I wondered how often guys talked about crushes.
I guess that’s just never something Josh and I ever talked about, and I guess it wasn’t all that common to talk to your dad. I mean, I mentioned that there was a really cool girl in my class that I liked, but that was just it.
But the thing was, now, seeing Devika D’Souza everywhere around John Willock Prep, I kind of couldn’t take my eyes off of her.
Devika D’Souza. Known as Viki to her friends. So, basically not me. She was beautiful, and unbelievably smart. She could whip out a fully balanced reaction in seconds and could calculate numbers like… like a calculator. I had met her in homeroom in our freshman year, and it took only a few weeks that I decided that this was a real crush. This was her first YEP session, but she walked the halls of John Willock like she owned the place, every now and again playing with bright tassel earrings.
I didn’t know how to really approach her, or even say hi. My mouth was dry when I was around her and I just ran by so I wouldn’t end up blurting something really embarrassing. But she saw me this time, and gave me a kind smile and waved. I guessed the easiest thing to do would be to wave back. I ended up tripping. And my papers went everywhere.
Well, for being the easiest thing, it wasn’t the most flattering.
Muttering harshly under my breath, I started shoveling the papers back into my binder. The people in the hall between classes were too engaged in their studies to really laugh at me, but that wasn’t what I was worried about.
Devika rushed over and knelt down to help pick up the papers.
“Wow, you kind of barreled into that,” she said lightly. “You got them?”
She handed my papers back to me. I noticed the bright yellow of her nails. They were like daffodils against her deep brown skin. I stood, and she followed.
I nodded, then gave her an apologetic laugh. “One of the curses of big feet, you know?”
Her smile was plastered on her face, like she didn’t know what to do next.
I wanted to slap myself. Of course she had to have small feet. I had big feet, but she was a girl. A very petite, very pretty girl.
I stopped laughing and looked at my feet, finding the need to inspect them, just to make sure they were big.
I don’t know what would have made me more confident in this situation: having Josh there to retreat to when things got awkward, or not having a crush on her.
Devika suddenly laughed again. “Well, I’m glad it’s a normal happening. I was scared you might have hurt yourself.” She grinned brightly and hugged her books to herself. She rocked back on her heels. “If it comes with the territory of big feet, I won’t worry. See you in class.” With that, she walked away.
I wondered how many girls dressed like her. I liked it; a yellow dress with an orange cardigan. White heels. Her jet black hair was braided down her back, tied off with a flower bow at her hips.
The way she walked away, like she won something, reminded me of only one lady: my mom. There was a bounce in her step that I could only describe as adventurous. I smiled at her as she left me in the hall.
Yeah. It took two years. I loved that lady.
I still didn’t know how to talk to her. A magical trip in a hall wouldn’t solve the problem that I was awkward beyond belief with other people.
I checked my watch, and I gasped. My heart stopped and I started running down the halls.
I was almost late for my class.
My tongue stuck out of my lips, I marked the whiteboard with the massive biochemical formulas I had been talking about. As I made my last marks, I turned from the board and to the class, capping my marker triumphantly.
“What do you think, Doctor?” I asked, glancing at the professor at the podium mic.
Doctor Mogel carefully observed my writings, and a quick grin crossed his friendly face. He nodded to me. “Bravo, Mister Cannon,” he called to me as I returned to my seat in the university-like classroom. “I see the high demand for you.”
I did my best to smile as I sat myself down, but my face was hot with embarrassment. Eyes were on me – not all of them were in awe. I silently opened my notebook as the professor explained my equation to the other students and tried to casually look over my notes. I hid my face with a hand supporting my temple.
I made the worst mistake of my life in June. Principal Telles had asked to receive my SAT scores, a request that confused me enough to just give in to. Once he received them, word circulated about my scores. I was recommended as a school tutor. I realized that the principal had used my scores as a sort of advertisement of our school’s excellence. All this had been growing through summer and exploded in my face the moment I set foot in John Willock. They knew me all of a sudden. Their looks were looks of annoyance. Why did I have to shove my above average scores down their throats? I never meant to. I just didn’t want to get in trouble with the principal.
I really wanted to shrink back into the anonymity I had enjoyed. With Josh. I wanted to be invisible like him, just another poster on the wall. Just another face in the crowd, with just another locker next to your own.
Devika was sitting across the stairs from me, only a couple feet away. She glanced at me almost at the same time I was looking at her. All of a sudden more embarrassed, I tried looking away, but she waved again at me, and shot me a thumbs up.
My smile shook as I turned away.
As Doctor Mogel returned to his lecture, I listened for most of it, then my eyes turned to the clock on the brown wall. 1:15. Another half hour. Then labs. I sighed and folded my arms on the long table in front of me.
The minutes rolled by and I got tired of raising my hand to answer questions. I waited for the lecture to end, silently taking notes and doodling.
I wondered what empowerment camps were like. I wondered what other poor, underprivileged kids were like. I wondered what Josh was doing, and if he was right. If it was a pity-party.
Or maybe it was fun. Maybe he was finding confidence like the brochure said, showing him how to find opportunities in the real world. Maybe he made some friends.
What if he made friends? I paused in my doodle of a dragon and blinked.
As it came to my head, I got a feeling of dissatisfaction. I needed to sort through it, understand why. Well, yeah, I wanted him to have friends. I didn’t want him to feel alone. I wanted him to be happy.
But I wanted him to not feel alone with me. I wanted him to be happy with me.
