Illusions begin, p.30
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       Illusions Begin, p.30

           N.L. Greene
 
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  ***

  As time progressed, so did our egos. My attitude still wasn’t quite as bad as Mel’s, but she was definitely rubbing off on me. I remember feeling like we were so much older and more mature than we really were, and that the people around us didn’t have a clue. We weren’t at the bottom of the totem pole anymore, and we were steadily working our way up the social ladder. We weren’t what you would necessarily consider popular, but we were friends with almost our entire seventh grade class and also had tons of friends in the eighth grade. I mean, we were practically eighth graders ourselves! On top of that, Mel and I would be turning thirteen later that year. We would be teenagers, which meant we knew it all, right?

  Too bad no one told me how wrong I was.

  I finally had that defining moment where I woke up and everything was different, but it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. I remember feeling like I was walking in slow motion through a tunnel to a whole new world, and suddenly I was seeing things that I’d never noticed before. All at once I had friends who were smoking, drinking, skipping school, doing drugs and having sex. Talk about information overload! I didn’t even know when it had all happened, but it was happening and I was right in the middle of all of it. Not directly, but I could see it, and if I wanted to, even touch it.

  After the first initial shock of being thrust into this unfamiliar world, I began to realize that it wasn’t all that bad. I knew that most of the smokers had parents who smoked too, so I guess it was only normal for them to pick it up. The part about skipping school, drinking and even drugs wasn’t anything major (beer and pot mostly, and then only on special occasions), and I really only knew of a few kids that even took part. But the thing that seemed to affect me the most was that all of my friends had boyfriends, and some of them were even talking about S-E-X. I’m not sure if they were actually having it or not though, because I was way too scared to ask. I hadn’t even had my period or my first kiss yet, so I knew absolutely nothing about sex. My concerns centered primarily on those two milestones. My mom reassured me that she had been a late bloomer and so that meant I probably would be too, and that I shouldn’t rush it because once it happened, I’d hate it. But I didn’t care. I wanted it to happen ASAP! It was supremely awkward when the other girls talked about it and all I could do was nod my head as if I actually knew what they were talking about, all while hoping and praying that no one would call me out…and definitely keeping my questions to myself. I had so many of them too, but I knew if I asked any of them they would all know the truth, and I was worried I would get teased and made fun of. Kids are cruel, and I swear teenage girls are the worst.

  So I just kept on, keeping my mouth shut and my ears open, all while following along behind my much more knowledgeable best friend. Mel seemed to fully embrace the changes in the world around us. She didn’t exactly jump right into trying all of the new things, but she didn’t shy away from them either. She embraced who she wanted to be and did the things she wanted to do. It helped that her parents let her express herself and pretty much do whatever she wanted, even if some of the other parents didn’t agree with her choices (like mine). She became more outspoken and confident in a way I couldn’t have imagined being. She didn’t care what people thought of her, and didn’t even care if she got into trouble for letting them know what she thought of them. I wished that my parents would let me dress and act more like how I wanted (even though I’m not sure what I would have changed), but I knew it would be something.

  Mel, at least, encouraged me. She let me wear her clothes when I was at her house, and we’d listen to music and watch movies that my parents wouldn’t approve of at all. Mel would assure me that I needed to find what I liked, not what my parents wanted me to like. She also showed me better ways to wear my clothes, my hair, and how to do my make-up to make me look better. It was like having an older sister who knew everything and wanted to share it all with you. I loved her for wanting to help me so much, and for making sure that I wasn’t walking around making a fool of myself. I never took her encouragement to defy my parents or her remarks on improving my looks as anything other than friendly advice. Back then, her comments were so subtle and insignificant. It wasn’t until much later that the warning bells stated to go off.

  I slowly began to take Mel’s advice and apply it to my everyday life; make-up improvements when I got to school, wardrobe shifts that my parents would never approve of, and a little bit more defiance in my attitude. Because of this, I finally reached the next landmark and got my first boyfriend. Truth is, I’m not even really sure if I wanted him or not, but Mel promptly informed me that A) he liked me, B) he was cute, and C) he was in the eighth grade - so I totally needed to date him. How do you even date when you can’t actually go anywhere? Anyway, I did what Mel said and presto! I had a boyfriend. We dated for a week. That’s it. He was cute, with sandy blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes, and he was really nice, too. We became boyfriend and girlfriend on Monday at lunch; all coordinated and communicated through Mel, of course. His name was Casey, and he didn’t even ask me himself to be his girlfriend. He was the friend of a friend, who told that friend, who told Mel that he thought I was cute. Then Mel just barreled in and took over from there. By the end of that lunch period I found myself hand-in-hand with a boy I barely knew. Casey silently walked me to class after lunch each day, then met me at my locker after school and walked me to my bus. He also waited for me in the mornings and walked me to my first class of each day. This was our routine for the entire week, and those were the only times during the day we saw each other. As we spent more time together we actually started to get to know each other, and I found that I was beginning to like him. I was in boyfriend/girlfriend heaven, walking around school with a cute boy, until the end of that week.

