Among the many reasons I adored Lydia was because she was a girl who had her feet on the ground. She was a serious student who focused on her studies and learning, involving herself in the various school committees and councils, making the Honors List every semester, and proving herself to be one of the most respected pupils at Hillsboro High. I had been her friend forever and because I wasn't involved that much in sports or social activities I tended to follow her down the same road of academic discipline even though I wasn't as smart as her.
We hung out in the library together and I volunteered on most of the same activities she participated in – Debate Team, Chess Club, and Library Peers most notable among our successes. Although Lydia was personable and friendly, she didn't concern herself with the social pressures of high school – she could care less about the gossip and drama of the various teenage heartbreaks and hormones. She had her own group of (girl) friends but I seemed to be her to go-to guy friend whenever she needed a male presence or escort.
I understood my role as the best friend side kick and I was fine with that. Lydia dated on occasion but I knew that I would outlast all of her beaus and romances so I didn't worry about those guys too much. I even went out with Jeanette Streeter for a while and Lydia and I would razz each other about our romantic selections. We ended up consoling each other when those pursuits didn't work out and we were perfectly content on being the default fall-back person to be there for each other when we were needed.
Mr. Saunders joined the Hillsboro Faculty our Junior year and he was a great teacher from the day he walked into the classroom. Lydia and I were both pretty good at knowing who the smart, talented, caring and worthy teachers were and Mr. Saunders quickly proved himself to be an instant hit.
Because Lydia and I were both interested and strong in English and the various electives under that main category and Mr. Saunders was the new English Department guy, we ended up spending a lot of time being mentored and influenced by him. He was relatively young (maybe thirty) – cool and hip in our eyes because he cared about what he was teaching and he wanted us to be as enthusiastic about the subjects as he was.
I really didn't pay attention to his looks (he was attractive) or his maleness. I liked him because he was mature, caring, compassionate, engaging, and well humored. He challenged us and made us want to learn more. He treated us with respect and he entrusted us with various high-profile projects. I'm pretty sure Lydia saw him in the same way and light as me – at least for that Junior year. I didn't pick up on any troubling warning signals. I never saw Mr. Saunders flirt with any girl – let alone Lydia. I knew Lydia liked him but from the start I assumed she saw him as the hero role model and dedicated counselor as I did.
Because we spent so much time at school, it felt perfectly natural to hang out in Mr. Saunders classroom or in the student newspaper office where he spent a lot of time too. I honestly believed that Lydia's intentions and interests were based in academic pursuits and her love for learning. She didn't say anything goofy to him (or to me about him) and she consistently behaved maturely and respectfully when she was around him. As far as I could tell, Mr. Saunders treated Lydia the same way he treated me - as esteemed and trustworthy high-achieving students who earned and deserved extra special attention and consideration.
Lydia found out that Mr. Saunders was working at the Literary Project for the summer helping tutor in-need students. She had a job at Red's Tastee Freeze and I was stocking shelves at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store but I found myself volunteering my time with Lydia at the Literary Project during our (cherished) free time. Mr. Saunders dressed casually for the summer job and he was pretty laid back. He took Lydia and me out for ice cream a couple of times but those outings never struck me as inappropriate or weird. We mostly talked about what was going on at the Literary Project or what we envisioned our Senior Year to be like at Hillsboro High. Mr. Saunders was consistently professional and mindful of unspoken boundaries.
I have no idea when Lydia realized she 'liked' Mr. Saunders – maybe it was that summer when we were away from the school setting and in more informal situations. I never saw her behave like a silly school girl or demonstrate strong feelings for the guy. She never hinted to me that she had feelings for the guy and I never picked up on any awkwardness between any of us.
We returned to Hillsboro High as big deal Seniors ready to be King and Queen of the Academic Hill and hoping to impress our teacher who we admired so much. In hindsight, I guess that's when I started to pick up on little things that – when I later added them together – revealed Lydia's huge infatuation with our teacher. She was volunteering for every possible event that involved or included Mr. Saunders. She wanted to go to the all the boys' soccer games because Mr. Saunders was the assistant coach. She started blowing me off when I wanted to leave any event where Mr. Saunders happened to still be at.
Lydia was subtle in her behaviors and interests and she never behaved like a love-crippled sap but she did make more than her fair share of compliments and sang her praises for Mr. Saunders whenever the subject or opportunity arose.
"Mr. Saunders is the smartest person I've ever met."
"Mr. Saunders thinks I'm really smart."
"Sometimes I get nervous around the guy."
"I could listen to that guy for hours."
"I need to think of a really intelligent and great question to ask him in class tomorrow."
"I get butterflies in my stomach when he asks me a really tough question because I don't want to sound like an idiot in front of him."
"Mr. Saunders e-mailed me about that project last night. I bet you didn't get one!" (Actually, I had).
"My only goal this year is to impress Mr. Saunders."
"He is such a helpful teacher and I'm his most interested student."
"The last thing I want to do is embarrass myself in front of Mr. Saunders."
"Mr. Saunders teaches us stuff that I care about and he allows us to express ourselves openly and freely."
We both asked our favorite teacher to write our college application recommendations. We compared them and Mr. Saunders did a great job capturing our individual personalities and characteristics but I didn't pick up on anything he wrote about Lydia that led me to believe that he had any type of unusual or inappropriate personal feelings toward her. So that led me to believe that it was Lydia who had the hots for our teacher – some sort of crush or infatuation but I knew it would be foolish if not suicidal to broach the subject with her knowing she would get all defensive and pissed off for me calling her on it. She would no doubt deny it and then she would resent me and maybe even avoid me because of the awkwardness my accusations would cause.
I remember being attracted to my typing teacher Miss Graziano Sophomore year. I suppose such school boy (and girl) crushes are a normal part of life and they usually pass without anything stupid or fatally embarrassing happening. Sexual fantasies are real but usually we kept such notions secret. Lydia's fortress was beginning to show cracks – probably because she couldn't help herself.
And I was starting to get worried.