-I wαsn'τ bυilτ το dο τhιs, το fυncτιοn αlοnε. Bυτ I wαs αlsο bυιlτ wιτh α sεvεrε cαsε οf sοcιαl αnxιετγ, sο gο fιgυrε.
-Wεερ nοt fοr mε, I shαll fιnd sοlαcε ιn my ρlετhοrα οf gαγ sυρεrnατυrαl Fαnficτιοn lιnks sαvεd το my ταb, wrιττεn by lεαguεs οf mοsτlγ-ταlεnτed αnd cεrταιnlγ dεvοτεd γουng gιrls.
-Dιd γου knοw τhε τοwn I'm frοm, Tυττlε Tοwn, hαs ιτs οwn wεrεwοlf rυmοrs? Wε lιvε by α lαkε ιn τhε wοοds, wε αrε τrεε-chορριng cαbιn-fοlk, αnd τhεrε αrε wοlvεs ουτ τhεrε. Bυτ τhε rυmοr ιs sεrιουs. Sο mαγbε αll my drεαms wιll cοmε τrυε αnd α sεxγ shαρεshιfτιng Tεεn Wοlf stαr wιll swεερ mε οff my fεετ αnd kεερ mε wαrm wιτh hιs sυρεrnατυrαllγ hιgh bοdγ-hεατ τhιs Wιnτεr? I cαn οnlγ hορε... If γου hαρρεn το gο το my schοοl, ιf γου hαρρεn το hαvε rοll cαll ιn τhε Scιεncε Blοck, and ιf γου hαρρεn το bε rεαdιng τhιs... ρlεαsε lετ mε knοw... But nαh, rεckοn I'll bε sτιcking τhιs γεαr ουt sοlο αgαιn.
- Yουrs ιn lοvε, ΗR
Upstairs in my bedroom, staring at the computer monitor in the dim I let out a sigh. From the cramped walls posters of old Disney stars, musical performers and funny cats watched me silently, witnessing in the dark. I ought to get some sleep. Extracting my wire glasses, tugging gently against my ears, I folded them up and switched off the old desktop. Through the lamplight I could see my tired reflection in the black glass, even with my blurry vision. My mess of auburn hair, hazel eyes squinting.
I ducked down to close a drawer. The wooden desk was op-shop crappy and could only close when you pushed it hard enough at the right angle. It jammed, I glimpsed a paper at the bottom that was filled with love-hearts and if you looked closer it was the same boy's name written over and over to make them.
When interactions can be crippling, when you feel skinny and weird and like nobody could ever love you, it's fun to daydream and play out the fantasies in your head. I didn't feel like I had a choice. Kicking the drawer with my bare foot and stubbing my toes finally got it shut. Then I flicked off the lamp and crawled under the heavy doona for sleep. It was late, I was quickly pulled under.
I never recall my dreams...
The digital alarm buzzed to life at 0700 and we weren't so into Winter for it still to be utterly dark. I slapped the plastic thing off and blinked myself awake. Outside the cold had left a sheen of moisture on the glass, both inside and out even with the little heater I kept beside the bed. I almost tripped over its cord on the way; I peered down at woodland. Pine trees and lumpy Earth, the early mist curling around trunks before it would retreat into the foresty depths once the day gets underway.
Downstairs I could hear my Grandparents busying away with breakfast. Mum had me young, quite young, when she still hadn't sorted herself out. She was getting drug help. I never knew my Dad. So I lived here with Pop and Nan in a rather nice, rather big, two-storey house of wood and clapboard. It wasn't too dusty, but dusty enough that its architecture made it feel like an antique. The sorta-cheap kind.
The same went for everything inside the house too, its furniture: starched sofas, dresser tables and drawers, arching mirrors, crystal vases that scattered tiny rainbows. The windchimes, the exquisite detail in the worthless cutlery. Shag-carpeted rooms and Indian rugs. An overabundant garden, cracked stone birdbath, miniature white gazebo. The vine trellis up the criss-crossing wooden frame of the separate front garage by the street. A wooden bench swing on a thin chain, the musk of all those flowers wet with moisture under the sun.
And of course the sheer multitude of pointless little nick-nacks with no value: brass goblets and chalices, some full of marbles or multi-coloured glass beads that resemble candy, just sitting there to the side of doorways. Peeled paint and wood panels. We have rows of tomato plants out back between the rotted and slanted wooden fencing. Chickenwire for it to climb up. We have tiny diamond-patterns in the curtains, hanging beads in the hallway, a glassfront china cupboard. Painted on ceramic flowers.
