Annie not Annabel
I should've known you weren't going to show up.
I should've expected that you were only going to let me down once again.
I stand in the middle of all our friends. I search for your face, but it's all in vain. I smile, but it feels like someone just punched me in the stomach. I wonder where you are, but realize I don't really want to know. I don't want to think that you're out with another girl—that would be jumping to conclusions that I don't want to face. I can't imagine it anyway; you're a jerk, but you're a faithful jerk.
A girl from my English class comes up to me and asks where you are. I say you're just running late; you'll be here soon. My voice and smile are bright, but I just want to cry.
Melissa stands next to me. She shoots me a look—she disliked you from the beginning, did you know that?—and ushers the girl away from me to the refreshment table. It doesn't matter; a new swarm of people attack me with questions regarding you and your whereabouts. "He's late." "He'll be here soon." "He's on his way." I repeat these promises so many times that even I begin to believe them.
But I stop myself. Because I know better than anyone that believing only leads to heartbreak.
You were the guy that everyone knew. The guy that always had the hottest girlfriend. The guy that had friends everywhere he went. The guy who could have you in stitches when all you wanted to do was cry.
You were the guy that had me believing in magic.
We had Econ together. You sat next to me—third row from the right, fourth desk up. You walked in and everyone called your name, waving, smiling, asking you to sit next to them. You didn't respond to any of them with anything but a glance and a grin. Your eyes locked on mine and it felt surreal—you aiming your slow, wide smile at me, you walking down the row beside mine, you sitting down in the seat next to me.
You didn't say hi, or how are you, or what's your name. You didn't attempt to strike up a regular conversation. You put your backpack on the desk—which the teacher specifically told us not to do—and looked me in the eye. You said, "Do you believe in magic?"
I replied, "Um."
"Because I really felt a spark between us." At the word "spark" you snapped your fingers and a bright light erupted from between your fingertips.
I gaped. "How did you do that?"
You winked, flashed a crooked smile, and said, "A magician never reveals his secrets."
I was enamored ever since.
Our first date was a couple of weeks later, though you could hardly call it a date. You (ever the romantic) stood beneath my bedroom window and threw pebbles, whispering my name between each toss. You beckoned me down when I glanced out the window. Later, when I asked how you knew it was my window, you just winked and said, "Don't you know? I'm magic."
"What are you doing here?" I asked you when I got down.
You shrugged, flashed a lazy grin. "Nothing better to do."
You drove us in your loud, not-quite-classic pickup truck to a nearby park. You left the car running with the radio on, and we got out to swing on the old, creaky swingset that has known me since childhood. The chill of the seats leaked through our jeans; the chains dug into our palms. My hands slipped quite a few times from sweat—I was nervous, but you were perfectly at ease. We had contests of who could swing the highest (me) and who could jump off the farthest (you). When we got tired of the games we laid down on a grassy area near the car. You grabbed my hand and pointed out shapes made by the stars.
"See that one?" you asked quietly, guiding my eyes to a spot in the sky that looked like any other. I squinted, shook my head. "You don't see it?"
"No. What am I supposed to be seeing?"
You shook your head sadly and let out a sigh that sounded disappointed. "I can't believe you don't see it."
I laughed and bumped my shoulder into his. "Well, if you told me what to look for, maybe I would."
You turned to me and looked into my eyes. My laughter died. You leaned so your face was very close to mine, our noses almost touching, and whispered, "It's a boy and a girl. They're lying on the grass holding hands and looking at the stars. It's cold outside, but the boy has never felt so warm in his life. They point out shapes that aren't there and say things that don't make sense, but they see and understand it all. And neither of them know it yet, but something amazing is starting. Something magical."
I fell for you in an instant. It was not a slow, conscious process by any means. One minute I was living my life like I always had, and the next I was in love. It was like turning on a light switch. There was no inbetween. It was like nothing else.
It was like magic.
When we first showed up to school together, rumors spread like ripples in a pond. It happened every time you got a new girlfriend, but it was different this time. I was unknown, a mystery. I wasn't necessarily a loser, but compared to you, I might as well have been. Overnight, I stopped being that girl and became That Girl. All because of you.
I didn't mind getting death glares in math class. I didn't mind getting whispered about in the halls as if I didn't have ears. I didn't mind girls staring at me and thinking, Why her? I didn't mind because it was all evidence that I was with you. I didn't mind because after school, I was the one who got to go home and hang out with you. I was the one who got to hold your hand between classes. I was the one you hung out with at lunch. I was the one you walked to your locker with.
Because of you, I got invited to parties. I always had a partner when we did group projects in class. I always had someone to say hi to. If I was sad, I always had someone to ask me what was wrong. I had new friends, new contacts in my phone, new activities to do after school.
Because of you, there was always someone there for me. I thought I would never be lonely again.
I was wrong.
I stand in the bathroom, looking at my face in the mirror. I don't usually wear so much makeup, or spend so much time doing my hair, or wear the cutest dress I own. I did it all for you, and you're not here.
I call your cell phone, but I don't think I want to talk to you. It goes to voice mail anyway, and again I wonder wear you are. My own voice greets me. This loser can't answer his phone right now, my voice, happy, laughing, tells me. So call back later. Or don't.
I remember that day perfectly. It was the last summery day of the year. We hung out on your front lawn and ran through the sprinklers, then, exhausted, sunbathed and drank the too-sweet lemonade that we'd made earlier. That night, I went home and ran up to my room, squealed, and sank to the floor with my head in my hands, hiding my ever-present smile.
