Will she stay and listen to his song?
My heart skipped a beat. It came on the wind and kissed my ears. "Daylight" by Maroon 5 played. How can lyrics expose what was in my heart?
Waiting. Holding on. Slip away. Staring. Beautiful. In your arms.
I glanced at him, he glanced back at me while we "oh, woah'd" with the refrain. Here I was, after all those years looking at my grade school nemesis, the shameless Dave, with kinder eyes.
He sat under the dogwood tree, and I plopped down beside him. I stared at his profile for one glimpse of his russet eyes. When he faced me, his eyes twinkled. This time, his slicked-back undercut hair didn't scream rocker.
What was I to say when he turned to me again this time? He smiled so sweetly, and his eyes sparkled.
"Natalie, don't worry, even if it's destined to happen." Dave looked down at my hand and enveloped it with his. "All I care about is this song... and... and..."
It took a long time, didn't it, Dave? I fought the tears.
Dave mumbled something then looked at me. "It plays as if it was meant to happen just for us. Even if this is the last day, Natalie, everything that's happened between us, ever since the first time I met you, I'll never regret. It's made you who you are. Right?" He squeezed my hand tighter, and I nodded. "It's all been worth it. This one moment in time, like I can go home with the Stanley Cup!" Dave laughed. "And I wouldn't take it back. You're always going to be special." He suddenly sat straight up. "Hey, will you sing with me? The song is gonna end soon."
"Okay, let's sing until our throats hurt, and till every frog in this world sings with us!" With just his smile, he steadied my loneliness.
He was genuine, easy to sing with and we kept on singing with the snow-white dogwood blooms swaying to our song.
As we both sang our song, my mind traveled back to where my journey started, and as I looked into the flicker in his eyes, I cherished and remembered.
Steger 6th Grade Center
Every morning whenever it was the weekend, I would ride my bike to Hixsen's community running field. This time, I raced to Steger 6th Grade Center's field track, which was on the same route, but a couple of miles closer to home.
The tall Elms that banked along the trail loomed over me while their thick leaves tickled the sky, following the movement of the refreshing wind. This was what I loved the most, the blue sky blanketed with brilliant rays of the sun, without any sign of clouds. Serenity? Happiness? This was what it all summed up to.
I whipped past the sprawling grounds right before my school. Small green hills laced the background with suburban houses crouched between the lumps of trees. I skirted the curves on the trail way. Hiked up on my bike, pumping the peddles, I stood up with arms in the air, catching the wind on my face. It was so safe with hardly any traffic at any time in this area.
This was cool, fast, and easy. I'll make it to my school in no time.
I settled back down on my seat, readying for bumps on the road. In only a few more minutes, I'd be there. The closer I got to the track, the faster I peddled, into a thundering speed.
"Watch out! 'Cuz here I come! Yahoooooo!" I shouted.
It felt so good! Total spazzzz!
I enjoyed listening to the gravel and dirt crunch under the wheels as the furious wind struck on my face. Steger 6th Grade Center stretched across, like a flat ranch home with no second levels. Big sidewalks and wide steps led my eyes to the doors and mediocre beige colors of the building.
That part was nothing to brag about, but the track field, in my eyes, was the spark in my day. Early morning was no prob for me, either. Hardly any students were around so I sped to the back of Steger, skidded to a stop on my bike, pad locked it on the bike rack, and headed toward the running track.
I jogged across the green and did some warm-ups. Felt like I was readying for the Olympics, stepping with my knees high in my shorts and white top. I hiked my butt up and my hands on the red track lane in starting position. The whistle blew, and I was off! I pumped my arms, in sync with my gait.
You thought a cheetah was fast? Heck, I was faster!
The wind and I was one as I imagined myself winning that gold trophy and being a prestige student of our school. Our P.E. teacher, Miss Hannah with the ponytail, trained us at school frequently. She had lots of hope that I'd win the racing competition among all sixth-grade students.
I was the representative of my class, Grade 6 Ruby. I competed against other sixth graders at different periods who were reps of their classes.
I was now at the end of the line ready for the whistle. I was positive that I'd beat every competitor that I had in the race.
The Grand School Racing Competition
It didn't matter how much of an early start the girls in front had. Yeah, maybe they could run fast, as I saw them in their t-shirts, shorts, and pants grow distant. We were told to wear our regular everyday cooler clothes for this race since P.E. Uniforms were not issued for sixth graders. Never mind that, it didn't hamper us runners. We still could pump our legs with feet nearly hitting our butts from behind... maybe, just maybe...
