Ch. 1- This Love

The first day of school always seems to suck. You're excited, but you don't quite feel in the "school groove", and you're already mourning the loss of summer.
Thankfully, my story doesn't start on the first day of school.
No, my story starts dead in the middle of my freshman year of high school, after swim practice, during my first UIL one-act performance rehearsal. Because that was the day I met him.
Let's start from a more comfortable place, shall we? I was on the swim team, and I was way into it. Former club swimmer, only freshman on varsity, all that jazz. I was also a theatre geek…and an honors student…and an artist. Oh, and I write a little (a lot). Of course, most freshmen throw themselves into the high school scene, experimenting in every way they can, because they want be big kids. I was fortunate enough to be one of those kids that get along with the older crowd much easier than the one of their own age, so I had an automatic in with the upperclassmen.
I was so involved, that our director knew right off the bat that she wanted me in our UIL play, but I considered the cast of the play to be mostly snobs, and I couldn't manage rehearsals with my practice schedule, anyway, so I declined. It wasn't until swim season was over -and the director was desperate for a replacement for a cast member that had gone feral and dropped out- that I made the decision to be in the play, and open myself to a whole new world of personalities that I did not know existed.
You know that first impression of someone that you get by just walking into the room they're in? That gut instinct that makes you either accept the person or tolerate them for however long you have to endure their presence? Well, that impression is hard to get rid of, and it's a very bad thing when you're working with a cast. Everyone is a part of the family, and one person's drama is everyone else's. You have to make a bond with them that can't break until curtain call of your very last show. Otherwise your chemistry is off, and that could be not only bad for your performance, but everyone else's, and potentially dangerous, as nerves are high at show time, and back stage can be a very small place if you're not comfortable with the people in it.
Well, I tried not to make any judgment calls that first rehearsal. I knew I looked like crap- sweaty and dressed in workout clothes. Once swim season was up, the team was on the soccer field, running and doing useless excersizes that did nothing to improve the muscles we need for swimming. So I walked straight off the field like that, carrying my purse in one hand, and my gym bag slung over my shoulder, and into the cafeteria where rehearsals were being held.
The first thing I saw was a girl and boy running lines in the very back of the room, far away from the stage and the director, who was screaming bloody murder at the actors onstage.
I recognized the girl, her name was Sadie. Her mom worked with my mom, both teachers at the high school. Her little brother was in my English class. The boy sitting next to her, however, was a stranger to me. He looked familiar, but I couldn't place where I knew him from. His clean features and neat haircut were all I could see from his profile, so I focused on his clothes for identification. I'd surely never met a guy who wore cardigans and loafers, aside from the gay guys, but I was pretty sure that I knew all the gay guys in the school. Nearly all of them were my teammates. His pristine appearance was enough to make me feel entirely too self-conscious of how hideous I looked.
I stared curiously at the boy for a moment…then he turned.
His smile was the widest, most brilliant thing you'll ever see. Eyes a brighter blue than the summer sky. An overwhelming sense of feeling welcome flooded over me when I saw his lips curl into a smile, his head tilting slightly, with an almost mischievous look in his eyes….
"FROM THE TOP!" I nearly dropped my gym bag, searching for the source of the sudden outburst, almost irritated that my magic moment was interrupted.
The director was pacing frustratedly in front of the stage, rubbing his bald head until it was almost as red as his scowling face. Suddenly he turned towards me and I debated whether or not I should leave and avoid confrontation with this man that seemed to enjoy yelling.
Instead of yelling, he smiled politely and said, "Hey, you must be the new Eleanor."
Unconsciously, I looked towards the boy with the blue eyes for some source of confirmation that I was in the right place. Both he and Sadie were looking at me.
I turned back to the director. "Yes, yes I am."
Not looking back at the boy, I followed the director up to the stage where he handed me a copy of the script, freshly cut.
"You have a pencil and highlighter?" he asked kindly, paralleling his aggressive behavior from before.
Deciding that this was one of those "diva" directors, I replied, "Yes, sir, where are we at?"
"Your scene's next," he answered with a smile, and I scampered backstage, tossing my bags and jacket onto the nearest table.
Back stage is like a club for theatre geeks. The best actors reserve their favorite places to hang out before their next scene, and the outcasts simply wander aimlessly until the stage manager gives them something to do, which they accept gratefully, because when you're in theatre, you must worship your stage manager. They are your savior.
I found my spot amongst the actors quickly. A couple of them recognized me, and the crew and stage manager were old friends of mine. This was where I belonged, in the comfort of the small dusty spaces behind the curtains, with people that loved the same things I did. Even as a freshman, one of two freshmen in the cast, that is, the cast took me in with open arms. I got a welcome feeling from them, almost identical to the one felt from the boy who was running lines with Sadie.
The director was thrilled with my ability to memorize my lines after only practicing them once, and thought my character was extremely well developed, after only running the scene I was in a couple times. During the course of rehearsals, I was introduced to the cardigan-and-loafers boy.
His name was James. James Luther.
But that was just the day I met him. See, I didn't actually fall in love with him until nearly a year later.
What I found out in the remainder of my freshman year was that he was a junior, taking the same honors course I was, and he was a huge band geek. So huge in fact, that he was given the position of drum major the following year. Along with valedictorian and student body president. We might as well mention that he was at the top of his class, and he pretty much owned the school. But that was in his senior year, and my sophomore year. What ensued in my freshman year was far less dramatic.
As I became better friends with James, I also bonded with my cast mates. The other freshman in the cast, Roxy, was also one of my mom's students, so we often took to gossiping about our cast mates and fellow freshman after school when she was supposed to be doing make up work for my mom's class. Another die-hard writer/actress, Jackie, befriended me as we became closer in theatre through the play.
As I spent time with my new friends and got to know James as a polite, well-meaning young man with a charming attitude, I also fell head over heels for Drake DeJoueur.
Drake was a romantic. Standing at six one, with a tan, lithe body, and his hair… Drake's hair was his pride and joy. Rich, luxurious dark curls falling around his ears and over his forehead, curling just the right way. Yes, he was a narcissist, but he had every reason to be. Besides, I was done with guys that had no self-respect. Drake could love himself all he wanted, because it made him aware of whom he was, and it also made him a fabulous actor.

