Your first high school crush walks into a bar. Probably at 4pm because he works there. You walk in about 8 hours later. You walk up to the bar and you say to him what you say to every bartender, What's the cheapest beer you have?
Budweiser, $5, he says. So you order and he places it in front of you. As you're about to pay, you take a moment...James? you ask. He doesn't hear you so you try again, a little louder and with a little more conviction. Is your name James? Yes, he says, confused. It's Rachel, you tell him. Ben's little sister. His eyes widen. He didn't expect to see you there.
We can switch back to first person now.
James asks me what I've been up to, and I condense it, writing, comedy. He then asks what I'm up to tonight, and I shrug. This. And then, I elaborate because mysterious shrugs aren't actually my style. If I'm not going to be at home watching Netflix with my cat, I better be out dancing.
Then James says something very cheesy and flirty. And he gives me a free beer. A much nicer beer than a Budweiser.
I'm wearing a sexy new black jumpsuit. I felt like hot shit when I put it on earlier, but then I went to the bathroom and found laundry lint in my thong. I like to call these things God's ego checks. And now, here I was standing across from my first high school crush. God, are you there? It's me, Rachel, I was just calling to say Thanks. Okay, great send everyone my love.
My friend tells me this doesn't mean I have to believe in God. But I thought I'd at least try to leave a message.
It was no secret that I had a crush on James in high school. Much like now, I don't have many secrets. He was a senior, and I was a freshman. He knew who I was because he knows my older brother, who is close friends with his older brother, if you follow. James played a starring role in all my 14-year-old fantasies. I'm not sure I crossed his mind unless I was standing in front of him. But what are the fantasies of a 14 year old girl? It would be naive to think they are innocent, but they are also not fully formed.
I close my eyes and try to transport myself back 17 years and into the walls of my high school. There's lots of wood and brass, hallowed halls and expensive floors. I see myself standing outside the dining room, at the base of the stair case leading to my dorm. My hair is short. So is my skirt. James walks past me, he's carrying books and wearing khakis and a wool sweater.
What did I imagine then? What do you call the memory of day dream? It's us making out in the shower, something I'd seen in movies. His arms embracing me. He's walking me back to my dorm room at night. This means you were a couple. And you wanted everyone to know.
Did I think about making out with him in an English classroom?. I think I did hook up with my junior year boyfriend in one. Or am I thinking about the history wing and my senior year boyfriend? I am pretty sure at least one of the preppy, republicans I dated went down on me in the same room I also discussed Wuthering Heights. The nuances of teen sex at a New England Prep School.
But when it came to James and being 14, I think I wanted him to like me. Maybe it was that simple.
So I hit on him. Now. In the present. He gives me a sheepish smile. I'm taken he says. Yes, he flirted with me earlier. But it was harmless and adorable. He said he'd forgotten his stick, and I could've used it to beat away all the guys that were going to be all over me. In short, it's exactly the kind of thing you should say to a girl who at 14 thought the world of you.
I go and dance with my friends. I take periodic breaks to cool of outside and drink water. We dance more. It was a really fun night and would've been even if I hadn't run into James.
I don't believe in fate. I don't think everything happens for a reason. I don't think karma's a bitch, though hell hath no fury like a woman scorning the patriarchy.
But I do believe in kismet. And yes, kismet is, by definition, fate. But I have given it, its own connotation. It's more magical to me than something like fate could ever be. It's things that should've happened and did. Not because it was meant to be, but because of what it actually means.
A few days earlier, I'd had my tarot cards read by a Virtual Reality game who happened to be named Kismet. The world in which you join her after putting on an Occulus Rift, is nothing short of beautiful. You can meet her in a desert that looks like a cross between Egypt and Ancient Greece or among the constellations, or lastly in a witchy cabin in the solace of the woods, where I was delighted to discover she had a pet cat. And here she was, in a dark, crowded bar in Crown Heights with the DJ spinning hip hop.
Before I leave, James and I have an actual conversation about life. I mention my crush he knew I had. I don't ask him if he remembers the time I was in my history teacher's apartment during study hall. I was working on a revision for a paper on Rasputin, and James strolls in, wearing just a towel wrapped around his waist and a big grin. This, I might add, I can picture clearly. His friend, S, is with him, also minimally clothed, but he was never my type. They do this whole bit about being out of body wash and needing to borrow some.
Whoever set that up is and shall always be my hero.
I do tell him about the time his high school girlfriend and I were line for waffles in the dining room. She made fun of me and then cut in front of me. I don't know if it was because she knew about my feelings for James, if that's what we should call them, or if it was because she was mean. Well, I guess we know it was because of the latter, but not if the former was an added bonus.
We talk about how, In a way, we both felt that we didn't fit in at our New England boarding school, even though, by all accounts we did. We both had a lot of friends, and would've been considered popular. After James graduated, I played some JV sports, I did a a lot of plays, I wrote a lot of papers. My English teachers nurtured my developing writer's voice. I went to college with my two best friends from high school, and they are like sisters to me. And I never turned into a mean girl. But neither of us still see more than a handful of people we went to high school with. Of course, we both see our siblings. His brother is a banker and mine is a lawyer. James wants to buy land in North Carolina, and I want to sell a TV show. But right now, it's 2 am in Crown Heights. And I'm broke, but I'm drinking for free.
I would feel so lucky the days I passed him in the hall. And I feel lucky now.
I had been sort of seeing someone but we'd recently decided to take a break. I think he's back with his ex, but I don't know if it hurts anything besides my ego. I do know that I miss someone asking me how my day was. I think kissing James after all this time would've been fun, but I don't know if I'm in a place to risk emotional attachment to anyone, least of all someone who is already attached to the story of my life.
When Kismet read my tarot cards, she told me, in no uncertain terms, to take a break from dating. And after that, and only that, would I find love. But what does she know? She's a computer program. And I'm a human. A human who knows if you wait, even 17 years, sometimes things work out. Not the way you expected, but still in the best way possible.