Today is the absolute worst day of the calendar year: the 14th of February.
Now I’m not psychic, but I know what you’re thinking. Valentine’s day – this guy is just a misfit who doesn’t seem to be able to find love. There’s a girl he’s crushing on and he simply can’t do something about it. Yes, well, while that might be partially true, the problem this year isn’t that I can’t do something about it, it’s because I did.
There are a lot of nobodies at school, but I’m glad to say I’m not one of them. The catch is I’m not one of the jocks either. I’ve always been that guy who you know but who you don’t really know, you know? And because of that, I’m not exempt from being picked on by the people who are the jocks, and some who aren’t. It may suck, but some good came from even that. Getting picked on is how I met Zatiya.
Just to clear the confusion, Zatiya, or Tiya, what everyone calls her, isn’t a bully. (I have been bullied by girls though. Yup. I said it. Back to the story). It was in the fifth grade. I had just sat down at one of the many garden tables in an area called ‘The Shade’ (no one knows who came up with that), where everyone used to have their break. It’s this large, spacious green square with lots of trees (as the name would suggest. Okay, I’m going to stop interrupting myself, I promise), surrounded by blocks of classes on three sides and a jungle gym on the fourth. An outdoor cafeteria if you like. So this bonehead seventh grader called Howie came up to my table, took my packed lunch and left me with a half empty squeezed juice box. The douche didn’t even drink it. He said he didn’t like the flavor and just squirted it onto the grass. I sat down for about five minutes, steaming in rage, with the unforgiving sun peering through a space in the leafy canopy and shining right on me, only making everything worse. I was busy thinking of something I could put in my food that would give the next bully to take my lunch a wicked tummy ache when it happened. This free spirited girl with short, thick curly bronze hair and an unexpected forest green fringe covering her forehead and dropping down the side of her face popped up. She came to my table, placed a chocolate pudding pack in front of me, smiled, and went off to class with her friends.
Now I won’t lie; at first I thought it was a trick or something, but I was so hungry that I couldn’t remain skeptical for long. Boy. That was the best pudding I have ever eaten. And yes, most of the bias in that rating came because she’s pretty. It was only after that incident that I realized how many classes her and I shared. I saw her at least four times a day, and she got prettier each time. I even started finding those awkward side-swept bangs of hers oddly attractive. They matched her turquoise eyes and smooth desert sand brown skin. The birthmark that she had on her cheek – now that was just showing off.
Had I met her before that incident, we would probably have become very good friends, because I often ran into her in the library. She loved reading just as much as I did. But because my stupid brain decided that I liked her, I became incredibly awkward whenever I saw her, and I could only muster a ‘hi’ whenever our paths crossed. And because of that, weeks, then months, and eventually years went by with nothing but ‘hi’s. Her hair has changed color a million times since then, but she still keeps the same general style. And each time she changed the color, I fell a little deeper.
We eventually moved on to middle school, and now high school, and it is either coincidence or destiny (I’d like to think it is the latter) that has had us at the same school all this time. But even with my strike of such good fortune, I have always been too afraid to make a move. Until today. Valentine’s Day. Which also just happens to be her birthday. Aren’t I just the luckiest?
This is where it gets complicated. You see, Tiya is a bubbly, outgoing person, and she’s generally fun to be around. Still, she never goes out looking for popularity, it seems to go out looking for her, even though she doesn’t do anything attention grabbing like cheerleading or any other sports. She just does her, and people like her for it. But not only just people, but as you would expect, lots of guys other than myself. And one in particular, a senior called Kabo Rogers. I’m actually surprised that they aren’t going out already. He’s always doing things like walking her to class, giving her rides home every now and then and hanging around her whenever he can. Nevertheless, they are still not an official item. If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was holding out, for reasons I can’t fathom. Not even close. And to top it off, I had a…..different kind of conversation with my dad about some parts of the moon possibly being made of cheese, but how you’d never know for sure unless you went there. Came out of the blue, really. I wonder if he knows about Tiya………..Soooo, when her birthday (and Valentine’s Day) came around, in my mind, she was fair game. I got tired of the day going by each year, watching from the sidelines while other people showered her with gifts. This year, I decided, I was going to get her a gift too.
That’s how I went out four days prior to her birthday with the mobile Bank of M.O.M and bought a set to make her a custom bracelet, as well as a card. (I asked mom for the money and she made me tell her what it was for. I’m a terrible liar. Once she knew, she wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to include herself in my love life). The next step was to sneak the gift box in which I placed the bracelet into her desk, and then slip the card into her locker. I could have put them all in one place but I thought it was a clever touch making her find one first, and then the other later. Kyle the Casanova. Who knew?
Anyways, I decided to put my plan into action during lunch. Getting the card into her locker couldn’t have been any easier, but putting the bracelet box into her desk required a little more finesse. No matter how busy the day is, there will always be at least one person in class during lunch, for one reason or another. Today, it was Nandi. She and I are merely acquaintances, so I knew she would get suspicious if she saw me going anywhere near any desk that wasn’t mine. I needed a diversion in the next twenty minutes because once break was over, I wouldn’t get another chance. It would mean giving her the gift in person, and I don’t think my knees would have held together.
With ten minutes of break left and my classmates soon to start returning to class, I got to a heightened state of panic. Nandi was still deep in whatever book she was reading, so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I went up to her to ask for an eraser and ‘mistakenly’ poured juice from my bottle all over her shirt.
“KYLE!!! WHAT THE HELL!?!?!”
