The Red Sweater: Part 3

Sixteen.

Twice as old.

I didn’t feel any better.

It was the first day of junior year.

The Knot still found me.

My reflection stared back on my new, mature, wooden mirror. We redid my room that year so that I could have a fresh start on life. But in the mirror, the same uncertain eyes met mine. I hurried to look away, to find something that I liked about myself in the dissection of my body. The Knot, though invisible, made it impossible.

I lunged for my bed and threw the covers over my head. I was too old for these games, but I couldn’t help it. I longed to grab for the flashlight that used to be next to my bed and read a book under the covers.

Safety.

Solidarity.

Mom always said I’d grow out of it, but I wa losing hope for her hope.

“Sweetie, you’re going to make me late for work!” Mom yelled. Probably from the kitchen, but our thin walls made every noise audible.

“I can’t! A pimple is taking over my face. It’s threatening my entire existence!”

On purpose, I chose a smaller problem. One that would make her think I was okay. That I would be okay.

One tragic hour later, I arrived to class. The Knot made me late for my first class. The thought of walking into my class late made the Knot worse. By the time I made it, I could only be impressed with myself for not hurling.

“Chicken Legs.”

No.

I wouldn’t face him; I’d been lucky enough to not be put with the same teacher as him since sixth grade. Sixth grade. I’d made it so long that I nearly forgot about him altogether. He whispered my nickname a few more times, shy and careful not to disrupt the teacher on the first day.

After a few minutes, a note was gently handed over my shoulder. Sure that that the words would hurt, I crumpled it up.

“Read it,” Troy hissed.

Nice legs. You really grew up.

My face heated up, redder than my mother’s sweater had ever been.

I crumpled it up again, tighter this time. The tears already threatened to seep through.

“What is it?” His breath was hot on my cheek. Too close for the classroom. Certain everyone was watching us, I was surprised to scan the room and find no one looking our way.

“What kind of guy writes in calligraphy,” I shot back at him, finding the inner fire he fueled.

“A mature one.”

I snorted.

Next class. Same boy.

Lunch.

“Hey, are you eating here?” Troy asked on the way out.

“Are you?”

“Yeah.”

“Then no, gross.”

A few weeks passed.

A Thursday arrived.

Somehow, seeing Troy every day brought the Knot and simultaneously took it away. Having someone to take my anger out on eased my spirit. His insults didn’t hurt me as much when I could shoot them back. They were petty arguments.

“Your hairs gotta knot, don’t you know how to brush it?” Troy pestered me.

I turned around. “Your face has a knot. Too bad they don’t make face brushes.”

“They do actually, Clarisonic. You probably haven’t heard of it, seeing as how you’re a zit monster, Chicken Legs.”

“So many names. Just last month you said you liked my legs.”

“You’ve grown into them. What do you say we go out tomorrow and I see what they look like without those ugly sweatpants?”

I tossed my head, purposely smacking his face with my hair. “Do I have to brush this?”

“No, you’ll get plenty tussled at my place.”

“I’d rather go scooba-diving.”

“You can’t swim.”

A pause.

He tapped his pencil.

“Please?” His voice sounded gentler. “I’m not the same guy, Chicken L—”

The chance to mess with him was too inviting. I nodded my head once.

Friday came next. The Knot was there, but not a dreadful one. I knew that today I’d get to screw around with Troy. Hopefully get him back for some of the pain he caused me and be able to reduce this Knot further.

During class, he didn’t pester me. At the end of the day, he met me at my locker.

“So I just got my license a few weeks back,” he said.

“Neat,” I replied.

“So…”

“We are not having sex in your car.”

He held his hands up. “No one said anything about that. Let me buy you dinner first.”

I shrugged. “That’s fine.”

He trotted down the hall. Turned back. “Hey Chicken Legs, no sweatpants tonight, okay? See you in an hour.”

I watched his lean frame exit the building.

An hour later, after scrubbing the makeup off my face and making a few pimple’s red, I stood at the door. Excitement pulsed through me.

“That’s an interesting choice, dear,” Mom said. “What made you wear my sweater tonight? You haven’t worn it since the fourth grade.”

I smirked.

“You like this boy, huh? I haven’t seen you this relaxed in a while. And it’s your first date!”

I swatted her.

Car lights appeared, casting shadows through our living room blinds.

“Is he a nice boy? Don’t go anywhere alone,” she hurried now. “You look adorable. Just be yourself.” She peeked out the window and clasped her hands. “You’re only sixteen! I guess I told you that that’s when I started dating, didn’t I? Anyway, now it seems too young.”

Troy met me in the driveway, on his way up my front steps.

“Think again, Buster, you are not meeting my mother,” I informed him.

He shrugged, unaffected. We got milkshakes at the local ice cream shop and sat on a sidewalk near the place where they sold cows. The air smelled like an animal sewer. And he didn’t smell that much better. Dirt kicked up in the parking lot every time someone drove off.

Somehow, it was perfect.

Was it the dust particles dashing through the air like confetti? No, that wasn’t it. The neighborhood creep smoking around the back of the building? No, not that either. I didn’t understand the switch happening in me.

We didn’t talk much. Just slurped. When our milkshakes were gone, we bobbed our heads along to the country radio playing outside the shop. Movement of any kind usually brought the uncomfortable Knot, especially dancing.

Yet, it never came.

Suddenly it was midnight.

He tugged on the left sleeve of my sweater, I glanced up at him. How had I failed to notice his deep blue eyes? With dark brown hair, it wasn’t fair. They struck me as beautiful in the most handsome way.

The magic moment returned. The snow globe feeling.

In my red sweater, I got my first kiss.

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