Miss Hannah's slim figure grew smaller as I whizzed by. The dirt gravel of my lane blurred beneath my feet while I pumped my legs and arms. Dang, I was running fast. Yeah, Terminator had nothing on me! My heart beat on full volume. I was going to be the next racing champion. I had to win! Fate and destiny would prove to everyone else that I would succeed!
Those thoughts echoed in my ears. I concentrated on running faster and faster and focused on my breathing. The finish line glimmered in the distance, and my hopes were high. I pictured myself soaring like an eagle, with incredible confidence and poise.
As I crossed the finish line, everyone screamed for joy and cheered me on. I knew I had won the race.
"Congratulations, Natalie Austin!" Miss Hannah waved and trotted toward me. "You truly are a genius on the track!" With bangs and her brown hair slicked back in a ponytail, she looked like a teenager. Her smile was so honest. She patted me on the back. "You, Natalie, are going to receive extra credit for your hard work!"
"Thank you, Miss Hannah," how could I not smile back at her, "you're the best! Best teacher I ever had!"
I was pumped. My classmates gathered around and congratulated me. "You're so good, Natalie!"
"Awesome race!" Other classmates yelled, jumped up and down.
"Thanks, guys." I stood there, smiled in wonder, while they circled around me, cheering me on. Today, I witnessed my first real triumph.
In the closing ceremony, my name was called. I walked to the stage and received the gold trophy. Beside me was Miss Hannah. The juniors and seniors took our picture. I gave a proud smile and congratulated myself over and over in my mind.
After the ceremony was over, one of my classmates, Carly, rushed over to my side, blonde, delicate, soft voiced with her bouncy long hair. Her big blue eyes widened as she stumbled her words.
"Hey, uhm... uhhh... Nat, Natalie, I'm sorry, but do you want to come to my sleepover?" She asked.
Carly has got to be kidding. I'm not the socializing type. Don't like friends over my house and I don't like to come over theirs. I just stared at her.
"It's going to be fun!" Carly seemed to hold her breath.
I didn't want to be bothered.
"Sorry, I'm busy today." I tilted my head, my dark blonde hair cascaded to the side. "Anyhow, thanks for your invite." I wanted to sound totally sincere and before she could respond, I hurried away.
Inside the school's building, I saw Dave at the bottom of the stairs. His hair and eyes were dark brown. He was notorious for never doing anything-- a lazy guy who didn't seem to care. "Hi, Natalie!"
Ugh, I met his gaze, disappointed that he had noticed my presence. He was usually too busy daydreaming.
While we walked up the stairs, I gave him a smile and struggled to greet him out of courtesy.
"Hi, Dave," I said as I stepped faster up the stairs, passing the first landing.
"Congratulations!" He answered back close behind me.
I had answered abruptly and started to turn again when he spoke, "You deserved to win the race."
"Ah, well... thanks."
Finally, I left him at the top of the stairs, which was his favorite place to hang out. I made a mental note not to go on those stairs again.
At last, I heard the dismissal bell rang. I walked outside into the fresh air to meet my precious love, my bike.
I hopped on it and headed home, basking in the sunlight. The weather was just perfect. This was it! This was the most incredible timing to do this! As I looked up, the sun's light poured down on me, and the tree's leaves fluttered and danced with the rhythm of the wind. I felt like I was flying, without a care in the wind. I felt like a real superhero. I shouted, not caring if anyone heard me. "This is soo cool! WOHOOOH!"
The next day: In the School's Library
During my spare time at recess, I went to the library to study. I walked in and sat down on my favorite place with the refreshing smell of leather and wood.
I took the novel and started reading chapter five. Then I grabbed the homework sheet, answered all the questions, and studied for the next week's test. My habit was to always review in advance so I'd get a high score.
The librarian smiled at me and started a conversation. "Natalie, how are you?" Dusty brown hair, cropped short, framed her small face. Her gray eyes that never missed a beat here at the library contrasted her dark blue cardigan sweater caped over her shoulders giving that superhero vibe.
I smiled back. "I'm doing great, Miss Vella."
"You are a hardworking student. Keep up the good work, Natalie."
I always felt happy whenever someone recognized my hard work. "Thank you, Miss Vella."
"And congratulations on winning the race yesterday! I saw your picture on the school's announcement board. You looked fantastic holding your gold trophy, standing next to Miss Hannah. That's truly a great achievement!"
"Miss Vella, thank you again. It was so much fun and all that hard work really did pay off. It has encouraged me to dream, to know I can actually achieve great things."
