Sometimes I wonder if I’m cursed. Not cursed like by a witch or something magical. Although, my curse might be easier to deal with if that were the case. At least I’d know the source. But, nope. Unfortunately, there are no witches in my story. Just little old me, a girl who was cursed with the stupidity to fall for my best friend’s brother. I probably sound like a walking cliché right now, and maybe I am. That doesn’t make it any less true.
So here I am, admitting I have a problem.
I have a crush on Carter.
And that crush has gone on for years, ever since grade school when I first met him, which happened to be only a few minutes before I became friends with his sister Elodie.
I was pretty quiet back then. If I’m being honest, even now at eighteen, I still have a shy streak. For anyone who’s ever been shy, you’ll probably understand that making friends can sometimes be complicated. You know, since making friends usually requires socializing—the enemy to a shy person.
By the time I reached third grade, I started to wonder if I was ever going to make real friends. I was also beginning to question if maybe I did have cooties, like some of the kids at school accused me of. After all, I didn’t like brushing my hair, and it was always a tangled mess. Plus, my mom worked as a maid, and my dad has been MIA since before I can remember, so we were really poor and I wore a lot of oversized, holey clothes bought from secondhand stores. And, according to every third-grader I knew, those traits are what caused cooties.
So yeah, I was basically a lonely third -grader who frequently stressed out about having cooties. It wasn’t fun, and I worried life was never going to get better … until Elodie crashed into my life. And I mean that literally.
Our crash meeting happened during recess. As usual, I’d been swinging on the swings by myself when Carter came strolling up. Even back then, he was a flirt, constantly pulling girls’ hair then charming his way through an apology with a smile. All the girls in our grade adored him, including me. But Carter didn’t pull my hair. Carter didn’t even know I existed. At least, that’s what I thought.
That day, he was striding across the grass toward me with that smile on his face, the one that won all the girls over. He was wearing a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of nice jeans, and sneakers that looked brand new. Carter always dressed nice. Back then, I wasn’t sure what his dad or mom did for a living, but I thought his family had a lot of money, enough that they paid my mom to clean their house, anyway.
I stared at his shoes as he walked toward me, grasping the chains, afraid that, if I looked up, he’d realize he was approaching the wrong person. There was no other way Carter would ever talk to me. When I dared a glance up, though, he was right in front of me.
“Hey,” he said, that smile rising on his face. “You’re Ensley, right?”
I nodded, brushing strands of my tangled brown hair out of my eyes. My heart was pounding, and my palms were sweating against the chains of the swing. I should have let go of them, but I was afraid that, if I did, I’d do something stupid, like fall out of the swing. I did a lot of stupid things back then. I was a klutz, awkward, shy. I was everything that made being a kid complicated.
“Cool.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and glanced across the crowded playground.
I tracked his gaze and spotted his friends hanging out near the slides, watching us and giggling. I wondered why. Was something about to happen? Something good, I hoped.
“So, I have a question for you.” Carter tore his attention off his friends and focused on me.
“Okay.” I was so nervous I was shaking.
“It’s actually a question from me and my friends.” He seemed a bit fidgety, too, but then that smile rose on his face again. “We have a bet going on whether you’re a boy or a girl.”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. He wanted to know if I was a boy or a girl? Wasn’t that obvious?
I opened my mouth to tell him I was a girl, but he continued on, that smile growing.
“Because, with how you dress, it’s really hard to tell.” He smiled like he was offering me some sort of gift. “I mean, you look like a boy most of the time, but some people think you’re a girl. Personally, I’m not sure. But since my friends and I made a bet …” He shrugged, like that explained everything.
“I have long hair,” I said stupidly.
“Yeah, so?” His brows elevated, that stupid smile remaining. “That doesn’t mean anything. Sometimes guys have long hair, and sometimes girls have short hair.”
Tears stung my eyes as I glanced down at my outfit, and then I mentally pictured what my face looked like. Did I look like a boy? Had I all this time?
He stood there, as if expecting for me to answer.
Looking back, I should’ve told him to get lost, but I was friendless, and any self-esteem I possessed had just been squashed.
