There are six of us. Jack. Jules. Shan. Riley. Dean. Me…they call me Toni.
Toni. The girl in 9th grade who lived on the hill above me. She was everything I wanted to be. Curly blonde hair. Adorable smile. Heart of Gold. The cheerleader who didn’t think she was above talking to the shy girl who sat in front of her. People just liked her. They couldn’t help it. I figured I’d never have her life, but at least I could have her name.
It doesn’t take him long to notice me. Of course I already noticed him. Tall. Smiling eyes. Braces. The biggest dimples. Cologne that makes my head spin. He is Jack’s once-a-boyfriend friend. And right now he’s standing in front of me, asking if I want to go for a walk. Alone. Just him and me. I’m frozen and don’t know what to say.
He laughs, “Is that yes?”
I get permission from my aunt. We walk down the corner, out of sight, I take his hand. I’m hooked. I ignore the voice reminding me that good girls don’t hold hands with boys. Heck, good girls wouldn’t dare go for a walk alone with a boy. I decide that if I have to be a bad girl to get this boy to hold my hand … a bad girl is what I will be.
He asks me questions. Why I wear these ridiculous skirts. Why we live with my aunt. Why we left California. He tells me about his life. He lives with his grandma. His father died when he was young. His mother didn’t want him. My heart hurts for him. Despite the chaos at home, I can’t imagine being rejected by my parents. I look up him and smile. “Well, I won’t reject you.” There goes my common sense…my caution…my heart.
I have this ridiculous need to be loved. But the need to love others is even stronger. I want to wrap my arms around this boy. Kiss away his pain. Make the ache of a mother’s rejection go away. I am completely caught up in my emotions. It doesn’t occur to me that he’s just playing with my mind.
We live in a large trailer park. Row after row of single trailers with small yards. I hate this place. Riley is sweet. “I don’t care where you live.” he says. Oh boy, he sure knows what to say to me.
We end up at the playground. I sit in the swing. He comes behind and starts pushing me. Higher and Higher. I’m 16 years old and being pushed in a swing by a boy. The parachute boy. I giggle at the thought. Suddenly he stops my swing.
“Come here” he offers his hand and we walk to the picnic table.
“What?” I look at him. “What do you want?”
If I wanted trouble…I certainly found it. What he wants…I couldn’t…wouldn’t give. I am feeling trapped. I don’t know if playing this game is smart. I want to go home. Safe away from this game that is demanding more of me than I want.
He settles for a game of swapping spit. I discover that kissing a boy with braces is an experience that isn’t exactly romantic but certainly entertaining. He takes me home. Kisses my cheek. (Seriously?). I watch him walk away and hope that my family will not spend the night teasing me about the boy in the parachute pants.
I am surprised when I see him the next day. He walks up to me, kisses me slowly and says loudly, “How’s my girlfriend?” I look at Jack. She’s not happy. I ignore her.
“I’m good.” I take his hand and we walk to class. Jack gives me the look. The one that says I better have a dang good explanation. He says good-bye at the door with another kiss and gives me his sweater. The one that smells like his cologne. Good grief…how am I supposed to pay attention to a boring lecture on World War I when he has my head spinning? I watch him walk away and enter the classroom.
Step by step heading toward Jack’s glaring eyes.