I plowed into the school parking lot while steam almost seeped out of my head. My eyes glanced down at the white envelope that was currently seated on the front passenger seat. The word REJECTED stood out at me as I stared at the hanging crumbled piece of paper that stuck out from the envelope. I guess I wasn’t going to Brown. It didn’t even matter that I applied Early Decision. I still wasn’t going to my first choice school no matter which way I spun the situation.
The clunky sound of the ignition halted. I leaned on the floor of my front seat as I grabbed my backpack. A minute later, I yanked the door open. Opaque blobs trickled down my face. I forced myself to suck in a gulp of air. Being that I was in the school parking lot, I had no choice but to get it together. It was embarrassing enough that I didn’t have any friends. I certainly didn’t need to seem like a pathetic emotional loser.
I craned my head as I scanned the parking lot. Twenty feet in front of me, a thin five-foot ten figure stood out in an endless array of anonymous students.
My jaw dropped a little. “Stefano?”
His eyes met mine. “Did you miss me?”
I didn’t even bother to answer. My jaw just remained locked as I scanned his body. He was covered in one of his usual gray hooded sweatshirts and blue workout pants. I guess that Stefano believed in dressing casual. He had never been one to dress for success.
He hurried over to where I was standing at the moment. “How are you doing Charlie?”
I looked up at the sky for a second. A gust of wind washed through the parking lot as it left a piercing feeling where the cold slapped my face. Small cotton drops fell to the ground.
I folded my arms. “What are you doing here? I haven’t heard from you in almost three years.”
Stefano’s eyes stared me down. I felt that I had nowhere to run. “It’s complicated.”
I almost wanted to rip his heart out right then and there. “It always is with you.”
He arched both of his eyebrows at me. “Is something wrong?”
My arms remained woven together as I didn’t even force a smile at him. “I don’t know. You tell me, why are you back?”
Stefano let out a cough while he cleared his throat. “My dad had no choice but to come back to Riverwood. My grandfather is dying of cancer.”
I stared at his short brown hair as I suppressed a stutter. “So are you going to be here for the rest of senior year?”
He bobbed his head at me. “Yeah, that’s the plan.”
“Well great.” I didn’t even bother to wipe away the murky drops from my face. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go.”
I started to walk away while Stefano tugged at the sleeve of my Henley shirt.
“Not gonna tell me what’s wrong?”
“I got rejected from Brown. I applied Early Decision thinking I would have a better chance, that’s what’s wrong.”
He released me from his grip. Stefano clapped his right hand over his mouth. “I’m so sorry Charlie. I had no idea. If you want we can talk about it at lunch.”
I continued to remain silent. I knew that whether I admitted it or not, accepting a lunch invitation from Stefano was dangerous. Nothing was ever simple with him.
I didn’t bother to go to my morning classes that day. I just flocked to the first floor bathroom. I went into the handicap stall and locked the door behind me. Crystal drops crashed down my face as the intensity of my sobs almost strangled me.
My mind drifted back to an event with Stefano. It was almost three years earlier. The two of us were seated on his bedroom floor in front of his bed. We were watching a Desperate Housewives marathon. But if you asked my opinion, I think that he just wanted any excuse to spend time with me.
I grabbed the remote that was on the carpet beside me and pushed the power button. With one clink the TV turned off.
Stefano winked at me. “Is something wrong man?”
I whipped my body around so that I was now making eye contact with him. A burning feeling danced around my stomach even though I knew what I had to do. “There’s something that I have to tell you.”
I sobbed for a good ten seconds before I opened my mouth. “I just want to preface this by saying I have no expectations. I’m just telling you this to get it off my chest.”
He sighed. “Of course. I understand. You don’t have to explain yourself to me.”
My chest bobbed up and down a good four or five times. “I have feelings for you…”
He blinked. “Oh. That’s not a big deal.”
I wiped away a bead of sweat from the left side of my face. “I don’t expect you to still stay friends with me…”
His eyebrows danced up his head. “Just because you might be bisexual or gay and I’m straight doesn’t mean I won’t be your friend. You don’t have to think like that. We can still be friends.”
The tears plowed down from my eyes even faster.
“What about all the times you made ambiguous comments or leaned in real close…Did I just imagine that…”
He stared at me with a straight face. He didn’t even so much as grin. “I don’t know what you want me to say Charlie…”
I was brought back to reality by the sound of hushed voices as the bathroom door burst open.
A scratchy tickle formed in my throat that I was unable to swallow.
