It’s not like everyone was having sex . . . at least Ben didn’t think it was. He’d never had sex, and he was pretty sure. . . no, he was certain none of his friends had had sex.
That was what Ben was thinking when he left home that morning, walking the block and a half he had to walk to get to the bus stop. At seventeen he was one of the few kids in his class who didn’t drive to school yet. He never thought it would be like that. Last year none of the kids in his class were driving. Suddenly, as soon as summer break was over all the kids had a car. Whether it was an old rusty beater, or a brand new Mercedes, like Jimmy Faulks had, it didn’t matter. What mattered was Ben couldn’t seem to pass his driving test and he didn’t know why.
Sex. Sex. Sex. Beyond driving it was all he could think about, especially after—
“Tardo! Over here!” yelled out Mick, the only other kid, in Kennedy High School’s junior class, who couldn’t drive. It wasn’t because he failed his test, or didn’t take the classes. It was more that he was afraid; simply afraid.
Ben wished he had it that easy. He’d been thinking so much this morning that he hadn’t even realized the bus pull up until Mick yelled out from a back seat window. It shook him awake and he walked up the steps to the bus and toward the back where Mick was standing in the aisle pretending to hump the side of the seat. The other kids were laughing, but they were mostly freshman and thought they were making themselves popular by laughing as hard as they could to the only junior who would talk to them.
Ben even managed to wrinkle a smile across his lips as he reset his backpack over his shoulder and headed toward the only friend he knew wouldn’t have sex before him. Mick wasn’t a bad looking kid, but he had paprika colored hair and enough freckles to make you think he could actually have a tan. God hadn’t granted him the best shot in the world. His blatant attempts at humping anything in his path didn’t help.
“What the fook Tardo?” Mick threw up his hand for a high five.
Besides Mick humping his backpack and then his Yankees cap nothing interesting happened on the bus, until Emily…
Ben had had a crush on Emily since they were about ten years old. It had been so long he couldn’t remember. She got on the bus 2nd from last. Somehow she was a grade ahead of everyone else who was 15. Ben knew she’d be driving within a couple months. He’d already seen her out on the road with her Dad, a big smile on her face as she would drive by waving her cute little fingers at Ben. All it took was one wave from Emily for him to feel accomplished for the day. Any day she smiled at him something miserable would have to happen for his day to go bad. So far, nothing had been so miserable.
I love you Emily, he said to himself as she got on the bus. Where did that come from? He wondered. He realized right away that something was off about her. She smiled, batted her eyes, and played the part of cute girl with all the confidence in the world—but something was off, and Ben couldn’t put his finger on it.
She was wearing the big sweater she used to wear before her body started to find the young curves that helped her become popular fast with the older boys. Ben didn’t like the new attention she’d been receiving, and he wasn’t convinced she did either. He liked the sweater on her, although it revealed nothing. He thought she looked cute in it, almost like his dog Benji when he was curled up in all of the bath towels after his mom did the laundry. Benji always managed to sneak by her just as she’d thrown the towels on the bed and turned around for a second. Yeah, that’s what Emily reminded him of when she wore the sweater—Benji curled up in a mess of bath towels; and it was the cutest thing in the world.
For a moment Ben could feel the churning in his stomach as he thought relentlessly of what he could say to her. Even after all of the years knowing her it was nearly impossible for Ben to talk to Emily.
At school the bus let everyone off, Ben being the last, with Mick jumping off the step in front of him. Emily looked over her shoulder at Ben, a small smile on her face, but not the kind you wanted to see. It was the smile that said, “I’ve got something I want to tell you, and you’re not going to like it.” He didn’t like it. Without knowing what “it” was, he knew he wouldn’t like “it.” She turned her head back around and disappeared into the crowd of kids entering the school’s front doors.
Nobody knew this, but Emily had been Ben’s first kiss. They were young then—8th grade. Although neither said anything about not telling people, they understood it to be their little secret. Ben was too scared at the time to try and cop a feel, but he thought—if having the chance now—he might try. As much as he loved her, he really really wanted to. . .
“Ben? Are you listening? Can you bring up your quiz please?” Miss Shandy had her broken right leg balancing on the desk. She smiled at Ben, “Something more important going on than Literature?”
“No Miss Shandy. I. . . Just—“
“It’s fine Ben. Just bring your quiz up here, and if you can pass out this stack of papers before you sit down I’ll give you an extra brownie point.” Ever since Miss Shandy had broken her leg there were a lot of brownie points going around. In fact, it would be hard for anyone to fail Literature this semester.
Ben took the stack of papers and began passing them out. Emily, smiled as Ben handed her the stack of papers to pass back down her row. Obviously hoping no one would see, she slipped Ben a folded piece of paper as she took the small stack from his hand. Then she mouthed—nearly pleading—read outside class. He nodded, trying to act like girls passed him a paper in class all the time.
“Yeah, that’s cool Baby. Read it outside class. Like I haven’t had a girl say that before. Hah!” The words rolled through his mind, trying to force confidence into him. In reality he just nodded back, trying to hold back a nervous awkward laugh that he could feel gurgling in his throat.
The rest of the class was a waste. All he could think about was the note sitting in his pocket. He wanted to pull it out, and open it, but Emily kept glancing over. He wondered if she thought it was a mistake to give it to him. He didn’t even know. Maybe it was. He knew she’d had a crush on him a couple times over the years, but his crush had lasted the entire time. If she hadn’t always been dating someone maybe he would have said something—probably not.
Did she want to go out with him? He heard the rumors about her. A guy would date her for a couple months and dump her when she wouldn’t have sex with him; wouldn’t do anything with him. She was as good as a girl could be, and it wasn’t just because her father was a minister. She was good, nice, and sweet in every way and all the time. That wouldn’t bother Ben. He would wait an eternity if he had to. He loved her.
It wasn’t until after school that Ben had time to privately open the note. As he pulled it out on the bus Mick grabbed it from him.
“Oh, a love letter?” He said, teasing Ben and waving the letter in front of him. “Let’s see what it says!” Mick began to open it.
Ben shoved him in the chest. Emily watched from her seat, seeing the note in Mick’s hand. Ben glimpsed the worry in her face. Ben struggled harder, and then finally grabbed it as the bus stopped at its first stop. Ben took his bag and jumped off the bus way before his stop. He needed to read it in private.
After the bus started again, it suddenly stopped. Emily jumped off and ran to Ben.
“You don’t have to read it if you don’t want. I needed to tell someone, and you’re the only person I could trust. I know we don’t hang out as much as we used to, but still. . . You’re the only friend who’s ever believed in me, or who knows me.”
“Em. I don’t understand. Can I just read it, and know what’s going on?” For some reason he thought reading the note instead of hearing the words from her lips would make more sense.
“I don’t want you to read it anymore! It was silly to write it!”
He’d already opened the letter when she reached out and ripped it from his hands. He saw the words, Have always loved you and sorry.
A smile came across his face. He didn’t know she loved him. He didn’t know she—
“I’m pregnant Ben!”
His face dropped. It was impossible. She was perfect. She didn’t do things like that. Even guys who bragged about every girl they “did,” said she wasn’t like that.
“But, Emily. How can—“
“I am. It was stupid. I’m scared. You’re the only one I can talk to.”
Ben stood there holding her as she cried on his shoulder. He nearly broke down crying himself, but he stayed strong for his friend. From now on things would be different. Everyone knew her story would be a hard one from now on, and Ben knew he had to be there for her. As much as it hurt him to know what had happened, he had to be there. He loved her.