(*Name changed)

I loved school. My family only knew about kids at school if I talked about them. And kids at school only knew about my family if I talked about them. It was like creating two separate worlds and I could decide how much these worlds collided.

I also loved school because school had *Tyler Bay. Tyler Bay was cute. I loved him from the first moment I saw him standing in line with the first graders. With blonde curls and blue eyes he looked far different from the darker features that dominated my family.

I watched for him when we lined up for class. I seemed to always know where he was, stealing glances when I thought he wasn’t looking.

I made the mistake of saying his name at home. Oh the endless teasing I suffered! It didn’t matter which sibling spoke it, his precious name was always drawn out in the same sing song voice. “Ooo! Tyler Baaaay.” I could only stand the teasing because I knew Tyler’s path would never cross with any of my siblings. Why would it? He didn’t live in my neighborhood.

It was a warm afternoon and I was relishing the cool cement of the porch while I played with cats. One of our many strays had provided a litter of kittens to dote on. From my perch I didn’t miss a soul who went by.

Marching John stomped down the street, raising one leg much higher than the other. A blue jacket hung from his tall, thin frame, and his worn jeans had a hole in the knee.

I’d asked Clayton once, “Why does he march like that? Was he a soldier or something?”

Clayton looked at me to see if I was joking. Deciding that I wasn’t he lowered his voice. “He’s drunk.”

I called out, “Hi,” sure that Marching John needed the morale.

He barely looked at me. “Hi.”

Not far behind Marching John I spotted two kids walking down 4th Street. I didn’t recognize the shorter, dark-haired one. But I’d know the blonde curls of his companion anywhere.

I’d never actually said a single word to Tyler Bay. He was a grade older than me and we didn’t have any of the same classes. I’d only loved him from a distance. So I wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass.

I cradled a kitten in my arms and crunched across the gravel driveway to greet the two boys.

“Is that a cat?” I’d known the cat was a good ice breaker!

I stroked the kitten’s head to keep it calm, unhooked its claws from my shirt, and handed the mewling creature to him. Our hands brushed briefly in the exchange. His skin was warm and sweaty from whatever mischief he and his friend had been up to. I was reminded of the stories people tell of meeting their heroes, shaking hands, and then never washing that hand again for the rest of their lives.

It was adorable. Tyler Bay holding one of my kittens that I loved so much.

He held the kitten up, I assumed to get a closer look at it. But in a sudden motion he imitated a drop kick. “I hate cats. I just want to kick them.”

Suddenly his adorable blonde curls couldn’t hide his stupid fat face. For months I’d ignored the teasing from my siblings about liking fat boys. I’d tell myself that his blonde curls more than made up for any extra mass he carried. But in that moment I knew better. He was uncoordinated and not at all athletic. Not only was he fat, but I’d heard someone call him a mama’s boy.

I snatched the tense kitten from his pudgy hands. It clung to me, scratching me, but I didn’t care. I yelled at the boys to get off my property, and turned my back on Tyler Bay forever.


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