wanted to see that. Thirteen marshmallows?" He exaggeratedly looked me up and down, appraising. "And you're such a little thing. I'm ashamed. You know what this is? A challenge. I'm going to beat you. I'll fit fourteen marshmallows in my mouth. Just you wait."
I nodded. "Ashamed? You should be. It's my proudest accomplishment. There is no way you'll be able to get even close." Little did he know, I meant it. I was proud of the silliest, most pointless thing I could do because it meant I wasn't totally boring. No one wants to hang out with the girl who studies all the time and spends most every day improving her chances of getting into good schools. But a girl who spends time with marshmallows? Now, that sounded like a good time. Or, so I thought, and no one ever bothered to correct me.
"We'll see about that. How about we put it to the test sometime?" Padric asked, not quite meeting my eyes.
"When did you have in mind?" I asked as casually as I could, even though my pulse was racing. Did someone really want to see me outside of school?
Oh, boy, now I'm making myself sound like a total loser. Let's pause for a moment so that I can explain something. I had friends. I had a lot of friends, and they were all very close. There were five of us that had been together since the sixth grade when Grace's lunch dumped out on the floor and we all donated some of our own to her so that she wouldn't have to take the walk of shame up to the lunch lady who handed out pb&j to the kids without lunches. They didn't count. I saw them a lot. We applied for colleges together, did our community service together, and threw kick-ass slumber parties to let off steam.
Padric was new. That was exciting for me, because I didn't know what to expect from him. I didn't know him as well as I knew myself, as with my best friends. So I was excited.
"Well, I'm not doing anything on Friday…" Padric said, trailing off suggestively. He was staring rather hard at his jell-o, like he was nervous.
Nervous? About what I would say? This was a novelty for me, and I grinned widely. "Sure. I was going to read to the deaf, but I don't think they would have appreciated it much, anyway." Padric laughed until his face was red.
"Reading to the deaf? Your mom never mentioned that when she told me about your community service." I examined his expression, wanting to be sure that he knew I was kidding. He winked.
Winked! At me!
And just like that, I knew that this year would be different. I never realized how different, though. Padric was only the first of several new acquaintances.
I bet you're bored, aren't you? You want to hear about Felix, and believe me, I want to write about him. But I had to explain how I met Padric before I could explain the Felix situation. A little patience, please, that's all I ask.
I spent lunches talking with Padric, doing my best to get to know him before Friday. I didn't want it to be one of those situations I observed so often, when people don't know what to talk about. I had a comprehensive mental list of all of the things Padric liked so that I could whip one out as a conversation starter at any time.
Yeah, I'm a nerd. If that bugs you, you are reading the wrong story.
Ah, Felix. The first time I met him, I was dizzy. My head spun and I felt every nerve in my body light up in ways I had never known were possible.
That's because we collided into each other when I was rounding a corner. I was sprinting down the hall, which was probably not the most brilliant of things. White exploded all around the hallway, but I was too woozy to care.
Why had I been running, you ask? Well, that's not hard to answer at all. Padric. That first day I met him, I should have realized just how much store he put on that marshmallow challenge. He brought in a bag of jumbo marshmallows, for training, he said.
Training? I had really thought he was kidding, until he started doing 'mouth stretches.' I couldn't believe that they actually helped anything, but I didn't stop him because he just looked so darned funny doing them.
That was probably the point.
In any case, he started sliding marshmallows into his mouth like a pro. You might laugh, but I mean that. That boy had skill. He was on his eleventh marshmallow when I snatched the bag away and ran.
No way was he beating me like this, in public. Though no one would have known one way or the other, and they would have cared even less, I couldn't stand the possibility. He would know and I would know and that was enough to have me sprinting through the hallways like a maniac.
My hair was going to look wild and I knew my cheeks would flush manically, but it was worth it. Padric would catch up to me, and it would still be worth it because this was exhilarating. It was totally against the rules- rules which I ordinarily followed to the letter. Liberating.
"Oof," I said involuntarily as the air rushed out of my lungs. I had hit something, and hit something hard. Whoever it was, he was rock solid. "I am so sorry, that was my fault," I wheezed as soon as I had my breath back.
"Sure it was," he agreed with me. But he didn't look mad, he looked concerned. Well, I supposed it made sense, considering I had fallen butt-first onto the ground and he was still standing like nothing had happened.
Did I ever mention that I'm as weak as I am nerdy?
"Are you okay?" he asked, offering a hand to pull me up. I took it. I'm kind of tempted to say that it was instant fireworks, that my body recognized his from some cosmic fate or something, but it wasn't like that. He was just some guy who didn't mind that I had just plowed into him, and even offered to help me up.
Padric swerved around the corner and halted. "Natalie! What happened?" he asked, though I thought it was pretty obvious. I looked around me and noticed dozens of marshmallows scattered all around the hallway.
"Oops," I laughed, doubling over. It hurt my still-aching chest, but it was worth it. "I guess you're not beating my marshmallow record today." Mission accomplished.
His mouth twitched upward, but Padric was still caught up in the collision. No, no. Not the collision. That really should be capitalized- The Collision- because it was a huge moment for me, even though I didn't know it at the time. It was the first time I met Felix. "What did you do to her?" Padric demanded.
"Nothing," Felix said honestly.
I saw that Padric was getting worked up- he tended to do that- so I cut in. "It's true. I'm the one who attacked him. I'm just glad he's not some sort of human porcupine or anything."
Padric did laugh now. "How does your mind come up with these things?" he asked.
"I was born witty," I said with a cheeky grin.
"That was rhetorical."
"You say that because you don't want to admit that I'm right." Felix watched our exchange with mild interest on his face. One of his favorite things to do was people-watching. In fact, a lot of our dates were just that, but with ice cream or coffee treats.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Still, I realized that I was being rude. I was totally ignoring the guy I had just collided with to exchange banter with my friend. He must have felt so awkward, I thought, so I turned to him. "I'm Natalie, by the way."
Felix smiled. "Natalie McKendry. I know."
"Good God, does everyone know my name?" I asked, somewhat serious. And here I'd always thought that I was one of those invisible girls, the ones that people recognized when they saw them, but never remembered outside of school.
"I don't know about everyone, but you're a favorite in my art class. It's an honor to meet you," Felix said with a wide grin that told me he was looking forward to my reaction to that.
"Well," I began, pretending to consider it seriously, "it's about time I got some recognition around here."
Felix grinned and said, "Class is starting soon, so I guess I'll see you around, Natalie. Padric." And with that, he turned and walked that fascinating walk of his down the hallway.
"Wait!" I called before he could get too far away. "You never told me your name!" I didn't know why, but this was suddenly important to me.
He turned around and grinned. "It's Felix. Felix Argenti."