A girl with brown hair, and blue eyes. A girl with a sweet, whimsical smile, and a touch that could send my emotions reeling with just the simplest brush from a fingertip. A girl who loved purple and danced ballet. A girl that was shy, off of stage, and bit her lip to show her nervousness. A girl that always wore skirts, and whose best friend was a golden retriever. A girl who would add in random dance moves while rushing down school hallways. A girl more beautiful than the starry night sky. A girl who I loved.
A girl who loved me too.
Elizabeth Collins was fifteen years old when she first knew my name. She was still fifteen the first time she rejected me, her shock making her loud enough that the entire cafeteria heard my humiliation. In retrospect, I deserved it. Being the tactful seventeen year old I was, I grabbed her around the waist, and whispered, "hey baby, wanna meet up sometime in a dark room?" So, I don't blame her for her reaction. I was, of course, the perverted jerk she accused me of being. I did blame her back then though.
The next time I spoke to Elizabeth, the first thing she told me that she was in charge of our project (I had failed history the previous year, landing me in the same class as her, much to her distaste) and that if I tried to touch her again, she had no problems with severing my hands, and other appendages, from my body. I smiled, winked, and replied, "sure thing Baby". She eyed her scissors, and then my body. "I mean, I understand completely and I think that you deserve to head the project."
Though I didn't recognize it at the time, this was my first step toward becoming a gentlemen.
For the first week of the project, Elizabeth and I got along fairly well, considering our brief history. I did what I was told, and bit my tongue when she corrected what I was doing. After all, there was I reason I had failed the class before. Of course, the second week of the project, we kind of fell apart. This, again, was my fault. Though I had taken the first steps to being a gentlemen, I was in no way reformed. Monday of the second week, I came to class high. Tuesday, I was kicked out of class for telling the teacher that I thought she was a stupid person. Wednesday and Thursday, I didn't bother to go.
Elizabeth was utterly sick of my "immature behavior" by Friday. She cornered me ten minutes before the first bell rang. "Here's the deal" she said, "I need a good mark. You need to pass if you want to graduate on time. We need to get this project done and you need to stop with your ridiculous actions. This is due on Monday. Whether you like it or not, I am coming over to your house after school, and I will not be leaving until this is finished." I nodded. Of course, all I was thinking was that Elizabeth Collins was going to be in my house, in the vicinity of my bedroom.
Elizabeth had no interest in going to my bedroom. I had given her the tour of the house, and proposed that we start work once we reached my room. She was more observant than I gave her credit for, and demanded, in, what I would come to recognize as a purely unique to Elizabeth way, that we work in the basement. She had spotted my computer. "Don't we have all the information we need?" I whined, following her around my own house. I thought longingly of my bed, and what we could do. "There is never enough information," she told me. I pouted. All we did was work. At ten-thirty, she walked home. She wouldn't even get in a car with me!
We got an A on that project. Or, more accurately, Elizabeth got us an A on that project. It was the last interaction we had until, ironically, Valentine's Day.
Just to clarify, before I continue, that I never, ever stalked Elizabeth. It just so happened that I was in the library when she was, and whenever she returned a book, I would read it. My sister, who was in college and rarely ever said anything to me unless it was advice on girls, said that knowing what a girl does in her spare time is a clue to who she is, and what she will need from a man. Her advice, while many times may be debatable, turned out to help me this time. Elizabeth liked teen romance novels. And the males were all the same. Loyal to their girl, good listeners, only wanting to spend time with their 'loves'. In all aspects, they were gentlemen. So, February fourteenth, I decided to prove to Elizabeth that I was not, in fact, a "useless delinquent". I was going to prove to her that I could be, and would be, a gentleman.
I walked into school that day, with a smile and a single rose. I walked up to Elizabeth in history class. She peered at me from over the top of her book, which she had read several times. "Can I help you?" she wondered. "Yes," I presented her with the rose, and recited the speech that I had rehearsed many times. "I know that I have not treated you like I should have in the past. You are a lady, and that is not how a man should treat a lady. I think you are beautiful, Elizabeth, and fascinating. Would you please give me the chance to prove to you that I am not who you think I am? Please, let me take you out on a date." She looked at the rose in my hand, then looked me in the eye, which I found really unnerving.
