HAVING NOTHING, NOTHING CAN HE LOSE
I could hear her footsteps as she came down the stairs. I tried to brace myself for the inevitable awkward embarrassment that was sure to transpire over the next few hours. When she rounded the corner into the small carpeted room of my basement, I felt my heart flutter. Adela Kathleen Coghlan, a superior to Aphrodite through my eyes…my secret unrequited love. I didn't have to stare. I already knew what she looked like. I'd been observing her for years, ever since seventh grade. But I couldn't help myself…I stared anyway—at least until our eyes met.
It was a sweeping glance on her part, taking in the entirety of the room, me included. Her eyes passed over me completely, continuing to roam the small area. I, on the other hand, dropped my eyes and felt the heat from a blush spread across my face. I couldn't help but picture her in my head; she occupied my reveries during the hours I was at school—no way could I ever imagine spending time with her outside of a controlled learning environment, and even then it was difficult for me.
She was a little shorter than the average eleventh-grade female peer. She was always dressed in skinny blue jeans or the occasional skirt (when the weather and occasion permitted) with a tight t-shirt. In one of my more perverted moments, I had estimated her bra size, too, using a guide on the internet—A cup. I suspected it would leave most guys wanting more. To me, she was perfection. Straight, thick, coarse brown hair hung to just below her shoulders. She styled her bangs across her face in a way that covered her left eye. Her hair was complimented by her eyes, which were just a subtle shade lighter. Sometimes, in the right light—or maybe most people would say it's the 'wrong' light?—her white skin could be considered almost pasty. Sparse, light freckles dotted her cheekbones and bridge of her nose. Her lips seemed to be on constant alert, ready to smile at a moment's notice, and were always pulled up slightly at the corners. Laugh lines wrinkled her skin at the lower outer corners of her eyes. They were especially noticeable whenever she smiled or laughed. God, she was beautiful.
Her visual sweep of the room finished, she walked over and plopped down next to me on the couch. The transfer of her motion to the overstuffed cushions jostled me slightly as Newton's genius proved itself once again. She slipped her right ankle underneath her left thigh and, from the depths of her backpack, pulled out the assigned project packet that we were supposed to be working on together.
She sat right next to me, too; I could feel the warmth from her bare arm she was so close. Suddenly I couldn't concentrate…no, even worse—I couldn't even remember why we were here, together. Alone. I scrambled mentally, aware of the awkward silence growing between us, trying to reorganize my suddenly-jumbled thoughts. As I was trying to piece a sentence together, I glanced over at her out of the corner of my eye. I couldn't help myself; I'd been doing it in school for years now, but this was a different situation entirely. Damn unconscious habits!
But when I looked at her, I was surprised and relieved. She didn't seem bothered by the silence or my anxiety. In fact, she seemed completely unaware of it all. She was looking down at her lap, glaring at the project packet as if she were trying to make it disappear with sheer willpower. It was only when she flipped to the next page that I realized I was staring. For reasons unknown, I flinched ever-so-slightly, sending a wave (thanks, Newton, for making this moment even worse) through the couch.
She looked up at that moment—probably startled and wondering what my problem was—but I had already refocused my gaze on my own packet. My concentration was just a ruse, of course, since I could do nothing but pretend to work with her being so close. God, why did she have to be so close? I was so incredibly self-conscious of every little thing: body position, words (that I have yet to say), and the possibility of bad breath were at the top of the list. Probably my biggest concern at the moment would have to be body odor. Ever since she sat down, my armpit sweat factory employees had decided to put in some overtime. It was embarrassing. I felt my cheeks burn just thinking about it.
My peripherals picked up some facial movement. Before she could speak, I jumped to my feet—spilling the contents of my lap onto the floor in the process—and, with what I hoped was an understandable mumbled excuse, I hurried to the stairs, taking them three at a time.
I found myself locked in the first floor bathroom. God damn it! Why was this so hard for me? Normal people don't react like this! Jarkko always seems perfectly at ease with her…. I shook my head violently. That kind of thinking will just make me feel worse. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths to attempt to relax. It helped a little. Seeing as how I was in the bathroom, I decided I might as well freshen up. I grabbed my washcloth off the bar in the shower and swiped my moist pits before applying deodorant. Next, I splashed cold water in my face, using the hand towel to dry off. Finally, my teeth…I tried to be thorough and speedy, praying that she would not come up to hear my seemingly-unprovoked hygienic rush while simultaneously cursing myself for not going to the bathroom on the second story.