I couldn’t help but think back to another encounter with Stefano. This was three and half years earlier as we walked into school together one morning…
Stefano smiled. He almost melted me with his gaze. “Hi Charlie.”
“Stefano.” I picked at the fingernail on my right index finger while I waited for him to say something.
Stefano glanced at my head. “I like your sunglasses.”
A burning feeling poked my stomach. “Thanks.”
I just stood there without any motion whatsoever while he stared me down. He almost licked his lips at me. It was definitely weird to say the least.
Sometime later, the screeching sound of the bell pierced the air. It was time for lunch. I ended up just staying locked in the bathroom stall, as it didn’t seem like there was any point in joining civilization.
I bumped into Stefano several days after my emotional episode in the bathroom as I carried a giant white box out of the local bakery on Main Street.
He grinned at me as the sound of his voice fell over my body like the comfort of a breeze on a scorching summer day. “Hey man. Nice sunglasses. Who knew people still wore sunglasses in December.”
“Just because it’s almost winter, doesn’t mean there isn’t a glare.” Sweat dripped down my face and my pulse increased. “Besides, it helps me avoid eye contact with people.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh…Anyway, we really need to talk.”
“I don’t think we really have anything to talk about. You are clearly uncomfortable with being my friend. You made that crystal clear by not keeping in touch with me when you moved. But you know what? I respect your choice,” I screamed in such a tone that could have shattered all the glass windows on Main Street.
Stefano pouted. “Didn’t you miss me?”
“It doesn’t really matter how I feel Stefano…” My voice trailed off.
He raised his eyes at me. “So who’s the cake for?”
“It’s for my mom. Tiramisu is her favorite. Today’s her birthday.”
Stefano chuckled. “It’s nice that you picked it out for your Mom.”
My heart pounded inside my chest. It almost felt like it would dissolve into nothingness.
“Anyways, no offense or anything, but I really don’t want to talk to you Stefano. I mean you should be pretty disgusted with yourself after what you did.”
I thought back to a week after I confessed my love to Stefano. We were seated on the carpet in front of his bed…
He gazed into my eyes. “I’m glad you decided to come hang out and have another Desperate Housewives marathon with me.”
I forced a smile. “Yeah, of course. It was a great idea.”
Stefano laughed at me. The sound of his voice vibrated around the room, as I was unsure as to whether or not his laughter was like a comforting breeze on a summer day or a paralyzing frosty sting in the middle of winter.
“I just wanted to prove to you that just because you have feelings for me doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.”
I gazed down at my sneakers. “Absolutely.”
He clicked his lips together. “And I also want you know that I don’t hold any ill-will towards you. I still see you as my good friend.”
It was kind of funny that Stefano was being so honest. He was usually a person that spoke with a limited number of words. The more I thought about my confession, the more it struck me as odd that Stefano emphasized the fact that we could still be friends twice when I told him that I loved him. It wasn’t just about being over-analytical. There was just something there; I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That didn’t mean that my stomach burned any less though.
“Thank you. That means a lot to me.”
Stefano inched a little closer. I could have sworn that our legs brushed up against each other while he repositioned himself on the carpet. Stefano would probably deny it if I ever called him out on it. That was just classic Stefano.
“I know you want to kiss me.” Stefano hadn’t even so much as blinked at me when uttered those words. For once in his life, it appeared that he was genuine.
I didn’t even bother to respond to his flirty comment. Under any other circumstances I would have. But not tonight! I guess I didn’t feel like calling Stefano out.
His eyes were still fixated on me, and before I could do anything he leaned in and pressed his lips against mine. His tongue massaged my mouth. A warm sensation shot back to my brain as all the neurons became electrified.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even bother to question him. I was just going with the kiss. I guess I did agree with Stefano on one thing. There were times when his life motto “go with the flow” was appropriate.
We pulled back from each other a minute later.
“Wow!” I put my right hand to my lips. His lips might not have been on my mouth any longer, but that didn’t change the fact that they were still wet from his touch.
He let out a faint grin. “That was fun.”
A lump formed in my throat that I was unable to swallow. There was one question on my mind, but I didn’t know if I was prepared for the answer: “Why did you just kiss me?”
Stefano raised his shoulders. “I don’t know. I was bored. I just wanted to have some fun.”
“Oh. That’s nice.” I could have argued with him, but that seemed futile. I decided to enjoy the moment for what it was: a kiss. Although I’d be surprised if I wasn’t crying over Stefano later, after all, anyone would find his behavior towards me to be confusing. I didn’t even care if it made me seem weak to cry over a guy.
