I jumped up from the bench, my head swirling. It was impossible! Improbable! To borrow a word from my favorite movie…..Inconceivable!!!
“You can’t be!” I exclaimed, covering my mouth.
“I know!” he laughed. “The chances are, what… one in a zillion?” He leaned back against the bench looking very at ease with this whole situation. “I really can’t believe it’s you. I thought I’d never get to see you again. Oh, sit down. Please?”
I slowly sat down, my heart pounding. It could be some guy making up crap but then how could he know that it had been four years–or about the tiger thing? I never told anyone. “This is unbelievable,” I mumbled.
“You’re telling me. When I saw you I thought… no way!” He put his hands on his knees and leaned forward slightly, keeping his dark eyes on me. “But it is you. Sebastian.”
I gulped, shrinking back slightly. “How do you know my name? Who are you? I mean–what’s happened? It’s been four years. How did you end up here?”
He stood up and then bowed. “Allow me to properly introduce myself. My name is Douglas McIntyre.” He tilted his head up, his eyes sparkling. “But you can call me Doug. May I call you Sebastian or shall I continue calling you Mr. Tiger?” He took his seat again, waiting for an answer.
“Sebastian,” I said. “Or Seb.”
“Seb,” he whispered. “I like it. So do you go to college? When I saw you, I thought that’s why you were here…”
“Yeah, I’m doing just general studies,” I said hesitantly. “What about you?”
“I’m not in college full time,” he admitted with a frown. “I’m taking a few classes, though. But I’ve been living in this town since–well, pretty much we last saw each other. We–my parents and I–moved here for my surgery.”
He said it so easily that I almost wasn’t sure he said it. “Surgery?” I asked just to make sure and he blushed slightly.
“Yeah. I guess I should start from the beginning.” He looked as nervous as I felt, which sort of eased my nerves a bit. “I knew about you before that night on the beach. I–I sort of had a crush on you.” He looked away, seeming to be flustered. “I didn’t go to public school, though. I had been going to a private school but I had a heart condition. I worked hard so I could graduate a year early so that’s why I was home and not at school that autumn. And about a week before that night on the beach I was told I needed to go through surgery if… well, it doesn’t matter… You probably don’t want to hear all this anyway.”
“If what?” I asked quietly. “Please tell, if you want to.”
“Basically… to live.” He looked back up at me. “I wasn’t expected to live much longer if I didn’t. But the surgery was supposed to be, like, pretty dangerous. So I waffled about it for a while.” He shrugged and then sighed. “I was invited to your school dance by a friend–a female friend–and when I saw you run out I followed you. I know, creepy.” He laughed again. “Anyway, after–after all that I started to go home when I realized how much I wanted to live. I was so scared, you know, of the surgery but… I decided I’d go through with it. That’s why I went to your house and left you the note. I thought if I did that, that would give me courage. Sort of ‘hey I’ll live through this and see him again’.”
I rubbed my neck, a bit thrown back by this sudden turn of events. “I can see it went okay,” I said, giving him a smile.
“Yeah. But by the time I recovered enough to move back to Sunset Valley, my parents didn’t want to.” He smacked his leg as if to make a point. “Ah! I was annoyed at them but was too scared to go back there to see if you remembered me. After all, why should you remember that night?” He looked embarrassed and stood up, putting his hands in his pockets. “But here we are.”
I timidly reached over to touch his arm. When my fingers brushed against his sleeve, I jumped back as if electrocuted by something. “Here we are,” I repeated. “It’s like fate or something.”
His entire face lit up as he sat back down. “I was thinking the same thing! A couple weeks ago I realized you might be around since I was put in a group with another Danevbie and since it’s an unusual name, I kinda hoped to see you.”
I raised my eyebrows. “My sister? Viola? I heard there was some sort of ruckus and some guy left the room when he was put in a group with her.”
Douglas stared at me then his entire face darkened. “Oh jeeeeez!” He covered his face and groaned loudly. “Now you probably think I’m some sort of loser! When I heard the name Danevbie I just sort of… flipped.” He peeked from behind his fingers. “Do you think I’m a loser? Oh Watcher, you’re laughing.”
I quickly covered my mouth. “No! I mean, I am laughing but I don’t think you’re a loser.”
He lowered his hands. “Swear?”
“I promise,” I said, still smiling. “You know, I really haven’t forgotten that night either. It was sorta… my first kiss.” I blushed at this confession but he didn’t snicker or anything.
“I won’t lie, it wasn’t my first kiss but…” He reached over, touching my hand. “It was my most memorable kiss. Kisses.”
I rolled my eyes, but blushed even more. “You’re just saying that.”
“I’m not lying!” He pulled his hands away from mine. “I just wish I had returned sooner. I’m sure by now you have some fabulous boyfriend.”