  Little did I know that this tiny event would be the first of many tiny, seemingly unimportant events that would lead up to one of the biggest mistakes of my life. On Friday of my one week in paradise, Casey walked me to my bus, hand-in-hand like we had been every other day of that week. When we got to my bus, we saw that his was parked right behind mine, which meant that he could stand with me until it was time to actually get on board. We stopped just to the right of the door so the other kids could still get on, and then turned to say goodbye to each other. That was when some of his friends came around the corner and started asking him if he was going to kiss me. It wasn’t nice or polite; it was teasing and insistent. I could feel my cheeks heating and my heart racing. I had never kissed a boy before! And now they all wanted me to do it right there in front of everyone?

  I knew I couldn’t do it, but thankfully Mel was there too, waiting for me so we could get on the bus together. I glanced at her with what I’m sure was a look of panic, hoping she would help me out. She knew that I’d never kissed a boy before, because we told each other everything and I wouldn’t have left that part out. But instead of the help I desperately needed, she just smirked with her I Dare You look and said, “Well come on! We gotta go. Hurry up and kiss your boyfriend.” I remember my heart sinking at that moment. I had always been so grateful to her in the past for showing me the ropes and helping me to be cool like her, but this was not the time I wanted one of those life lessons. I wanted her to rescue me, but she didn’t.

  I looked back up at Casey. Not sensing my utter terror, he smiled down at me and moved closer; intertwining one hand with mine while moving the other hand to my waist. He pulled me closer and dipped his head toward mine. I stared into his eyes as all of this happened in slow motion, until our lips met. Then reality slammed back in and moved faster than ever. At first his lips were warm and soft, and I started to lose some of the tension I had been feeling. -‘This isn’t so bad, it’s actually kind of nice. I can do this!’- I began to think. But then his tongue slipped out from between his parted lips and began to touch my closed ones. I may never have kissed a boy before, but I had paid attenti
on to my friends when they talked about it. I thought I understood what I was supposed to do- in theory. I didn’t. I knew I should probably open my mouth to let his tongue in, but I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t know what to do, I knew he wasn’t going to tell me, and I definitely wasn’t going to ask in front of all of those people! My heart almost thudded out of my chest and my body flamed with embarrassment as I tore my tight lipped mouth from his. I pushed him away at the same time and turned to run onto my bus. I made my way to the very back where I could bury my face in my knees, and I tried to keep from bursting into tears.

  With my eyes squeezed tightly shut and my face buried, it felt like I could hear even better than usual. I heard some laughing and talking around me, and my mind instantly concluded that they were all laughing at me. I wasn’t really sure if it had anything to do with me at all, or if it was just kids playing around as usual, but I didn’t bother to look. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of them making fun of me. I scrunched myself further into the corner of the seat, hoping to disappear. I only glanced up when I heard Mel finally get on the bus a few minutes later. A soft, cruel smile played on her lips as she plopped down in the seat beside me and slung her back-pack onto the floor at our feet. She turned to me, and I prayed she would have some sort of sisterly advice or encouraging words to make all of this better. And this was the moment when she let me down for the second time in our friendship.

  “What is wrong with you? Why’d you run off like that? You looked like such a dork, and made Casey look like a punk!” she scolded me.

  I stared at her in horror, my mouth opening and then shutting again with no words coming out. I had just suffered the single, most embarrassing moment of my life, and she was worried about how I made Casey feel? What about me? I didn’t know what to say, because that was also the first time that Mel’s new attitude had been directed at me - and not in a good way.

  “Seriously Nat, you need to grow up. It was only a kiss! No big deal. Now I’m going to have to deal with everyone asking me next week what your freakin’ problem is.”

  After those not-so-helpful words, she turned to face the front of the bus again and completely ignored me the rest of the way home. I was lost. The ten minute bus ride felt like hours as I forgot my horror and embarrassment over my first failed kiss, and turned to trying to figure out how to get Mel to forgive me. I didn’t want her mad at me. I was pretty sure my relationship with Casey had just ended, and I couldn’t stand to lose her, too. How long would she be mad at me? Would she stop being my friend over this? Those were the only things I could think of the whole ride home. We finally got off the bus at our stop and she started walking toward her house. I stood there for a minute, not sure what to do. “Mel, are we still hanging out tonight?” I asked in a small voice; unsure of our friendship for the first time ever. Mel had always protected me and defended me! She’d never gotten mad at me like this, or blamed me for making someone else look bad. This was new territory for me, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.

  She turned back to look at me like I had lost my mind. “Umm, yeah. Why wouldn’t we? Call me later. Love ya Nat!” she yelled with a big smile, before turning and walking home.

  I let out a relieved breath as I turned around with a matching smile on my face, happy that although my love life was probably over, at least my best friend wasn’t mad at me anymore. I made a mental note right then not to upset or disappoint Mel like that again. I didn’t know what I would do without her in my life and I definitely didn’t want to find out.

 
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