“I am so, so sorry…..here, let me help.” And purposely, by trying to help, I made it worse by pouring more on her skirt.
“Go! Just….just go!” She yelled, and then rushed to the bathroom to get cleaned up. Bingo! I dropped my act immediately, went and got the gift set and made it to Tiya’s desk to put it in.
“Kyle? What…….are you doing?” And just when I was closing the desk cover too. This close to making it.
From her voice, I already knew who it was, but as I was slowly turning my head back, I was hoping I was wrong.
Tiya was standing there with Charlotte and Bangwe, two of her friends; all of them with the same questioned expression on their faces. The plan was a bust. I just had to spill everything. I slowly removed the box from the desk and presented it to her.
I waited anxiously, wondering what would happen next. I feared that she would just slap me, say I was a creep and tell me to stay away. But those fears melted away slowly as the puzzled look she had transformed into to a bright, warm smile and twinkling eyes.
“This is…..for me?” She asked, as she came closer to me to receive it. I shrugged sheepishly before she opened up and gave me the biggest hug ever. I wasn’t just over the cheese moon. I was in freaking Andromeda. The feeling of her arms around me, her hair against my ear and neck, the texture of her lips on my cheek when she gave me a kiss, the smell of her perfume and the sound of her voice going, “Aaaaaawww!!!!” These are things that will remain in my memory forever. She then opened the box and took a glance at the bracelet. It had three strings, tied at one point and threaded through a variety of beads. One of the strings had beads with letters that spelled her name. When she saw it, she gave me another long hug, and remained holding me until the others started coming back into class.
“Thank you, Kyle. This means the world to me,” she said smiling. I went back to my desk and sat with a goofy, smitten smirk on my face the rest of the day, oblivious to everything going on around me.
At the end of the last period, Tiya didn’t give me her number or anything like that, but she did give me a beautiful smile before she left. I’m not an expert in deciphering and interpreting human expressions, but I think I might just have an outside chance with her. Only just. But it’s going to be a precarious endeavor to pursue any sort of relationship, and I’m now finding out the main reason why. As I was leaving my classroom block, I got swept off my feet (in the total opposite way I was expecting, especially on a day like this), blindfolded, and carried off by two huge guys – rugby jocks, no doubt – and taken somewhere not too far away from the rugby pitch. They don’t say much, but I hear there’s at least twenty of them. As the blind is removed, I find myself on the ground looking up at big ol’ Kabo Rodgers, holding a crowbar in his hands that makes a clear statement of intent.
“So Tiya didn’t want me to take her home today,” he says.
“Really? Because I thought I saw her getting out of your car, at her place…. Wait, who’s Tiya? I’m not even sure if I know who you’re talking ab-”
“DON’T….don’t play coy with me, runt!” Oh no, my pretty days are over! I’m sure my mom won’t even be able to recognize me after this!
“Maybe she had a carpool arrangement with someone else, and she couldn’t just cancel-” I am cut off when two of his friends stand me up and lift me off the ground again, holding me up from my upper arms. I’ve completely run out of ideas now. I can’t go anywhere. How can I run when my feet aren’t even on the ground?
“Hey, man, look. I’m sure we can come to a compromise that doesn’t involve you wrapping that around my face. Let’s talk about this, dude! Let’s pray about this! Kumbaya, my- L”
“Listen here, you pipsqueak! I’ve been after Tiya for months now and I haven’t gone anywhere. I got her the finest Swiss chocolate money can buy, real diamond ear studs, the most expensive Teddy bear I could find, and all she said was thanks. Thanks!!!? I could have got her the whole world and she wouldn’t have given me anything more than a handshake. And then you come along with your barney-ass shoes and your cheap-ass bracelet and you’re in on the first day?”
“Hey, my momma got me these shoes-”
“Shut it!” He reaches to me and grabs my collar, lifting me even higher off the grind than I was before. From up close, I can see that his eyes are actually a bronze kind of brown, not dark brown like I had previously thought (don’t ask why I had thought of it in the first place), and his clenched jaws outline his well-chiseled face. Now even I don’t understand why Tiya’s been turning him down.
“It’s nothing man, trust me. You know, she and I are actually related-”
“I said shut it!!! I’m going to make sure she won’t want to look at you again,” he says with a widening malevolent grin. His boys come back and get a tight grip on my arms, then tilt me over sideways. I feel like a cow being carried off for slaughter. I know they won’t kill me or anything; nevertheless, whatever they are going to do will really, really hurt. But just one thought of Tiya in my arms is almost enough to help me brave through the massacre coming my way. ‘Almost’ being the keyword there.
Just when I’m picturing how I’ll look without teeth, Kabo’s guys drop me on the field (ouch!!!) before running off. Kabo comes to over me, grabs me by my collar and shoves me back into the ground.
“This is not over, you weasel. This is far from over!” He then joins his friends taking flight. I start rubbing my eyes looking for Gabriel or Michael or whichever angel it was who showed up, but when I turn back, I see Carl, the grounds keeper, coming in his truck.
Saved by the gardener.
Carl helps straighten me out and gets me back to my feet, then kindly takes me back to the main school grounds. It’s a long weekend now, but the sun has never failed to rise and set for eons now. It’s soon gonna be Monday, and Kabo and his goons will be coming back for me, I know. I’ll just have to be ready next time. Francistown International School only has so many hallways and bathrooms, so I can’t hide forever. But the fact that he feels threatened by me means that the chance I have with Tiya Khalil isn’t as outside as I had previously thought. I actually have a real shot! That alone makes anything Kabo might bring worth it.