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I Punched a Girl: Part X

So that was how Shelby and I ended up walking home together, taking the back roads from the school to my neighborhood. Turned out that she didn’t live very far from me, only a few blocks away. With all the things I knew about her, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know that. Her house’s distance from mine created so many opportunities to… no, no. I was not a stalker.

The walk started out pretty awkwardly, with her smiling and me not saying anything.

“It’s a nice day,” she commented.

“Ahem, hm, cghm, yeah,” I choked.

“So…” She stared straight ahead and asked the generic small talk question heard by every high school senior at least fifty billion times, “have you thought about where you’re going to go to school next year?”

I gulped hard and braced myself to form a coherent statement. “Uh, well, I was thinking Thiel, since, uh, my dad went there, so I’m a shoo-in. It’s small and, uh, well, I don’t really know. I just visited it and thought, ‘okay, I’ll go here.’ You?”

“Well, I’m thinking about Chestnut Hill or Duquesne,” she said, “because I know I can get in to them, but I don’t really care where I go to college for the first four years. I’d just like to go to Thomas Jefferson later.”

“Thomas Jefferson?” I asked. “You want to be a doctor?”

“Pediatric surgeon,” she said, smiling. “I love kids, and I think medicine is really interesting, so why not?”

“Wow,” I said under my breath. “Impressive.” I was more impressed by the fact that I wasn’t stuttering or drooling, though. I already knew Shelby would do something cool with her life, but I didn’t know that I could carry on a conversation with her without dying.

“What about you, Cavan? What kind of field do you want to go into?”

Hearing her say my name made me feel all tingly. I smiled like an idiot again. “I have no idea,” I blurted. “I hope I’ll figure that out at Thiel.”

Dammit, I sound like an idiot, I thought. I have no direction in life. She obviously hates me now.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Hatefully. She hated me so much I could feel it radiating from her body like cancer did from those magnetic bib things they made you wear at the dentist’s office when they took X-rays of your teeth. Wait… no, I thought those bibs were to protect you from the cancer…

“Do X-rays give you cancer?”

She whipped her head around and locked eyes with me. “What?”

“Like, when you go to the dentist, and they put that thing in your mouth that you have to bite down on, and you wear the heavy bib so you don’t get, you know, like… dentistry… cancer?”

She stopped walking and stood completely still, clutching the straps of her backpack, face expressionless.

Then she started laughing… and laughing… and laughing.

Her whole body shook with laughter. Her hair bounced, her hands grasped her belly, and tears streamed down her face. She laughed so hard that no sound came out of her mouth.

I didn’t understand what was so funny, but she looked really pretty when she laughed. After a few minutes, she finally stopped laughing and flashed me a huge smile.

“You are so random,” she said.

But then, a lull barged its way into the conversation. I couldn’t think of anything to say. I racked my brain for potential conversation topics. The weather? No, she’d already brought that up. College? Dammit, that was covered too. What else… what else… college… hmm, what was another “c” word… courses… curriculum… cats?

“Do you like cats?” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could swallow them.

“What?” she asked, laughing. At least I was making her laugh, even if it was by making an ass out of myself.

“Uh… never mind,” I said and rubbed my neck. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I screamed at myself inside my mind.

“Did you just ask me if I like cats?”

“Um…” I mumbled, “no.”

“I like cats,” she said. “I like dogs, too. I like animals in general.”

“Me too,” I said, clearing my throat. “Not crows, though. They’re loud. And black.”

She gave me a confused look.

“I mean, I don’t not like them because they’re black,” I said. “I’m not a racist, I mean a bird racist, I mean a… uhh…”

Awkward silence. The only sounds to be heard were the clacks of her boots on the concrete and the shuffling of my Converse.

“You get the behhhhst of both worlds! Chillin’ out, take it slow, then you rock out the show!” blared my phone.

“No!” I hissed. The caller ID showed a picture of my sister. I punched the “talk” button. “Lissie! You changed my ringtone again! When you get home from your conference thing, I am gonna kill you so hard!”

“Calm down, Loser,” she said in her bossy little voice.

“What do you want?”

“I wanted to make sure you heard your new ringtone! Bye!”

Then she hung up, the brat.

“Um, sorry about that,” I murmured.

“So…” Shelby said, “if you don’t mind me asking, who’s Lissie? Your girlfriend?”

“Lissie?”

“You know what? Never mind.” She smiled weakly, blushing. “It’s none of my business.”

I was a little confused. I didn’t know why she’d care whether or not I had a girlfriend. Besides, I thought everyone in Beaver Falls knew I was a single loser who’d never had a date before, except for that Sadie Hawkins dance that was the worst night of my life. Still, I decided to respond.

“Lissie’s my sister,” I said. “She’s obsessed with Hannah Montana, and she likes to embarrass me with it.” I looked over at Shelby. She was smiling. “She’s too precocious for her own good,” I said. “If she hacks my phone one more time and changes my ringtone to ‘Best of Both Worlds’ again, I swear…”

“How old is she?”

“She just turned seven,” I said. “She’s seven, and has her own cell phone. I don’t know why. Seems like she only uses it to torment me.”

“Hey, my little brother’s eight,” Shelby said.

The wheels began to turn in my head. Her little brother was eight, my little sister was seven… surely there was some obvious way to use this as an excuse to spend time with Shelby…

“Maybe we could, um, set up a play date for them, um, sometime, or, uh, something,” I mumbled. My palms were sweating.

“Sure.” She smiled brightly. “I think my brother would really like that. He’s been having a hard time fitting in at school.”

I silently thanked God for giving Shelby a younger sibling.

“Yeah, my sister can relate to that,” I said. “Apparently she keeps drawing on other kids or something.”

Shelbylaughed. “Really?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She’s… creative.”

“So is she the little girl you were with in that YouTube video everyone was talking about today?” I felt my face turn a Crayola box’s worth of red shades. One of those huge forty-eight or sixty-four packs’ worth.

“Do you have a shovel?” I asked.

“What? No. Why do you need a shovel?”

“I have to go dig a hole and stick my head in it.”

I was staring straight in front of me, head lowered with shame, but I saw her smile out of the corner of my eye.

“I think it’s cute,” she said.

I noticed she started to limp a little.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She smiled.

I looked over at her. She was so pretty. We hadn’t seen any cars up ‘til that point, but a red car appeared around the bend behind Shelby. It was so far off in the distance that it looked like a red dot on top of her head. A cherry on top of a sweet Shelby sundae.

God, I was such a loser.

Vroom! The car picked up speed and zoomed up behind us. I noticed it was a Dodge Challenger when it swooshed past us. It was an awesome car.

“Sweet car,” Shelby remarked.

“Yeah,” I said, grinning. “It’s a 1978 Challenger.”

“That’s not a 1978 model,” she said.

“What?”

“That’s clearly a 1973.”

“What?”

“Can’t you tell?” she asked. “They look so different.”

“What?”

“1978 Challengers are ugly,” she said.

“What?”

She laughed.

“You… you… you know… about cars?” I gasped. My mouth was dry from shock.

“Of course,” she smiled. “My dad and I are restoring a Challenger.”

“Really?!”

“Yep. It’s a 1970,” she said. “We’ve fixed it up a lot. It’s almost done. The only thing we really have left to do is change the paint.”

“What color is it?” I asked.

“Right now it’s blue. It needs to be white.”

“Like Vanishing Point!”

“Yes, like Vanishing Point,” she said with a smile.

“Marry me,” I blurted.

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