I glance in the mirror again. A pale, forlorn girl gazes back at me. She's not crying; not yet. She tests out a smile, tries to mimic the one she used to have. Now, it looks foreign on her.
I take a deep breath and look away. I put my back to the door and sink to the floor, head in my hands, hiding the tears.
It started the night you were supposed to meet my parents.
You were supposed to be at my house at 6:30. It was seven.
I sat with my parents on the couch in the living room. "He's just running late," I said brightly, smiling. I checked my phone. No messages. My parents looked at me. "His phone probably died." I rolled my eyes fondly. "He never charges his phone. He'll be here soon."
Twenty minutes passed until you showed. Dinner was cold, and my parents were annoyed. I answered the door when you knocked, and you grabbed me in a huge hug before I could say anything. My anger dissolved immediately.
You grabbed my hand and walked from the foyer to the living room where my parents stood. "Good evening, Mr. Taylor, Mrs. Taylor." You shook their hands in turn. "Excuse my lateness. Rosie here told me to come at 7:30." You flashed a charming smile at me, then my parents, who instantly forgave you. So he wasn't fifty minutes late! He was ten minutes early!
You weren't though. I had told you 6:30; I'd told you, and I had the text messages to prove it.
I never told you or my parents, though. I wanted them to love you as much as I did, but I was beginning to think that that wasn't possible.
The second time it happened was when you were supposed to meet my best friends.
I had told you to meet us at the café at four. It was 4:25 when Melissa said, "Maybe he's stuck in traffic." Her voice was sympathetic.
I nodded, pushing back tears.
"He had soccer practice today, right?" Ali chimed in. "Maybe it's running late."
I nodded again and checked my phone. No messages, no missed calls.
I pushed my hair back and grinned. "It's whatever. He'll be here eventually." Then I launched into a huge conversation about something I don't remember anymore. I made my voice loud—too loud for a small café, and laughed at all my friends' comments, even when they weren't funny.
You walked in almost an hour late and spotted us. "Hey babe," you said, even though I'd asked you not to call me that. You kissed my cheek and greeted each of my friends politely, but they were cold to you. You could charm my parents, but not my best friends.
Everything you said that day, they had a clever retort. It was verging on rudeness. I sent looks at both of them when they did. When you got up to go to the bathroom, I said, "What the hell, guys? He's my boyfriend. He's nice to you guys!"
Melissa and Ali looked at each other. "Rosie," Ali said hesitantly, "He was fifty minutes late to meeting your parents, and an hour late to meeting us. He didn't call you either times. Don't you think that's a little, um, rude?"
I pinned a cold glare on both of them. "It's no more rude than acting like total bitches to your best friend's boyfriend."
You came back then, and I stood up. "Can we go?" I asked you under my breath.
You looked at me, surprised. "Um, sure. If you want to."
I looked at Melissa and Ali—my best friends since grade school, the ones who I told everything to, the ones I trusted more than anyone. "I want to."
And we left.
The third time it happened was Thanksgiving, when you were supposed to come over and meet my whole family.
The fourth time was when we were supposed to triple date with Melissa, Ali, and their boyfriends.
The fifth time was Christmas.
The sixth was New Years.
The seventh was my little brother's birthday party.
The eighth was Valentine's Day.
The ninth was the surprise party I threw for you.
The tenth was prom, when you didn't show up at all.
We were supposed to go in a limo with Melissa, Ali, their boyfriends, and a few of our other friends. I wore a dark green dress that made my eyes pop. I'd gone with you just a week before to pick up your matching tie. You were supposed to pick up my corsage that morning while I got my hair and nails and makeup done.
We all met at my house. All of the girls took a picture together, then all the guys, then all of us together, then the couples individually. That was the worst part. The guy stood behind the girl with his arms wrapped around her. Ali's boyfriend pecked her on the cheek just as the camera went off. Her face was captured perfectly, a flawless mix of surprise, delight, and adoration. Melissa and her boyfriend high-fived instead of doing the clichéd pose, and that was the cutest one of them all.
Ali had her boyfriend take a picture of me, her, and Melissa all together, but while their faces were contorted with big, genuine smiles, mine was small, close-lipped, only there to keep the moisture from leaking out from behind my eyelids.
That night, I danced with an abundance of enthusiasm. I danced with whoever asked, and I danced to forget.
"Rosie? Are you in there?" Ali asks, knocking on the bathroom door. "We're about to cut the cake."
"Yeah, I'll just be a second." I lift myself from the floor and look at my face in the mirror. I haven't cried yet. I've had a lot of practice with keeping my tears locked away.
I exhale deeply, trying to evict the suffocating feeling in my chest. It disappears infinitesimally. I smile broadly at my reflection, practicing the mask I'll be putting on in just a little while.
I take another deep breath and walk back into the party. The room erupts in cheers and cries of "Happy birthday!" Melissa and Ali lead me to the center of the room where a tall, intricate cake stands. Happy 18th Rosie! it declares in bright lettering among three layers. The entire room starts to sing to me, off-key and at different parts of the song. I force laughter and smiles throughout. When they're finished singing, Ali hands me a knife to cut the first slice, which, in turn, Melissa shoves in my face. Frosting and sprinkles and chocolate cake decorate my laughing face.
While they cut and serve the rest of the cake, I disappear to the bathroom to clean off my face. The gaping sense of loneliness hasn't left me, even while standing in a room full of friends and people who love and care about me.
My phone pings with a text message. It's from you.
Happy b-day, babe, it reads. Sorry I didn't make it! Xoxo.
I'm sorry too.