FUGUE

FUGUE

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

Fugue

Avery small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.

Stendhal

Let’s call her Monique. Her real name always seemed too common for her, too plain. She moved to south Texas during our senior year of high school. She had transferred from somewhere up north, maybe New York.

Just as she was too grand for her small name, she was too lovely, too classy for our high school. She liked yoga and Mozart, wrote poetry and preferred old movies to sitcoms. She couldn’t pass a bookstore or antique shop without browsing for an hour. But her parents had money, gobs of it, so the clique of similarly wealthy, popular students sucked her in, claiming her as one of its own before she could do anything about it. These were cheerleaders and athletes, blond-haired and well-dressed, who drove convertibles and finagled beer kegs for the parties they threw when their parents went on ocean cruises.

I was never invited to the parties. Whereas Monique preferred books over beers, I preferred skateboarding to school spirit. My hair was long, and my clothes were baggy. While the popular kids didn’t hate me—at times it seemed to be strangely “cool” to be seen talking to a skater or surfer—they certainly didn’t embrace me. My parents could barely afford to pay our bills, let alone go on a cruise. I spent my nights tearing around parking lots on my board. Occasionally, I’d see a car full of athletes and cheerleaders buying provisions for their parties. All of them looked so beautiful, wearing pressed shirts and perfume I could smell from across the parking lot. Sometimes they’d wave to me, as if a dangerous river raged between us, one that would drown them if they came any closer.

Monique sat beside me in English class, and in the course of the school year we became friends. That is, that’s what she said we were—friends—when I or anyone asked. And as we spent more and more time together, more and more people asked. We went to lunch together—she drove us for sushi or Indian food (I’d never had such meals before) in her white convertible VW Beetle. We studied for tests at the library, and spent days and even a couple of evenings at the beach. My nights skating in abandoned parking lots dwindled. Once we snuck into a club and listened to a live jazz band. I’ve always remembered it was called Fugue. Monique told me their name came from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, and that fugue basically meant different instruments or voices coming together, overlapping and finally harmonizing. We saw movies, and I noticed that when she was scared she chewed her thumbnail. Sometimes she held my hand or kissed my cheek good night. Sometimes we held each other’s gaze for a second too long. I adored spending time with her, and when I stood near her, my nerves fluttered, and waves of joy and panic rolled in my stomach. Somewhere between English class and California rolls, I’d fallen in love with her.

And so, apparently, had Paul Williams, a beefy linebacker. When they started dating, she told me about him as if I should be thrilled. Fool that I was, I pretended to be. Monique and I still went for sushi—Paul didn’t share our lunch period—and for a while she made an effort to study with me or go to movies, but our time together started to fade. When we talked, the word “friends” came up more than it had before, as if she were defining our boundaries, and I began to hate it. Less and less, she reached for my hand, and she stopped kissing my cheek good night. It felt as if those parts of my body had vanished or been amputated; if she no longer touched them, they no longer existed.

So I returned to the darkened parking lots. I began to see Monique in the overloaded cars making their beer runs—though she never drank, or hadn’t when we spent time together—and always Paul Williams was attached to her. She started calling me less often, even when she’d promised to, and some nights I picked up the phone and listened for a dial tone, hoping the problem was beyond her control. The phone, though, functioned perfectly. The problem was Paul Williams. They walked arm in arm wherever they went and kissed each other before tardy bells at school.

One day after English class, I blew up at her. I told her she deserved more than the big oaf, that he didn’t understand her and she should open her eyes. I said she was changing for the worst, becoming someone I no longer recognized, and if she wanted to be part of a group who cared more about partying than people, we couldn’t be friends anymore. (I’d rehearsed the speech numerous times in the mirror and in the parking lots.) Her face crumpled and turned red, tears hung on her eyelashes, and just as I was building to the part about how much I loved her, she spun and ran away. I don’t know where she went, but I’ve always imagined she ran straight into the arms of Paul Williams.

We stopped speaking. I heard that she went to the prom with Paul and that she’d been accepted to Yale for the fall. As our graduation neared, I tried to say hello to her, to ask how she was doing and eventually to apologize, but she never responded. It was as if I were talking to myself in the mirror.

So on the night her little white car pulled into the parking lot where I was skateboarding, I expected it to park near the store and for Paul Williams to jump out and run inside. But the VW steered away from the store and pulled up to where I was trying to learn a new trick. Monique was alone, and when she approached me I expected her to scream and slap me, then to speed away into the night. That’s what I deserved.

But for a while she didn’t say anything. She just stood beside her car with her arms crossed. She looked at her feet, occasionally biting her thumbnail.

“You were right,” she said finally.

“I was?” I didn’t know what I’d been right about. My stomach tightened.

“I’ve changed,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“We can’t be friends anymore.”

I didn’t know what to say. I realized I’d always hoped she would prove me wrong on that point. I’d only said it so she would prove me wrong.

And just as I was about to respond—I didn’t know what I was going to say; I hadn’t rehearsed anything— she started toward me. Here it comes, I thought, the slap. She walked slowly, still looking at the ground more than me, and without realizing it, she crossed the river that had always separated me and the popular kids, the river that had, for the last few months, separated me and Monique. I braced myself and closed my eyes.

She kissed me. Her lips were soft and warm, but somehow they made me feel pleasantly cold. It took everything I had not to shiver. We kissed for a moment, and I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I would learn. Before she left for college and we lost track of each other forever, Monique would spend the summer teaching me about love and friendship, showing me the strange and sad and occasionally beautiful ways the two complement each other or cancel one another out.

Don Keys

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