I still remember growing up and picking up my first real romance. Not the young adult romances, or even the teen romances and high school drama series, but an honest-to-god straight-up romance complete with a kidnapped damsel in distress, a cabin in the snowy woods, and an old flame determined to protect her while keeping his identity secret from her.
I’m pretty sure I swooned at some of the lines, even though they were pretty melodramatic, looking back on it. Now, that book probably wouldn’t do anything for me except make me a little nostalgic, but at the time I was like, well…
I was totally hooked on romance novels. I was just entering middle school and that hellhole of mean girls and stupidity with no chance of a boyfriend in site– not until I could lose some of my muffin top, get contacts, and get my acne under control at least, and escaping into the world of adventure, humor, and sweet words was the perfect escapism. It wasn’t long, though, before my family discovered my new addiction.
They were concerned that I was a little too young, of course, but they never did want to dictate what I read, so they let me read them with only one warning: remember, this isn’t how relationships really work.
But man, they were so wrong about that.
It was sophomore year, a couple months before Christmas break when the teacher sat me next to him in Chinese class. I was dealing with a “friend” who was killing my self esteem and making me hate the world slowly but surely and I had never liked to talk in front of people anyway, least of all in Chinese class where it was impossible to hide in a class of nine and I only had a vague idea of what was being said. Andrew almost immediately decided to become my friend. Later, he told me it was my shyness that made him notice me. He wanted to see what I was like after he had broken through that barrier.
I don’t remember what exactly was said, of course. I do remember he stepped on my foot and I mumbled “sorry” and he smirked at me and said, “shouldn’t I be the one apologizing, since I stepped on your foot?” And those words started our friendship.
Andrew didn’t bother with boring, awkward small talk and he didn’t take my awkwardness for disinterest. He told me jokes and partnered with me on all of the group work. Andrew would do things to make me laugh and then pretend to get annoyed when I did, which just made me laugh harder. He called me Giggles because I couldn’t stop giggling around him, but for once I didn’t mind my lack of a poker face. He made me feel comfortable around him and not once did he ever look at me like I was stupid or a freak, which was a nice novelty for me at the time. I quickly considered him one of my closest friends, even though we never talked outside of Chinese class.
By the end of sophomore year, I had a huge crush on him, but I was positive he would never like me back. Even if he did, we were both too awkward for either of us to ever say anything to each other. Aside from the occasional quiet and shy “hi” in the halls, neither one of us had the courage to talk to each other outside of Chinese class (however, I always found him in the crowd when singing with the choir during the school concerts. Later he told me he had spent the entire time trying not to be too obvious about looking at me).
It was fate that put us together, unless our guidance counselor was trying to hook us up from the start. In Junior year we had four classes together, including Chorale, which he had just joined. We bantered even more, of course, and we had more group projects, but now he was also walking me to my class and sometimes even talking to me in the halls. “Giggles” became “Pocketful of Sunshine” as I grew even more comfortable talking to him. He was the only one who could actually tell when I was upset and he always asked me what was wrong. He also, ironically, was the only one to comment when I got a haircut and highlighted my hair.
Homecoming rolled around and the Chorale was required to sing at the football game. It would have been like any other day except after the game and after we parted ways, he circled back and ran to catch up with me before I boarded the bus back to the school. He walked with me for a few paces while I talked aimlessly before he blurted out “Do you want to go to the movies with me?”
I stopped walking. “What?” I asked. I have to admit, my stomach fluttered and I felt a little light-headed. I wasn’t exactly weak in the knees, but I had all the other cliches going for me.
“Do you want to go to the movies with me? Maybe tomorrow?”
I nodded and exchanged numbers with him, still not sure if he was really asking me out or if he was asking me as a friend. He was very nervous, but that could have been because I looked a little crazy with purple and white war paint on my cheeks and white streaks in my hair covered up with purple face paint (they ran out of the purple hair dye). I was also in the casual fine arts uniform of a baggy long-sleeved t-shirt with a kid collar and cuffs, so I looked more like a crazy twelve-year-old than anything else. Naturally, I assumed I hallucinated the whole thing.
The next day, I saw Gravity with him in theaters. I still wasn’t sure if he really liked me, even after our second date which was a week later. On our third date, I jokingly put his arm around me, and we kind of looked at each other shyly for a second and I leaned into his shoulder while he looked at me with a soft smile and a slight blush. I remember him only a few hours later looking at me, trembling, blushing, and rubbing the back of his neck as he said. “I l-l-love you.” Then he looked at me with relief and delight when I told him I loved him too.
I told myself it wasn’t a romance novel. First relationships never last, especially not in high school. I told Andrew I loved him but I kept myself prepared for the inevitable break-up. He would get bored with me, or I’d get bored with him. It wasn’t a romance novel and the last thing I expected was a happily ever after between two mismatched people. That didn’t happen in real life, right?
But the thing was, we never got bored of each other, nor have we seriously considered breaking up. Andrew told me he would never give up on us and he meant it, comforting me through moodswings, breakdowns, and family drama. I helped him get through his own family drama, deal with some deaths in the family, and calmed him down when he started to panic from the heavy class workload. Sure, he wasn’t a billionaire with a six-pack and I wasn’t a damsel in distress with a bikini body. Life kept going with plenty of ups and downs but as far as I’m concerned, our story is the material of romance novels and my family was wrong when they said romances aren’t like real life.
Our two-year anniversary was two days ago. Even though both of us are now going to colleges that are five hours apart, we’re still going strong. I’m taking a bus to see him over the long weekend and I can’t wait to hug him and then curl up in his arms and rest. Because as fun as it is to read romance novels, it’s much more fun to live them.