This is something very different from what I usually write, but why not take a challenge every once in a while, right?
The thing about being on the swim team is that you’re sort of in this in-between place most of the time. None of the jocks know who you are unless you manage to break the school record or make it to State, but no one else pays you any notice either because they just loop you in with the other sports kids. I told myself it didn’t matter. I loved swimming, loved the way it felt as I slipped beneath the water. It made me feel alive, brought me back after an exhausting day of sitting through Mr. B’s neverending lectures about the the Bill of Rights or the faults of our Congressional system. I tried to smile as I watched my teammates stand up in front of the school as everyone cheered for them. Last year as a junior, I’d missed being on the State relay team by one spot, but none of that mattered now. I, Ava Miller, was going to State in the 200 freestyle. In individuals.
I stood in front of the school at the pep rally, simultaneously terrified and awestruck. I listened to the overly enthusiastic student council members shouting out the names of the students who’d made it to state, shouting out my name. This was the moment I’d been working toward. We all played some strange game involving basketballs, scooters, and confetti. My face was bright red with embarrassment, but I was proud. Afterward, I listened to the principal, Ms. Stewart, as she explained how we’d each meet with the school newspaper crew and their photographer later that week. It felt like the most surreal moment I’d ever have. I’d really done something. I remembered my sister’s face, how she jumped up and down clapping her hands together when she heard that I’d made it. Nothing else mattered.
The school newspaper interview consisted of a trio of dead looking sophomores scribbling down notes on their phones. I hoped they knew what they were doing. After the interview, they thanked me for my time and reminded me to make sure I got a picture with their photographer. I imagined an equally exhausted looking kid with an iPhone. The thought was both amusing and exhausting. I supposed that the school newspaper probably got even less funding than the swim team though, so they were doing their best. Interviews and photos just weren’t really my thing.
When I arrived in the spot I’d been told outside the school after practice, I was pleasantly surprised to find a normal looking guy standing there with a camera bag. I didn’t recognize him and assumed he was a grade or two below me. He’d managed to surprise me but I still wasn’t too eager to have my picture taken. It seemed like every picture I took made the pimple on my forehead look like a target and my eyes look like puffy marshmallows… not really the picture I wanted the entire school having of me.
The guy introduced himself as Noah, a junior, which explained why he wasn’t in any of my classes.
“Can I see the pictures when you’re done? I just don’t want to look terrible or anything for the whole school to see.” I looked down, embarrassed.
“You look great!” he exclaimed.
I was wearing my swim team sweatshirt, wet hair pulled back in a ponytail. “Thanks,” I offered.
He smiled as he instructed me to sit on the cement bench in front of the building, telling me to move over an inch and back an inch as he looked into his camera. He laughed, jumping up and walking over to me, lightly moving my arm to drape it across my lap, and lifting my hair so it rested lightly on my shoulder instead of down my neck.
“Perfect,” he told me. I was aware of the warmth of his hand still on my shoulder.
When were done, he brought his camera over, showing me a couple of the pictures to get my opinion and asked for my number so he could send me the final one. He’d managed to make me look put together, to catch a real smile from me instead of the fake one that crunched my face in all the wrong ways.
“Wow,” I told him, “You’re really good. You must be why the yearbooks always look so good.”
He laughed again. “Thanks. I mean, I can’t compete with the professional senior pictures, but I did get some really good shots of the soccer teams during practice last year.”
I thought about the pictures he’d taken of me. He’d managed not to make me look terrible, a feat I hadn’t found anyone else able to accomplish. Ever since the school year started, my dad had been trying to get me to have senior pictures taken. He wanted them professionally done, but I didn’t think it was worth it. It’s not like we had money to spare, and it wasn’t something I could care less about. I debated the idea I’d come up with before asking him.
“Do you ever take senior pictures for people?” I asked tentatively.
He seemed a bit surprised by that. “Uh, not yet, but I probably could.”
I backtracked, explaining. “It’s just that my dad really wants me to get them done by someone, but it’s so expensive, and I don’t know, it just seems silly when everything else costs so much too… like he shouldn’t spend that money on something like that. I mean, I’d pay you of course too!”
He stopped me kindly. “Woah, you wouldn’t need to pay at all, don’t worry.”
I looked over at him. “That’s not what I was saying…”
“No, I just mean that it’s not like I’m a professional or anything. I’m just doing it as a friend.”
“Oh… okay.” I nodded. We were friends then. I felt both happy and sad at the same time.
“It’s not a big deal. I enjoy doing it.”
“Sorry for taking up so much of your time,” I added.
“It’s no problem, really. Trust me, it’s much more fun than studying for APUSH,” he sighed.
“Are you taking Mrs. Jones’ AP class?”
He nodded with despair. “I’m not sure I’ll survive. I’m convinced she’s trying to start a revolution against her or something. Really.”
I remembered all the hours I’d spent staring blankly at the textbook, desperately trying to absorb the material. “I mean, I could help you study. I took the class last year,” I paused, “I mean, if you want of course.”
The despair faded a bit, his smile returning. “I’d love it, but I don’t want to just take your time. Really, you’ve probably got lots of homework of your own.”
I did, really, but I didn’t really plan on doing it either way. “It’s no big deal. It’s a trade this way. You take my pictures and I’ll help you study for APUSH.”
