Second Chance Valentine

My friend Johanna and I both liked Dylan Stratton. It didn't matter who liked him more or who liked him first or who liked him best when we were younger because we were too dumb and naive to realize it made a difference.

The three of us were elementary school friends even though we were completely different from one another. Dylan was a smart kid who came from an affluent family and lived in a big house in the nice neighborhood of Hilltop.

Johanna was a virtuous and religious girl who came from a large close Catholic family, believing in Adam and Eve and the Bible and Jesus in the Eucharist and she told us that God loved us and that we should love our neighbors the same way.

I came from a broken home and I had a chip on my shoulder, never feeling like I could measure up to Dylan's brains and money or Joanna's saintly life and happy family.

But by the time we got to middle school, the one thing that mattered to me the most was who did Dylan like more, or first, or best? Unfortunately (for me), it was pretty obvious that he liked Johanna more (and best) - and who could blame him? She was sweet and likable, positive and adorable. I actually liked her more than I did Dylan in some ways but that wasn't going to solve the ache in my heart.

Despite my secret competition, I was willing to let Dylan like me as his pal gal because that was better than losing him completely to Johanna's innocent charm. I could be humorous and easy going but I wasn't going to be a finalist in any beauty contest Johanna might enter (and probably win), so I convinced myself to be satisfied being the third wheel as Johanna's friend and Dylan's pal.

I knew that Dylan saw Johanna as sexual in her oblivious way whereas I was the kind of girl he could tell fart jokes. Johanna would never even say the word fart but I was willing to let one go in front of Dylan just to show him that I could be as crass as he was when it came to that sort of stuff.

Johanna grew breasts first - much bigger and more noticeable than mine when my body finally kicked in. She got pubic hair first and her period first and it seemed that I was always trying to catch up to her but I never quite matched her pace or success.

We managed to survive middle school in tact and we were still a trio of friends when high school came – but Dylan went off to Sun Rise Lake School for Boys as a day student and Johanna went to the Catholic High School while I stayed in the public school system.

We didn't see each other quite as much anymore and we had to vie for our time together when the chances came up. Johanna still dragged me to Mass on Sundays even thought I wasn't even Catholic and the three of us got together for pizza or a movie when we could.

I was aware that Dylan took Johanna out separately so I would call him on occasion and do the same thing - meeting him at a party Johanna refused to attend or to go to some disgusting movie Johanna wouldn't be caught dead watching.

Dylan could be good when he was with Johanna and himself when he was with me. With Johanna, Dylan was a gentleman - kind and polite and respectful. With me, he could be vulgar, insincere, lascivious, and full of sexual innuendo and of course I never stopped him.

I liked going to Dylan's house because it was a cool place to be and his parents were hip and trusting and never questioned us about anything.

I liked going to Johanna's house because it oozed love - her parents were affectionate and concerned and supportive and full of advice and her siblings were nice and treated me like I was a member of the family. There was a lot of praying to contend with but there was also a lot of laughter and home baked pies and positive reinforcement and I felt better whenever I was there.

I didn't like bringing either Johanna or Dylan to my house because my mother drank too much and my step-father Jason was a jerk. He was convinced that Dylan was only interested in getting into my pants (which was probably true since Johanna wore a symbolic chastity belt) and that Johanna lived in a fantasy world where everything was perfect and nothing bad happened.

"She'll find out that all of that God loves you crap is bullshit," Jason said to me more than once.

My father left when I was six and my mother married Jason a few years later. He was already divorced from "a bitch" as he called his ex and as if my life wasn't miserable enough, my mother got pregnant when I was twelve and I suddenly had a little half-brother named Pete who's a cute kid and all that but what did I need with a half-brother when my mother wasn't happy and my step-father loved his son but merely tolerated me?

I know I'm jealous of all of them - Dylan and Johanna and Pete - but don't I have a right to be? Still, I'm always trying to compete - for Dylan's affection and Johanna's respect, working hard to be smart like Dylan and even getting a part time job so I could have money in my pocket and not feel like a miser.

I studied hard and I did my homework and I strived for good grades so I could show Dylan my report card and prove to him that I wasn't some dumb loser who lived in a dumpy house in the flats.

Studying served as a good distraction so I didn't have to listen to my unhappy mother fighting with my defeated step-father who I was convinced only stayed because of Pete.

Even though I resented Johanna, I was glad she was my friend and I missed her going to different schools just like I missed Dylan when he was at the lake.

Johanna wouldn't tell me personal things like if she'd kissed a boy or felt herself late at night under the covers and she weirded out if I tried to tell her some of my feelings when it came to such things. She liked romance and fairy tale love stories but she didn't want to think about (or acknowledge) the grosser side of such things - like penises and masturbation and she'd tell me that I would burn in hell if I continued to ponder such topics.

I of course had kissed boys already - at parties and under the stairwell at school and Johanna was shocked by such admissions. She'd tell me that I had to resist such temptations and save myself for marriage and true love but how could I believe that when my mother drank at night, my father was long gone, and my step father looked at me like I'm bad?

Johanna told me that she didn't shower after gym class because she didn't like getting naked in front of the other girls. Gym class is where I took out my aggression (especially when it was coed) and I proudly strutted myself in the girls locker room afterwards. I couldn't imagine Johanna spending the rest of the day trying to douse her stink of sweat underneath her perfume at her Catholic School. I proudly stood under the hot spray in the shower in independent freedom even if the certainly must-be-gay female PE Teacher Ms. Hockney ogled all of us in such situations.

I wasn't happy but I was happy that I had Dylan and Johanna and I knew sooner or later something had to happen to one of us or maybe all three of us and that gave me the energy and hope to continue on even when I didn't even want to get out of the bed in the morning.

Dylan was the first to get his driver's license and of course his parents bought him a brand new car so instead of walking around town or bumming rides off of older kids, I got to ride with Dylan, although Johanna was much more guarded about such adventures and often had her mother drop her off at the movies or pizza house instead of getting in Dylan's car.

Dylan became more sophisticated and mature once he had his own car and established himself on the Sun Rise Lake School for Boys. He liked to drive me to the campus on weekends so he could show off a girl to the guys stuck in the dorms far from home with girlfriends who only appeared on Face-time and Skype.

When he could guilt Johanna into coming with us, Dylan was the coolest guy on campus and I wasn't even hurt or insulted when he got one of his pals to hop in the backseat with me and we drove around the lake or over to Mt. Griffin on some sort of naughty foursome adventure.

Dylan had the swagger and the looks to be cool and I was glad to be part of it. He never did anything scandalous in front of Johanna but when it was just him and me (and maybe one of his school pals) he'd produce a joint or retrieve some beer from a cooler in the trunk of the car. I was eager to be cool so I'd take a toke or a swig and we didn't tell Johanna of our sins but we'd grin at each other with our secrets.

I'd come home from my rides with Dylan stoned but nobody at my house seemed to notice even when I was giggling like a fool at nothing in particular or laughed at my mother's standard frown and my step-father's usual disinterest.

I liked to talk with Dylan when I was stoned because I was more likely to tell him things I meant - like "I like the look of you."

He'd look me in the eye all serious-like and he'd tell me that he liked the look of me too. But we never talked about Johanna when she wasn't there and I knew he liked the look of her more.