It begins like this:
You are thirteen. Four girls sit around you at the lunch table. Their lips shimmer with layers of gloss, the air around them is thick with the smell of vanilla perfume. They talk about boys and you think about how their lips shine.
There’s a game they play called boy crazy. They tell you that if they tickle your leg and you laugh it means you’re boy crazy. One of them runs her fingers over the top of your thigh, laughing, and you feel the hot burn of blood rushing to your face. You laugh but you don’t think it means what they think it means. You don’t know what to think.
There’s one girl. Her hair is curly and her eyes are brown- she says they’re brown like mud but you think they’re brown like chocolate- and she looks at you. Asks you which boy you like. The answer is clear, it’s there, it’s burning holes in the pit of your stomach. No one, you want to tell her, I don’t like any boys. Something inside you says she won’t like that. They won’t like that.
So, you say your first lie- your first lie that really matters. And the game begins.
There’s a boy on the football team. He’s tall and blond and he’s not quite handsome yet, but he will be. Everyone can tell he will be. The girls all know it; they talk and talk and talk about him and you know that if he’s the one you pick, they won’t think anything is wrong with you.
When she asks you who you like, it’s his name that you give her.
You’re fifteen and summer’s changed everyone, changed everything. The brown eyed girl’s got legs that stretch for days and days and days. Everyone stares at her. They can’t help it. She tells you about how she wants that football player, the almost handsome one, to look at her.
She asks you if you think they’d be good together and you tell her yes. You tell her they’d be great together.
It’s another lie, but she can’t know that.
You watch as it happens, as she bats her lashes and he takes her to the movies, to dinner with his parents, to nights out in his car. You see them kissing against her locker and you feel something rise in you. You feel like you’re going to be sick, but you push it down. Deep, deep down. You tell yourself it’s nothing.
You still haven’t had your first kiss by the time you turn sixteen. The other girls tease you. They smack their glossy lips and they tell you how pretty you are, how smart you are, how you could have any boy in the school if you only tried. They don’t understand, but you’re starting to. You’re really starting to.
Boys ask and ask and ask you out and you always say no. You’re not ready. You’re the kind of person that dates in college, not high school. You have homework, you’re too busy, you don’t need the hassle of it all.
You’re the worst kind of liar because you lie to yourself.
The brown-eyed girl wants you to be happy the way she’s happy. She talks to her football player boyfriend and gets you the number of one of his friends, the quiet, dark haired one who’s always looking at you. Please, she says, please please go. You’re perfect for each other.
You’ve gotten close to her since middle school. She seems so excited, she wants you to go so bad, you don’t want to disappoint her.
So you say yes.
You’re starting to figure out that you don’t know how to say no to her.
There’s a movie showing at the theater near your house. When you go to see it, he leaves his hand open on the armrest. For the first half of the movie, you watch his hand lay there waiting for you. But for the second half, you reach out and you hold it.
It’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s fine, you tell yourself. It’s fine it’s fine it’s fine.
Afterwards, he parks his truck in the middle school parking lot. The town stretches out in front you, shining. Burning. It’s practically on fire. He’s looking at you and you don’t want to look back at him, but it’s what you’re supposed to do. His eyes are so very green.
There are no butterflies when he kisses you. No magic. No fireworks. But it isn’t bad. It’s not horrible. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s nothing. There are lips against lips and nothing more.
Later, she sits on your bed, wet nail polish shining on her fingernails, and she asks you how it went. You think about telling the truth, but it catches in your throat. Great, you tell her. It was great.
He tells you he loves you three months later and you tell him that you love him too. It’s not a lie, you tell yourself, because you do love him. You love the way he laughs at all your jokes, the way he reads every book you recommend to him, the way he always wants to stay up late talking to you. You can’t help but love him.
But at some point, you have to admit to yourself that it’s not the same. Maybe you love him, but he’s in love with you. He’s seventeen and he’s fallen in love for the very first time and you’ve broken his heart before he’s even realized it.
She calls you crying at three in the morning. You put on your jacket, you go to her house, you knock on her window like you’ve done a thousand times before. She pulls you into her bed and you hold her until she tells you what’s wrong.
It’s the football player. Because of course, it’s always the football player. He’s decided he just can’t love her anymore. You try and try and try to wrap your mind around something like that, but you can’t. It doesn’t make sense, not loving her.
You get her to stop crying. You get her to start laughing. You’re good at that. You’ve always been good at knowing just the right things to get her to smile. She holds your hand while she falls asleep and you think, just for a moment, of how nice it feels.
He cries when you break up with him and even though you thought you wouldn’t, you cry too. You cry because you wanted it to work so, so badly. Because you’ve been lying to him and to yourself and to everyone else and for what? You couldn’t make it work. You couldn’t make it feel right.
She crawls through your window. She holds your hand. She tells you about all those fish in the sea. The two of you are going to go off to college and find someone right. The right boy.
You don’t know what to say. Or maybe you do and you just don’t know how to say it.
You’re eighteen when you have to face the truth. College is so close you can touch it and you’re running out of time.
She hasn’t dated anyone since the football player. Instead, she spends all her time with you. She reads all the books you recommend to her. You take her to the movies, throwing popcorn at the screen. She stays up late every night talking to you.
You think of the way your name sounds in her mouth.
You’re alone with her in her car the night before you leave for college. You’ve been talking and talking and talking about everything and nothing and you’re so tired of not telling her the truth. She looks at you and you look at her. You say her name.
There must be something about the way you say it, because her face changes. Her eyes soften, her lips part just the smallest bit. She says your name too.
This is the moment.
You can feel it in the air, in the silence that stretches out for miles in between the two of you. It is hot and heavy and endless and for the first time you think maybe.
Maybe you can tell the truth.
Maybe, just maybe, she’ll love you the way you love her.
You’re drowning in her brown eyes and you have a choice to make. You’ve been playing this game for a long time and you don’t know if it’s a game that you can win. You just want to make her smile. You just want to hold her hand and have her hold yours back. But to do it, you have to make a choice.
The only way to win the game is to end it.
So you do.
Sophie Sheumaker is a twenty-year-old aspiring writer from Colorado. She’s currently a Writing, Literature, and Publishing major at Emerson College. When she’s not writing, she’s helping edit papers and working for Emerson’s resident publishing club.