In high school, Cole fantasized a life where he conversed with the pretty girls. They existed in a separate realm, and he couldn’t imagine how to get from here to there. Still, he dreamed of sidling close to one and offering a painfully polished observation. Yet even in his imagination, the girl looked straight through him. If he repeated his rehearsed line—still in his mind—the girl scoffed: “Heard you the first time, Cole.”
A wiry, restless boy, Cole’s yearning, expressive face wore a terrible veil of acne, the ornate patches shifting like ant colonies over his skin.
His impossible desire didn’t diminish. Instead—the opposite. It careened out of his mind, down to his gluey tongue. He tried silly, off-beat phrases he intended as compliments: nothing typical. “You move so fluidly,” or “You cast both shadow and light.” But, exactly as he had imagined, the girls looked through him.
In November, he stayed late, making up a History test he’d skipped for a dentist appointment. With the Novocain still numbing his mouth, he zipped his jacket and his jaw clicked.
Outside, windswept branches swayed with messages. Every edge appeared in high relief. Scudding through frost-bitten leaves, Cole slid toward the hurdlers’ track. The picture in his head switched imperceptibly as if an optometrist was showing him different lenses: is this clearer…
… or this? Gawky Stephanie was jumping hurdles. Amelia, her beautiful girlfriend, watched. Hanging on the chain link fence, Amelia cocked her head at him. She stared at Cole, her blue eyes shot with sunbursts.
Cole’s head swiveled. Was she beckoning someone else? No one slouched behind him. How she could possibly be selecting Cole? He ventured closer, and Amelia tossed her dark hair, which glinted with a blue sheen in the encroaching dusk. Wasn’t her friend Stephanie amazing? Amelia held Cole’s elbow.
She and Stephanie had been friends since kindergarten, but now in high school, Amelia was gorgeous, while Stephanie, the school’s best track star, no longer possessed a visible chin. But who was pimple-faced Cole to criticize?
He searched for a witty remark, something smarter than: Yes, Stephanie’s amazing. But he couldn’t be funny. Cole could only pull off “funny” when he was sincere. Sincerity was hilarious.
Squinting at the hurdles, Cole found a clue. What made Stephanie spectacular was suspense. Her rhythm varied. At some hurdles you feared her long legs might tangle her up.
“They never do, though,” Amelia said, draping an arm around Cole.
He breathed Amelia’s clouds of breath, eager to remain there forever.
Later, he puzzled, why him? Was Amelia looking for someone to admire her friend when Cole happened by? Or had she watched him in class, choosing her moment?
Days later, when they were already intimate, Cole asked her. And Amelia said, “Destiny’s funnier than sincerity.”