The next morning I was up before dawn and down by the lake. I'd tried for an early sleep but only managed a few hours, still got up before the sun and snuck out while the sky was only just getting touched by the light. Phasing into royal blue. It was very silly, but this was all born from my sentimental idealism. On occasion I like to do things like walk to the lake at dawn and ponder my life in solitude.
Could this be it? When I look back on the days of my life, could this little journey that bisects from my usual routine mark the coming end of my loneliness and depression? My oldest friend Zoe Bailey matured quickly, she first started dating at 13. She was so cool and at ease around boys. Even back then I'd watched her and him, together at her house as an odd addition to their company. She's dated like four boys since, with various levels of seriousness. But she'd always been so cool, and I started to think I'd always be destined for just this...
But outside of the regular depression was the firm belief that somebody must like me someday. That I'd eventually know what it feels like to have another person who would choose you first for a time, and that for a time you'd be that person's favourite person. I don't know, sometimes I don't even feel like I exist unless I am seen. Insubstantial. And I think that until I have my first relationship I'm going to always worry that something is wrong with me. That I'm somehow undesirable or off-putting, and that I may never be able to find someone, ever. A weird anomaly that somehow repels everyone else.
It was dangerous and foolish, but I couldn't stop myself: I'd been daydreaming about meeting my secret admirer non-stop. A thousand make-believe scenarios have been seamlessly looping through my head, and the most disturbing part is that they all resemble drippy movie scenes from rom-coms. I couldn't stop seeing my secret admirer as I'd constructed him in my head. My age, or older. My height, or taller. He would be at least adequate-looking. And have most, if not some of these traits. The very real possibility of him being obese, having acne scars, or perhaps being visibly disabled was swept away in my brain by the continuous waves of hopefulness.
That my life really was going to become something of a movie. That this boy wasn't going to beperfect, but was certainly going to beperfect for me.
I've never had a boy I was sorta-dating and all my crushes were straight. But this is what adults did, right? They dated, they fell in love. I wanted that for myself too.
I'd wanted to see the sunrise over the mountains across Lake Laguna. I crossed the old railroad station, tracks for what I imagined to be those seesawing pulley carts you stand on. Creeping down the sloping black earth, all lumps and bumps to the salt-water. And I could already tell that the mist had made it impossible to see the sun.
It was a sight regardless: a void of grey. An expanse of still water, lapping only silent and subtle. What I'd envisioned, sitting here reflecting to a new sun rising, was pierced and replaced by this. A thick, featureless, clouded mystery.
So I scooted down and sat, the sand around me was cool as I ran my fingers lightly across the surface, making lines. My daydreaming stopped and instead I gazed rather blankly at the nothing before me. Almost like I was expecting it to change. I remained sitting for several moments until my guts went taut with unease.
It wasn't a sudden feeling of anxiousness. Somehow, the worry had always been there but not acknowledged by my conscious mind, building up until I realized that I was quite uncomfortable here. For whatever reason. I looked behind me to the street, to the woods beside the nearest house which was the old boy scouts hall. It felt like I was being watched. No wild animal would be this close to town. I didn't believe for a second that it might be the werewolf, the supernatural monster out there, though it did come to mind.Right, time to head home.
I left the lake-side rather quickly. My long steps didn't slow to regular speed until the waterside street was far out of view, and those tall trees. I didn't know why I'd felt the need to leave so quickly, just one of those moments when you're alone somewhere and the atmosphere spooks you.
I was starting to feel a little silly as I turned the corner to my street. The sky was peachy – orange, pink and gold. The mist was faint. As I came to my grand two-storey house, standing atop the hill driveway in all its wooden Victorian-era glory, I habitually reached into the letterbox and found another open envelope.
My secret admirer had opted to write a letter and leave it in my locker instead of commenting on my blog. A more direct measure that I'd considered romantic and endearing. He'd given me his email, but instead of replying to what I'd sent he'd taken another direct measure and left an envelope at my house. Did he find me from my social media somehow, or the phone book? There was no address and that meant he'd delivered it in person.Who would...?I pulled out the thrice-folded paper with growing unease. What if my grandparents had found it? It felt like his way of ensuring the conversation would keep going.
Alright you've convinced me Lets meet in the undercoverαreαby the ovαlαfter school todαy. I hope youll still like me. Butαs you sαidωe cαn stαrtαs friends. See you todαy, beαutiful xx
Your soon to be not Secret Admirer
My social anxiety pitted and swelled, I swayed back on my heels at the thought of meeting him. The boy I'd made-up in my mind. At the undercover benches hidden by the foresty bark area at the edge of the sports oval. The two of us out of sight. The fear felt bordering into a panic-attack, but it was quickly replaced by a rush of warmth at being called beautiful again. Nobody had ever said I was beautiful, except for maybe Nan.
I stood tingling for a long moment. In my head I flicked through the faces of boys I knew and wondered if any of them could be my secret admirer. The only problem being I was only flicking through the faces of boys I considered attractive. Like tall, blonde, wood-chopping Billy Murphy. This guy was strangely forthright for someone worried about whether I'd like him, whoever he is. With the return of my excitement and endorphins I ran up the sloping driveway and into the house.
