At some point I feel a bony arm slip around my shoulders and one of the nearby dudes cheeses, "So you two are LOVERS? Awwww..."
Far as I knew she was seeing a fellow in the class behind us these days. Girls at my school had a gift for clever sarcasm, made it an art really, was sweet pain to fall prey to their wiles. She and an accomplice liked to talk me out of my lunch cakes.
For some reason I tell her about a weird dream I had recently about a classmate of ours and she just kinda rocks back and forth and gives me funny looks as I relate.
Thankfully I'm the first stop, time to try and process this, usually crash on my bed but too fidgety. Sheets are due for changing so I tear that down, and in the middle of it start to struggle with my motivation, why am I doing THIS, now, in a quasi-relationship with this girl and her pesky powers, but finish the task nevertheless.
When the weather is this nice there's a bike ride after supper, and even back then, in that reading class I had written papers about bike rides, it's a thing. I lived on a decommissioned highway that formed a 2.5 mile triangle with two grid roads.
She lives on the north-south leg. I head northeast, instinctively, pining for answers.
Social awkwardness can be a prison but sometimes you get a surprise visitor with the file in a cake. Never ended up dating anyone from school, the swift river, until after graduation, made most of my connections through church, the small pond. I'm not much of a swimmer.
Right on cue she stands near the road with a basketball and some younger kids. I seem invited to stop three feet away and touch my feet down, and without missing a beat she informs me in that patronizing tone,
"We're going to have to break up, A---- won't like it very much..."
Not sure what else was said, we never know what to say to each other, but when it felt time to ride on, for whatever reason, I really needed to gently squeeze her right shoulder.
Now, I had taken over my brother's '72 Schwinn that he'd bought from my sister's 6'2 husband, here I am a string bean 5'8 by then. I had to hop off the seat to straddle the thing, and leaning in took some effort, hopping on one foot, especially when the girl demures.
Little miss don't mess with me you ballentine jerk, I'm bad ass, I'll hurt you, by most accounts should have me in a full nelson by now, but no, totally shies away - but never looks away. Same piercing eyes that taunted earlier are now those of a wistful puppy.
Turns out the tough chick ain't so tough after all.
Got home and put the bike away, sit on the couch, Mom asks me why I'm grinning, staring off at a wall, took me that long to realize there were trees nearby where we'd stood.
To this day, nearly three decades later I still struggle with it - why was the punk brat so much easier for me to face than the very lovely, sweet, tender girl within, one of the best things that will ever happen to a person.