I stiffened at that. For a few minutes I hadn’t been thinking of Hal but now he was brought back to the forefront of my mind, and the pain came back as well. I crossed my arms, pressing them against my chest. I didn’t want to have any conversation about dating, but I did mumble that I wasn’t in a relationship. He looked surprised but didn’t press the subject, as I figured he could tell by my body language that I was uncomfortable with it.
So he changed the conversation and slowly I warmed up again, finding it surprisingly easy to talk to him. By the time we parted, we had exchanged both numbers and addresses, agreeing to meet up again soon.
My mind was like a seesaw. I was thinking of either Hal or Doug. I knew it would be a long time before I got over Hal, but whenever I thought about Doug–I felt a bit happy. Hopeful.
As Doug and I started hanging out more and more, I wondered if I was just doing this because of the heartbreak. I knew I didn’t have any real feelings for Doug, but it was nice to get out of the house and be around someone besides Vi or Hal.
Honestly, it felt as though Doug and I had known each other for years. Which… technically we did sort of but just one meeting didn’t count. So we got to know each other for real. We had several things in common, a few things not, and most the time I spent with him I was able to forget about Hal for the most part.
He wasn’t so much a fan of the sci-fi genre but he did like the romance genre, which I liked as well. So we often went to a theater just out of town that often played old black-and-white films. We cried into our popcorn over ‘Casablanca’, split our sides laughing at ‘Some Like It Hot’, and even though we both knew the whole movie we were leaning forward in our seats at ‘Laura’.
I often invited him to hang out at the apartment but he didn’t seem very comfortable there. He was edgy and anxious around Vi and Hal, so we often spent out time elsewhere. If we weren’t at the old theater, we were at a cafe chatting over drinks or at the park.
“You’ll be graduating in a couple months, right?” he asked one evening as we hung out on the swing set in the park.
“About six weeks,” I admitted, realizing how close I was getting to the end of the school year. Time had really flown since Doug and I started hanging out…
“You’ll be moving back to Sunset Valley?” he asked, digging his feet in the dirt to stop the swing. He looked at me with rather miserable eyes.
“Yeah,” I said. “Are you, um, continuing here?”
“I dunno…” He shrugged and then kicked at the dirt. “It’ll be lonely without you. You’re like, my only friend here. I’ll really miss you, Seb…” I clung to the chains of the swing and began scuffing at the dirt as well. Then Doug stood up, offering his hand to me. “C’mere for a second.”
I took his hand and we went over to the fountain. I wasn’t sure what he wanted until he said, “I know it’s not the ocean or anything but…” Then he took my face in his hands and pulled me close, kissing me.
At once I was back on that beach, in my tiger costume. When he pulled away I felt dizzier than ever and slowly reached up, touching my lips. “D-Doug…”
He backed up, looking really frightened. “I really like you, Seb. I–I know you probably don’t like me and I know it’s totally stupid of me to just throw this on you like a sack of potatoes but–” He stopped and sighed. “I guess I’m just an optimist… If you hate me now, I understand. I’ll go. If you want me to.”
This isn’t happening to me… I closed my eyes, completely unsure about everything now. The kiss was good… Okay, it was great. Amazing. And it certainly left me breathless. But I liked Hal… or did I? I mean, I did like him but he had his stupid Todd so I needed to get over him. But it wasn’t right to go and find some new guy just because I was more or less on the rebound. Right?
“Douglas–” I began carefully and he gave me a completely dejected look. “I don’t know how I feel about you. It’s always been hard for me to make friends but with you, it was like–we’ve already been friends. You and–someone else–are the only two people I’ve made friends with other than my siblings which, yeah, is ridiculous.”
Doug frowned. “I don’t get it… is this a ‘let’s-just-be-friends’ speech or…?”
I held up my hands. “I don’t know. A couple weeks before we met up again, I sort of… liked this one guy and it turned out he was in a relationship and I think I’m still getting over him. I still sometimes hurt about it.”
He gave me a sort of sad look. “Understandable.”
I sucked in some air and tried to figure out what I was going to say. “Being around you helps. The pain, I mean. I mean–it helps… lessen the pain.”
He wrapped his hands around mine. “Sebastian, I understand that you had this not too long ago but I need you to be honest with me. I really want you to just reject me if you want to reject me. I don’t want you to feel like you shouldn’t, just because you went through it recently.”
I blinked, feeling his dark eyes boring into me. My hands became sweaty but he didn’t let go. “I don’t know how I feel. I’m being honest about it.”
“So… I have a chance…?” he whispered and I shrugged. That was enough for him. He let go of my hands and grinned. “So how about a date? A proper date? They’re showing ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’.”
“I’ve never been on a real date before…” I admitted, feeling like a little kid. “I mean, I tagged on double dates with my brother but…”
He reached over, taking my hands again, grinning more. “They say college is a place for firsts.” He wriggled his eyebrows and I giggled. “Whaddayasay?”
I bit my bottom lip and he just stared at me in earnest until I knew I couldn’t resist. “I say… what time are you gonna pick me up?”