I had breakfast and got dressed with plenty of time to spare. Walked to the bus-stop nervous even though it'd be several hours before I'd see him. Of course I went to sit right next to Zoe at the back of the bus. I'd told her about the first letter yesterday and she seemed happy for me, excited as well. Hailey leaned on the back of our seat to listen in, I could see her frizzy hair overflowing into my peripheral. I wondered if she was displeased that I wasn't focusing on her today. She wouldn't say it, she was more careful than that. It was the different edge in her tone.
"So youpromiseit wasn't you?" I repeated for maybe the hundredth time.
"I swear I'm not writing these letters, dude." Zoe answered from beside me. We jostled in our seats as the bus traversed the bumpy road. Even now, I couldn't completely believe her.
"But he left the other letter at your house? That's kinda creepy right? You still don't know who he is."
"Yeah but he said I convinced him and that he wants to meet today. I thought it'd take more work, honestly."
"Hmmm." Hailey spoke up from behind us, in a typical tone of hers that seemed to imply she doubted the validity of whatever it was you were saying. "Well I hope he's cute."
"Can I see the letter?" Zoe asked and I hesitated.
I did have it on me. But not because I wanted to show it to anyone. I was worried Nan might find it, so was waiting to think of a good hiding spot. These letters, addressed to me specifically, written by someone spurred to action by 'my beauty' were a precious evidence of some sort. Like I needed to hold them, reread them just to know they were real. I'd let Zoe read the first one yesterday, granted I'd stood very close and remained antsy until she handed it back. Too bad I have difficulty saying 'no' to people.
Taking off my backpack I unzipped it, looking over my shoulders to eye the other boys we were friendly with as they joked amongst themselves. If one of my friends were in fact my secret admirer I should see some reaction if they notice me handing out the letter. But they continued to laugh amongst themselves. I extracted the paper with a slow hand and Hailey snatched it, prancing a few steps away to read with a smirk.
I felt shock, then the forever-tempered fury burning in my gut.
"Fucking give it!" Zoe stood up by the window, though my legs were blocking her from the walkway. She didn't actually like Hailey at all and made no effort to hide the dislike from her voice now.
It wasn't a long letter. Hailey finished reading, shrugged and waved it back to Zoe who tore it out of her hands.
"Do you know anyone with handwriting like that?" My voice was low. If she'd read it I may as well ask.
"How should I know?" she answered loudly, a dramatic shrug.
When the bus stopped at school we all got off, I was still ruffled as the line of teenagers disembarked. I got out and looked across the street, took a few steps over and quite obviously stared at the neighboring house just as blonde Billy Murphy was walking in my direction from across the road, getting his mail. I was thinking about the werewolf, thinking about whatever had been watching me down by the water this morning. I guess I was dissociating again, Billy noticed me staring at him without moving.
Oh. Well that's a shame.
I turned back toward the school. Billy couldn't have been my secret admirer anyway. Though when my brain had been painting visions of an idealized romance, he'd been one of the regular forms this guy had flickered between.
I was going to be excited. I was going to be so nervous all day it'd make me sick. I probably wasn't going to be able to eat. My anxiety became dread, but I knew I had to do this.I have to; no chickening out Corey!On my way into school I caught Sebastian Fiddock's dark eyes on me amidst his expressionless face, but I stepped closer toward my friends like a pack-animal trying to hide from a predator, and it never occurred to me to even think it could've been him.
It was a miracle I made it through the day. Zoe commented on how pale I looked, sitting still like a zombie. I actually thought I might vomit, but told myself – whispered it under my breath – to stop being so pathetic. I tried to focus on the bumpy brown asphalt in the courtyard behind the library block. I'd fractured my wrist against it while playing handball last year. Focusing on my immediate surroundings and breathing slowly helped 'ground me'. A technique I'd learnt to deal with the anxiety.
Five things you can see (asphalt, brick wall, trees, schoolbag, library building). Four things you can hear (kids talking, theplunkof a tennis ball, passing car, bird noises). Three things you can feel (the ground, the feel of my clothes, dead leaves). Two things you can taste (the single bite of sandwich I'd managed: tomato and lettuce). One thing you can smell (the outdoors, or Hailey's copious wafting perfume – sickly-sweet raspberries). Deep breaths.
The final bell rang – I was not prepared.
"Good luck with yourdate!" Zoe joked and slapped me on the back.
I'd seriously considered making up an excuse to go straight home. Apologize via email. But if I didn't have the guts to show up now when would I ever? I veered back and forth probably eight times before I marched myself across campus, away from the crowds headed to the gates, head lowered like a walk to the gallows.
My heart was trying to jump out my throat, my steps became tense as I passed the trees. Making myself walk into the undercover area, rows of metal benches but nobody else. I could hear the crowds of students celebrating their escape, but in the distance. I could feel that I was seen again, just like down by the lake, and I heard twigs breaking underfoot behind me and turned fearfully to face my secret admirer.
