The Wrong Side of the River
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy

I wasn’t quite sure what happened between Parry’s confident exit after practice and his sulky trudge down the hall Wednesday morning, flanked only by his two best cronies, but I figured it was a good thing.
He and Romy were over. Really truly over.
It was kind of the best day of my life.
Romy waved when she walked past my locker and smiled as we passed in the hall after fourth period. And when we saw each other across the room during play practice she gave me a look that was pretty much what I’d always dreamed of.
Something in my stomach changed—untied maybe—and suddenly everything felt possible again.
Romy liked me. She called and texted and talked to me at school. She even touched my elbow sometimes while we were talking. But did she think of me like I thought of her?
There was only one way to find out.
It took me the whole rest of the week to build up the courage but Friday after school I took a deep breath and texted her: “Need to talk. Meet me at the bridge tomorrow morning at nine.”
Leaves fell from the trees and the morning air made my nose and ears cold. Even though it was chilly, I regretted wearing my jacket. My armpits were soaked after the five minute walk and even though I couldn’t smell anything too funky I worried Romy might. Solo trotted along at my side, wagging his tail and looking up at me with what seemed like reassurance.
I made it to the bridge first and tried to calm my thumping heart by taking very deliberate breaths.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
After a few minutes I started to worry that she wouldn’t come at all. Then I saw her red hat with the little pom pom on top turn the corner and come down the street toward the bridge.
She smiled when she saw me, and my heart calmed a bit. I could do this. She did like me. I just had to be brave for a few more minutes and then maybe, if I was lucky, Romy Madison might actually be my girlfriend.
“Hey,” I said, as she stepped onto the north side of the bridge and walked toward me.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hey,” I said again, not quite sure how to proceed.
She grinned. “What is it you need, Julian? My mom wants me home before ten to work on icing cupcakes for Sage’s Halloween party on Monday.”
“Oh.” My insides went nuts again at the thought of a time limit on this conversation. “Well, I…”
“I’ve had some thoughts about the play. I think we need to get Parry out. He’s going to make us all ridiculous.”
“Mmm hmm,” I said, absently, wondering if I could actually go through with this.
“He’s such an idiot. I swear, if I would have realized he was so daft I never would have suggested him for the part.”
“You suggested him?”
Romy nodded, and rolled her eyes. “You weren’t there, so it was either him, or one of the drama boy regulars and well, you’ve seen them—not one of them is exactly Romeo material.”
“But Parry is…” I said, looking at my shoes. What was I doing here?
“I thought so then. I guess this whole thing has shown me not to be so shallow.” She laughed.
I laughed back, awkwardly.
“Julian,” she said, looking concerned. “Why didn’t you wear a hat? Your poor ears are getting red from all this cold.”
She pulled her mitten off and touched my ear with her fingertips. “You know they’re actually kind of warm…”
“Romy-would-you-go-out-with-me?” I blurted so quickly it all sounded like one continuous word.
She looked confused.
“I mean,” I continued, trying desperately to slow my speech so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself again. “Would you be my girlfriend?”
Her gaze dropped to the ground and she bit her lip.
That was really all I needed to see. My heart sunk into my toes and the heat in my ears quadrupled.
“Julian, I…” she started.
“It’s fine, you don’t have to say anything. It was stupid of me.” I said, rubbing my forehead. “Oh gosh, I’m such an idiot.”
“You are not an idiot. You’re my friend, ” Romy said, grabbing one of my hands between her mittens.
“Friends. Okay. Friends are cool.” I looked at my feet, wishing my whole body could sink into my shoes, just like that witch in the Wizard of Oz.
“Julian, you are a great guy, I just…” Romy trailed off, too kind to say that I was just totally not the sort of boy who could go out with a girl like her.
“It’s fine,” I said, turning and pulling at Solo’s leash. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry,” She called after me, but I was already across the bridge, glad I had the rest of the weekend before I had to face her again.

Keep Reading

Chapter 16

That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall. Romy

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