It's extremely flattering to be noticed. We all try, on some level, to look nice, sound smart, be funny--somehow stick out from the crowd as someone who is special. When someone singles you out, as that one that makes them blind to anyone else when you're around, it feels incredible.
I come from a home that was above anything else, protective of me. I grew up without a father, and that made my mother, grandmother, and my brothers live in overdrive when it came to making sure I was safe. If I was going to be out somewhere, late, my mother would send my brothers to walk me home so I wouldn't be alone at night. I was told ways to be aware and how to never let my guard down. I was a street-smart one, and I knew what to watch for out there and the ways to reduce the risk of danger.
As added assurance, my mother sent me to a small, private all-girl high school. It was a world of uniforms, nuns, and no males. I was a made-to-order student and you could find my face in the yearbook under student council, Honor Society, and Spanish Club. My days at school were uneventful, but if there ever were anything there to put me in harm's way, my sixth sense that was always on full-alert mode would pick it up.
I knew how to be safe.
My sophomore year, I started Driver's Ed classes. They were held at the public high school that was only a block away, but they were at at night, so my two brothers walked me there and then back home. These classes were open to all area teens, which means we were a mixed bunch of boys, girls, and me: someone who spent her days in a plaid-skirted all-female environment.
The Wednesday night classes became the highlight of my week, being the one time that I'd be able to dress in something other than the blue and green skirt and white blouse of my uniform. I'd run home from school, and spend the two hours before class going over every detail: the right jeans, the peasant top, the Frye boots. I would smooth my hair, put on two thick coats of navy blue mascara, and rosy up my cheeks with Bonne Bell's Angelfire. In the way that all sixteen-year-old girls look to everyone else in the world except to themselves, I was so sweetly pretty.
There was a group of swarthy boys that always came to class late. They moved together, a band of tough looking guys who seemed much older than 16 years; intimidating in the way they'd saunter in, not even quieting their steps. They'd find their desks in the back and let their bodies fall into the chairs, legs draping over desk tops, or feet resting on the chair in front of them. Our instructor never said anything to them about what time they walked in, or where they'd place their legs.
From the first night I saw them, I could hear the red flags popping up in my head. I would sit in the back of the room, and though I stared straight ahead, believe me--I was well aware of who was sitting in the chairs around me. I wanted no part of them--they were danger. And yet, after the third week of classes, when the leader of these toughies threw a folded-up paper note on my desk, I felt my heart race.
I was 16-years-old, a wallflower of a girl who wasn't on any A-list and especially not a part of any popular girl cliques at my school. But somehow the evil of the world I had been warned about had come looking for unnoticeable me. My grandmother's voice whispered in my head to ignore the note, place it back on his desk; at the very least, just leave it sitting there--in its 50 little folds--unopened.
You know what it feels like when you find out you took first place in a poetry contest? Or you hear that you made the cast after you audition? How you can't believe it's you? That's what attention feels like to a shy, skinny teen-age girl.
So I reached for the white paper package, with my pink-tipped fingernails that I had freshly polished only 30 minutes before class. I picked it up and carefully nestled it in the bottom of my flowered purse.
I knew he was watching me because I felt it. I saw him lean his head over to his friend and whisper something. As soon as the class was over, I grabbed my book and purse and rushed past him, embarrassing myself by bumping into his desk in my hurry. I didn't want him to talk to me, not with my brothers waiting outside.
I knew the trouble that would happen if they saw me walk out with a boy who looked 19.
I took the stairs out of the school two at a time, never turning around once to look behind me.
Tomorrow: Part II The Note
**reading the comments here: so sorry to have had to make this into a TBC, but the story is much TOO IMPORTANT to rush through and tell at one sitting. Thanks for your caring, and patience--you're all so kind.