At the end of my menial tasks, I was calmed down enough to think clearly…or close enough, given the circumstances. Thoughts racing, I kept coming to the same conclusion—except for that one fleeting idea of climbing out the window. Nothing will come of nothing, and nothing would, unless I took this opportunity to get close to her. It was a sign, a gift, from above—or below, I thought glumly—and I must make the most of it. To stay exactly where I am after being handed this Holy Grail of a chance and not drink even a sip…it would be like spitting in the face of god himself. God, if you do exist, now would be an outstanding time to help me out. One minute and a quick, silent prayer later, I emerged from the bathroom, cautiously stepping down the hall, through the joint kitchen/dining room, and came to a halt at the top of the basement stairs.
I was hesitant to put my plan into action. Never before would I have ever been so bold in her presence, let alone talking directly to her. My plan seemed so much easier in my head. I assume most plans do seem simple enough on paper (or, in this case, in my thoughts). It's the "putting the plan into action" part that's the most difficult of the entire plan…at least, that's what I kept telling myself, hoping—praying—that I wasn't just deluding myself. I drew in a deep, careful breath.
"Hey, Adela," I called down. So far so good. Try not to screw up, Christopher. "Do you—a-are you thirsty? Do you want a soda or something?" My voice trailed off a little at the end. A little stuttering…and I got a bit quiet at the end, but, overall, those mistakes weren't too bad. Could have been much worse. 'You're bound to mess up eventually,' the cruel voice of self-consciousness said in the back of my mind. 'It's just a matter of time.' I shook my head to silence any more of those thoughts from forming.
"I'll just have some water, please," she replied. Damn, I liked the sound of her voice. It was soft, feminine. It always sounded like she'd just finished watching a really good comedian on Comedy Central and was still smiling at the jokes. That must be what a smile sounds like. I was glad I decided to stay at the top of the stairs instead of going down to talk to her face-to-face.
"OK." I moved to the fridge and took out two bottles of water. I tried to breathe normally as I slowly returned to the top of the stairs, both ecstatic about and dreading the time I had alone with this girl. As I stepped off the landing, I already began to regret the embarrassing mistakes I was sure to make. Just don't say something stupid, like 'I think I love you' or something, I thought. Whatever happens, happens. Try not to mess up too bad. That's my goal, part of the plan I came up with in the bathroom. As long as she doesn't think I'm an Untouchable…I can live with that. It's better to try and perhaps gain a little ground than to not try and have nothing change at all. It's not as if my current standing with her could get any worse than it already is, right?
Well, I didn't trip and fall down the stairs. I suppose that's something to be thankful for.
I rounded the corner with butterflies in my stomach. Felt more like a bunch of caterpillars than a few butterflies, though. Adela was sprawled out elegantly on the loveseat. She was still looking through the project packet and only glanced up as I walked in. I walked stiffly over to her. "Here," I said hoarsely, offering her one of the water bottles.
"Thanks." She looked me in the eyes as she took it, flashing one of her perfect smiles, the laugh lines becoming deeper and more prominent. The startling beauty of it all stunned me; I nodded and went over to the other couch. My folder, notebook, and project packet were piled neatly on the middle cushion—not only did she pick up my scattered things, but she laid them out for me. After what I hoped was a very brief hesitation, I scooped up the stack and sat down. Adela set the packet down on top of the open History textbook that I hadn't noticed (too busy looking at her) that was lying on the floor and sat up. She opened her water and took a sip—I did the same—before speaking.
"I've looked at everything we need to do, and I seriously don't know where to start." She snatched her project packet off the floor. "'Pick a significant battle or operation during the Great War and illustrate the significance of said battle using approved media—listed below—as well as the details regarding the entire event, including key figures, leaders, and/or circumstances involved,'" she quoted. With an exasperated sigh, she hoisted the open tome onto her lap. She paused, lips slightly pursed, thinking, maybe even giving me an opportunity to contribute to the conversation. Nope, I'm still mesmerized at the moment, thanks, but you seem to be handling the dialogue just fine without me. "The textbook only talks about a few battles, though!" she sighed. "And I don't think we should choose a well-known battle, either, 'cause the other groups are sure to just pick one of the battles listed in the book. Plus, doing our project on the same battle as another group would just get repetitive and boring for the rest of the class." She looked up at me, staring right into my eyes. "Do you have any ideas? Or do think we need to go straight to Google?"
I'd had an idea when Mr. H first mentioned the assignment, and I struggled to hold onto it as she continued to gaze at me. It can't get worse than it already is, I reminded myself fiercely. "Well," I croaked out. I took a hasty sip of water to moisten my throat and tongue. "I…does the book" —she was staring at me so intently, as if my words were somehow vitally important— "say anything about the Lost Battalion?"
She flipped to the Index, rapidly skimming down until she apparently found it. Back to the middle of the book…rapid skimming again—I could see her eyes moving slowly from left to right before jolting back to the left edge of the page. It reminded me of a typewriter. Click-click-click-click-ching!-zzzink!-click-click-click…. My weirdness was interrupted as she started speaking again.