Sebastian Fiddock was staring back at me with a blank face and wide eyes.Oh.
The emotion that came was confusion. He was not good-looking in the way I'd hoped. Though I had to admit: he wasn't fat, disabled or acne-smeared either. But he was still so jarringly not what I'd pictured that I blinked. It was like I'd stepped into the wrong dream, and I was too dazed to speak.
Sebastian's face melded into a smile "Hi, Corey." A little bashful.
"Hey, Sebastian." I tried to shake off. "Sorry, I... didn't think it'd be you." I spoke in a voice exempt of disappointment, only with honesty. I was surprised that I had never considered Sebastian before. I mean, why not? I studied him with new eyes, assessing his appearance.
Sebastian had a shaggy mop of brown hair, untidy and a little outgrown. He was an inch or two shorter than my almost-average height. Not as skinny as me though, fuller – an average body-type. Wearing... a grey and green Nylon sports zipper-jacket and navy sweatpants over old sneakers. Deep brown eyes, almost black.
I'd been thrown off before but after my assessment I felt happy to know that Sebastian was not objectionable.I could do this, this could work.
"Hope you're okay with me." He lifted his arms and dropped them, his smile was guarding something else.
"I am," I said quickly, falling back into pleaser mode. "Sorry Sebastian, I didn't know who to expect." I watched his smile turn genuine, like he was pleased with me. "We've got like three classes together and never really spoken."
"And roll call."
"Yeah. Well we can speak now." He stepped out of the forest to sit on one of the benches, suddenly very relaxed. I went to sit beside him, feeling more relaxed myself. His stare, while intentful didn't feel scrutinizing.
"So..." I clasped my hands and squeezed. "The things I wanted to ask you about in my letter..." I had to scan my memory while Sebastian sat comfortably. "You're not out, are you?"
He thought "No."
"Not to anyone?"
Another pause "No."
"I've told some of my friends, but no more than that. I think I'd need to tell my grandparents before anyone else, and I'm not sure how they'll take it."
"You live with your grandparents?"
"What about your parents?" he asked bluntly without any concern for tact. But the fact he was so laidback coupled with his apparent imperceptiveness was making me relax. My shoulders un-hunched.
"I never knew my Dad. My Mum's back in rehab." Part of me wondered if I should be saying this to someone I'd just met, but he did ask.
"I don't live with my parents either. Haven't seen either of them since I was like, six."
"Who do you live with?"
Sebastian twitched and I could see the cogs of his brain moving, calculating behind those dark eyes.
"My Uncle, but he's out of town at the moment. My Grandma comes over often."
"Would he be okay with it?"
"I don't know..." Sebastian said like he was considering it for the first time. Looking forward; he hadn't been looking at me for longer than a fraction of a second since we sat down yet seemed completely at ease.
A sudden, harsh but genuine laugh "No."
I was looking at Sebastian almost in wonder now. When normally I was so self-conscious around other people, the fact he wasn't looking at me at all and only sitting happy made me feel almost invisible in a good way. I never thought someone inattentive could make my anxiety vanish, but it did.
"Have you ever had a boyfriend?"
"No." And then his eyes did come back to me, peeking from the corners "I've never had sex with a boy either."
"Me neither," I looked down and hunched inward, ears and face getting hot. The seconds ticked by.
"Well I'm glad I know someone gay now."
"Yeah." I brightened and he went back to gazing at the trees. "So uh, what do you like, like computer games?"
"I don't play computer games."
"Oh, do you play sport?"
"Xbox, playstation?" And I watched him purse his lips and shake his head. "What do you do in your free time?"
He thought "Bushwalking."
"Okay." I replied. "Cool. Is that like scouts stuff?"
"No." He smiled at me. "Tell me more about you."
So I did. I told Sebastian about the games I played on computer, and about my friends and the lake-spots we'd drive to. I talked about books I liked reading and re-reading, Sebastian wasn't a book guy but he listened quietly. He listened to whatever I had to say. I would've felt bad monotonizing the conversation but he seemed so comfortable here with me, listening to me talk about eateries I frequented. Supernatural fanfiction, or just ghosts, the supernatural and creepy things in general, even though I was a scaredy-cat when it came to all things horror.
For half-an-hour we must've talked on that bench before I realized we should get going. I didn't know when they locked the front gates. I was so happy, free to examine Sebastian's face while his flat eyes kept track of the overhead birds. Gallahs on the bottlebrush and waltzing along the oval, hunting for worms as the sun grew more gold. I already daydreamed about kissing Sebastian, eying his lips when more comfortable silences flowed between us. I didn't have the nerve – that would probably be too much for our first meet. As we stood and said our goodbyes I kept wishing I had.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning." Sebastian said when we parted ways outside the school.
"Yeah," and as I waved I realized he was right.
We had Maths, English and PE together. We both had roll call in Lab 7. I don't think I had a single day in my timetable in which Sebastian Fiddock wasn't in one of my classes. That was good, but in a way irksome. I couldn't avoid him if I wanted to – good thing I didn't want to.