Heroine

All I remember from that night were three things: a soaked camp T-shirt, two packs of used Kleenex tissues, and a missing Birkenstock. It was a Saturday afternoon, which marked our return from our day trip to some Connecticut science center whose name had long slipped my mind. The once cloudless summer sky was burdened with an overcast accompanied by a heavy downpour; Mother Nature was unrelenting. I was on my way back to my dorm for some alone time. After the past 24 hours I had, I needed an Advil (or five) to go along with it.

Dinner had just ended, which meant raucous and herds of restless campers scouring for a more meaningful way to fulfill their free time. All the more reason to seclude myself from society. I was stopped at the dining hall exit by a barricade of friends—five of them, to be exact. The air thickened, and the humidity wasn’t one of its inciting factors. This part was a blur. There was a lot of angry retorts, over exaggerations, and ultimatums that ran along the lines of, “If choose him over us you can’t borrow my clothes anymore.” All of their jibber-jabber was white noise to my ears. I stomped away, continuing to scarf down cookie after cookie, wandering out of the sheltered hall and carelessly into the pouring rain.

If someone asked me what I thought of the Girl Code, I would immediately jump to its defense and go on a heaping rant, stressing the importance of bows before bros. To me, the Girl Code was an essential aspect of living, a nearing necessity. Humans needed restrictions to remain civilized. Likewise, girls needed the Girl Code to patrol loyalty. I swore to always follow it, no matter how attractive the boy. But my own loyalty to the glorified Girl Code came into question when Brant walked into my life.

My friend, Zaina, had been eyeing Brant like a hawk since day one of camp. Girl Code rule number one: Don’t go after your friend’s boy. It was something established—an unsaid law acknowledged by girls all over the world—and never messed with. It’s like when your mom gently reminds you every night to take out the trash because it’s her polite way of saying, “If you don’t do this, I’m taking away your allowance, your car, and your Spotify Premium.” So when Brant and I started talking the night we first really met, I kept that in mind. He was Zaina’s, no questions asked.

It’s not like I intentionally ran into him the night before; it was all mere luck. Actually, in retrospect, there’s kind of a funny backstory to the whole situation. Picture this: rainy Friday night, distraught teenage girl, and a picnic bench under an awning. I had just finished up a heart-to-heart session with my best friend, Nam, when I stumbled upon a vaguely familiar face on my way back to my room. In fact, I had tripped over him and he was not only conveniently there to catch me from face planting, but to also further tease me for the next three hours for many reasons, that being one.

I would say we hit it off pretty well. We bonded over the fact that both of the people we liked were closer to each other than to either of us, our love for videogaming, and our similarly complicated Asian heritage. In a mere three hours, we had discovered almost every nook and cranny of each other. This is where you start saying, “That’s impossible! You can’t get to know a person that quickly. There’s specific stages with small talk and awkward moments…” Nope, none of that happened. In fact, we cut the small talk after minute ten and dove right in, headfirst. It’s insanely forward of me to mention this but he fell in love with me then: hard and fast. And that scared the living hell out of me.

When I relayed my cliché love story/fairytale to my friends, they immediately laughed in my face and suddenly turned defensive, in favor of Zaina. That’s when I realized I had done something more sinful than wearing gray on gray in public: break the Girl Code. Brant had turned into Voldemort; his name was not to be said aloud and he was determined to be defeated. I was skeptical that my friends— my girls, my squad, my day ones—would liken Brant to He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. But their intentions never faltered and they acted upon their words rather quickly. From then on, if I were to be seen with him I would be shunned: banned from the circle and outcasted to the bottom of the social strata. And I was.

My walk back to my dorm was neither leisurely nor pleasant, unlike the ones people portray in commercials where the girl is happily bounding along the stone path. I was miserable. My lime green camp tee was drenched and as I was shuffling my way past Middles—tweens whose life forms thrived off their phones—when I rammed headfirst into an awfully familiar face. But of course, it wasn’t exactly his face I ran into. Nam, who towered over me with his twig-like six-foot-two stature, eyed me skeptically, spotting my blotchy red eyes and the cookie crumbs spilling from the corners of my gaping mouth. Nam could read me better than any Chinatown psychic could. He instinctively handed me two packs of unopened Kleenex tissues. I chuckled at their design; they were Disney themed. That was the only good laugh I got out of that day.