Time flew away from me in those awful daydream moments where I basically disassociate. I must not have had enough sleep, I jumped when Nan called me down.
"Corey! Come have some breakfast!"
It was a quiet affair, as usual. Orange juice in our stylish but cheap glassware. Bacon and eggs and beans on toast, the plates, salt-and-pepper shakers, really everything in this house looked antique and old. The linoleum floor, dotted with ash, curled up in the corners of the room. Pop read the newspaper while drinking a mug of black coffee. Nan closed our round-edged 50s era fridge and was now wiping up.
They were both nice enough, even if they used to insist I come with them to church. The local Pentecostal church, which while nice enough I still recall the Pastor nodding grimly as he reaffirmed that God didn't design people to be gay. My guts had squirmed and sank into the plastic chair and I'd refused to go again. The kids from church youth group had all been nice enough, a shame.
I finished breakfast quick and put my plate in the sink, running upstairs to get ready. I stood under the hot spray of the shower, only to daze off. Startled by Nan calling out to me again, realizing my finger-pads had wrinkled. I jumped out.
Feeling the fluffy purple mat between my toes, atop the cold eggshell-colored tiles of the bathroom is one of my favorite waking sensations, but I brushed my teeth fiercely with the Sensodyne. Spitting froth into the sink. I dressed myself quickly, flicking off the heater, and then rushed downstairs and out the door, down our long and sloping driveway. Making it to the bus stop just in time. As the rusted door screeched for entry I was thankful I'd ran.
"Cooooreeyyyy! Heyyy Coreyyy!" frizzy-haired Hailey Urquhart was waving me over from the back of the bus. Surrounded by various other friends and acquaintances, like my oldest friend Zoe Bailey with a single earpiece in, listening to music. Nobody else shared Hailey's exuberance.
Hailey was a 'character'. She was an exuberant firecracker of endless energy. Entirely self-absorbed and not very self-aware. She was fun in small doses though, and she considered me her verybest friend. Hailey loved spending time with me because I was perfectly fine with talking about nothing but her, sometimes talk would come back around to me but never for very long.
I liked to think I was mature enough to take Hailey as she is. I knew whatnotto expect from her. Her lack of social skills would've made her a pariah were it not for the fact that shewasoften funny, shewasoften fun to be around, and she wassometimescool. But also draining and crazy and a handful.
"Hey bestieeee!" she actually raised her hand for a high-five, which I acquiesced. I liked to think I was her best friend cause I was more mature than everyone else. Zoe told me it was because I had difficulty sticking up for myself, and had bizarrely submissive tendencies.
"I read your blog entry last night." Black-haired Zoe turned casually to say, that single earphone still in and playing music. Her haircut was vaguely reminiscent of an anime, in effect: cool. "Got the sads?" She broke up with her boyfriend a few weeks ago so was feeling empathetic.
I bunched my lips in answer before turning back to Hailey who was exploding into another story. Most of the teens were wearing jackets, some denim with sheepskin inside. Warm beanies with earflaps and fingerless gloves to fight off the cold.
My social anxiety, which is very real by the way, always seizes me the moment I'm about to talk to anyone. Even friends and family. Thankfully, it usually fades very quickly provided I know the people well and feel safe. When I'm out I always get someone else to order food for me and I can't talk on the phone to strangers without choking and hanging up. When I do relax I can be perfectly fine, but never in unfamiliar territory.
Doesn't really help with making friends, does it? Or finding a date.
I listened just enough to Hailey to get the gist of what she was saying. I listened more than anyone else would be willing to. Pine trees and cabin homes whipped by, and soon Lake Laguna was visible. It was a saltwater lake, unusual in these parts, so there was no grass by the edge of the water. Only black, wet earth. It stretched out far, clear and changing silver to blue as it reached the mountains on the other side. People were still out kayaking in the distance, even in the chill.
In Summer time Tuttle was a primo destination for college kids who'd rent wood-log cabins and throw wild parties, upsetting our meagre police department. Most of the year it was a quiet small town that housed a lumber mill (bearded, beanie-clad men in plaid driving huge trucks in and out of the woods, logs strapped to the back in a triangle formation and taken into the smoking mill). It had an old town hall and library, a street of shops (the markets, where townsfolk held events like pumpkin pageants in the fall), a single post office and only two petrol stations on opposing sides of the street. Twenty minutes out of town you can find a waterpark and the local fairground carnival. Both of which were frequently closed from the cold.