From that point I had no doubt in my mind, Stefano could say that he was “100 percent” straight ‘til his last dying breath, but I wouldn’t believe him. No “100 percent straight” guy would kiss another guy. My chest was ready to explode at the mere thought of our kiss.
“Well, what did I do that was so unforgivable?”
I interconnected my arms. “You know exactly what you did. You should really be ashamed for kissing me. It’s bad enough to lead someone on when it’s a guy and a girl, but a guy leading on another guy when he says that he’s ‘straight’ is disgusting. I mean are you that desperate for an ego boost? You’re like one of those narcissistic guys that plays mind games with bi and gay guys. I mean, don’t you even care that what you did was a little twisted?”
His jaw shook a little. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Of course you didn’t!”
After my Mom had finished her birthday cake and opened her presents I excused myself to my room, telling her that I “needed to study for a big test,” but that couldn’t have been more false. I just needed some time to myself.
As I was lying in bed that night I thought back to when I’d originally met Stefano. It was the first week of eighth grade: I was at my locker; I’d grabbed my textbooks for my morning classes, and slammed my locker shut, letting the sound rattle through the hallway, then I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I whirled around. My eyes scanned the body of the guy standing in front of me. It was a six-foot plus greasy haired jock.
“How’s the school’s lamest loser?”
I refrained from crying. It was bad enough that my shirt was pink, but I didn’t need to seem like an emotional freak too.
The guy screamed and I almost had to cover my ears. “I said how’s the school’s lamest loser?”
My eyes bulged up. “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him? After all, I’m staring right at him.”
A wave of red flashed across the guy’s forehead as he smacked me right in the face. My body fell to the ground. He started kicking me in the stomach. I thought that I was going to cough up blood from the pain.
He turned around. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Stefano that walked up to us.
Stefano smirked at the bully. “Don’t you know to pick on people your own size? I guess that makes you a coward.”
He lunged forward, punching the bully in the face. The bully stepped back, but Stefano wasn’t done. He punched the bully in the face a second time. Stefano burst out into a hysterical fit of laughter as the asshole fell to the floor.
He darted over to me, extending his hand.
“I’m Stefano.” He couldn’t help but continue to smile.
I brushed the dust and dirt off of my khaki shorts. “Thank you.”
Stefano grinned some more. “Don’t mention it. I fucking hate bullies. Anyway, what’s your name?”
I stuttered for a moment before I looked up at him. He was wearing a gray shirt and red basketball shorts.
I sat by myself in the cafeteria the following day at lunch. I looked on, as everyone else was engrossed in conversations with their particular cliques. I had to be the only one sitting alone.
I took my eyes off the tray as I looked up at him. “You remember my name?”
He let out a small laugh. “Of course I remembered your name. Anyways, I was just wondering if you wanted to sit at my table. My friends won’t bite. I promise.”
I almost choked on a gulp of my own air. “Yeah. Sure. That sounds like fun.”
I got up from the table and grabbed my lunch tray. I trailed behind Stefano as I followed him all the way back to his lunch table. As I sat down next to him I was pretty sure that I felt his leg brush up against mine. A tingly feeling pricked the hairs on my back.
I didn’t go to sleep the night of my Mom’s birthday. I mean I was happy because my Mom had a nice birthday and all, but no amount of happiness that I felt about my Mom would change the fact that I had some serious issues to deal with. I just continued sulking in bed as my eyes watched the red numbers on my alarm clock. One o’clock turned into two-thirty, and that morphed into three, which turned into four, which changed into five and then six.
I dragged myself out of bed.
I returned to my bedroom half an hour later with a towel rapped around my waist and twenty minutes later I was in my car. Clunk! Clunk! Clunk! I started the ignition. I plowed out of the driveway after the car warmed up.
The wind howled in the background as I rolled by the various McMansions. Emaciated brown sticks waved in the wind. My teeth chattered as an opaque substance left my mouth. I guess I should have dressed warmer. I adjusted the heater. Before long, a humid feeling flushed through my body as I sighed in relief.
I know what you must be thinking. I must seem pathetic because I needed a guy to rescue me. That was the reason I became friends with Stefano after all. That wasn’t 100 percent of it though. Stefano might not have been a “bad boy” in a literal sense, but that didn’t detract from the fact that he had an acidic personality at times. There was also kindness that snuck through every now and then. And I guess that was the main reason I was in love on him. Stefano might have been a dick, but he also made me feel special. He was the only classmate that I ever had a real conversation with!