Then, Elizabeth Collins said no to me. Again.
To say that I was disappointed was an understatement. Surely that was a speech worthy of any man in her books! Surely the heroine in those books would have understood the sincerity in those words! So why couldn't Elizabeth? Why must Elizabeth be so thickheaded?
In April, my sister came to visit. "How's the girl from Valentine's Day?" She asked, reminding me of my failure. Elizabeth now turned in the opposite direction whenever she saw me, and made sure that there was no chance for me to talk to her in history. "She won't speak to me." I grumbled. "Oh," my sister was unconcerned. "Well, I have something to take your mind off it." "Are you going to buy me beer?" I asked, excited. "No. I came down here to go to a dance recital. You're coming with me!" I whined and complained, but in the end, I went to the recital.
April fifth. April fifth I was bored out of my mind at a dance recital, sitting beside my sister, who wouldn't shut up about the dancing, in a stuffy old hall. April fifth, I saw Elizabeth Collins dance for the first time, completely by accident. And, if I thought she was beautiful before, she was beyond breathtaking now. Far from the shy, bookworm that bossed me around during our history project and kept away from everyone at lunch, she had transformed, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Confident and strong, she showed the world what she had. While she twirled, her black and purple outfit showing off every ounce of her finely tuned body, I understood. I understood why I had been rejected at Valentine's Day. It was never about the pretty words, it never is. It's about knowing the girl. And watching Elizabeth dance, seeing the triumphant look on her face as the music stopped, and I led a standing ovation, I felt like, though I knew none of the surface facts, I finally knew the true Elizabeth.
And that simple knowledge changed my life.
I saw her after the recital. She was back in street clothes, and though she looked like the caterpillar, I still only saw the beauty of the butterfly. "Elizabeth!" I cried, catching her attention. "Elizabeth, you were amazing!" She looked at me awkwardly. "Thank you," she managed. "Elizabeth," I begged, as she turned away, "please. Just be my friend. Nothing more. I don't deserve it. Please. Just give me that chance." I held my breath as she looked me in the eye again. And nothing would ever seem so loud as the beating of my heart was that night.
The night she said "okay".
Months passed, as I got to know Elizabeth. I learned that she had braces when she was child, and that she had been dancing since she was five. I learned that she knew Japanese from a foster brother that had since graduated college. I knew that she adored classic rock, and that her idea of a perfect day was being at the beach during a rainstorm. I also knew she hated picnics, and she'd broken her ankle when she was seven.
During these months, Elizabeth turned sixteen. The day of her birthday, it rained. So, I loaded her into my car. And we drove for an hour and a half to reach the nearest beach. We squished our toes into the wet sand and dared each other to run into the water while the sky cried. The sky was darkening when we breathlessly decided to attempt to dry off. The wind chased us as we hurried toward the parking lot, but the restless clouds and dream like day, brought up my reckless side. Without thinking, I grabbed Elizabeth, spun her to face me and kissed her.
Elizabeth Collins was sixteen the day she first slapped me. She was still sixteen when she pushed me onto the sand, collapsed on top of me, and kissed me again. And, a minute after, when I asked her out, she said yes.
And I was the happiest man alive.
What else could I ask for? I had the most wonderful girl in the world on my arm. She was mine to hold and cradle and kiss. I alone was taking her out to dinner, to the movies. I was the only one who understood why she blushed whenever someone said the word "pig". And in turn, she was the only one who understood all of me. I could tell her my secrets, and know they were safe. She was the only person in the world to have held me while I cried, apart from my mother, before she passed away.
November eighteenth marked an exhilarating, but almost scary day for us. That was the day we lost our virginity to each other, letting the last holds of childhood fall away from us. But I was ready for it, and I knew she was too. She was my Elizabeth. I just wanted to hold onto her forever. No one else would touch that beautiful face the way I did, or kiss her pink lips. Because she was my Elizabeth. Nothing could ever change that.
