Realignment, pt. 1

I have some really good memories from before.

*****

I met Abby in the seventh grade. I don’t remember when exactly, but that was the year all the school zones got realigned, so we ended up at the same middle school. She went out with several of my friends that year, and I was supposed to be dating this girl named Courtney who mostly made me write her notes in class and pay for her movie tickets. But I knew Abby, liked Abby. Everybody liked Abby.

She had a quiet confidence, even then, as a twelve year old, when no one’s got any real confidence. She never had braces, she had these naturally straight teeth, so she never had those notoriously awkward years.

But ninth grade I was crushing hard. Courtney and I had broken up that spring, and I guess Abby was a free agent at the moment, too. We both ended up at a back to school party at my friend Luke’s. It was in his backyard, one of those things that feels so legit when you’re fourteen, but looking back is so funny. His parents were there, hiding in the kitchen, and everybody was just in his backyard. They had a pool, so the cool girls were swimming in their American Eagle bathing suits, and the guys were doing cannonballs and wearing sunglasses.

There was a lot of stuff going on under the water that I didn’t realize was happening.

It was a gorgeous day, just hot enough to swim in the dusk but not too humid. Picturesque, really. Or maybe it’s just that way in memory. Abby always did something to me, made me see the world through rose-colored glasses or something.

I was hanging out with her in a group because we were mostly all too shy to talk to the opposite sex one-on-one. This kid named Hayden suggested Spin the Bottle, trying to seem ironic but we all knew he really wanted to kiss Cathryn Kelly. So we played.

And it was textbook.

Abby was the second spin, and she landed on me. We hadn’t talked much, didn’t talk much then or after. She just leaned across the circle and kissed me, real quick but not prudishly, and sat back down, and then it was Hayden’s turn.

I thought about that kiss for months, though I never told anyone. None of my friends knew I liked Abby, and Abby certainly didn’t know. But she was there in my daydreams and night dreams and the infamous wet dreams of puberty.

If you would’ve told fourteen-year-old me that I would’ve ended up dating Abby, I would’ve said it was too good to be true, I wouldn’t have believed you.

But I did.

*****

We became really good friends sophomore year. We fell into the same social circle, and we spent a lot of time together, in groups of course.

It didn’t take long.

Abby liked me back, it turned out, and eventually I forgot I’d ever looked at her as some unattainable demigod.

We would spend our free periods in the quad on sunny days. I would pick dandelions for her and she would make little crowns for us.

Once he figured it out, Luke was that kid who intentionally made it awkward but would claim he was just trying to help.

He would say things like, “Hey Abby, don’t you like Wells’s shirt today?” or “Abby’s books look really heavy today; why don’t you carry them to class, Wells?” or “Here, Abby, have my seat; it’s got a better view,” when he was sitting next to me at the movies.

I blushed every time.

But you couldn’t say no, so we always said yes and then it was Wells and Abby all the time.

*****

Our first date was over Christmas Break that year.

I remember getting sick in the bathroom before I asked her out. Our friend Christa told me she was going to say yes, but I was still nervous.

She said yes, and I took her to Olive Garden and the movies in the mall. My mom drove us and picked us up. Abby was home by 9:30.

We didn’t say a lot over dinner, but she laughed at my jokes and told me about her family, which was kind of screwed up and dysfunctional, so I felt like she really liked me. I paid for dinner and the movies with money I’d gotten for Christmas, and we split a box of Milk Duds, which was a bad idea because they got stuck in our teeth. I wanted to kiss her in the theater, but Abby didn’t seem interested in that, so we just watched the movie and went home.

I asked her to be my girlfriend a couple of days later over the phone. She said yes.

*****

Abby had this unique ability to float with the cool kids but really be above it all. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was like the braces in middle school; she never got caught up in the high school drama.

She was a much better person than I was. She went to parties and all, but she made me feel bad when I drank and she never let me drive home if I’d had anything at all. I never told her when I smoked weed because I knew she wouldn’t approve. But it wasn’t like she was my mother; she was just above it all. She was really nice, so everyone loved her. She turned out really pretty, too, by the time we hit junior year. Like, model pretty.

I played varsity basketball that year, and she was a cheerleader and on track, and I would drive her home after practice every day. We would meet in the parking lot and she would give me a hug even though I was all sweaty and kiss me if no one else was around. If it wasn’t too hot, we would sit in the car, with the heat on if it was cold, for a while and talk, and then I would take her home.

