The first thing I loved about him was that he was beautiful.
Not handsome, as girls so often referred to him as. Or hot: a general consensus among most everybody under the age of twenty who had the pleasure of running into him. The occasional mom was even known to follow with her eyes as he walked down the hall, hands crossed over her chest, foot tapping the linoleum floor.
Second was his wit. You didn’t often get good-looking guys who were smart and funny, too. It was a tradeoff. But he was all of those. All of those and more. He could make me laugh until my stomach yearned for relief. His jokes were legendary. They peppered the margins of my homework and the back of my wrists. When people asked — what’s that? I told them. They’re his. He made them up. He’s a genius.
Third was the fact that he loved me.
No one else had, up until him. Not my father who wined and dined women every night while my cold hearted mother looked on, unperturbed. He had money, cold, hard cash, and so we stayed. I got everything I ever wanted, but like that Beatles song, I didn’t have their attention or care. But he loved me. He saw something in me that no one else did.
“We should tell people we’re together,” I said countless times. Once, under the privy shade of an old oak, just a few feet from the school entrance. The branches shrouded our words and made us shadows. Rain trickled down from the heavens, but he shielded me from it with his sturdy frame.
“Let’s not,” He whispered. “They might look at us funny.”
I tilted my head.
“You know. We’re together. Conjoined.”
“You take everything too literally.” I said, but I was laughing.
He was funny. Did I mention that?
My friends were so jealous, they stopped talking to me. Completely faded into yellowed wallpaper, sneering at me when I ventured too close. But oh well, I had him, so what more did I need.
One night as I laid on my bed, him on the other line, I poured my heart out to him.
“Since I met you nothing’s been the same, they won’t even look my way. What am I supposed to do? Huh? What am I supposed to do?”
“Be with me,” He said. “Walk with me. I’ll protect you.”
He did, like he promised. We walked together, hand-in-hand, down the fluorescent hallways. People were forced to notice. Until then, we’d been a contemplation of their thoughts, a possibility in the rumor mill. He and Belinda? No way! But I saw them, together. You did? Maybe you misinterpreted the situation. He could have been giving her homework help. Yeah, if that homework was CPR training.
My old friends stared, jealousy plain in the set of their jaws and the flare of their nostrils. I smirked and waved. For once, I had something more than they did. I mean, I’d always had more, but never emotionally. iPads and gift cards didn’t take the place of kisses goodnight and firm scoldings when one did something wrong. They got all that, from their parents and aunts and uncles and siblings. They were extravagantly lucky. I’d always envied them.
And now they were positively green.
“Kiss me,” I dared him. He looked at me with brown-eyed surprise. Being daring like that was not my forte, but I longed to rub it in their faces. So he leaned forward and his lips brushed mine. I closed my eyes and linked my hands behind his neck. He lifted me off the floor. Now everyone knew. Nobody could pretend otherwise.
On my birthday, he came over. I introduced him to mom and dad, who were unusually friendly. They all shook hands and made quiet small talk. Then dad left for the casino and mom retired to her room, as she always did whenever dad walked out the door.
“Is it always like this?” He asked as we laid outside on the grass, fingers linked.
I stared up at the darkening sky. Why must the rain always dampen our most intimate conversations?
“Yes,” I whispered. The clouds spilled over. He wiped tears from my cheeks.
“Does he love her?”
“Did he ever?”
“Maybe.” But maybe was as good as another negative. Maybe wasn’t ever said when someone meant probably. Maybe was said to soften the blow that never brought with it.
He understood. “Hey. Want to hear a joke?”
“Once there was this beautiful girl. And a guy who was oh-so-lucky to have her. Well, one day, the girl said to the guy, ‘You know, I think I’m going to move on.’ And the guy said, ‘What? Why would you do that?’ And the girl said, ‘Because I don’t like the way this scrabble board looks.’”
There was a moment of silence as I scrambled to understand the punchline. When I did, I laughed. That was one to scribble on the back of a science test.
He always had the profound ability to lighten blows. He was the ice to her festering wound.
The best thing about him was, he never left. He wasn’t like all those other boyfriends her classmates had. He never grew tired of her. He found her beautiful and smart and he didn’t push for things she wasn’t willing to give. Together, they could do anything. Together, they could get married and have children and live happily ever after.
That’s all she ever wanted. And he wanted it, too.
“Linda?” Mom asked, cracking her bedroom door open.
Belinda sat up, rubbing at her eyes.
“Your dad’s home. We’re going to dinner.”
She rose from her bed and stared at the clock. It was seven fifty-six. Today was her birthday. She was seventeen. And he loved her.
She followed her mom down the stairs and into the car her father had outside, waiting. He’d come home from the casino early, in order to take her out. Dinner would no doubt be delicious, but the conversation would be cold.
Unless he came with them.
The idea brightened her spirits considerably. I mean, sure, he’d met her parents — and they liked him — but dinner was another thing entirely. Oh, well. It was her birthday. She could have him if she wanted.
As the three of them took their seats at the white-clothed table a few minutes later, Belinda found herself hoping. Then she saw him.
He walked toward them, so debonair in his white-collared shirt and smart, black blazer. He held a bouquet of red roses in his hand, gifting them to her with a flourish, although he’d already given her a delicate little necklace earlier. As he slid into the space beside her, Belinda reflexively reached up to touch the new chain that settled right beneath her collarbone.
“Linda?” Her mother interrupted.
“What?” She asked.
Her mom pointed with the tines of her fork. “Where’d you get that?”
“Oh,” said Belinda. “I bought it last week.”
“Hm. It’s nice.”
Her eyes slid shut as he leaned toward her, to give her a kiss. He didn’t mind her parents being there. He loved her too much to wait any longer.
“Who had the steak au poivre?”
“She did,” Belinda’s father said, gesturing to her. The waitress set it down in front of her.
Belinda dug in disinterestedly, trying her hardest not to notice the empty space beside her.
I’ve just got to finish, she told herself. Then he’ll come back
He always does.