I swallowed as I stared blankly at my half-finished dragon.
I wanted my friend to just be my friend. I wasn’t comfortable sharing. I grumbled to myself. So what? I didn’t even know if he made friends. He’ll be just as glad to see me as I’ll be to see him. He’ll be desperate to see me again.
I convinced myself that I wasn’t compromised, and I settled my pencil back on the neck scales of Smaug the Second. But I paused again.
Was that fair to Josh? Since when was he incapable of making friends? I never knew exactly what he was like around people without me, and I knew for a fact that Josh was almost nonexistent in a crowd if he was with me. Perhaps he was much more successful this week in the way of friends than I was. After all, all I had going for me was a sad, one-sided crush that was two years old.
I felt compromised again. I frowned, because I put too many scales on Smaug’s neck.
I wanted to see Josh. Maybe more than he wanted to see me.
I leaned back again, now more sour than ever. I didn’t want to think about this anymore.
We’ve never been apart. We’ve never been in a situation where we needed anyone else. Now I wondered how he was taking it without me.
Suddenly everyone was picking up their books and getting out of their seats, thanking Doctor Mogel for the lecture. I had thought my way through that half hour, and I felt bad. Shyly I ducked out of my seat and almost ran out that door, mumbling my thanks.
Devika was right behind me, hugging her notebook. She matched my pace in those heels, clicking along with confidence, until I slowed down as we walked calmly through the halls to the labs.
“You okay, Levi?” she asked, uncertainty in her voice.
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
I’m not fine.
Josh was taking up my thoughts. I felt like a worried mom with a kid at camp. I really wanted to see him now, to make sure he was okay. That I was okay.
Devika stopped all of a sudden, prompting me to pause with her in the hall. We were surrounded by hardwood lockers, stained with luxurious red. We weren’t wearing the school’s uniforms of maroon and white, thus clashing against them. We were outsiders; we didn’t belong here.
Her thin brow knitted over her deep, round, black eyes. She cocked her head to the side. “This isn’t about earlier, is it?” she guessed cautiously.
I had to think before I shook my head profusely. “No, it’s not that. I just…” I paused and bided my words. It sucks that I don’t have friends. I have a crush on you and I can’t tell you about it. My best friend may be in danger. I’m a pitiful helicopter parent and I don’t deserve to know Josh. “I was embarrassed by the professor. That’s all. I don’t like people remembering my mistake.”
Devika hummed her understanding, then gave me a comforting look. “Levi, you’re the smartest guy in our school, the YEP, perhaps even all of Maine. All people noticed was your potential.”
I raised my brow at her, unconvinced. But she looked so earnest that I replayed the happenings in my head. Perhaps no one was as judgmental as I saw them, I thought to myself. I met her eyes again.
“Oh. Well, I tend to think different things… when people look at me that way, you know?”
She nodded. “I guess I wouldn’t know.” Shrugging, she kind of laughed. “Nobody gives me a second glance here. I’m Indian. Of course I’m furthering my education.” Her smile went back to soft and comforting. “Look, Levi. You’re amazing. People notice you for being the smart guy you are. That’s the first thing I noticed about you.” She paused, then looked away.
I was stopped in my tracks, my replies caught in my throat. Wait, did she say she noticed me? A dumb smile almost crept up my face before I ended it with a short clearing of my throat. That could mean anything.
I stuffed my free hand in my jeans pocket and looked down the hall. Most of the students were already at the lab or on their way to the quad. We were alone, the lockers peering down at us, watching our every move.
“You noticed me?” I echoed, quietly and also a little awkwardly.
I thought I caught Devika blushing. She pulled her braid forward and nonchalantly inspected it for frizz. Naturally there was nothing to correct.
“Well,” she began slowly, “if I’m being completely honest and forward, I’ve had a crush on you since freshman year.”
My world paused and my brow started doing things – contorting, rising, dipping into my eyes – I probably looked like I was suffering a seizure or something. But for good reason; I was battling a look of disbelief.
She kept looking at the floor. Like she was afraid of getting rejected. Maybe I looked disgusted. I immediately wiped the look off my face.
“That’s kind of funny,” I said. “I’ve been trying to find a way to ask you out for just about that long.”
Devika looked up at me again, and it was her turn to look skeptical. “Really?” she breathed. “I told myself that, if you didn’t ask me out this semester, I’d ask you to go on a date with me.”
A warm feeling blossomed in me, and I feared I would smile myself to oblivion. “Well, I guess this is as good a time as any to ask you on a date.”
Did I really do it? Did I finally ask Devika D’Souza out? No, it wasn’t a victory until she agreed. I held my breath as surreptitiously as possible, but it was pretty apparent I was clutching my books too hard.
“Did you just ask me out?” She paused and shrugged. “That wasn’t a question. That was stating the convenience of asking. I got confused.” But that smile she made at me obviously told me she understood.
I blushed, then nodded. “Devika, will you go on a date with me?”
All of a sudden she looked like sunshine itself. Like the daffodils I saw in her all bloomed at once. She grinned. “Yes.”
In that moment, I was on top of the world. The happiest guy in all of Maine. Nothing else mattered because right now, I felt like it was summer; carefree, joyful. Yellow.
That’s what it was. I was feeling yellow.
Levi was greatly inspired by my personal school experiences in this chapter. Also, this is where the majority of my personality shines through him.
Devika is based off of a friend of mine.