Her parents got divorced that year. They were pretty shit parents at that point, actually. I have no idea how Abby turned out as well as she did. She actually ended up spending a few weeks at my house, in our guest room, when it got really ugly at home.

My parents loved her, of course. She was everything they could’ve hoped for, and she really was good for me. We never even had sex, though she let me make out with her sometimes.

*****

It was Abby’s influence, that day, when I stood up for Malcolm Headley.

He was this really weird kid in our grade who wanted to be cool so bad and just wouldn’t give up, but the kids were really mean to him about it. He tried so hard, it was hard not to make fun of him.

He ran track and was actually pretty good, and it made some of the guys really insecure. They were ragging on him in the parking lot one day after practice, knowing he could hear them as he walked to his car. I was leaning against Luke’s bumper, and Abby was next to me.

This guy, Conner, was imitating Malcolm, just being really rude, and I could see the flush on Malcolm’s face as he squinted into the distance and tried to pretend like he couldn’t hear. He was walking down the same row we were grouped on. I could see Abby’s face, the disapproval in her eyes and the set of her mouth.

“Aw, give it a rest, Conner. You’re just bitter because Malcolm’s better than you.” I said it teasingly enough that he couldn’t get mad without coming off defensively. Some of the guys laughed and started ragging on Conner’s mile time. I looked back at Abby, but her eyes were focused across the row.

I followed her gaze to Malcolm, who was staring dead at me, a look of utter shock on his face. I smiled briefly at him and looked away, back to the group.

*****

The next day, Malcolm sat next to me at lunch. This wasn’t that unusual. He was always trying to include himself in our group, but this time, prodded on by Abby’s encouraging nods and gestures, I tried to actually involve him in the conversation.

It was hard and awkward, because he just tried so hard. He was one of those people who knew just how to kill a joke, or who thought so hard about the punchline to the point where it fell flat, or who tried to make himself seem just that much cooler in every story he told even when you could see right through it, and I tried but the guys just weren’t having it. They behaved mostly, though, and no one outright said anything, which was progress. Abby even kissed me in the hallway, taking my hand with admiration in her eyes.

Slowly, Malcolm found ways to be around us more and more. Abby was always really nice to him, of course, which just encouraged him. He would follow her out to the parking lot and talk to us until I finally told him I had to get Abby home. He would sit on the end of the table at lunch and Abby would sit next to him, so I had to sit down there too, and the three of us would sort of have our own conversation. He was in my math class, and we would do homework together in free period. He was a lot smarter than me, so he would help me out.

One day, before a test, he offered to help me out, so I invited him over to study. He came over, and my mom fed him dinner and he stayed pretty late. By this time, he didn’t feel like he had to try quite so hard, at least when it was just me or just me and Abby, so he was a lot easier to get along with. He turned out to have a really complicated story and his home life kind of sucked. His dad was alcoholic and got a little physical sometimes, and his brother was in and out of jail. His parents were divorced, and his mom lived out in a trailer park and was a lunch lady at the elementary school.

He started coming over a lot, especially when it got colder, to play video games, and I started calling him Mac, which he loved. Abby would come over sometimes and we would all hang out.

Luke still couldn’t stand the kid. I ended up spending a lot more time with Mac than any of my other friends that winter. I liked him by this point, and plus I felt pretty bad for him, so I didn’t want to ditch him, but my friends straight-up refused to hang out with him most of the time.

They would let him come to parties and stuff, so we did that a lot, too. Mac would usually get pretty drunk and Abby would take care of him while he threw up in the bathroom.

*****

The night of me and Abby’s one-year anniversary rolled around, and I took her out for a real fancy dinner I could barely afford. There was an ice-skating rink about forty-five minutes away in the city, and I was taking Abby out there. I’d gotten her something, I think jewelry, and I wanted to give it to her while we were skating.

We got all the way out there and had just paid for the skates and were lacing them up when Mac called me. Abby told me to answer, so I did, and Mac’s on the other end, basically crying and saying something I couldn’t really understand. I told him to slow down, and I finally pieced together that he had done some really crazy drugs with his brother, wandered off somewhere, and was coming down but didn’t know where he was.

We gave the skates back and Abby got on the phone with him and tried to figure out where he was while I drove us back.

It was a really long night, but we finally found him about twenty miles north. He had started walking and stumbled upon a Dollar Tree and we picked him up there. He was near hysterical, so Abby sat in the back with him and held his hand the whole way home. Apparently it had been a hard night at home and his brother had gotten into with his dad, ran out, and Mac had followed him. They’d done the drugs to calm down.

I dropped Abby off and took Mac home with me.

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