Falling Upstairs and Other Loud Embarrassments

I've never been much for knowing when a girl is checking me out. I always just assume they're not interested and move on. I've been told that this is a bad strategy for meeting girls. I accept that, and even though I do want to meet a woman someday and settle down, I've never been self-centred enough to inflict myself on anyone. And, y'know, the more I liked them, the more convinced I became that there was no way they'd spend time with me. Even if, y'know, there were very obvious indications to the contrary.

So, I'd spend time with girls I never much liked, and who probably never much liked me, at least not in that way, because, I dunno, I don't deserve to be happy or something. Not that I wasn't happy. Just... y'know... lacking in a certain area. And any time I stepped outside of my comfort zone, what with the romancing, it was always with girls I didn't actually want to be with. And maybe, y'know, it was my antipathy, or maybe I'm just unlovable, though I refuse to believe that on account of my mom always said God didn't make junk. I don't know about that, what with serial killers and rapists and ball cancer, which killed my dad, but it stuck, and so I'm a fucking optimist where it comes to romance.

But it doesn't even make a little bit of difference if I'm God's junk or I'm just fishing in the wrong part of the pond, so long as I'm too fucking chicken to go after something I really want.

I felt terrible right away.

So far, my strategy for getting a girl I really like is to play it cool. Play it cruel, more like. Heather came by the table at lunch today, and was talking -- something about the Math test upcoming -- and I was really into it. She's smart as shit. But then, the old doubt creeps in and I'm listening to Cathy, one of the girls I usually hang out with, snickering.

That old doubt is a real bastard, I tell you. Defense mechanisms and whatnot. I start laughing too. Like Cathy can t be cooler than me, so I have to join in or something.

Heather looks at Cathy, like, "What's so funny?" Cathy just laughs and you don't even have to know Cathy to know that she's about to uncork something nasty. And there it is. All of a sudden, I have to choose. Only I already know the way I choose. It's the way I always choose. Cathy's never rejected me. Oh, she has a strong "fuck off" vibe that I've never tested, but at this point, we're comfortable enough in our cesspit of cynicism. At this point, it seems like Heather probably suspects I'll ask her out and is already coming up with excuses to get out of it. So I side with Cathy. The fucking coward's way out, but that's what it is.

When Cathy lets fly, Heather leaves. Maybe she isn't crying, but I can tell it's crossing her mind.

Regret always comes to me before it does to Cathy. Usually, she never finds it at all. It hits me right away

"What the fuck, Cathy?"

"Come on, Evan. She's an asshole."

"No she isn't. You know she isn't. Fuck." I walk away while Cathy tries to bring me back with, "Come on! It was funny!"

I caught up with Heather just down the hall and apologized. Not one of these non-apologies, either. Not this, 'Sorry your feelings got hurt' bullshit. I didn't apologize for Cathy, either. Cathy was a full person and could apologize her own damn self if she wanted.

I stood there and watched Heather react to my apology. I could tell, in real time, that she liked my sincerity. But she wasn't ready to forgive me just yet.

"Your friend is an asshole, and you laughed at me."

There wasn't a lot of heat in her voice. She was just laying out the facts as she saw them. I didn't even have a response to that. Or, anyway, I did, but it was too much to say, about the influence of friends, and the quick way that fear can lead to regrettable actions. And more about swearing off toxic people and living for what I wanted instead of for what I thought I could get. But I didn't really know how to have that conversation just then, so I stood there, feeling like I looked like I had to pee, and I shrugged, showing her I had no defense.

"Yeah," I said. "I don't want to talk about Cathy." And I didn't. And she didn't. Instead, we talked about the Math test, and we talked about Minecraft, and Mystery Science Theatre. She knew about it , too. I mean, before they came out with the new ones. And eventually, we talked about dads. Hers, who'd run off some years ago, then came back when his new wife kicked him out. She'd wanted her mom to take him back, and it had looked like that might just happen, but he'd fucked up again and out he went. We talked about my dad, too, gone since I was ten.

We talked a lot. Not every day, but enough so that I knew she was thinking of me even when we weren't hanging out.

She had a boyfriend, but I didn't see that as much of a problem. It was a high school romance, and you know how those things go.

I made myself an almost integral part of her life. She confessed her fears to me, she told me all about the things that worried her about her boyfriend, and I told her just about everything about me.

Then she and Steve broke up. That made me excited. I thought I would ask her out, but before I turned around, she was going out with another guy. It didn't matter, I guess. Just another high school boyfriend. And we still hung out. More than she ever did with this guy, Gary. He didn't like me from the get-go. I didn't much like him either, and I think Heather probably realized what was going on, because she broke up with Gary pretty quick.

Finally, I asked her out. We were so perfect together, I thought, but she said she didn't want to lose my friendship, and she was worried that us going out would do that.

I could respect that. But it sure didn't feel good. I listened to a bunch of sad music, but then I figured that this sucked way worse than when something didn't work out with any of the other girls, because this was something I had really wanted. I told her I needed a little time to recover, and she was really good about not pestering me. We're still friends. It's hard to look at her sometimes, because I remember how embarrassed I felt getting shot down by her, but I laughed in her face when Cathy called her a slut and she was able to move on, so I moved on, too.

I'm still a romantic. I know there's someone out there for me. It isn't Heather, and I know it isn't Cathy, so I'll have to keep looking.