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Caught in the Crowd

Joe waited on the corner of his street, with his bike parked near the curb, and with a familiar feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was as if he got a free pass to redo his prom proposal and this time, Ariel would give him a more favorable answer. All the nervousness he felt went straight to his gut as he waited patiently. Ariel would be passing by in a few minutes with hopefully something good to say. Maybe, she said. That was pretty clear for him,or at least it wasn’t a definite no. He took another deep breathe and sighed away his worries, as he spotted Ariel on her skateboard arriving on time.

“Hey,” he waved a hand over to greet her.

“Hi,” she nonchalantly answered and stopped her board in front of him. “You ready?”

“I thought we could walk to school this time,” he answered with a bit of haste. “That is, if you don”t mind.”

“Sure,” she shrugged, propping her board onto her arm. “Walk fast, I don’t want to be late.”

Doing as he was told, Joe picked up the pace to meet her stride. They talked about music and movies, and this time stayed clear of family affairs. Joe figured he shouldn’t mention prom anytime soon; he didn’t want to smother her or seem like a stalker. She already knew of his intentions, he thought, and with prom just around the corner she was bound to give him an answer. Or, at least he hoped so.

By the time they hit the last block, they had talked about the classes they took and a bit about what they were interested in. Ariel talked about being in mostly politically affiliated clubs and the National honors society; things that Joe had no idea about her. She added that she was interested in law enforcement and wanted to be a cop when she was older. She even told him how much she hated driving and that she would never drive as long as she lived, which made him laugh. Joe stayed mostly quiet and listened to her but would casually mention that he was in the school newspaper as a photographer. He talked about wanting to be able to go around the world and seeing all the different and interesting things in the world.

They soon reached the last hill to school, and looked at each other. This was where they would separate.

“See ya,” Ariel nodded over to Joe as she settled her board on the floor.

“Wait!” he added, hoping she would at least hear his last request. “Where do you want to meet after school?”

She gave him a look. “Here, I guess.”

“So, are we going to make this a thing now?” he asked, hoping for a positive answer.

Ariel shrugged her shoulders, brushing it off as not much of a “thing” as he thought it was. “Whatever,” she said and rolled down the hill.

Whatever….good enough.

School seemed to drag for Ariel. Her last year was almost done, testing was almost over and all she was waiting for was to get the heck out. So today was not different. But, every now and then in between classes, she would spot Joe walking towards her with a small half-smile and almost unnoticeable wave. Acknowledging him felt awkward so instead she would walk pass by him as if his gesture was not to her. By the last hour of school, the bell rung indicating a break before their last class. Ariel was heading towards her Math class and saw Joe walking to the Journalism room.

A kid Ariel knew bumped into Joe a bit too hard, and a bit too purposefully, for her taste. Joe’s books flew to the ground and another kid came up in front of him. While trying to pick up one of his books, Joe stopped as the kid in front kicked it in back of him and laughed. As her friends continued to snicker and walked away, Ariel came over and helped Joe pick up his books.

“Here,” she said, dusting the books before handing it to him.

With astonishment, Joe saw Ariel looming in back of him and reached out to meet her hand. “Thanks, Ariel.”

“Yeah,” she mumbled, before she got up and walked back to class.

A kid in the Journalism room walked out and asked him if he knew Ariel. Joe answered him by saying she was a new friend of his. The kid laughed and told him he had odd choices in friends. By the end of the day, Ariel was already anxious as she rode her skateboard out of school. She wondered when Joe was going to awkwardly ask her to prom again. This time the feeling was different. She didn’t want to crush him or say anything mean but she didn’t know how to say no…or would she even say no?

Suddenly, something caught her eye as she headed to top of the hill. The few guys that had picked on Joe at school were in front of him now, lazily slouching over their skateboards and laughing. Joe looked visibly nervous and uncomfortable so Ariel stayed behind to see what was up.

“I’ve seen you around,” said one boy. He was one of Ariel’s friends, the loud mouth of her group. “Yeah, I heard you asked Ariel to prom, huh? How did she reject you?!”

Her friends laughed and Ariel felt like light headed. Joe didn’t respond, instead he just gripped harder onto his bike. He just stared at the ground and remained quite still. They didn’t know how shy he really was since he wouldn’t talk back which only egged them on.

“You have no idea who you were dealing with, do you?” the boy said. “Have you even talked to her before? What a weirdo. Are you like, her stalker or something? Can’t figure you out for the life of me.”

“Hey! We’re talking to you!” yelled the other boy, just before he shoved Joe’s shoulder which startled him a bit.

“He probably can’t talk,” laughed the first boy. “It’s not like he has many friends. Or any!”

“I-I…” Joe mumbled underneath his breathe. “I have friends”

“So you do talk?” the boy asked. “What friends?”

“…Ariel,” he was able to muster.

“Cheh,” the boys scoffed. “She’s not your friend, loser.”

Joe looked around and did a double take when he spotted Ariel walking up the hill. Breathing out a elated sigh, he smiled at her and gave a hearty wave.

“Ariel!” he yelled to her, hoping that this would clear any confusion anyone had.

She looked over and saw her friends giving her a look and then a snicker. Joe called her out softly, again, and his smile widened as she dropped her skateboard on the ground. She put one foot on the board and silently lowered her head. With no response, she turned her back and just rode away.

“Ar-” he called out once more, but stopped half way when he realized she wasn’t turning back around.

She could hear her friends cackling behind her while she skated away and just let the empty feeling in her head replay his voice saying her name. The voice was filled with such hope and naivety, that she was disappointed at how fragile he was and how indifferent and prideful she was. She couldn’t even admit that he was her friend. How immature was she? But this was high school and image was everything.

After that incident, they stopped walking to and from school. Joe never waited for her on the corner of his street or at the top of the hill. He never gave her a half-smile and a little wave. They never went to prom together and never talked to each again after graduation. It was the biggest regret she had ever made.


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