I walked into school a couple of months after I first sat with Stefano and his friends at their lunch table, and a hand patted my back. I turned around to see Stefano standing there before me.
A grin formed on his face. “Hey man.”
His eyes made their way down my body while I felt the intensity of each one of his passing breaths. “What’s going on?”
“Not much. This is kind of embarrassing but I need help picking out a wedding outfit. My cousin is getting married this weekend and I have no idea what to wear,” I said, scratching my face.
Laughter left his mouth. His eyes were still fixed on me. “We could go to the mall in town near Main Street. My Mom could drive us to the train station.”
That was the torture about not being sixteen! We couldn’t drive ourselves places. Luckily, Riverwood had a train station. That meant that we wouldn’t have to go to the mall with Stefano’s Mom. It was already awkward enough that I was beyond in love with him…
I wiped the thick layer of stickiness off the right side of my face. “Sure. Sounds like a plan.”
He winked at me. “Great. I’ll just text my Mom to pick us up right after school.”
I licked my lips. “I look forward to it.”
Stefano’s eyes dilated a little. “Yeah. Me too.”
I stepped out of the dressing room six hours later as Stefano stood there while he waited for me.
A smile twisted across his face. His eyes glanced at me. “You look good.”
Stefano inched closer as he fixed my tie. I guess it had been a little loose. His hands hovered by my neck a second longer than they should have. A scorching sensation jabbed my stomach. My lips became a little moist as my tongue splashed them.
“Oh, one more thing!” His hands made their way down to my crotch. He moved the zipper up as it made a small clink after he finished zipping my pants. The touch of his hands on my body tickled the hairs on my back. A blistering burn exploded in my brain. It was kind of funny that I had been too oblivious to remember to zip up my pants…
He stepped back from me. His eyes glanced over my outfit one more time as he looked at my blazer, pink polo shirt, khaki pants, and black shoes. I guess it wouldn’t have been a Charlie Bell outfit, without a little pink flair to it. And I wasn’t going to apologize for that. It was a part of my style and there was nothing left to say on the matter.
My eyebrows danced above each of my eyes. “A little forward don’t you think?”
“I just like to help my friends out. Tell me, what’s so wrong about that?”
My teeth plunged into my lower lip in order to suppress a laugh. “Nothing.”
I barreled into the school parking lot ten minutes later. There was no time to reminisce about Stefano. I grabbed my backpack from the trunk, after which, I slammed the trunk shut. The vibration echoed throughout the parking lot.
About 100 feet away, Stefano plopped out of his car. His eyes met my eyes for a split second. He waived his hand at me. I didn’t waive back. I just stood by my car as he meandered towards the front entrance of the school.
My chest bobbed up and down as the pace increased with each passing breath.
From the second I stepped foot inside the school building until the dismissal bell Stefano remained burned in my mind. He was just that powerful. He could have people on their hands and knees even when he wasn’t with someone. Whether I liked it or not, I knew that I would have to deal with him. It was a matter of when not if!
The following afternoon, I was seated at my mahogany desk while my head was buried in a textbook. A creaking sound scraped my bedroom door.
“Come in.” My eyes remained focused on my homework as someone walked into my bedroom.
“We really need to talk!”
I turned around to see Stefano standing there in front of me. “What are you doing here?”
He almost gasped on a gulp of air before he spoke. “I owe you an apology Charlie. I knew you had feelings for me way before you told me that you were in love with me and I shouldn’t have messed with you.”
“What are you saying?”
“My weird comments were just that. Weird.” He looked down at the new gray carpeting in my bedroom. “I might not have been overly sexual but you were not wrong in thinking that what I said was ambiguous.”
I shook my head. “Why are you telling me this? I mean no offense or anything but nothing will change the fact that you lost touch with me for no good reason”
He coughed into his hooded sweatshirt while he cleared his throat.
“Fine. I’ll admit it. I lost touch with you because I felt the same way about you as you did about me. I was just too afraid to admit it. I guess I’m pretty insecure. And as for your other question, I guess I was hoping that deep down you still felt something for me.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything.”
Stefano walked over to me. He pulled me in for a kiss. His tongue massaged my mouth while I took in the earthly aroma of his Old Spice cologne. Nothing else mattered. I was tired of playing it safe. Even if I didn’t want to take a risk, I knew it was time to finally allow myself the opportunity of getting everything I ever wanted.
Stefano didn’t leave my bedroom that evening. I could tell you what happened after the kiss, but I won’t. That’s a story for another time.