Vincent entered the room. This had happened everyday for four and a half months, but over the past few weeks, each time sent Tiara’s heart a flutter. She sat in her seat, second from both the left and the front, trying to look busy, her eyes scurrying everywhere except for the area immediately in front of the door. Tiara looked down at her phone, because Vincent’s seat was directly beside hers, and they would lock eyes if she were looking anywhere else. The thought was more than her sixteen-year-old heart could bear.
Tiara was somewhat of a late bloomer, making it all the way to her junior year of high school without having ever gone on a date. Her entire circle of friends had lagged behind their peers, most of which seemed to have started attracting guys and girls and a few folks in between by the time they entered middle school. Yet while Anita, Patrice, and Vanessa commiserated until the beginning of their freshmen year, two of them managed to find love by that spring.
Patrice and Tiara went on mutually single until the summer after sophomore year, at which point one of them became obsessed with Leonard Pike, the formerly pimply kid she worked with at Tall Oak Camp, an aptly named location for the activities that took place there over the following months.
Tiara went through the first half of junior year feeling as though all of her friends had abandoned her. She was alone, the only one who had no stories of love or physical escapades to share. Romance for her still consisted only of lying in bed at night, allowing her mind and hands to wander.
Then she ran into Vincent over Christmas break. It was an innocent encounter, the two of them spotting into each other as they wanted into the same toy aisle looking for something to get their respective little sisters. After making eye contact, it would be more awkward for either of them to try to back out or scurry past, so they spoke.
In a few brief sentences, Tiara and Vincent found out that both had siblings that were in the early years of elementary school, far too young to have actual conversations with. But they each cared enough to pick out a present of their own accord, not because their parents had issued a decree.
The experience wasn’t much, but it was enough for Tiara to have her eyes locked on Vincent once they returned to school in a couple of weeks. Every step he took, every word he said, and every gesture was tinted in the rosy light of a man who was tender and kind.
“Hey,” Vincent said to her, like he had every morning since they got back from Christmas break. It wasn’t like they never talked in class throughout first semester, but rarely did either try to have a conversation, assuming that the other already had people they were more interested in. By this point in their high school, most everyone did.
But now, both saw enough reason to explicitly look at each other and begin each day with “Hey.”
Usually Tiara, bashful as always, would retreat after the short greeting, burying her eyes to the book on her desk or a phone tucked away underneath. This time, though, she mustered up enough strength to flash a smile. For her, this largely innocent gesture was the height of flirtation, the most she had ever done to get a guy’s attention.
She had Vincent’s. The fresh seventeen-year-old had gone his entire life without scoring, in any way, with a female. He tried slipping a note or two into a girl’s locker, commenting on more than a few Facebook statuses, and even calling a friend over the phone (which only cemented him as the person Layla went to whenever she had to vent about the world). Women, it seemed, could not see him.
But for a few moments over break, Tiara had. After their brief conversation, he thought about her everyday. He would pull out his tablet and flip through her Instagram photos until one time he built up the nerve to send her a message (on Facebook, to avoid revealing that he had been checking her out). Tiara responded eagerly, though with such little experience, Vincent didn’t pick up on the desire that filled the spaces in between her words. He figured, at most, he had found another girl who was willing to talk to him. Anything beyond that was still too much to believe.
Yet they continued to talk, on and off, each day throughout the next couple of weeks. They learned more about each other’s families, what music they were both into, and what books they liked. Surprisingly, they were both heavy readers, though Tiara consumed novels much faster than Vincent could muster. This only made her more attractive to him.
When the two returned to school, they both had visions of hitting it off. How lucky were they that the person they liked happened to sit next to them for 90 minutes every day? But two weeks later, all they really said was “Hey.” Both usually proceeded to beat themselves up over their inability to strike up more.
But this time, Tiara’s smile gave Vincent the sign of confidence he needed to take the next step. “So uh, how was your weekend?”
“It was alright,” Tiara said. Then she panicked. That’s it? I’m killing the conversation, again. “I finished that book I was reading.”
“Cool,” Vincent said. He looked away, apparently curious whether the teacher was about to start class. Really, he just didn’t know what to say next. You’re ruining it, dude.
Facing Tiara again, he asked, “It seemed interesting. Can I borrow it?”
“Sure.” Tiara unlocked the phone in her hand. After opening the app, she asked, “What email address is your account tied to?”
Oh no, not that embarrassing old address. “Here, let me type it in,” Vincent said, reaching out his hand.
Tiara passed him her phone, and in that moment, their fingers touched. Vincent was slow to grab the phone and pull his hand away. Making eye contact, they both smiled sheepishly.
Vincent typed in his address, but he was suddenly less concerned about Tiara seeing it. When he handed the phone back, this time they allowed their fingers to linger there. A whole minute passed with them holding each other’s hand, a phone wedged awkwardly in between.