CW: Sexual Harassment
The boy’s jaw goes slack but not slack enough. He’s not smiling, not laughing. Not a peep. And I, mid-chuckle, delirious with disbelief, slowly shut my mouth.
‘Oh. Oh. He was serious,’ I think, balanced on the edge of the bleachers. My high school uniform is hot and stuffy in the air-conditioned gym.
A coach’s whistle blows. Time’s up. There’s no way I can salvage this.
It finally happened. A boy asked me out.
A boy asked me out, so I laughed in his face.
I stutter. Something stupid like it’s me, not you, about not wanting to date period and sorry sorry sorry. I don’t think he hears me. His face is blank paper, and I think once he leaves it will crumple.
It’s odd being on the other side of things. Usually, it’s me in line for a punch. I’m the freak, the joke, the gimmick.
I’ve been asked out before, always by boys with slick, teasing grins, endearments like baby falling off their lips, sweet and false. When they call my name, I smile, then I wait for it. Whatever it means that day—cackling catcalls in the hallway, unwanted fingers tracing my bra through my shirt, leering smirks, then the inevitable jerk tug pull of a dog brought to heel. So pretty, baby, won’t you go out with me? they ask; then they laugh, ribbing their friends, and I laugh too, a noise that means go out with you? are you for real?
It’s a game we all play; they call me baby, but I laugh first. Always first. Always loudest.
So I’m not surprised at my reaction to the quiet boy in my gym class who says he likes me. Most of the boys I know like me, and I know how to answer them. But I am surprised at the hurt on the boy’s face that mirrors my own when I cast him a wide, cruel smile; though I do not like him that way, I am surprised at the hollowness in my chest as he jumps down from the bleachers and ambles off across the polished, gleaming gym floors.
We were tentative friends before; I don’t think he’ll speak to me again.
It isn’t the first time a boy has asked me out, but it is the first time a boy has meant it.
It isn’t the first time all the boys before him have pried open my throat and pulled from it the harshest and highest and drunkest of sounds. Not the first time I’ve called myself freak joke gimmick. Not the first time I’ve punched myself before those slick boys could take their place in line. Could take aim. Could hit. Could make their words sting.
But that day, when I swallow down my careless script, it curdles in my stomach.
A worn out, hand-me-down lie.
Liz Meyer (she/her) lives with her husband in the American countryside, where she spends her days writing love stories, cooking Italian food, and drinking English tea. She is currently working on a young adult fantasy novella. Instagram @liz_meyer_writes