The school bell rang. It meant that recess was over. I stood up and put my stuff in my backpack. "Goodbye, Miss Vella. See you tomorrow."
She waved her hand. "Bye, Natalie. See you tomorrow."
As I headed toward class, I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Natalie,"
I stopped and looked back. "Oh, it's you, Dave," my tone soured.
"Hey, I know I've said this before, but I want to congratulate you again on winning that amazing gold trophy." Dave ruffled his hair and gave a smile. "Ahhh, you look great in your picture. All of us are happy for you. My friends are talking about how awesome you were in the race. Congratulations!" His voice got louder at the end. He aimed for a fist bump with me. I gave him back a limp fist bump.
We both entered the classroom together. All eyes were on us. Our classmates had mischievous smiles and teased us with an "Ooooh!"
Ola said in a loud voice. "Aren't they cute together?"
The whole class again hummed, "Oooh!"
Dave smiled and glanced at me to see if I smiled too.
I remained quiet, sat on my chair, and secretly looked at Dave as he went to the middle row and sat down too.
My classmates passed notes around until they reached us, pink and blue color stickies on my desk saying that we should hold hands now or maybe hug.
Hixsen Middle School-Grade 7: In the School Park
Flanking the school's driveway right before you got the steps were a few rows of purple irises, and pretty pink salmon daisies. Hixsen Middle School 7th through 8th Grades was located near the highway off of Elmon Avenue just a few miles from home. I was the first one there to pick some of these flowers. I honestly didn't want to be interrupted and get in trouble until Carly approached me.
"Uhm, Natalie, I was wondering if you could come over to my house tonight? It's my birthday."
I didn't look at her, just focused on picking a few of the beautiful irises around me. I could tell she was nervous. At least she didn't yell out I was destroying Hixsen's property. I greeted her in a halfhearted manner, "Happy Birthday, Carly."
I looked at her with the flowers behind my back and said, "Unfortunately, I'm kind of busy. My family and I have some important things to do tonight. Sorry!"
"It's okay. I understand. Anyway, thank you for the birthday wishes!"
"You're welcome." I smiled to hide that sigh of relief.
I picked up a handful of the beautiful salmon and pink Gerbera daisies, and bundled some to take home with me. Glad I wasn't caught by the school's ground maintenance. Just like most days, I rode my bike home from school and enjoyed my time with nature.
After I arrived home, I studied until just before dinnertime, which was my favorite time of day. Then I went out again and took a look at the neighborhood while I rode my bike. As I passed by, all the neighbors greeted me warmly. I greeted them back and continued on my amazing adventure. I heard the throbbing of my heart as both of my feet went faster. The speed of my bike was fierce. I felt my adrenaline pumping at its quickest. The air moving past me felt soothing. My bike has hit the bumps and cracks at a fearsome speed so I could feel the danger that added color and thrill, made me feel more than alive. The bike ride was an incredible moment for me. "YEAAAAH!" I cheered.
This was my perfect spot. On this small hill, I could see downtown, the arch, and the Mississippi river, facing east. It allowed me to witness the sunsets of the Gateway of the West. Though the sun went down from behind, it cast beautiful colors to the east. I plopped down with my back against the bark of my favorite dogwood tree and waited to watch the sky change as the sun went down. The refreshing wind tickled my skin and hugged me tight and secure. The sky looked like a painted masterpiece. The pure yellow sun warmed from behind. Across the horizon crept in the lightest touch of pink and orange shades.
"Whoa! It's so beautiful," I said.
It was so peaceful and serene that I jumped when I heard a guy's voice near me respond, "Yeah it is."
I looked around me, but there was no sign of anyone.
"Am I going crazy?" I whispered to myself.
"Don't worry. You aren't crazy. I'm here on the other side."
I got up and walked to the other side of the tree. I was shocked! I couldn't think of any words to say. It took a brief moment for me to say his name. "Dave? What are you doing here?"
"I'm always here when you come to see the sunsets."
"W-why haven't I - I ever noticed?"
He gave me a long stare before he answered, "What do ya mean?"
I was irritated. I didn't want to share my favorite place with anyone, especially Dave! "No, seriously what are you doing here?"
He sucked in his lips, like he was angry or something. "Natalie, does this tree, grass, or sky have your name written on it?" My mouth fell open in irritation. That made me loathe him even more while he continued. "Every time I've looked at this tree, grass or sky your name has never been written there. That means you don't own this place," he said. His eyes narrowed and his hands balled into fists at his side.
