22: Brace Yourself

22: Brace Yourself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Brace Yourself

Man is the only animal that blushes.
Or needs to.

~Mark Twain

His name was Dusty. His blond hair always looked wind-tossed. His blue eyes reminded me of the color of the ocean, and his smile could melt solid ice. He was a year older than I was, and like many of the girls in my class, I had a crush on him. Not just a he’s-so-cute infatuation. More of a weak-kneed-kiss-my-pillow-and-pretend-it’s-him kind of crush.

He’d walk into the lunchroom and all the girls would sigh in unison. But it was useless. Word was he was involved with someone at another school. There had actually been Dusty-and-girlfriend sightings.

Not that I had a chance anyway. I was double cursed—glasses on my face and braces on my teeth. My mousy, thin brown hair and a failing sense of fashion didn’t make me any more appealing. I was smart and funny, but that didn’t make me Homecoming Queen material.

One day, I was walking down the school hall behind Dusty and some of the other A-listers. Too bad A-list didn’t have anything to do with grades. The way things were, I was more of a C+.

Some papers fell from Dusty’s notebook, but he didn’t notice. I picked them up. They looked like his homework. I stared at the pages for a moment, admiring his handwriting.

It was my lucky day. I’d return the papers and actually get to talk to him. I resisted the urge to sprint over. I didn’t want the others to hear me. He went to his locker and I followed, hoping to impress him with my wit, but feeling a little like a stalker.

“Dusty,” I squeaked. He turned around. Breathe. Smile. Now talk. “You dropped this. It looks like it might be important.”

He reached for the paper and his hand brushed mine. I was in love!

“Hey!” He lifted his head and looked straight at me with those robin’s-egg-blue eyes and smiled. “Thanks for finding it. Sorry, but I don’t know your name.”

I quivered from my legs, through my stomach and it came out in my words. “It’s Carole, with an ‘e.’”

“Nice to meet you, Carole with an ‘e.’”

I smiled broadly. Unfortunately, so broadly that the two rubber bands holding my braces in alignment popped out of my mouth and bounced off Dusty’s flinching face.

I stood there horrified. As the wet, disgusting things rolled around on the floor, I wanted a volcano to explode and cover me with ashes. I so wanted to die. To make things worse, I was sure a piece of my lunch, a ham sandwich, was stuck on one of the bands. My throat went into a huge spasm.

Before I could apologize, another guy hollered out to Dusty. When he turned his head toward the voice, I hunched over, like maybe he wouldn’t notice me sneaking away as quietly as I could. I always hated those braces. Now they were the source of my biggest shame.

I didn’t tell anyone about this catastrophe, not even my longtime best friend, Jennifer. I carried the embarrassment with me all day, fighting back tears each time I thought about what had happened. I didn’t even raise my hand in class, as I usually did. When school was over, I hurried home by myself and curled up on my bed, believing I would never be able to show my face in school again.

I was sure by the next day Dusty would have told everyone about how I shot rubber bands with my mouth. To my surprise and complete relief, the following day no one teased me about the incident. The school day went by agonizingly slow, but was finally over.

Jennifer and I were walking home together that day. I was still a geek, but because she was nice, and pretty, she was easing into the popular crowd. We were almost out of the parking lot when she called to three guys to walk with us. One of them was Dusty. As they joined us, my palms started sweating and I was sort of dizzy. Any minute I knew someone would snap a rubber band and Dusty would dodge it, making it all into a big joke.

Jennifer, always polite, introduced the boys to me. Dusty was last. He stopped her and looked straight at me. “I know you.”

I knew I’d have to leave town.

He smiled. “You’re Carole with an ‘e.’”

I went limp with relief. I couldn’t believe he didn’t tell anyone.

I didn’t die from embarrassment, and over time Dusty and I became good friends. He never told anyone about the rubber band incident, which goes to show Dusty was as gorgeous inside as outside. Still, it took a long time before I could look at any rubber band without wincing.

~Carole Fowkes

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