She wasn't exactly a loner; she had a few, close girlfriends at school, but she also chose to keep to herself a lot of the time, more so than other girls her age. It wasn't just that Marie was shy, which she was, but she simply preferred her own company to others at times and liked doing her own thing. It was a bit awkward, but often times, at lunch or during breaks, she had no problem sitting by herself in the quad and reading a book quietly to herself, while her peers around her would be laughing and talking to each other in groups.
One day, junior year, in her chemistry class....
"Hey," Marie yelled (or what could be constituted as "yelling" for her; it was more like raising her voice).
James had unceremoniously bumped into her as they were both making their way through the door.
He just gave her a "so what" look and continued making his way across the room.
It was rude of him, but Marie knew better than to make a big deal about it. James was James. Marie had known him since the beginning of high school, and this was the way he had always been: rude and blatantly disregardful of normal social graces. Marie knew that he was no criminal though.
Other people had learned to pretty much treat James the same way as Marie. That is, they pretty much ignored his rude behavior, realizing that it was more or less harmless, and enjoyed his company when he was being fun and charming, which he often was.
Marie took her seat, and instantly, she felt a wave of dread wash over her. It was so bad she could actually feel herself physically shaking. The shaking wasn't noticeable to others, but she knew it was happening.
Every Wednesday was a lab day, and Marie usually preferred to work alone, but her neighboring lab group, two girls and two guys specifically, had made it a point to target her every week. Today was lab day, and since they had a substitute teacher in class that day, Marie had a sinking feeling that the teasing would be worse than normal. She suspected that a lot of the teasing stemmed mainly from the two girls, and she wasn’t sure why the guys went with it, but they did, and it was horrible.
She was right. Only a few minutes into the class, the comments started. At first, they were loud enough only for Marie to hear. They commented on her clothes and her voice. Marie tried her best to ignore them and stared intently at her chemistry beakers as if they were the most interesting things in the world.
Unfortunately, her outwardly calm demeanor only ended up making things worse for her. Fed up with her nonchalance and spurred on by the substitute teacher’s lack of influence, the teasing got louder.
“We’re all going to Crystal’s party this weekend. Sorry you weren’t invited.” one of the girls called out.
Marie was quiet.
“Hey Marie, why don't you ever look at me when I talk to you? Your mom never told you that you should make eye contact with people?” one of the guys tried next. It was loud enough for the other groups to hear.
Marie looked up at them, and couldn't control it. She burst into tears. At that moment, James from a neighboring table spoke up, very loudly:
“Hey man, lay off her. You say anything else—we'll take this outside.”
It was a threat to be taken seriously. James was one of the school's leading track and field stars; he was not someone his classmates wanted to mess around with.
It was all Marie heard as next, she sprinted out of the classroom and ran down the long, empty hallway. She heard James following her out, but ignored him and kept running, into the sunny quad outside.
Marie reached the end of the quad, and then she stood there, taking a few deep breaths, and quieted herself. She calmed herself down. She sniffed a little.
James caught up to her.
“Hey, are you ok?” James asked. He looked concerned, and his voice was soft, for possibly the first time she had ever heard him.
“Yes,” she replies meekly. “I'm ok now. Thank you.”
She looked up at his eyes and gave him a quick smile. “I think I'll have my friend Claudia pick up my things from class and go home the rest of the day now.”
He nodded his head, and she walked towards the parking lot to head home for the day.
* * *Marie got over the incident with the clique at school. But over the next few days, she couldn't stop thinking about James. She wondered if he thought about her too. She thought he might, but she wasn't sure.
She felt awkward and nervous going to school every day now. But nothing ever happened that was out of the ordinary. If she passed by James, they would say a quick hi to each other. In class she would glance at his way sometimes, and they locked eyes a few times. But that was it.
* * *This awkward state, it was always in the back (actually, the forefront) of her mind, but Marie tried not to think too much about it. Months went by. Then, one day, the sun was out, and Marie was humming a song to herself as she was walking to her car. She just felt good on this day for no particular reason. Spring was coming, and she was happy to be going home to watch her favorite tv show, a romantic comedy about a female doctor, after a full day at school.
As she was on her way to her car, she saw a figure lying on the ground, near the school track. It was James! Right away she recognized him. She would recognize that red plaid jacket, that closely shaved crop top of brown hair, that silhouette anywhere, even as he was lying down and looking like he was in some kind of physical trouble.
She forgot that she was ever nervous around him, concern filled her, and she rushed over to see what was going on.
“James! Are you ok?” She asked him breathlessly, and knelt down to the ground, peering into his face.
James’s eyes, big and black as always, seemed almost illuminated as they looked at her.
He gave her a quick laugh and lightheartedly replied, "Yeah, I'm ok, just slipped on some gravel over there.” He motioned his hand abstractedly towards the track area.
Marie shyly smiled back. She was relieved that he seemed only a little hurt, and was not in any immediate or serious danger. Her butterflies came back.
"Well, I think it still looks like you could use some help getting up,” she said, as she surveyed his situation. “Mind if I help you?" she cautiously asked, and offered her arm to him.
Now it was James’s turn to smile shyly at the ground.
He gave her another quick, but deep, laugh. "Yeah, I could use your help," he said.
"Okay." Marie suddenly felt really shy and was unsure of what to do next. It was silent between them for a moment.
"If you help me get to the bench, I'll call my buddy and ask him to pick me up here." James said to her next without missing a beat, in a steady, decisive and deep voice.
"Yes." Marie said.
Together they made their way to the bench, not too far away, in silence. It was a little difficult to walk with James as he was a lot taller than she was, and much of his weight was shifted on Marie. No matter his lighthearted attitude, Marie could tell that James really did need her help getting up and walking over to the bench.
Finally they made their way over. James was sitting on the bench now, and Marie stood near him, unsure of how to leave the situation.
"Thanks for helping me over. You're sweet." James grinned at her and looked directly at her, kindly.
Then he made a sweeping gesture with his arm to a spot next to him on the bench.
"Would you like to sit here and keep me company while I wait to be picked up?"
"Haha. Yes." Marie softly said and smiled. It was all she could utter out at the moment. She took a seat next to him.
"Well, I don't really know what to talk about..." she said next and trailed off. She felt so awkward, and she really wanted James to like her.
James smiled. "Then, just tell me from the start. Where were you born? Where are you from? We have all the time in the world."
Marie drew a quick breath. "Yes." she said. “But only if you'll tell me your stories, too."
"Deal." he said. And then Marie began preparing to tell James the story of her life, and right then and there, she was pretty sure that her story would end with him in it, as well.