Twelve Years Past – Chapter 3
No one brought up the subject of Naala liking me after that day. It was awkward. I was her brother's best friend and Naala was only 13. I wanted to just avoid the subject and let things smooth themselves over again.
Soon after, Naala started hanging out with us less frequently. When she did hang out with us, she was indifferent towards me. A part of me wondered if she had lied about liking me and she actually found me repulsive, but the idea that there could have been a bigger secret that she wanted to cover with a lie like that would have been too out of character for her. You could say that she was honest, but that's just putting a positive spin on the fact that she was a bad liar.
I couldn't help but start to respect her when she started ignoring me. There was a sense of pride and self confidence in her then that I hadn't seen in the girl that used to call my name into the shadows during hide a seek. On the rare occasion that I would catch her eye, she wouldn't pretend to not have been looking at me. She just stared back at me with a very obvious, unspoken "What?" in her expression.
I admired that she was taking charge of the situation. Maybe she felt that she had put the ball in my park and since I hadn't brought up the subject, she wasn't going to give me the satisfaction of looking desperate for a response. Regardless of how far her physical fragility went, Naala was good at holding herself together emotionally.
Five years after I met Naala, she got her first boyfriend.
He was scrawny, pale, with blonde hair and while the rest of the group was adjusting to having him hang out with us – on the only day that he did – I decided to sit farther away from the group and just observe. Naala bugged me to join them, but I didn't.
I must have sat there picking out all of the reasons why the two of them were incompatible. First, Naala's tanned skin and dark hair made him look like a ghost next to her. Second, he was only maybe an inch taller than her which made her look less girlish than she was. Third, I caught her looking over at me a few too many times to actually be absorbed in her "relationship" with the blonde kid.
He disappeared after a while and Naala started hanging out with us again. Truth be told, she would usually be the one who called each of us and persuaded us to go outside and be active and merry and all of the other Naala-approved states of being.
I took more notice of her at this point. I'd sit next to her on the porch swing and if my hand fell in a way that touched her hand, I didn't move it.
On nights when we hung out in her basement, I would continue to throw cards at her long after the rest of the group had gotten bored of card games and were distracted by the TV or the computer.
There were also a few nights that I just sat next to her and played with her hair, and when the rest of the group started looking at us suspiciously, I would yank out a single strand of her hair, which would cause her to lash out at me, returning the atmosphere to normal.
I don't know if it was subconscious or not, but I couldn't admit to myself that I liked her until she started high school, a whole 7 years after we met. Even then, it must have still stood out as odd, a senior liking a freshman, but we went to different high schools, which kept our lives private enough.
I started talking to her more that year, and giving in more frequently to her pleadings come and hang out with the gang, which at this point, was starting to disperse.
After weeks of not seeing each other, the six of us were back together again during the winter holidays, playing video games in Naala's basement. Or really, Naala's brother had gone upstairs for something and everyone else was playing video games while I was lying near Naala, throwing cards at her.
I must have finally struck a nerve because she collected a pile of cards from those that had fallen around her and flung them at my face.
Recounting it, it seemed like a stupid way to react but I turned my face away from her and put my head on the floor on my crossed arms.
"Aaron! You can't throw cards at my face for half an hour and then be mad when I throw them at you..." she sighed and put her hand on my arm, "Are you okay?"
I grabbed her hand almost instinctively and pulled it under my crossed arms.
She reacted like a coyote in a snare, trying to thrash her hand around to get it away from me. She probably thought I was going to hurt her – it wouldn't have been unlike me, but that didn't cross my mind at the time.
I held fast to her hand, still hidden under my crossed arms. As softly as I could, so as to leave her wondering whether it even happened, I kissed the back of her hand.
Her hand stopped thrashing immediately. I let her pull her hand away as her brother came back down the stairs.
For the rest of the night we both stared silently at the television screen, all too aware of how close we were lying to each other.