29: In Nick’s Arms

29: In Nick’s Arms

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

In Nick’s Arms

The best way to mend a broken heart is time and girlfriends.

~Gwyneth Paltrow

For two years, I was in love with an older boy. Nick was fourteen, two years older than me. Tall, with curly brown hair and dark brown eyes, I thought he was perfect.

Too bad he acted as if I didn’t exist.

That wasn’t easy since there were only about a dozen senior boys at summer camp and fifteen senior girls. When Nick wasn’t playing sports with the other boys, he was reading or playing chess. I didn’t mind as much when I was only eleven, but the summer I turned twelve I decided he was going to take me to the end-of-camp dance.

Since we spent so much time on the beach, I made sure my bathing suit flattered me. My white and turquoise bikini, with its rows of white ruffles across the chest, gave me the illusion of a bigger chest. The other girls in my bunk said it made me look very mature.

Nick never noticed. I consoled myself with the notion that he ignored all the girls. At least I didn’t have any rivals.

At night, I would whisper to my best friend, Patricia, who had the bed next to mine. “What can I do to get him to notice me?”

“I don’t know why you bother,” she’d say. “I don’t think he’s that great.”

I’d sigh. “But he’s so smart and cute.”

“And stuck up,” she’d add.

It didn’t matter what Patricia said, my heart was set on going to the dance with Nick.

By the end of the first month at camp, several couples had formed — Shelley and Sammy, Ashley and Mike, Gail and David. Nick remained alone, as did I. That only left me one month.

I borrowed a book on chess from one of the counselors, determined to show Nick we had something in common. After the first few pages my eyes glazed over and all the words ran together. Okay, so I wasn’t going to learn chess.

Less than a week before the end of camp, Patricia bounded into the bunk just before lights out. She hurried into bed and then tapped me on the shoulder. “You’ll never guess what happened,” she whispered. Without waiting for me to guess, she continued. “Nick asked me to the dance.”

“But...” I started to say.

She didn’t give me a chance to finish my sentence. Although she chattered non-stop for another ten minutes, I don’t know what she said. My brain couldn’t take in anything after “Nick asked me to the dance.”

When her voice finally stopped, I turned my face into the pillow and grabbed a corner between my teeth to stop myself from crying out, “But you knew I loved him.” She knew. She just didn’t care. In that moment, I lost both my best friend and Nick. I let the tears slip down my cheek and dampen the pillow.

The last four days of camp were busy as we divided into three teams for Color War. I was co-captain of the blue team with Sammy. Patricia was co-captain of the red team and Nick of the green team. It was easy to stay away from both of them.

Between athletic events, making posters, and coming up with a team song and skit, I had no time to feel sorry for myself during the day. The nights were different. My pillow held my tears and my heart felt as if it were broken into a million pieces.

On the last day of Color War, Sammy and I were in the arts and crafts building, putting the finishing touches on a backdrop for our skit. As co-captains, we spent a lot of time together. One of the quietest of the senior boys, I discovered he had a good sense of humor. We’d often kid each other. I also liked the way he treated everyone with courtesy.

“So, what do you think?” I said, pointing to the finished project.

“I think you’re really nice,” he said.

I swiveled towards him. “Oh,” I said.

“I’d like to invite you to the dance.”

My mouth dropped open. “But...” I stopped to think. I really liked Sammy. In working with him, I had begun to realize how much nicer he was than Nick. But he and Shelley had been going out for a month. Even if he hadn’t actually asked her to the dance, she would have assumed they were going together. We all did.

I was tempted. I had brought a new dress to camp that summer, hoping I would wear it when dancing in Nick’s arms. It was easy to substitute Sammy’s face and arms for Nick’s.

Then I thought about Patricia and Nick. Did I really want to do to Shelley what Patricia had done to me? “I’d like to but can’t,” I said. “It wouldn’t be fair to Shelley.”

Sammy nodded. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have asked you. I guess I just wanted you to know that I like you.”

We finished cleaning up and then went to our bunks to get ready for that night’s performance. Hours later, when our team was declared the winner of that year’s Color War, Sammy and I hugged. For an instant, I regretted turning down his invitation.

The next night the girls going to the dance spent the afternoon doing their hair. About half an hour before the dance began, they started putting on their dresses. I sat on my bed, a book in my lap, but not reading. A loud cry caught my attention.

Patricia stood in front of the bunk’s only mirror, trying to pull her dress over her body. Unfortunately, after two months of camp food, there was too much body and not enough dress.

A minute later, Patricia was at my bed. “Harriet, since you’re not going to the dance, can I try on your dress?”

First Nick and now my dress. I almost said no. Then I realized I didn’t want to be in Nick’s arms. Suddenly the dress, and Nick, didn’t seem quite that important. “Yeah, sure,” I said, though not very graciously.

Patricia ignored my tone and ran over to my cubby. After wriggling out of her dress, she pulled mine over her head. It fit. She even filled it out better than I had.

Late that night after the dance, I felt her standing next to my bed but I kept my face to the wall, pretending to be asleep. I might not have been in love with Nick anymore, but I didn’t need or want to hear about Patricia’s evening.

The next morning I found my dress crumpled up in my cubby, a stain on the front. I stuffed it into my suitcase with the rest of my clothes.

I never spoke to Patricia again or wore that dress, even though the dry cleaners removed the stain. My decision not to go to the dance cost me a lot of tears and a new dress, but I knew I had done the right thing in not making Shelley suffer the way I had. And I was rewarded, when my next boyfriend was a lot more like Sammy than Nick — and my next best friend was a true friend.

~Harriet Cooper

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