So, I was
I did my six miles and I was stretching out, using one of the plastic benches in the mall. I've mentioned before that the mall I go to is dead. And even though it was in the evening, the mall was still fairly quiet, so I didn't feel as if I was hogging up valuable sit down space.
As I'm stretching out my hamstrings, I see a girl round the corner. And I pause for a moment, because....
It was like looking in a mirror. A mirror that didn't reflect what I am now, but what I was.
It wasn't how this girl looked, because we looked nothing alike now, and I didn't look anything like her when I was a teenager. When I was a teenager, I had pale skin, lots of freckles and red hair. Not orange hair, not auburn hair, but flaming red hair. This girl had skin the color of coffee, with lots and lots of cream in it. No freckles lined her face, and you can tell that she probably tans when her family puts up the Christmas lights. Her hair is hard to describe. It ranged in color from blond to dark brown, and when the mall lights hit it just right, it looked like the color of carmel. She was also tall, while I was average. To be honest, I think she was a lot prettier than I was when I was her age. So it certainly wasn't her looks that reminded me of me.
It was her whole attitude. She was wearing a beat up leather jacket, one of those that gathered at the waist and zipped up. Cracks and creases lined the leather. The cuffs of the sleeves were worn almost paper thin. You could tell this jacket had spent a lot of time being dragged around behind someone, sleeves falling in the dirt. Or, being stuffed in a ball and thrown in a corner. It was quite large on her... too large to make me think she had put that much wear into it. I wondered if the jacket was her fathers, or her brothers. One that he had worn most of her life, then one day decided to discard, only to find it rescued by her.
I'll bet her mother cringes every time she sees her wear it. "You have a closet full of clothes, why do you have to wear that ratty old thing?"
And she's tried to explain, but she can't. The jacket comforts her. In a time when everything seems to change, when she's stuck between childhood and adulthood, she wants to hang onto things that always were. The jacket always was. Whoever owned it first wore it when she was younger. Picked her up and swung her around in it. Tossed it around her shoulders to warm her, when she was younger and fell in the lake that spring evening. He was never supposed to stop wearing that jacket, but he did. She couldn't force him to wear it, but she could save it and wear it herself.
She had an arm full of bags. A couple from the cheap-but-trendy clothings store in the mall. One from the drugstore. At least three from Walden books. On her feet were a pair of carmel colored construction boots. These were not the cute type, I saw when I passed one store. Those came in red, blue, pink, and green and had snowy white soles to them. Those are shoes that wouldn't hold up to a days worth of work. The ones she wore were serious. They looked fairly new, except they were slightly darker than brand new construction boots normally are. The color that they become when you apply mink oil. Someone, maybe she herself, wants these boots to last a long time and has done what they can to make sure they do.
But, more than the clothes, it was the look in her face. A nervous look that said she was afraid of being seen, but even worse, that she would be seen by someone she knew, but she'd be ignored. A look that said she was far out of her usual environment.
Amazing. A teenager who wasn't at home in a mall.
She looked around timidly, as if she wasn't sure what she should do. Her hair was beginning to fall into her face, and she looked tired, as if the shopping she had done had taken more out of her than she expected, and now she wasn't quite sure what she should do about it.
She paused for a moment, in the center of the isle and looked around. I quickly went back to staring at my kneecap, not wanting her to realize I was watching her. After a bit, I looked up and she was no longer at that spot. Instead, she'd moved over towards the Dunkin' Donuts, a look of relief on her face. This was an oasis. She could get herself something to drink, sit down at one of the little plastic pink and brown tables, and decide what to do next.
She gets a drink and a donut, shifting around her bags, so she can carry it. Makes her way to one of the tables and sinks into it gratefully. She puts her bags on the empty seat next to her, arranges her drink and her donut and pulls out one of the books from her bag. She tries to emerse herself into the book, hoping she can drown out everything around her. It probably works normally. Anyone who'd have three different bags full of books probably can drown out a convention of airhorn blowers when she reads.
But it's not working today. Oh, she tries...her brow furrows in concentration as she looks at the book. Trying to fall into that reading zone that chases the world away, but she can't. She's seeing the words, not reading them. Every few minutes she takes a sip of her drink, breaks off a tiny peice of her donut, as if that will help.
