I am excellent at keeping secrets.
I keep every secret anyone ever tells me. I keep them like they are going out of style. I keep them so long that I forget them. I keep secrets even when they are not, strictly speaking, secrets at all.
But this post is not about that.
This post is about the one semi-excruciating time when I didn’t. Keep one.
First, about Greg. Greg is huge. He’s not the tallest boy in school—there’s a senior on the basketball team who’s close to seven feet. And he’s not the heaviest—there are still a few who outdo him when it comes to sheer poundage. However, taking height and weight into account simultaneously, he’s easily the biggest person I’ve ever encountered. He is patently tremendous and has no problem scooping me up with one arm and carrying me around on his shoulder like a doll.
We start hanging out together just before Thanksgiving break, because we have the same off-hour. Mostly, we go over to his house and eat Poptarts and he teaches me to play the bass. He makes up songs about me and I help him with his homework, and sometimes we hang out together at parties or go to movies on the weekends. With anyone else, I might be worried that spending so much time together would mean there was an expectation of it turning into Something Significant, but Greg also happens to be Dill’s best friend, so no matter what, it never, ever feels like a date.
Greg is a classic extrovert and a big self-starter. He likes autonomy and discipline and taking the initiative. He’s a Seven Habits of Highly Effective People type of guy. Until I met Greg, I had never actually heard anyone use the word proactive in conversation.
I like hanging out with him because I can always just say whatever, do whatever, and he never acts like I’m strange. The fact is, he’s way more focused on manifesting a purpose-driven life than on whether or not I happen to be wearing matching socks.
The Afternoon of the Secret is hard to describe. It’s one of those cold, gray days when the sky is flat and low and the whole world seems not-quite-real. Everything is a little too pale and a little too glassy and a little too imaginary, which is probably why I accidentally say what I think in the first place—I just mistake the entire situation for a very vivid dream.
The conversation starts innocently enough.
It comes about because of a Student Council fundraising scheme in which we all fill out a survey in homeroom and get matched up with a handful of other students whose views and personalities complement our own. Then, if you pay a dollar, they’ll give you a printout of your algorithm-approved matches.
Seventeen-year-old Brenna is way too above this whole endeavor to even bother filling out the survey,* but Greg is enthusiastic. Since I generally make it my business to know as much as possible about Everyone Ever, I’m his go-to girl when it comes to evaluating his matches. He’s proactively on the hunt for a relationship and so I go down his list with him, describing the relative merits of each girl and offering my opinion on whether or not they’re appropriate girlfriend material.
We spend close to an hour sitting in his truck, talking about romance and dating and whether you can really measure a person’s character simply by looking at their smile.
I don’t remember a single name on his sheet. But I do remember this conversation, and not just because I wrote it down. At the time, it was actually kind of seared into my soul.
He asked me who I thought were the top-five most attractive boys in school.
“Captain Perfect,**” I said, without having to think, because no one ever has to think about that. “And #4.”
“Well,” I said, because sometimes it’s easier to act much stupider than I am, “Captain Perfect is maybe not that smart, but he’s in really good shape, and he has nice eyes.”
“Not Captain Perfect,” Greg said. “Of course you like Captain Perfect. All the girls like Captain Perfect. But #4?”
“I don’t like Captain Perfect. You said top-five most attractive. He’s top-five-attractive, not top-five-likable.”
“Wait, you have to tell me why #4. How could you put #4 on your list?”
“Because,” I said, looking out the window. “He has a nice face, nice cheekbones and hair. Because he just seems nice, and sometimes he can be really funny.”
“So who else is top-five?” Greg asked.
“Then it’s not top-five, it’s top-two. And how come Dill isn’t on your list?”
“I don’t know. He’s just not.”
“Well, why don’t you date one of your top-two then?”
“Because it’s top-two attractive, not top-two dateable. And anyway, Captain Perfect is too arrogant to date.”
“And #4?” Greg started to laugh. “Shit, I can’t believe #4 is actually on your list, but what’s wrong with #4?”
I just kept looking out the window. “He’s too stoned.”
What this excerpt fails to capture is the uproarious and slightly hysterical reaction that my mention of #4 elicits from Greg. Started to laugh? No, no, he carries on like a donkey, only dying. He is categorically unable to contain himself. He thinks this is the funniest thing he’s ever heard.
Older (wiser, tougher, generally-improved) Brenna says Who cares? She says So what? and Walk it off, but the thing is, walking it off is not that easy. Who cares? Well, seventeen-year-old Brenna does.
And not just because she has a tendency to react badly to being ridiculed. In this moment, she’s being absolutely candid—you can tell, because she is so overcome by her earnestness that she doesn’t even bother to mentally edit her sentences before she says them, and winds up using the word nice like fifty times—and she immediately leaps to the conclusion that she’s being punished for it.
She does not think at all about how Greg’s uproarious laughter reflects on #4, or that it may or may not represent some larger social issue in his life, because she is remarkably self-centered.
The thing is, until this precise moment, I don’t really understand that what I’m feeling about #4 even resembles a crush.
I know, I know—right now, everyone who has read any of the previous posts of . . . ever is laughing at me, but I’m being totally (mostly) truthful. I mean, I’d kind of suspected I was maybe sort of interested in him in a more-than-scientific way, but come on—I am not that girl, the swooning, sighing, blushing one. I’m not that sentimental. (Not that tragic.)
All I know is that I like his smile. He hardly ever smiles, and when he does, it’s usually this gun-to-the-head, bank-job-hostage, forced-march kind of smile, but on the rare occasions when he accidentally smiles a real one? Well, it’s pretty much exceptional.
I like how his sense of humor is just really weird, and the way he always, always listens to Rooster, even when he doesn’t know how to help, and out of all the times he’s been rude or awkward to me, it’s never once seemed like he was doing it on purpose.
I want to make Greg see all or any of this, but I don’t know how. I’m seventeen years old, and even on paper, I’m not quite brave enough to get the words out. Forget saying them out loud.
I have some (limited) experience with crushes, but not in any practical way. Most of what I know about them I’ve learned from books and movies. From Catherine.
The thing is, I just don’t have it in me to be all desperate and Shakespearean. There’s no room in my orderly little brain for Ophelia or Juliet. I’m too self-contained for that, or at least too self-conscious. There is simply no scenario in which I fling myself off a bridge.
To put it another way: Crushes? What?
So let’s back up and say instead that in this particular moment, sitting in the cab of Greg’s truck, all I know is that I view #4 with a general sense of goodwill, and also think it might sometime be kind of nice to kiss him.
But even that’s not the whole truth, so let me start again.
All I really know is that in this moment, I resolve to never, ever, under penalty of death, mention his exceptional smile or his cheekbones to a living soul ever again.***
For discussion: Talk to me about crushes. Do you keep them secret? Tell all your friends? Are you cool and casual and cavalier about them, or do you feel embarrassed? Do you even notice when you have them? (If you do, good job. You are much more self-aware than teenage-me. If not, you might want to work on that. Just. Trust me.)
*Also, she filled it out last year and none of her matches were even remotely acceptable. By which I mean, they were awkward, antisocial, and mostly seniors. She is shallow.
**Captain Perfect is . . . well, perfect.
(Except for all the drinking and the indiscriminate making-out and the way he can be outrageously condescending and still seem like he’s just doing it out of some sort of misguided kindness.)
(But his eyes are spectacular.)
***Remember this, because oh God, does it come back later.