Constantly being concerned with being a better person is cause enough to realize I don’t actually believe myself to be one, and I honestly try my best not to hurt someone else’s feelings while I pursue my own space and happiness.
At least, that’s the reasoning I use for when Evan says he loves me, and I lie and say that I love him too. And I did, I know I did, at some point, because I can’t deny those Summers when I’d watch him working on his car from the rooftop of our house and he was all I could think about.
Our parents were kind of friends but we only knew each other in passing, because in a small town like ours if you didn’t it was obvious you were doing it on purpose. He was tall- even when we were teenagers he towered above most of us, and even some of the teachers. With quiet, hazel eyes and a sweet but little oafish face. Halfway handsome and gentle in a way that makes you trust somebody instinctively. He didn’t talk very much back then, a fact I constantly remind him of now that he doesn’t shut up, and even then I had a feeling it was because he was either shy or self conscious about something. Some secret defect he was scared to reveal if he said too many things at once.
We hardly spoke throughout high school so I can’t calendar exactly when I decided that I wanted him. At that age your hormones are so all over the place, it’s impossible to tell, to place it to a single moment. But I do remember it as a slow and steady realization, like a favorite color, or discovering you might like girls too. Watching him play lacrosse during lunch, his long and lanky body rushing and slamming across the field. That year his parents bought him a car, and he spent every single Sunday under the hood of that marooned and beat up Subaru; his face and tank top soaked with a thin layer of oil and sweat. And on Thursdays after art class, him pretending to read the bulletin board outside of choir: his dark, coffee colored hair draped over the his bronze eyes. I remember this exciting envy when I would watch, when his girlfriend would come out of class and brush it aside.
Lots of these moments made me stare, made me sink stupidly into the thought of him, so the exact one that took hold of me I couldn’t say. But I do know the Summer I turned seventeen was when I decided to seduce him.
It was a blind and thoughtless resolution, and honestly, a part of me didn’t believe I would actually go through with it. Confidence was part of the issue. I wasn’t exactly self-conscious, but I wasn’t arrogant enough to consider myself beautiful or seductive by any means, either. My chin and ears were very pointy, giving me slightly elfish features, which is why I’ve always had bangs and let my hair drown past my shoulders. My mothers side and two years of track left me small, what some might call petite but is really more like a little boys body. Unlike some of the other girls I was nothing to turn heads or stop traffic, but even then, I liked my frame and freckles. I had a quiet confidence in myself, and whether Evan would or not, I would like them and me just the same.
My entire tactic was non-existent. It was a thought that brewed in the back of my mind, that I thought about on the bus ride to school or during my runs. It was Saturday when it happened, I remember, one of the hottest days of the Summer, and I left early for my usual morning jog. I love running; the freedom of it, the feeling of my feet thumping against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. Reality fades further and further the more I push myself against the strain of my lungs, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, until everything becomes obsolete and all I can see or have the capacity to think about is the road ahead of me. And all I can feel, all I care about, is the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for. The blood pulsing in my veins so loud I can hear it. And then I stop and the world comes crashing back in a winded rush, as I struggle to catch my breath and remember my personality.
When I finished that morning, a thought struck me and I decided to go see Evan. I swung around my house, grabbed a pie mom had left on the kitchen counter and made my way to his garage. He was hunched over the hood like so many times before, his clueless gaze thoughtfully considering something. I cleared my throat to get his attention.
“Hey,” I said. Still winded, and my heart struggling against something else. He looked up with a calm surprise that grew as I approached him. “Mom asked me to drop this off,” I lied, gently raising the pie.
“Oh, yea. Thanks,” He said, wiping his hands with a blue and oily rag.
To his credit, he maintained eye contact for much longer than I expected him to, except it was obvious his neck was locked in a brace to keep his gaze on mine. Still a part of me had doubt, thought maybe I was making a mistake.
“Real hot one today, huh?” He added, coming closer.
“Yeah,” I said. “Keeping cool in here?”
My hair was in a ponytail and I could feel beads of sweat brimming down my temple, sides, stomach. I could feel my chest heaving against the stuffy Summer air as I was pacing the garage. I couldn’t keep still, so I decided to focus on the feeling of my feet wading against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. The heat crept into my lungs and I could feel a strain, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, my body anxious and waiting for something. Deep breaths of the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for, the blood pulsing in my veins so loud I could hear it.
“Not like you,” He said, and I laughed, or at least, pretended to.
But for a moment I saw his hazel eyes flick down, then up.
And I knew.