Stepping Over the Line

There were several months at the beginning of my junior year of high school when I had a friend. There was a new freshman in several of my classes who seemed to like to look at me when I wasn’t looking her way. She seemed nice enough, so I teased her a little and she became appropriately embarrassed. It was cute, but I wasn’t looking for a little sidekick.

Soon I learned that she was the daughter of one of my teachers, one who had never warmed up to me. It was hard to picture the two being mother and daughter (her mom had black hair, while she was flaxen), but it was true and I breathed a sigh of relief that I had not paid too much attention to the girl.

We had just one class in common, a class on economics, something that I had not seen offered before. The girl, let’s just call her Flaxen, seemed annoyed when I became disinterested in her. She purposefully sought opportunities to speak. I was nice, but I let on that her mother didn’t seem to like me very well.

I understand now better than I did back then. My comment had the opposite effect I had hoped. I guess girls of a certain age find it fun to go against the preferences of their mothers. So Flaxen began seeking me out at other times than when we had Economics.

I hung out with a group of kids who played RPGs, the old paper and pencil games with dice. They were geeks, but they were smart and funny. Two of the geeks were girls and Flaxen was friends with one of them. That gave her an excuse to hang out with the group. She wasn’t very interested in the games, but she enjoyed the discussions and laughter.

Flaxen and I became friends. It was awfully cute to have someone interested in me, even if it was sometimes annoying. But a month into this arrangement I learned something alarming, at least to me. Flaxen wasn’t a freshman. Because her mother worked at the school, they had allowed her to start early. That wasn’t unheard of. There was a girl the year before who started a year early. She wasn’t moved ahead in grade; she was just allowed to join our school while she was still in the eighth grade.

That was uncomfortable. That felt awkward. So I brought it up. Then it got worse. She was in seventh grade. And she was twelve. That made dating, at least as long as I was in that school, untenable. I was convinced. I’m not sure she was, but that made little difference.

But we remained friends. We got along well and the group accepted her. The gamer geeks were collectively known as the Rug Rats because of our habit of sitting on the floor or in bean bags in the large common area. Eventually I began dating a girl from my hometown. It didn’t work out, though. We peaked on the phone and hardly had any conversation in person.

I was working at Chello Oyster House in Guilford. My mother was popular there, even with the kids, because she had the cool job of the bartender. She got invited to parties, and I got to tag along because she was my ride. Sometimes I was hers. Those were strange times.

Chello held an annual Christmas party. Not only did they close the restaurant early, but they held the party at a hall and catered in food and drinks from another establishment. They invited every employee to bring a guest. My mother brought her husband, as did many of the waitresses, and the busboys (and girls) all had dates. I was no longer seeing the girl from town, so I had an extra ticket.

I invited Flaxen, on the understanding that my parents would be there and that it wasn’t a date. And that is when the oddest thing happened. She seemed to panic or something. Next thing I knew, she sent a friend of hers to say that she had something to say, but couldn’t do it herself. I was curious. We went to the gym. One of my friends came along. Another of Flaxen’s friends was there. It was surreal, as if they would inform me of a death in my family or something like that.

Flaxen’s friend sat down on the bleachers next to me and pulled out a picture. It was a school picture of a boy who looked about twelve. Flaxen’s friend said it was Flaxen’s boyfriend. She couldn’t go to a party with me, she was already seeing someone. They had been dating for a year.

I had to laugh. The girl who followed me around making puppy dog eyes at me was turning down my invitation to a party because she was already seeing someone. Really? Flaxen hoped I wouldn’t be too upset or sad. I was amused, but I didn’t want to be cruel, so I said nothing.

The party came and went. Then the Christmas break was coming. Flaxen avoided me a little, but things soon went back to normal. But then I became interested in a new girl who had recently started at the school. And Flaxen had something new to tell me. She had broken up with her boyfriend.

For the rest of the school year, we were close friends. We were comfortable sitting close, even sharing a beanbag, but we never dated or kissed. There was a standing flirtation, but we kept a distance that respected the difference in our ages and the wishes of her parents.

Before the next school year, her father accepted a position at a college in Oregon. She moved away, but not without exchanging mailing addresses. She was homesick and often said she wished to be back at our school.

Once she left, and we started writing regularly, we both found that we had a very special relationship.

As pen pals, we told each other about everything we were going through emotionally, relationally, and socially. When Mt St Helen’s blew her top, she shared the stories of ash fall and darkened skies. When I joined the Navy, she was a regular correspondent during boot camp and my initial schooling as a Data Processor.

During our letter writing phase, we finally had the close relationship that we couldn’t have in school. When we finally gave up our correspondence, after we each found companions in our lives locally, I think we could both say that we had experienced something special with each other. It was strange, almost science-fiction strange, but it was special.

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