There are no friends around her. Maybe that's what makes her so nervous. Not the fact that she's alone, I get the feeling that most of the time she prefers her own company, but what she doesn't want is people she knows to see her alone. Let's face it, most humans are social animals and often times the most social of the social is the teenager. A teenager who feels comfortable with her own company is a rare breed and is often held up for scorn and ridicule. No one thinks that maybe she's alone cause she likes it that way, if she's alone it must be because no one else will hang out with her.
And a mall, even a very quiet one like this one, is a bad place to be seen alone in.
She continues, trying to read, sipping the drink, eating microscopic bits of her donut. I continue stretching, pretending I don't see her. Fiddling with my walkman, as if it's the most fascinating thing in the world. I should walk away before she notices she's being watched, but I'm compelled to stay. I want to see what will happen. Will a parent come in and pick her up? Will she eventually shelp her purchases to the family car that she's using? Perhaps she has her own car. I can almost see her car in my mind. It's not fancy, it's not sporty, or cute. No screaming yellow volkswagon beetle for this girl. It's probably older, maybe a bit worn, but she probably paid for it with her own money. Maybe borrowed enough to get the insurance and registration, but she paid it back too. And no matter who might laugh at it, or call it "grandma's car." she doesn't care. It's hers and hers alone.
Around the corner comes a boy around her age. My first impression looking at him is, "Oh god, it's a typical punk." His hair is brown with blond streaks put into it, badly done. He has just a smattering of facial hair on his chin that makes me want to go over and pull it off. There's a stud in his eyebrow that looks painful to me, but he's probably used to it.
The girl sees him and her eyes light up quickly, then go flying back to her book so fast that I'm not sure I saw what happened. I notice though, that she's staring so intently at the book, as if trying to light it on fire with her mind.
I look back at the boy, and start evisioning him different. The hair is brown now, a bit long, and shaggy, as if he knows he should go get it cut, but eh, he just hasn't gotten around to it. The clothes he's wearing become boot leg jeans with hightop black keds on them. The shirt becomes a Led Zeplin Tshirt and his jacket becomes an old army jacket. The stud disappears along with the scraggly patch of chin hair. Instead, he gets a little bit of hair on his upper lip, so faint that it almost looks as if he took mascara and put it on the peach fuzz. He's not really trying to grow a moustache, he just doesn't need to shave every day, and because of this, has a habbit of forgetting.
I envision this boy the way he would have looked when I was her age. Magically I bring him back to the 70's. I know he'd never be a disco boy. He'd be a rocker. And then I see what she sees.
Not just the hair, his eyes are nice. Long lashes, that probably make his older sister simmer in rage. How come he got the long, smokey lashes when she puts on seventeen coats of mascara every morning and all hers look is fat and clumpy? He doesn't even appreciate what he's got! But, the smokey lashes give him a sensitive... almost shy sensuality about him. Even though his walk indicates there is nothing shy about him. He has one bag in his hand, from the drugstore. You can tell he came here only to get what he needed and now he plans to leave.
The girl is hiding behind her book, but you can see a faint pinkish tinge come to her cheeks. She knows he's there.. does he know she's there? She's praying he sees her and praying he doesn't. I can almost envision the angel and the devil sitting on her shoulder. "Say hello dear, he won't mind." "Says you. He'll laugh in your face, you little loser! He'll never talk to you! Everyone knows that Jessica Nichole Skyler, captain of the Cheerleading team has her eye on him... and Jessica is sooo much better looking that you'll ever be. Jessica has natural blond hair! Jessica wears bras because she has something to put into them. Unlike you."
I see the boy look around as he walks. He almost walks straight past her, then he stops. She stares into her book furiously.
I find my fingers involuntarily clenching into a fist, because I'm afraid he's going to stop and say something to her, something mean about her being alone. And I know when he does, he will break her into a billion peices. I know it's going to happen, because it happened to me, too many times when I was her age. I don't even know this girls' name, but I feel a great affection towards her. don't you dare! I think to myself, Leave, leave now and let her think you never even saw her. Give her that much, will you, you jerk!
She looks in her book even more furiously. He can't even fake it anymore, he has seen her and he has stopped. It's too late, whatever will happen will happen.
He stands there for less than ten seconds, seeing if she will look up from her book, but she won't. He must realize that she's seen him, but is pretending she hasn't. The hand that isn't holding onto the bag goes into his pocket. He hesitates, then jingles some change in his pocket.
Finally, he decides what to do. He goes up to the counter and orders something. A hot drink, perhaps coffee. Or, maybe hot chocolate. I don't think so though, I think it's coffee. It's probably fairly light too.
