I am leaning against a pillar next to the back of a vending machine in an alcove of the community gym. The squeak of sneakers on the basketball court and the hum of the compressor keeping the Cokes cold are drowned out by the pounding of my heart. How did I become so visible? Only six months ago, I was invisible to all but those who torment tall, awkward, geeky girls. Now, a beautiful man’s hands are pinning mine to the wall. The scent of him fills me, light with Polo aftershave and strong with something unfamiliar but dizzying. He leans in and kisses me softly.
At the end of the previous summer, he told me he’d gotten married. Jennifer, and a job with her father’s company, were waiting for him back in the States when he got out of the Army. During choir practice over the next few months, somehow, without really knowing what I was doing, I had learned to flirt. I thought we were just joking. But during the Christmas concert, he had leaned over and whispered hotly into my ear, “If it weren’t for Jennifer, I’d go after you.” I couldn’t sing after that. Why would he say something so useless to me?
Now it is January, just after my seventeenth birthday, and my heart is breaking with the sweetness and the sadness of my first real, non-dare kiss, and my head is swirling with the rush of blood to places that have never been paid such attention. His thighs lean into mine, and I discover how much heat can be conveyed through denim. He is a twenty-five-year-old soldier. A man married for all the wrong reasons, I think.
He pulls away and whispers into my ear, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Then be happy,” I whisper back, and I mean it.
We haven’t just been flirting. We have been friends. He has told me of his fears of life outside the military. I have comforted him, and tried to encourage him to find his heart’s dream. He has made me feel beautiful.
It is the only time he kisses me. He leaves several weeks later. He tells me good-bye in a crowded room during a cast party. And for years, the “What if…?” of him torments and blinds me so I can’t even see the desire in the eyes of the boys around me.