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Ben - by Megan Estey

The first time I met Ben, I was thirteen. So was he. My first impression was that I wanted nothing to do with him. He had a bad haircut, oversized sneakers, tight jeans, and a face that didn’t ever smile. The purple and red tie-dyed shirt he was wearing didn’t improve my feelings towards him. I hate tie-dye.

Ben was one of the leads in a community players’ production of “Narnia.” I was probably a little jealous, but I wouldn’t admit that, even to myself. After all, the kid looked like a complete loser. I didn’t want to associate with him. However, the way I felt about him changed the first time I heard him speak. He had a gorgeous speaking and singing voice, and I fell in love with it. I began starting conversations with him, just to hear him talk. It wasn’t long before I started talking with m to actually hear what he had to say. He was a fairly smart guy with a lot of interests, and he had an opinion on everything. He also really knew how to give a compliment. Without even realizing it, I was falling in love with Ben.

When I finally discovered I was attracted to him, I told my friends. I guess that’s just something that girls, or me anyway, do. It’s kind of a way to let them know, “Hey, this one is mine. I don’t care who else you chase, but leave him alone.” And generally, if you have good friends, they respect that and stay away from the guy in question. Unfortunately, one of my friends was not as reliable as I had thought.

Her name was Annie. She was a year younger than me, in seventh grade at the local middle school. She didn’t tell me that she liked him, but I guess I understand that. If I had known, I could have prepared myself for what was going to happen. It was the week of our first performance, and we were starting dress rehearsals. The dress rehearsal for Act One was on Tuesday night, and the rehearsal for Act Two was Wednesday. Since I wasn’t in the first act, I stayed home on Tuesday. Miranda, the only other Mt. Aber in the play, approached me Wednesday morning at school with news.

“I thought you should know, Megan, that Annie asked Ben out last night.”

I was shocked. “What? Annie? What did he say?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

This was horrible. Annie had asked him out, which means, in the junior high sense of the term, “You are mine now. This is a contract which is legally binding until one or both of us ends up hating the other and we fight bitterly until we are broken up, at which point I, the female in the relationship, am allowed to be depressed, but you, the male, must pretend that nothing has happened and that you aren’t fazed at all.” And I never even saw it coming.

That night at rehearsal, there were Ben and Annie, sitting in the front row of the theater, holding hands. That was the only answer I needed. I pretended I didn’t notice, or at least didn’t care, but it was hard. My friends weren’t terribly sympathetic; apparently half of them either hated his guts and thought I was better off without him, and the other half liked him as much as I did. So I tried to go on like nothing had happened. He hadn’t a clue that I liked him as anything more than a friend.

I still had fun during that play. Every night after our performance, we would all walk down to Mister Up’s and hang out there until past midnight. My favorite night was during the second weekend of the play, when we got there around ten o’clock and stayed until nearly one-thirty. We drove the waitresses crazy, ordering french fries and strawberry daiquiris. That night, we all wondered if they had accidentally given us real daiquiris instead of virgins, because Eliza had trouble walking, and I was laughing hysterically at anything anyone said. There is another reason that was my favorite night, and it is extremely selfish. However, I am going to be honest.

It was my favorite night because Annie wasn’t there. Her mother thought it was bad for her to be up so late so many nights in a row and wouldn’t let her go that night. That night I had Ben all to myself. We told dirty jokes and threw lemon peels at the other table and just hung out together. But there is one more reason it was my favorite night. It is because it was the last good night.

The next night began like any other. Again Annie was being forced to stay home, so we skipped to downtown Middlebury, arm in arm, high on the leftover adrenaline from being on stage. We ordered our food and made trouble for the waitress and the other patrons. We traded excuses for getting out of school on Monday (“But I had a really busy weekend and I’m just sooo tired!”). Everything was fine until about 11:30. I got up to go to the bathroom. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard my name. Thinking I was being called, I stopped to listen.

Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t being spoken to, but about. “She likes you, you know,” I heard someone saying.

“Megan? What do you mean?” It was Ben! They were telling him that I liked him!

“She likes you. Do you like her?”

“I’m going out with Annie!”

“Would you if you weren’t going out with Annie?”

I held my breath.

And then I heard laughter. It was Ben.

“Megan!?! Like her? No way! She’s short, she has frizzy hair, she has glasses and braces... she’s disgusting!”

He may as well have thrown the daiquiri glass at me. I spent twenty minutes in the bathroom, trying to get the redness out of my eyes so no one would know I had been crying.

I didn’t talk to Ben much after that. If he thought I was that gross, I don’t know why he talked to me, but he seemed to still want to be friends. I was back to my first thoughts on him, only this time I added something to the list: insensitive jerk.

Ben and Annie didn’t stay together for very long. A week or two after the play ended, I got an email from Annie saying she had dumped him. I sent a reply that was supposed to be consoling, but I felt that she should have done it a long time ago.

I’ve changed a lot since then. It’s been almost two years. Now I’m fifteen. I don’t have glasses or braces, and I hope that no one would refer to my hair as “frizzy.” I know that people look at me differently now. On rare occasion I’ll catch some guy atching me as I walk by, and it makes me feel good. But nothing was better than the night I ran into Ben at Field Days.

When I say “ran into,” I mean that literally. I was waiting in line for the Scrambler on the midway when someone jostled against me. I glanced up to see who the perpetrator was, and found myself looking into a pair of all too familiar hazel eyes: Ben's. He started to say, “Sorry,” and then stopped. He had recognized me. I decided hastily that I didn’t really want to ride the Scrambler and took off down the dirt path.

But when I looked back over my shoulder, he was still standing there, mouth hanging open, eyes staring.

September 1999