"First of all, I never said anything about my name being written anywhere around here. Second of all, I just don't like you. I never will."
As I spoke, he scoffed and looked away, as if he wasn't paying attention. "You are so lazy!" Yeah, he'll listen to this. "You don't do anything in P.E. class! In science, you just sit there, and the teacher doesn't even care! You just look around and daydream with your stupid thoughts or whatever is going on in your head. And yet somehow they let you pass, and it's just not fair!" I didn't realize how high-pitched my voice got. Apparently, it didn't phase him.
He shook his head and laughed, piercing me with his stare. "Why do you care so much?" His voice was low and menacing. "It's not like you're going to die because I'm lazy."
I could feel the blood rush to my face. "Me!" I pointed to myself. "I care for what I do! I've been working hard all my life to pass. You! You just look around, stare at the ceiling, and pass without even doing anything!"
His laugh boomed out and hurt my ears. "Ohhhh! Wow! Yeah! You do care a lot. Like where the sun don't shine! Up yours!"
Dave poked his tongue at me. I wanted to strangle him. He kept on laughing at me like I was a clown.
"Jerk!" I yelled and hopped on my bike to pedal off.
"Hey, Natalie, I am sorry," he called to me. He sounded serious, calmed while I watched him advance toward my bike. In the next second, he gave me a fake smile and said, "I bet anyone who sees you like this would laugh themselves silly. You look so stupid!" He started laughing like he was happy, enjoying the fact that I was so annoyed.
Before I left, I rode over his feet. He blurted, "Ouch!"
I stormed off on my bike and made my way out of the woods and back home, but I could hear his taunting laughter into the evening.
Grade 7: The Last Day of School
I was happy because it was finally the last day of school, and I was free to do whatever I wanted. Summer had finally come. I rode on my bike, avoiding the place where Dave had found me a month ago. He was just the jerkiest and laziest guy ever! One day my mom told me I had to buy her bread and milk, and the only way to get there was the road that would lead me to Dave. As I biked past, hoping to avoid him, something moving in the distance caught my ears and my heart. It was a mellow, soft tune. Someone plucking the guitar with such rare brilliance, and a voice with such gentle beauty that its sweetness captivated me.
He was singing Maroon 5's "Daylight" in his acoustic version. As I rode to my normal spot, I saw the culprit, Dave Castillo pouring his emotions into the song. He was singing while sitting on the grass surrounded by white wild indigo and blue wildflowers. His guitar playing was an added perfection to his shining charisma, which must have always been there. But I never saw it before. My feelings were a knot in my stomach. I was falling in love, and at the same time, I was angry with myself because I felt that way. My mind told me just to leave before he saw me, but my heart told me to stay, and listen. Suddenly, his eyes opened, and I knew he would see me. I biked away at the fastest speed to get far from him. I whispered to myself. "Oh my God, I hope he didn't see me!"
I was far away in no time, but my mind was in chaos because I was only thinking about him. My heart was beating too strong. I felt anxious, and I began to cough, while speeding on my bike.
I fled past green and brown cookie cutter homes before arriving at my own. I hopped off my bike as fast as I could and rushed to the locked gate. I fumbled for my keys in the pocket of my jogging pants, unlocked the gate and rushed my bike into the garage.
Mom was there in the dining room waiting for me. "Natalie, good thing you're here!"
Her happy face turned into stone. "The bread? Milk? Where--?"
"Huh?" I put my palm to my face. "Oh, Mom! I'm sorry, I forgot!"
"Natalie!" Her voice went two pitches higher and gave me the chills. I needed to have big cotton balls stuck in my eardrums so that they wouldn't break. "I reminded you a million times to buy me that milk and bread!"
"Mom, I'm so sorry."
"Natalie, get back on your bike right now and go buy me the milk and bread!"
My ears felt like they were about to bleed. "But Mom, I am already tired." I didn't want to go back to that place where I had seen Dave and heard his beautiful voice. I didn't want to go there because if I did, Dave would be forever changed in my mind.
And that was the worst and last thing on earth that I ever wanted to happen.
My mom warned me, "If you don't buy me the milk and bread right now, you will be grounded and won't be able to use your bike for three days. Understand?"
"But, Mom, please, I'm exhausted."
"Just go, Natalie!"
I knew that was her final word. I let out an unhappy sigh and went out again with my bike. As I neared closer to where Dave had been, I hoped he already left, and yet somehow I wished he would still be there. I knew my emotions were getting all mixed up. I kept forcing my eyes not to look, to see if he was there, but I did anyway.
