Sunday, December 18, 2005

the first day of reckoning (part 3)

it was a sunny day in september, the first day of school on one of the last days of summer, and i was standing in front of the school next to my very first boyfriend.

we were holding hands, basking in the glow of adolescent adoration. maybe a handful of words had been uttered between us throughout our entire association up to that point. no spoken words were necessary. the feelings vibrated strongly in the air around us and the words were found there, floating between us in silent whispers.

keith was tugging at my hand to get my attention, as my gaze was locked on our intertwined fingers, my mind thirstily drinking in the image of us threaded together so perfectly. my eyes slowly made their way up his body to his face, absorbing the emerald richness of his izod shirt, the collar popped up so that the edges skimmed against his jheri curls. i dared a quick glance at his lips before my gaze crawled up to his eyes. i smiled timidly, unsure of what to say or do. he smiled back.

"where do you live?" he asked as he partially turned to start walking away from the school. i fell in step next to him, feeling the warmth from his hand still enveloping mine.

"my house...," i hesitated trying to remember the name of the street. he turned his head to look at me expectantly.

what? WHERE DO I LIVE???...

" on boulderview." i exclaimed, relief in my voice.


"really?" he answered, "my house is on indian trail." he smiled shyly. my answering smile was equally as shy.

the fact that his house was only a street over from mine confirmed in my mind that this was all predestined as a nine-year-old girl will find anything to confirm that some higher entity played a hand in bring her together with her first love. if there was a crack in the sidewalk, it meant keith and i were meant to be. if the sun set in the west, our love was meant to be. if the sky was blue...well, you get the picture.

i was excited about the idea of us walking home together everyday. my imagination was already way ahead of me as i started envisioning us walking home hand in hand with the flaxen and russet hues of autumn leaves cascading around us in a romantic shower. then the image evolved into one of us wearing heavy coats and wollen caps, our mitten-covered hands clasped tightly as we made our way home while the winter wind howled and bit at our exposed skin. images of us walking home through all of the seasons were racing through my mind as we continued heading towards my house.

we had been walking for about three minutes when the books in my arms started digging into my side awkwardly. i was shifting them into the crook of my arm to better hold them in place when keith noticed what i was doing.

"i can carry those for you." he declared as he stopped to face me. dropping to one knee, he opened his bookbag and reached for my books, placing them in the space next to his own. zipping the bag closed, he stood up, ran his arms through the twin straps, and settled it onto his back. he turned again towards the street and started walking. i quickly fell into step again, my heart doing flips as i realized no boy had ever carried my books for me before. in that moment he became my hero.

then i felt him slide his fingers through mine to resume holding my hand and i bent my head to hide the huge grin that had siezed my features, transforming my face into all teeth and cheeks.

we again started walking home, our pace much slower than the other kids around us. it was as if we were moving in slow motion against a backdrop being fast-forwarded. everyone was running to get home, making chatter about plans for later in the day, lamenting about homework being given on the first day of school, and complaints about summer being over. everyone ignored the tall golden brown boy holding hands with the too tall mud brown girl wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a dreamy grin on her face.

everyone, that is, except for five girls.

as keith and i looked to our right to see if it was okay to cross the street, i glanced over to the sidewalk and noticed renee and four of her cohorts whispering furtively between themselves. my heart hurt a little as i was reminded of how they had dissed me earlier that day during recess.

keith squeezed my hand briefly and i glanced over to notice he was watching the girls, too.

"don't worry about them," he said reassuredly as we crossed the street.

i looked at him, puzzlement marring my features.

"why would i need to worry about them?" i asked as i stole another look in their direction.

"renee can be a bully when she wants to be," he said matter-of-factly.

i didn't say anything. renee was scary, and not only because she was so aggressive. she was also scary because she had so many girls who would follow her lead without a second thought. we continued walking silently as a shiver of trepidation traveled up my spine. just as we were passing his street we heard a yell.

"keith!" a young girl was running towards us. keith's face was cast in instant irritation as he watched her approach. stopping before us, she gave a fleeting look in my direction before turning her attention to keith.

"what is it, joy?" he asked exasperately. he dropped my hand quickly as he grabbed for the straps on his bookbag. joy looked pointedly at him, as if to say she'd seen he'd been holding my hand.

"momma told me to come get you," she said with authority, "we gotta get to the hospital to see ma'dear."

keith shifted his feet, placing his weight onto one leg as his brows came down angrily. his eyes were piercing as he stared at joy.

"tell momma i'll be there in a minute. i've got something to do."

"uh uh! i'm not tellin' her that!" she exclaimed, her mouth agape as her face took on a look of shock, "you betta come on before momma gets you!" she added with a warning in her voice.

i'd been standing there the whole time witnessing the exchange between them. a myriad of emotions played across keith's visage as he tried to cover his embarrassment at being summoned. he remained at a standoff with joy until a blaring sound in the distance caused them both to jump.

"that's momma now!" joy turned around quickly and started retreating down the street. "you betta come on, keith!" she yelled from a distance.

keith turned to me, regret etched in his features.

"i can't walk you home today, nikki." he got down on one knee and opened up his bookbag to pull out my books. once upright, he handed the books to me.

"that's okay," i said, trying to tamper down the disappointment welling in my chest. he stared at me for a moment longer, then leaned over and pressed his lips to my cheek. my eyes grew wide with surprise and my hand immediately went up to cover my cheek. i wanted to capture that kiss in my hand and have it permanently tattooed to my skin.

"i'll see you tomorrow." he promised softly before turning to walk slowly towards his house. the car horn blared again and he started running, his mother's wrath spurring him along.

i watched him until he was a dot in the distance. sighing, i turned and started heading home. i had just made the turn onto my street when i heard a voice coming from behind me.

"do you know what you did, nikki?"

i swiftly turned around and found myself facing renee and her girls. fear lept into my throat and my body seized with alarm as i watched them surround me.

"wh-what did i do?" i stammered out as i clutched my books closer to my chest.

renee moved in closer, menace traced in every step. her face was contorted, animosity illustrated in every unnatural groove found in her countenance. when she stopped, she was so close to me our shoes were almost touching. her hands tightened into fists at her sides as she glared at me with eyes throwing knives meant to cut me up in to little pieces.

"" she said through clenched teeth, each word punctuated with her rising ire. i gasped and stepped back, bumping into one of her co-horts standing behind me. my heart tripped as i remembered a cryptic conversation from earlier in the day.

girl, you betta stop staring at keith like that!

what are you talking about???

all i'm saying is that you need to watch what you're doing.

i stared at renee, the enormity of my actions dawning on my face in a mask of horror.

"y-you like keith??" i whispered with a croak in my voice, my hold on my books so tight the edges were cutting into my skin. renee snorted derisively, the look on her face telling me i had just asked a stupid question.

"he was MINE," she spit out, her eyes narrowing into hate-filled slits. "he was MY boyfriend, and you stole him from me."

my eyes, already wide with fear, widened even more as i realized where this was headed.