She was ten years old, which was awfully young for a seventh-grader, and I can say that because when we met at the beginning of the semester I was nine. I didn't pay a great deal of attention to her, and in retrospect I think the reason for this is simple intimidation: rumor had it that her family was fabulously wealthy — it did not occur to me that my parents had had to write the same-sized check for a year's tuition — and what's more, she'd already written a book, the kind of accomplishment I was bound to respect. As it turned out, she'd never intended to write a book: she had, over the last few years, written letters to politicians, to artists, and to local luminaries, and the family paid no small amount to get an anthology of those letters printed, bound, and circulated. About eighty pages, if I recall, though I never actually read the book. Too bad; I might have had something to say about it, fifty-five years later.
We had one period each day designated as study hall, and apparently her views on Which Seat Can I Take were not entirely dissimilar from my own: she took the second seat in the row nearest the window. My own preference, persisting even today, was for halfway back and 45 degrees off the center line, which would have put me one row behind her, in the column adjacent. However, someone beat me to it, so I took the seat immediately in front. This of course put the two of us on adjacent desks. I wasn't sure what I thought about that, so I vowed to bury myself in a textbook. Which I did; I got pretty decent grades that year.
Distraction, however, is a constant risk during adolescence, even if my use of the term for myself was technically arguable. I'm not quite sure what made me put my book aside for that particular moment — a noise from outside, perhaps? — but I found myself looking toward the window.
Style-wise, she'd adopted a sort of brunette Veronica Lake 'do, perhaps unusually sophisticated for a ten-year-old, careful in its asymmetry; one eye was more or less covered with those tresses, and the other eye seemed somehow to be trained on me. I was mortified; but I dared not look away. She twisted her lips into half a grin, half a sneer, a shape that declared "Now I've got you." Non sum dignus — "I am not worthy" — darkened my brow, and I cast my eyes downward, humble peasant that I was.
Her facial expression did not change. Or if it did, I didn't notice, as she was busy delivering the coup de grace: at the slowest speed known to woman, she crossed her right leg over the left, and her skirt, a modest black affair of standard length, suddenly appeared to have shrunk an inch or three. Terrified, I turned back to my book, berating myself for my inability to stay with it.
For the rest of the semester, I compulsively avoided her, though I admit I checked a few times to see if she was looking back. She wasn't. As sensibly as I could, I wrote the incident off as an anomaly, no explanation required, no explanation possible. Still, my not-exactly-photographic memory insisted on expending several rolls of ectoplasmic film to preserve the visuals.
The first inkling of what might have been going on came six years later, 400 miles away; a couple of the guys in the dorm showed up at my door with one of the freshman girls in tow, and without warning, she grabbed me, wrestled me to the bed, and gave me a brief instruction in the fine art of tonsil hockey. I had no idea what was going on, but I vowed to see it through.
And then it ended, and one of the guys said "Sorry about that. It's just that she has a date with [name of B.M.O.C.] Friday, and she said she needed the practice."
"It's, um, okay," I stammered. "Always happy to help." They left, and I spent the next hour and a quarter wondering if maybe I should do the laundry a day early.
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