"Oh, he's gone." Disappointment surged through my body. Man! I hate myself! Frowning, I continued peddling to the gas station that had an adjoining convenience store.
The sales vendor didn't help my mood as the ting-a-ling of the doorbell sounded when I stepped through. He kept giving me the stare, looking me up and down from head to toe. He seemed pretty creepy with his short mousy brown hair, thin face. What was the matter with this guy? He didn't even look at the bread and milk while slowly putting the stuff in the plastic bag. He just stared at me with those beady gray eyes.
It was deathly silent until I heard the little bell rang again and felt a breeze as the door swung open. Another person came in the store. Out of curiosity, I looked to see who the newcomer was. I felt my breathing stop. I coughed nervously, and my heart pounded. My coughing alerted his attention, and I could feel him looking at me. Oh no! This was so embarrassing. Why was Dave even here? I heard myself cuss.
"Don't say bad words," Dave said behind me.
I glared at him, and he glared back. Argh! This dude thought just because he can sing that he can be a jerk. He kept glaring at me not even moving his eyes away from mine for a moment. As I looked back, I couldn't help but think how cute he was. What was wrong with me? Was I going crazy? I looked away to try and distract my thoughts.
"You can't even look at me?"
I glanced again at him and saw him smiling. I blurted out, "What?" even though I had heard very clearly what he'd said.
He still had the same arrogant smile. The encounter that had ended in me swearing angrily. I was a little depressed and very confused by then.
I saw Dave walked toward the drinks and chips area.
I was still lost in my thoughts if not for the creepy shopkeeper who faked a cough to catch my attention. "Little miss, that will be..."
I hurriedly gave him the bill as I avoided his creepy stare.
I took my shopping bag filled with the items needed. I almost tripped due to the slippery floor and in outburst said, "Shit!"
For the second time, once again, Dave's overly confident voice call out to me from the chips area, "Don't say bad words."
I didn't move and watched him come to the counter and pay for his items. Dave passed by me and I followed him out of the store.
I couldn't take his annoying attitude anymore, so I decided to confront him. I rushed toward him from behind with my bread and milk in one arm and shoved him.
"What do you want Dave? Why are you so freaking annoying? Do you want to fight with me? Is that what you want? Come on, tell me!"
He didn't fall, but swung around and stood there, squinting his eyes. He shook his head. His eyebrows crossed together in apprehension.
"Tell me! What do you want?"
Finally, he shouted, "Nothing! Something's wrong with you!"
He started to walk away, but I grabbed his arm so he would have to face me. "Seriously, tell me, what do you freaking want! Why are you making a scene?"
He frowned and said, "You're the one who's making a scene. I'm just letting you make it."
"You are the laziest guy in the universe! Everyone in the class knows how lazy you are!"
He had only half-turned to me, and so I pushed him to the side, but instead of falling sideways, he moved forward so close to me that I reeled back.
"You don't know what's going on in my life! You don't know anything about me!" It was the first time I heard his voice that angry.
"What do you want from me, Dave?"
"I want you to stop judging me." He turned on his heel and walked away.
What he'd said released all of the guilt hidden away in me. It was the most upsetting day of my life.
I rode home, and I felt like I wanted to shout. Scream at my mother for having made me go to the store. This was all her fault. Bread and milk! Hah! There was enough of both to last through the night. If she hadn't sent me, none of this would have happened. The shopkeeper was creepy enough, but then to have met Dave again! Unfair! I just wanted to get home, throw the milk and bread onto the kitchen table, and then run to the quiet of my room--after screaming at Mom.
But I didn't. I got home, put the milk in the refrigerator, and left the bread on the table. Mom was in the bathroom taking a shower. Relief. I wouldn't have to get into a shouting match with her. I hurriedly went to my room and shut the door.
Across the hall, I heard noises of the sound of the water running from my mom's shower.
I looked in my mirror for the longest time and remembered the words he said. "I want you to stop judging me," echoed in my mind as I punched the wall.
I turned away and looked at my framed seventh-grade class picture that was on the table close to my mirror. In the picture, Dave was standing at the back. I stared at the picture for a few seconds, closed my eyes, and deeply sighed.
I opened my eyes and looked at the mirror again hoping to erase Dave's sad eyes hidden by his anger. His words kept playing over and over in my head like a catchy song. Suddenly, I realized that I felt sorry and knew that he was right. My next step would be to accept this truth and face my feelings for him. I just wasn't quite ready.