The night of the UIL one-act play, my insides were on fire.
The last quarter of my freshman year had been dedicated to my exams, and this play. Heck, not even my exams trumped rehearsals. So you can imagine the release I felt once the night was over. Don't get me wrong, it was fun. The excitement of the competition, but also getting to know the other casts, was almost too much for this inexperienced freshman to handle.
After the play, I spent most of my time trying to sidle up to Drake, and when that didn't work, I just took a seat somewhere near James Luther and fixed myself on him, making a big show of flirting with him. The game was won when Drake's head turned all the way around as I nipped at James' ear and his face turned scarlet. I would have felt bad for taking advantage of James, but the look on his face was priceless every time he removed my hand from his leg, pointedly placing it firmly in my own lap. Not to mention, I was pretty sure he was gay.
But even after getting on the bus to go home -hair and face stiff with hairspray and stage makeup, formal wear wrinkled from wild dancing at the after party, eyes blood shot and heavy lidded from all the sugar and adrenaline- the night was not over.
After stacking the remainder of the props precariously on top of one another, we all shuffled on, dragging hangers bent with the weight of costumes and accessories. Drake, surprisingly, retired to the seat in the far back, without requesting company from any girls. This was very unlike him.
Being the adventurous girl that I am, I invited myself to his seat.
I expected the usual syrupy sweet greeting I generally received when I was with Drake alone in some dark, confined space, but instead I was greeted with utter silence, and the smother of his massive body as he fell on top of me, asleep.
I managed to push him off of me, waking him up in the process. He apologized, but proceeded to fall asleep and do the same thing again. After some protest, he finally sat up straight and kept himself awake. Naturally, conversation ensued. His side of the conversation was very earnest, and he even managed to make me say a few words about my feelings, and myself which was not an easy task.
"You know, you're a sweet girl," he whispered, his inviting voice drawing me in with more encouraging words.
"Mm-hm," I murmured, staring up at him.
"But you're too young for me."
I froze. Huh? I looked up at him in confusion.
He smiled sweetly at me. "You're gorgeous, and you seem like you're a lot of fun to be around, but you're too young for me, sweetie," he said, speaking as a teacher does to a child learning the alphabet.
Suddenly I was frustrated. Yeah, he's attractive. But should he really go around assuming that every girl is in love with him?
"Wow, Drake," I said, my voice clipped and dry. "You're such a nice guy for telling me that. I'm so glad you want what's best for a me, as I'm so young and inexperienced."
And despite the ridiculously artificial response, Drake just nodded his head, smiling sadly. As if he did indeed know how great of a guy he was, and what a burden it is to be so chivalrous!
So, for most of the ride home, I was staring disgustedly at the seat in front of me, listening to Drake's incessant babble regarding the other casts, which cast had the hottest girls, which lead role was the greatest threat to his acting career, blah, blah, blah.
Finally, two of my cast members came to my rescue. One was my perpetually joyful friend, Ronnie, and the other was Jackie, who after the night's events would come to be one of my closest friends.
They began chatting with Drake, commenting on his acting, trading playful remarks. Then suddenly they were talking about kissing.
"Wait, what?" I said, unclear of what was happening.
"I said he should kiss you guys," Ronnie chirped, tossing her perfectly curled hair behind one shoulder. "I would if I didn't have a boyfriend."
I looked at Jackie for help, but she was gazing at Drake curiously, making it painfully obvious to me that she shared my admiration for him. I turned back to Drake, who was suddenly just inches from my face.

He thought nothing of the situation, of course, and he leaned in, eyes shut, and I was suddenly aware of how he became slightly less attractive with his face puckered that way. And what happened to me being too young for him? I sat frozen as his face met mine, but as soon as he made contact, I squirmed away.

It couldn't have even really been considered a kiss. But once I felt his lips touch mine, I was thinking of all the reasons I shouldn't kiss Drake DeJoueur. It's not that I would get in trouble…I was so socially inept, my mother would have rejoiced if I had actually kissed a boy, let alone a smoking hot junior like Drake. But no, it was the germs.

See, I'm a germaphobe. I can't handle touching people like that. So when I felt saliva and hot breath on my face before I had even initiated physical contact, I freaked…a little.

And by that I mean I squealed and practically vomited all over Drake's lap. That's when Jackie, ever the resourceful opportunist, jumped in and snapped,

"You're such a baby, this is how you do it," leaning over me and smacking her lips against his so hard, I could hear it. It lasted a split second before she pulled away and commented casually on something about technique, but my mind was lost in a void.

From that point on, I realized that most of the major steps in my life from that point on (regarding boys, at least) would be taken with Jackie.