Now he has his coffee. He dumps a bunch of change into the tip cup at the counter. The girl behind the counter smiles sweetly at him, she's probably in her early 20's, but he doesn't seem to notice. Instead, he turns around, cup in hand.
The girl is watching him. Out of the corner of her eye, as if hoping he won't see she's watching him. Little does she know that I'm watching both of them, the same way.
He looks around, trying to be casual, as if he just magically appeared there, coffee in hand, and has no clue who's sitting there.
Then, he walks over towards her. I can tell he's waiting for her to look up. If she does, that will tell him what he's going to do. If she glares, he'll quickly veer off to another table. If she smiles, he'll join her.
He's not going to tease her, he wants to talk to her! This news flash lights up my brain, and I smile to myself.
Finally, he makes his move, realizing she's not going to help. He goes over to her table and stands in front of it. I can't hear what they're saying, but I can watch. He greets her. She looks up from her book, finally, realizing she can't pretend anymore. I can see that faint tinge getting rosier and rosier, but she says something back. Probably a little too quickly, a little too brightly. Inwardly she probably curses herself. I am the world's biggest dork!
But he doesn't seem to notice.
A guesture is finally made, as he stands in front of her table. A guesture that indicates she is inviting him to join her, which he does, sinking into the hard plastic chair gratefully, as if he had to stand much longer, his legs would have given out.
It seems awkward at first. Neither of them knowing quite what to say, what to do... then finally he says something. Perhaps mentions an incident, or someone they both know. She responds and the conversation begins.
It flows naturally. I still don't hear the words, but I see the expressions, the exchange. They are both getting comfortable now, they are both relaxed. The flush has left her face. He stops drumming his fingers on the table.
Then, I see it change again. He gets tense for a moment. She's still talking. Then, I finally see him say something. An expression of disbelief crosses her face, then I see her nod quickly. A look of happy relief floods his features. A look of stunned delight fills hers and for a moment, I swear, I see her eyes catch the florescent lighting and sparkle.
They talk a bit more, then he rises from the table. Before he leaves, I can hear their first peice of conversation.
"So, I'll pick you up at six?" It's already past six o'clock now, so this must be plans for another night.
"Yeah." She's gone back to blushing. "I'll be ready."
"Cool." He looks enormously pleased with himself, as if he just managed to do the impossible.
He heads towards the door. I have no clue what transpired, but it sure looks like a date to me. I imagine now that this girl is thinking of all the new clothing she just bought, wondering if any of it will be "right" for this night. Should she dig into her savings and get something else instead?
I fight the urge to follow this boy outside, into the night. I know he's a decent kid, and I'm just a stranger with no connection at all to him or the girl. But yet, she still reminds me of me at the same age. But, unlike me, she's getting what she wants most at that age. him.
I know how it is. Chances are, even if their relationship takes off, it won't last. In a year or so they'll probably graduate and go their separate ways. They will meet other people, fall in love, and eventually marry someone else. In ten years, the other will be nothing but a memory. "Oh yeah, I remember him... he asked me out a Dunkin Donuts!"
But I know that this is a long way off. To her, all that matters is here and now. This evening has the potential to be the best or worst of her entire life so far.
I wish I could tell him that. The power these things have. The importance. I wish I could tell him...
Treat her right. She may not be the most beautiful or most popular girl in the school, but you see something in her that the others have missed. You see she's a good person.
Treat her as such. Let her know she's special, because she doesn't hear it nearly enough in her life and never from the right people. And remember, hearts are so fragile at her age.
Don't break hers.
But I know I can't say that. I'm nobody. I'd cause a whole lot more harm than good. I shouldn't even have been watching them. If they knew I had been, knew what I was thinking, they'd call the police and get a restraining order slapped on me and I wouldn't blame them one bit.
So, all I can do is gather up my stuff and put on my jacket. I look over at her. She is not even pretending to look at her book anymore. Instead, she's staring into space, an expression of utter bliss on her face.
I walk out of the mall, into the winter air that threatens to pull the breath out of my lungs and head over to the car. As I fumble for my keys, I look up into the night sky.
God? Keep an eye on them both, will you please?
I know God doesn't need my request. God will watch out over them no matter if I ask him to or not, but I feel better for having asked him.
I drive away, waiting for the heat to kick in, and warm up the cold car. Winter has been going on forever it seems, but for tonight, it seems a little less bleek.