"Yeah, but it only mentions it. '…One of the more notable Meuse-Argonne Offensive skirmishes was that of the Lost Battalion. The United States' 77th Division, led by Major Charles Whittlesey, was able to push through German lines and held their position for five days without reinforcements or additional supplies until Allied forces were able to advance.'" She looked up at me, a small grin tugging on her features. "Nice! Sounds like a really cool topic. Plus, I don't think anybody else would even think about choosing this. I vote for the Lost Battalion."
I nodded, eager to agree, and thrilled with surprise that she so quickly accepted my suggestion. "Agreed."
She glanced down at the text, mumbling, "This isn't going to be much use, is it?" The book snapped loudly shut, as if it were voicing its objections to essentially being called useless regarding our decided topic, before she slipped it into her backpack. "How did you know about the Lost Battalion, anyway?"
It was a fairly easy question that I should have expected, except for the fact that I wasn't expecting it. I cleared my throat uncomfortably and took another swig of water. "There's a movie The Lost Battalion." Elaborate, elaborate, damn it! Quick, before—
"Never heard of it. Have you seen it? Is it any good? Oh!" She flipped through the packet, luckily, since my head was starting to spin from all the questions. I was already a little dizzy—I think 'intoxicated' would be an appropriate word to use here—from her mere presence. With her giving me such attention, I was getting close to being overwhelmed. At that moment, I began to believe in the existence of god; he was clearly showing me mercy by allowing me an opportunity to calm down. I was even surprised that I was still able to think logically. Perhaps my plan wasn't so insane after all…
"Yes, I was correct," she said, holding up the packet and pointing at a specific line. I couldn't read what she was indicating, but, since I was reluctant to move any closer, I nodded as if I could. Fortunately for me, she explained: "We can use up to two minutes of video clips in our PowerPoint presentation." I nodded again, more to show I was listening than anything else. I still didn't have anything meaningful to contribute to the conversation. "…So," she said slowly, as if I were missing something obvious, "have you seen it?"
"Oh. Yeah, I-I have." Duh. She'd asked that not twenty seconds ago. Try to pay attention, Christopher. Jeez. "It's, uh, yeah, it's pretty good." Elaborate, man! Come on! "And, uh, I mean, as far as I could tell, it kept pretty close to the facts, too, so…" I shrugged slightly.
Not terrible; not great, either, though. Still…you're getting better at this. …That's what I told myself, anyway. I had no real proof I was getting more comfortable around her. It was just something I told myself to lessen the anxiety that was tightening my chest.
"Great!" Her eyes lit up as a smile spread across her face. "Wow, Christopher, you seem to know a lot about this. Have you done a project about the Lost Battalion before?"
I flushed at the compliment. Damn it! Stay focused! Stay focused…she can't see your red face, nope not at all (an obvious lie, of course, but it helped). Respond! "I've, uh, done some, uh, research on the battle—skirmish, I mean. It's a skirmish, not a battle." Great, now I'm rambling. Get back on track! "And I've seen the movie a few times. It's one of my favorites, actually." I blushed. That was such a personal tidbit I just gave up! Here we are, working on a school project, and I'm practically telling her my favorite genres! Idiot…
"Really? Wow…I'll have to stop by Blockbuster on the way home and rent it." She grinned. "Homework movie! Yea!" I couldn't help but smile a little…blushing slightly, of course; sharing a 'smile moment' with this girl warrants it when I'm the one she's beaming with. NO! Stay focused, Christopher. I shook my head without thinking. "What's wrong?" She was looking at me like I just started picking my nose or something. Shit! Good going, dumbass.
"I, uh, uh," I stuttered as I tried to piece an explanation together. "I own the movie, so you can just borrow it." The words came out in a rush; I didn't really care so much about that, though, since I was so grateful that I had managed to come up with something to say. "Or we could watch it now, since you don't really know much about it, right?" I froze, partly because I realized I was rambling again, but mostly because I realized I had just insulted her knowledge and (even worse!) her intelligence. I blushed again. Wow, my face has been in a constant shade of red since school got out. Maybe she'll just think that's what color my face is all the time…except when we're at school, when my face is usually a normal color.
"Sure, that makes sense." I looked up, surprised. She was smiling again, not offended by my words at all. I was so shocked I didn't even bother blushing when she continued to stare at me. "You seem to know a lot about this battle, but it'll help me get a better understanding of what to look for when we get to the research part. Good thinking." That time I flushed, but only because she complimented me again. The sudden reddening of my face awoke me from my shocked stupor, and I rose to me feet, carefully making sure my things didn't scatter across the floor again. "I'll go get it, then," was all I could manage as I hastened to the stairs.
So far, so good.
If anybody wants me to continue writing this, or elaborate on the events prior to this, please PM me or review. Let me know what you think. Be kind.