Not even my going off to college could alter the way we felt about each other. I left knowing that phone calls, letters, e-mails, visits home could get us through. What could happen? She was, after all, my Elizabeth. I knew her true self. I had seen the butterfly like no one else had, as she danced alone, but for me, in her room, as she confided her deepest desires to me. Nothing could break us apart. No one would ever take me from my Elizabeth.
No one, it seemed, but a brutal team of distance, and my own hardheaded nature.
"I can't call you every night Elizabeth." "No, Elizabeth. I just can't be bothered to come home this weekend." Petty arguments broke out often. I should have seen the signs, but I didn't change a thing. I forgot all about making the effort, like the boys in her novels did. I had the girl. Of course she was going to stay with me. But, I could have called her every night. Maybe not for a marathon conversation every single time, but a simple goodnight. And really, the drive to home was only an hour long. I could have seen her more.
But Elizabeth and I weathered through the arguments. And I think that, we would have stayed together, it wasn't that much longer until she would be in college herself, was it not for my fatal mistake. "April seventh at six p.m.," I hummed to myself, the first night of March. "Is that for sure?" I asked Elizabeth. It was our first phone conversation for a week, and she'd had to call me. "Yes," she sounded so bubbly and cheerful. "Oh, I'm so nervous for this recital." "You'll do fine," I comforted absentmindedly. "It's no different from any other recital." "Oh yes it is!" She corrected with a passion. "Scouts will be there, from the dance college I want to go to! You know it's my dream. This needs to be perfect." "You're always perfect," I complimented, my mind on autopilot as I did so. I didn't even think about these gestures anymore, but as they had become fewer, Elizabeth was counting every one as a small miracle. "I love you," she said, right before we hung up. "You too." Was my reply.
Seven p.m. on the night of April seventh, as I wandered into a local bar, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had forgotten something. I made my mind dismiss it as I spotted my friends. It was probably just another useless piece of homework. After all, I reasoned, if it was important, I would've remember it. It was seven thirty when Kelsey grabbed my hand. "Dance with me!" She shouted in my ear over the music. I froze. I swear; nothing had been as quiet as that moment. Sound would not fill my ears, even my heart had stopped beating. I was rooted to the spot. Dance. April seventh. Six p.m. ELIZABETH!
By the time I got to my hometown, it was nearing nine o'clock. By the time I reached Elizabeth's, it was nine. I skipped the front door, and pretended we were still in high school. I sneaked into her bedroom window. She was sitting on her bed, and from the tear stains on her face, I knew I had messed up bad. No matter how we had argued in the past, I had taken special care not to make her cry. She did not deserve that. She deserved the best. And though I wasn't the best, I could at least be good enough not to make her cry.
"Hey sweetie," I said, nonchalantly, like I hadn't just done the worst thing ever. "Where. Were. You." Her tone made me want to cry. I wanted to get down on my knees and beg and grovel for her forgiveness. "I am so sorry, Elizabeth. I just forgot." I knew it was the wrong thing the moment it came out of my mouth. "You forgot? One of the most important nights of my life and you conveniently FORGOT!" "What did the scout say?" I said, hoping to distract her. "That there's a very good chance there will be a position for me at the school." "That's good," I smiled. "OF COURSE!" Her voice rose again, "YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN BY MY SIDE TO HEAR IT FOR YOURSELF!" "Don't overreact," I begged. "I am reacting just enough," she informed me coldly. "This isn't going to work out between us. I was right every time I called you immature. Remembering a date isn't a hard responsibility to bear, and since I clearly don't mean enough for you to even do that, there is no point to this relationship. Goodbye." I begged, and pleaded, and cried. I didn't care if I had no dignity left when I exited the house. I just cared that she took the words back.
It's been thirteen years since I climbed out of Elizabeth's window. Since then, I have gotten engaged to a wonderful woman. And I love her with my heart. But, sometimes, I cannot help but compare her to Elizabeth, my butterfly. I haven't seen Elizabeth since then, but I did Google her once, and she's apparently made a name for herself in the dancing world. I know that I can never love anyone the way I loved Elizabeth, for she was my first love. She was an amazing girl, and no doubt a flawless woman now, with a man who remembers dates. There's no bitterness in my memories, though there was for a long time. Now, Elizabeth is, and will remain, my sweetest memory.