“I’m a girl,” I say quietly, a few tears escaping my eyes.
“Really?” He shrugged. “Guess I owe my friends twenty bucks.”
I released the swing’s chains to wipe away the tears dripping down my cheeks. I wanted him to leave, a strange feeling since I had a crush on him.
He didn’t leave, though. Instead, he offered me that smile again.
“Don’t worry; I’m sure you’ll—”
A girl came out of nowhere and shoved him hard. He tripped back, almost falling to the ground. As he tumbled backward, he snapped his arm out and snagged ahold of the girl’s arm. The girl jerked out of his reach, though, and gave him another push, making sure he fell all the way to the ground. Then she lost her balance, tripped over his feet, and crashed into me, knocking me out of the swing.
I blinked as I landed on my back in the dirt, then glanced around. Not only was I lying on the ground, but so was Carter and the girl.
“What the heck, Elodie?” Carter grumbled as he stood and dusted grass off his jeans. “You’re such a freak.”
“Yeah, well, you share the same DNA as me so that makes you a freak, too,” she quipped, kneeling up and glaring at Carter.
That’s when I realized they had the same blond hair and green eyes. Were they brother and sister? I didn’t know for sure since I’d never been in the same class as Elodie.
“I’m not a freak. I’m, like, the opposite of a freak.” He threw a scowl at her then stormed off to join his friends.
I wondered if he would tell them I was a girl. I wondered if they would laugh.
“I’m sorry about my brother,” Elodie said, turning toward me. “He’s such a jerk sometimes.”
“It’s okay.” I pushed to my feet and brushed the dirt off my jeans, but the mud stains on my knees wouldn’t wipe off. It didn’t really matter, though. The fabric was already stained, anyway.
“No, it’s not.” She stood and frowned down at her blue dress that was now covered in dirt. “My mom is going to be so mad I got my dress dirty.”
“I’m sorry.” I felt like it was my fault.
“Don’t be.” She smiled. “It’s one less dress she can make me wear.”
“Your mom makes you wear dresses?”
“Sometimes. She’s kind of crazy. Like Carter.”
I giggled, my tears drying.
“I’m Elodie, by the way,” she said.
“Carter’s sister?” I asked.
She nodded. “His twin sister, actually. Not by choice.” Then she smiled again, and it made me want to smile. So, I did.
“That’s a cool name.”
“Thanks. So’s yours.”
She frowned. “I don’t know. It kind of sounds like I’m a faerie or something.”
“Faerie’s are cool, though. And really pretty. Plus, they have magic dust.”
“But I don’t have any magic dust.”
“We could try to make some. My mom has a lot of glitter at home, and I have this book on magic. Maybe there’s something in there.”
Her smile grew. “You know what, Ensley? I think you and I are going to be good friends.”
I didn’t really believe her. I’d never had a friend before. I wanted to believe her, though, really, really badly.
“You don’t believe me,” she said, as if reading my mind. “Well, I guess I’m just going to have to prove it.”
And she did.
The next day, she brought us friendship bracelets, hung out with me at recess, and invited me to a sleepover. And just like that, I had a best friend. It made it easier to deal with being teased and made life a little less lonely.
Over the years, Elodie and I remained BFFs, and we still have the friendship bracelets, even now when we’re seniors in high school. Elodie remains the sort of friend that will knock someone down for being a dick, although she has ditched the dresses and likes to rock a lot of dark clothes and combat boots, something her mom gives her shit for every day. And I’m still the same girl who wears grungy clothes and doesn’t have a lot of friends. My clothes are a little more stylish, though, but not name brand—I still can’t afford that. I comb my hair now, too. And I no longer look at myself as that sad, lonely girl who sat on the swing set by herself. Occasionally, I do still question if I look boy-ish. I hate that I do it, but sometimes, words leave behind wounds, and I haven’t been able to figure out how to get rid of that one yet.
I also haven’t figured out how to get rid of my crush on Carter, which I know sounds pathetic. And it is. But it’s just a crush that I’m sure I’ll one day get over. Besides, it’s not like the crush is going to end up being anything more.
Carter is still Carter. That much hasn’t changed.