The little nerd said a bright "hello," and I turned my head away so quickly that my ponytail swatted me in the face. I walked faster so he wouldn't think I had paid attention. Better yet, he should know that I had noticed, but that I had purposely ignored him. I wouldn't speak to a boy who was a full year younger, still in fifth grade.
I scanned the street to see if anyone had detected this non-exchange. If misunderstood, my name would be intertwined with the twerpy Joshua's on the filthy wall outside the school bathroom, encircled by a red heart and pierced by an arrow.
To my horror, I heard a whistle and looked up to find Eddie on his second-floor balcony. He winked and puffed on a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, James Dean style. Since he'd grown a fuzz of a mustache—unaccompanied by any other physical changes—the diminutive Eddie has been swaggering and letting out little snickers of superiority. Well, for some of my friends any attention from an eighth grader was something to cherish. They'd giggle about it in our sleepovers, huddling under the blankets in the dark. But living across the street from Eddie, our verandahs facing each other, I knew him well. I've heard him scream when his father's belt met his bare behind, each whack burning my own. So who did he think he was, impressing with that macho act?
With my bad luck, the following week Joshua dared say hello to me again. I mean, I couldn't help but pass him on the street since he lived on my block, but you'd think he'd know his place. Instead, he grinned at me, as if his mother had told him that with those blue eyes he would break the girls' hearts. I decided that I would show him that no matter how many times he showed up as an unexpected sneeze, I had my reputation to uphold. I would never, ever, respond.
And I never, ever did. In time, the shrimpy Joshua grew taller and rather broad across the shoulders. I would spot him coming down from two blocks away and brace myself to show him that no matter what, a younger boy was beneath me. As a junior in high school, I wouldn't greet a sophomore and setting my self up for ridicule.
He did catch me off guard three years later. He must have enlisted in the navy, because the first time I saw him in white uniform with that cap covering all but wisps of blond hair, I was taken by surprise. And when he gave me that broad-grinned "hello" of his, I almost responded. Luckily, I caught myself in time. I snapped my head and walked away, grateful that my beehive hairdo wouldn't bounce with a life of its own. I did glance up, though, to check whether Eddie had observed me from his perch on the balcony. Thank God he wasn't there. Lately he had been busy at his father's garage, working on his stupid motorcycle that he'd then bring out for a noisy and smoky ride down the street. He seemed so pleased with himself, his laughter would turn into a crooked smirk that looked sexy only on James Dean. I hoped flies got into Eddie's mouth.
After college I did not return to live at home, and anyway, my parents had moved to a more modern section of town. I went on with the business of life: received my law degree and opened my own practice.
It was at a "coming-up-for-air" party that my associate dragged me to after work one evening where I noticed the familiar tall figure. Oh, God! The athletic shoulders in the unconstructed linen jacket were topped by chiseled cheeks, with that familiar permanent dimple on the left. His wide forehead was punctuated by gorgeous blue eyes below thick, light brown hair.
I poked my friend's ribs, jerking my eyes in a gesture for her to take a look at this testosterone-filled specimen.
"What do you know!" she breathed excitedly. "That's Josh. Just made partner at Folsom, Elsworth. Come meet him."
But of course I knew who he was—minus the credentials. Being older and wiser, I was ready to admit that a man who was a year younger could make a good prospect. Especially when he came packaged like this one.
"Joshua," she said, "meet Arielle."
"We've met." My sweet smile throbbed with a lifetime of apologies. I extended my hand.
"We have?" he asked, and the familiar smile of the nine-year-old nuisance melted my knees.
"We grew up on the same street," I replied, incredulous.
His dazzling blue eyes went over me with a glance that already contained a dismissal. "I don't remember," he said, his tone bored, and waved to someone above my head. "Enjoy the party." He turned and walked away.
My colleague touched my elbow. "Forget about him. I got this millionaire antique dealer for you to meet. He got his start fixing up old motorcycles and cars." She pointed to a man slouching against the door, his hair sleeked back James Dean style. "Come meet Eddie."