When the bus pulled up to the school I felt a burst of excitement. A blur of blonde hair and bare skin whipping by the long window as we came to a stop. I clenched into the worn leather seat, fingers through an opening into the foam interior. When I could stand I pulled myself up by a greasy metal pole, which, yuck; I brushed off my hand and kept my focus on outside.
Tuttle High school was a collection of block buildings. The tall fence border which while spiked was still easily climbable - and regularly climbed by class-ditchers. Opposite the street was a cabin-style home by the fringe of woodland, and there was Billy Murphy axing wood again, shirtless. The mechanical, almost angry swinging of the axe, and then piling the firewood by the side of the road to sell. He was the older brother of a classmate, now out of school but not gone away to any college, and I'd always thought he was gorgeous.
Billy often went out to chop down trees or go hunting alone, even at the threat of wild animals. Wouldn't it be something if he were the bear-wolf? The town werewolf that people insisted on seeing at night during a full moon, silhouetted, arching its back and howling on a cliff-face by the lake, above the crashing salty spray. The monster that people blamed whenever someone got lost or eaten on hunting trips.
As I followed my friends into school – putting an end to my subtle checking-out of a longtime crush and the flushes riddling my body – I went back to thinking about my blog, and what I'd do if there was a supernatural creature at my school. Just fanciful daydreams. The pretense of a protective, Edward Cullen-ish lover.
Or just anyone really. I'd never revealed my identity on my blog. But that last post was the closest I'd ever come, revealing my school and even roll block like that. I guess the oncoming Winter brought a burst of desperation out of me. Daydreaming in my bedroom about not only conversing with someone new without it being crippled by my social ineptitude, but about actually knowing what it's like to have a boyfriend for the first time in my life. My blog was well-trafficked but nobody apart from Zoe in this whole school would be reading it, certainly not someone gay.
Joining the throng of students, my anxiety made my body clench and throat tighten, but I walked the path with my friends by the brick administration building and past the spiky plants behind it. Beyond a bark picnic area, past the Visual Arts building I could see the wide grassy oval. Miner birds circling and swooping each other by the fringe of the forest. I could smell morning dew that'd settled by the dawn mist.
We entered the double-doors of A Block, the English block, to find the Year 12 lockers. I saw Lance Platt, a small soft-spoken boy from Maths who I used to think might be gay before he started dating Chelsea from debate club. I saw Sebastian Fiddock, a weird and antisocial boy who watched classmates from a distance but never joined in, prowling with eyes dark and canine. The werewolf? He was certainly nothing like the buff dudes from Teen Wolf, or anything like an ideal supernatural lover from FanFiction.
Our group separated as we hunted down our individual lockers. I found my number and twisted the lock,click-click-click, and opened the door to a surprise.
An open envelope somebody had slid in for me. My heart stuttered. A wave of lightheaded levity pulsed through my body, but I fought to steam it out.It is not a love letter, Corey. Don't be so stupid. I pulled out the thrice-folded paper.
Turns out your not the only hopelessgαy teen romαntic in Tuttle Town. Funny thαt. Im so glαd to finαlly meet you, butαmαbit too shy toαpproαch you in person. Imωorried you might not like me. Mαybe we should get to knoωeαch other first. Heresαn emαil you cαn reαch meωith. I hope you dont mind. Its probαblyωeird thαt I knoωωho youαre but you dont knoωωho Iαm. I promise Ill reveαl myself to you soon enoughαnd youll knoωexαctlyωho Iαm.
Yours in love, a secretαdmirer.
P.S. I think your reαlly beαutiful.
I didn't believe it, I simply couldn't believe it. This was Zoe's way of trying to be nice, or someone else was playing a hideous prank. But although that very real concern arose, it was almost immediately swept away by my idealistic, overly-optimistic lover's naiveite. It crashed into me like a tidal wave and the lightheaded levity was back.
There is a gay student in this school and he thinks I'm beautiful.The thought circled wildly in my brain like a looping rollercoaster. Not cute... but beautiful?
I was the type of person who treasured any gift from anyone, no matter how small and meaningless. This unbelievably sweet gesture made my heart swell, and I knew this letter needed to be locked away where I could keep it safe forever. Even though I knew nothing about my secret admirer. The mysterious writer who's been reading my blog. My future first love.