We turned the other direction—I was originally going left, so we went right—as I half babbled on about my conflicted feelings and half nibbled on my remaining cookies. Those cookies were pretty damn good, being they were gluten free. Nam remained silent the whole time; the most he would do was twirl his lanyard around. His stoicism was appreciated. It was nice to not be interrupted for once.

We reached the entrance to my building rather quickly, but there was a group of boys crowding the doorway. Was it surely my lucky day because the first boy who turned around to face me was He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. In the moment, it was hard to tell who was more surprised; both of our facial expressions displayed equal astonishment. Nam, a slick tactician, bolted away from the scene, joining a game of tag going on a few feet away. I tried to chase after him, but my right Birkenstock flung off my foot and toward Neal’s direction. He promptly picked it up and continued on, far away from me. I stood there, an aloofly dumbfound expression plastered on my face, watching as the rain trickled down the drain, along with my chances of escape.

He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named whisked me away to the corner bench, concern written all over his face after noticing my still crimson dappled cheeks and peculiarly dried-out eyes. He fired a rapid round of questions at me, very machine gun-esque, as his hands clutched mine in concern. I had always been terrible with confrontations. The gesture was truly heartfelt and my heart warmed at it, but my eyes betrayed nothing but mistrust.

I don’t blame him. I would have done the same if I were in his position. I would do anything to comfort the person I cared about the most. But the unease lingering, tingling in my bloodstream could not be evaded. Every time I looked at him all I saw was the dismay in Zoe’s eyes and the nightmare of sitting across the room from my friends with the other outcasts. He was so innocent though, with his endearing little gaze which likened to a doe’s. But that couldn’t be enough for me.

However, I had to admire his persistence. It was unlike any other I have ever seen, perfectly calculated and full of pure determination; I chuckled a bit, voice edging cynically. All my life I had stood by my self-proclaimed “glorious” Girl Code, refusing to put my love life first on my agenda. It was like cleaning my room. I wanted to get it done, but I prioritized it last every single day, half telling myself I had more important things to do and half convincing myself it didn’t matter to me. But it did matter. There was a voice whispering in my head was omnipresent, always in the back of my mind, eating away at my diminishing willpower, murmuring reminders.

I shook my head in utter dismay. Everything was going so smoothly: I was focusing on surrounding myself with positive people and letting loose. But I had somehow ended up here, sitting on a bench across from a boy in the pouring rain instead of playing pool with my friends. The prospect of a relationship was vain.

I was about to get up but something stopped me. A gentle tap on my wrist. The ever-so-slight touch held the power of a thousand, its delicate nature drawing something out of me. The passionate lover. The natural romantic. It was a catalyst for the ebb and flow of memories that flooded my mind: all the prior hand-holding, first kisses, tear-stained hugs of past lovers.

Brant brought me closer, eyelashes practically brushing mine. His lips snaked around my cheek, shivers running down my spine, and stopped right before the lobe of my ear. They whispered something barely audible; no matter, the words did the volume justice.

“I love you. And no matter what your friends say, I’ll be here, waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready,” he said to me, his words strung with utmost conviction. And that’s when it hit me. It’s like that moment in a book where the heroine has her life-changing epiphany, the one that leads her to where she was supposed to be all along. Brant wasn’t the Voldemort in this novel; he was far from it. He was the Harry Potter, in all his restless and unabated glory.

I stared at him, my eyes pooling into his. Oh how deep they were. Here sat a boy I barely knew, yet knew so well. He was the route to school, ingrained in my brain but unable to be recited to another. He was all I longed for, and was merely an arm length’s away.

I got up rather quickly, face stoic and not betraying any emotion, to retreat to my dorm. No goodbye, no farewell. Nothing. My motives seemed at the time confusing, rude even, at the time, but like him, there had always been some greater meaning behind every move of mine. There was no need for a goodbye. In my heart, I knew there would be a next time, one which included both parts of my life. As I rounded the staircase, pushed open the suite door and headed into my room, I sat down in front of my Macbook. I opened up a new document and began typing. Passionately. And my entry, entitled July 30, read: Who said you couldn’t have both?

—By Victoria M., 15, New Jersey