I planned to walk, but he suggested we drive, directing me to his car parked across the school. As we walked to the car, I couldn’t help but notice the spring in his step, how full of life he seemed.
He insisted on at least paying for my coffee, despite my protests, calling it payment for my troubles. We sat at the table in the back corner. His favorite, he told me. It was my turn to smile at that.
I ordered a cappuccino. He complimented my choice and ordered the same.
He opened his notebook, staring down at it with the same look of dramatic despair from before. “How am I supposed to remember all the names of the different ‘acts’? Couldn’t they just call them all the ‘British steal our money acts’?”
I shook my head at him. “They make sense when you think about it; you just have to think of little things to help you remember. Like the Townshend Act, it sort of sounds like ‘town’ and ‘end’ and ports are at the edge of the land which is kind of like the town, so you can remember that it was a tax on imports that they had at ports. That’s what got me through the class last year.”
“That’s really smart!” He seemed genuinely impressed.
I tried not to blush at that. “It just makes more sense that way. I don’t know how else I’d do it.”
He looked down at the paper in front of him. “So the Quartering Act would obviously be where the British threw quarters at us then, right?
I laughed awkwardly in spite of myself.
We made our way through the list, getting distracted every few lines by the ridiculous possibilities Noah kept throwing out. He laughed easily, as if always waiting for something funny to come along. By the time the shop was closing, we’d nearly finished the list, and I’d learned various stories about Noah’s cat and the time he fell in the river while climbing a tree.
As he drove me home (at his insistence once again), and I told him where to turn, almost forgetting until the last minute a couple times. We pulled into my driveway and I hopped out, thanking him for the ride.
“I’ll text you and we can find a time for the senior pictures. See you!” he told me with a wink as I hopped out.
He waved to me as I got out, waiting until I stepped inside before pulling away.
That night, he sent me the picture of me he’d picked for the school newspaper and a message: This one okay?
I responded telling him yeah and smiled at that. I added him to my contacts as Noah with a camera emoji by his name. When I was done, I was surprised to find another text from him.
This Sunday work for senior pictures?
I texted back quickly; I had nothing scheduled on Sunday except for church. after 11 works for me 🙂
I waited for his response before plugging my phone in for the night, but it didn’t take too long. See ya then! Thanks for the study help 🙂
no problem, I sent back.
This time I plugged my phone in and lay down to sleep but the sound of my text tone once more surprised me.
goodnight noah 🙂
For the rest of the week, I was looking forward to Sunday. Even during swim practice, I couldn’t help but drift off every once in a while and think of him. Internally, I laughed at myself. We’d met once. But he’d texted me goodnight that night, and I’d seen him in the hallways a few times since and he’d smiled and waved. I’d just have to wait and see.
Sunday came at last, and I stood in my room, trying to figure out what to wear. I was planning on bringing a couple outfits and I was pretty sure I knew which ones, but I couldn’t decide what to wear to start. He’d suggested picking me up at my house so that I didn’t have to walk since I didn’t have a car, and I decided not to mention that I could get my dad to drive me. Eventually, I decided to just wear a pair of jeans and a nice top. I’d start simple and go from there. I put on some makeup, telling myself that I was just doing it for the camera and not for him before grabbing my things to wait for him at the door.
He came up to the door to meet me, insisting on taking some things from me to carry. My dad just raised his eyebrows at this before smiling at me and waving as I walked out the door.
We went to this park near the edge of town. The leaves had mostly fallen off the trees everywhere, but the ones that were left were the brightest oranges and reds I’d ever seen. He put me among the trees, turning me this and that way and laughing sweetly whenever I’d turn the wrong direction or not understand what he was asking.
“Wow, you look amazing here,” he told me as he looked through the camera. I could feel my face turning red.
After a while, he suggested I change into the other outfit, letting me go into his car to change and running halfway across the park ridiculously to “be polite.”
The second outfit went similarly to the first, and I found myself laughing more as well, nervously at first and then more genuinely. We were joking back and forth with each other easily with there was something else in the air of it as well. I realized that without even trying to I’d been flirting with thim.
He suggested I sit on the lowest branch of the tree offering a hand to help me up. I took it, realizing at that moment that I didn’t want to let go. I looked back at him, and he was smiling.
“There’s a Halloween party happening at Dylan Robinson’s house, next week. On Halloween. Would you maybe want to come along?” he asked tentatively.
I wanted nothing more than to go to the party with him, but I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I really wish I could. It’s just that my dad works that night, and I have to take my sister trick-or-treating. I wouldn’t want her to miss it.”
He didn’t look upset at all, just kept smiling. “Hey, I could help you if you wanted. I mean, that way you wouldn’t have to go all by yourself.”
“I wouldn’t want you to have to miss the party though,” I paused, “Not that I don’t want to see you, it just doesn’t feel very nice.”
He was still smiling and I was beginning to feel nervous. “Ava, the thing is, I’d rather spend that day with you than go to a million parties. Really. I really like you, and I really like being around you, and I don’t really care much about Dylan’s party.”
I smiled at that. “Alright then. I really like you too.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” He reached out and put an arm around me.
I laughed. “Yeah, me too.”
“You know,” he started, “who says we have to wait until Halloween to hang out. What do you say to dinner tonight?”
I smiled up at him and nodded. “That sounds perfect to me.”
We stood in that park, arms around each other, for a moment. There was lots of time for pictures later. Right then we were just Ava and Noah, together and smiling.