[Author’s Note: This isn’t, technically, a story that takes place in the reality-based version of Left Behind. It’s simply an attempt to respond to the latest T.F. post by writing a love story…about cookies and airports.]
Sam shuffled in to the security line, glad to be rid of her giant suitcase. She craned her neck and attempted to look between the shoulders and heads of the people ahead of her. Every once in a while she caught a glimpse of a shaggy head of hair rising head and shoulders above almost every one else. Once he turned, caught her eye and smiled. She couldn’t help but smile back.
It had been a strange week, that was for sure.
She certainly hadn’t planned on having anything to do with boys during the trip to DC. It had only been a couple weeks ago that she’d decided to take a much needed break. Freshman year of high school was the last time she’d been single, after all.
Not that she’d planned it that way, really. Throughout junior high she’d been ignored. She’d lacked sports acumen and wasn’t exactly surrounded by people who admired her for the A grades that littered her report cards. She was an egghead, everyone had said, a teacher’s pet. It wasn’t a good way to make friends or gain popularity.
Freshman year had been worse. While all her friends were starting to date and go to dances she was overlooked. And it wasn’t just because she was lower than everyone else’s field of vision. Everyone seemed to look past or through her. She was a no one, a nobody. And it hurt. It didn’t matter that she attended Waubonsie Valley, a suburban Chicago school so vast it had multiple campuses, separated by class year. It didn’t matter that it was almost impossible to be noticed in such a place. She wanted to make a name for herself.
She’d spent the summer after her freshman year out at her grandparents’ house in Rhode Island. For reasons she didn’t understand at the time several of the local boys noticed her and spent the summer subtly, at least in their minds, jockeying for her attention. She’d figured out then that boys were actually pretty easy, if you knew what you were doing.
Basically, you needed to do something that made you stand out. After you got some attention you just had to get their competitive juices flowing. Once they were all trying to get past each other there was nothing more to it.
Newly confident, she’d returned to school in the fall with a more open personality, more ready smile, and a penchant for a sexier wardrobe. She hadn’t wanted to go for the slut look, just less plain and more eye-catching than she’d ever worn before. But that was just step one.
Step 2 was about rejection. Specifically of the first few boys who actually did notice her and tried to ask her out. The first time, she’d been forced to admit, felt pretty good. She had power, the feeling of controlling someone else’s emotions and destiny. It hadn’t hurt that the boy in question was Tommy Gilchrist, who she’d had a major crush on in junior high and had rejected her the previous year when she’d asked him to Turnabout.
The next couple after that weren’t nearly so satisfying. One of them was a rather sweet, awkward guy named Ben who probably hadn’t even noticed her change of attitude or wardrobe. But he didn’t fit in with her concept of who she was and what she wanted to be, so she’d just shot him down without giving it much thought until later.
By the time she really took to self reflection, though, her strategy had begun to pay off. There was something about being regarded as a stone cold bitch that got everyone’s attention. Not all of it was good attention, of course, but as the old saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
She’d made sure to keep up her grades while rebranding herself. By graduation she had the one of the highest GPAs in her class, a mound of ex-boyfriends and a reputation as a slut with a Napoleon complex. Her plan had been to skip most of that during college. She’d figured she’d meet a nice guy and they’d fall in love over poetry and foreign films or some other such stereotypical college romance fantasy.
It hadn’t worked out that way. She’d discovered right off the bat that college boys were just as easy to manipulate as high school boys. Maybe even more so. She’d also discovered that they had no interest in deep discussions of Keats, Kafka, or Kieslowski. At least, not the ones she seemed to meet.
She’d also discovered that the word “slut” wasn’t really tossed around too much in college. Everyone was doing it, after all. It was easier to just keep doing what she’d been doing before. She didn’t have to think about it too much, didn’t have to risk getting her heart broken. And she’d gotten used to always having someone around, even if she was sure she only wanted him for a little while.
Over Christmas break that year she’d run in to Ben. He’d told her that he’d met a girl his freshman year in college and was seriously considering proposing to her. As he’d spoken he’d gotten this faraway look, like there was nothing in the world but his beloved.
A little voice in the back of her head said, “That could be you he’s talking about.”
When she got back to campus she’d tried to go back to her normal life. But in the back of her mind all she could think about was how much she’d fucked up, how in trying so damn hard to be what she wanted to be she’d become someone she didn’t want to be. She found herself waking up in the middle of the night and crying.
One night about a month ago she’d woken her then-temporary-boyfriend. He’d sat up, looked at her, and said, “Wanna fool around?”
She’d kicked him out of her room before he’d managed to get his pants all the way on. Several floormates had been drawn out of bed by the sound of her screaming, forcing him in to what she was sure was a deeply embarrassing retreat. She didn’t care. Six years of bottled up anger and repressed self-loathing had chased him out in to that hallway.
She’d felt lighter, somehow. More flexible. Almost like she could go for a run and lift right off the concrete.
The next morning she’d decided to swear off boys for a while. The upcoming trip to DC had seemed like a good opportunity to make it stick.
That first morning she’d seen the big, awkward kid nervously glancing at her across the room. Something about him had just made her want to go over and hug him, tell him he’d be okay. At lunch time she’d finally figured out why. He reminded her, just a little, of Ben.
It had really just been a mad impulse that had led her to go talk to him on the Mall. His confusion and fright had been cute, in that way that lost puppies are cute. His obvious, stuttering inability to explain why it was strange and disturbing that they had the same name was endearing. Then they’d sat and talked about books and movies and she hadn’t wanted it to end.
What had been a somewhat altruistic attempt to exorcise her own demons and convince herself that she wasn’t just a calculating slut and not a stone cold bitch had become something else. The rest of the week had gone by in a whirlwind of all-day lectures and long night time conversations with Sam. That thought brought a smile as she heard him say her full name, drawing out the second and third syllables as if to draw attention from the fact that the first syllable was the same for both.
She’d taken to calling him “Samuel” as a joke. He’d seemed somehow pleased with that.
Again she craned her neck. Sam was looking for her.
They locked eyes. She winked. He smiled.
But she could have sworn it looked like he was blinking back tears.
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