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This is the first of the sequel and prequel installments related to my “A Strange Arrangement” series. You don’t need to read A Strange Arrangement to follow this short series (though I encourage you to read it!), but fans of Gina and Andrew’s story will note a lot of crossovers. This is Ian’s story.
My name is Odessa, which my mom says was to remind her of a beautiful city she visited when she was a little girl. Except for my mom, who insists on using my full name, I’ve always gone by Dessi. You wouldn’t know it looking at me now, but I used to be the very definition of ‘petite.’ Time and child-bearing haven’t been kind to my body, but I wouldn’t trade the joys of the past 20 years just to get my old figure back.
But listen to me- rambling on about myself when you want to hear about Ian. I haven’t even told my husband all of this story, though I’m sure he would handle it fine. I’ve been very blessed with a patient and understanding man. But something about my time with Ian feels too personal- to me and to him- for me to share it with just anyone. I don’t think I’ve even decided yet if I’m going to tell you everything.
When I met Ian, it was love at first sight- for me at least. I had just transferred into the same high school as him when my family moved into town. Moving while in high school can be hard on a teenager. I lost all my friends, the groups I was in, the activities I was a part of- all my social capital was gone. The thought of starting all over and climbing that ladder again was…exhausting.
My mom wisely suggested that this might be a good time to reinvent myself. So I tried something I’d always wanted to do but had never done for fear of being branded a loser at my old school. I signed up to try out for a school play that fall. And that was where I met Ian.
“You’re new here,” he said to me during our first practice.
“My family just moved here. Any words of wisdom?” I tried to play it cool.
“You’re asking the wrong guy. I’m still trying to figure this all out.”
“I wonder if that’s how everyone feels, but some people are better at faking it than others.”
“I bet you’re right. I’d love to find some people who didn’t feel like they had to pretend. We could just…be ourselves.” Of course my adolescent brain was thinking, Oooh, he’s so deeeep. But he could have said just about anything and I would have loved to listen to him. I was predisposed to love him.
“Well, I’ll make you a deal. If I find anyone like that, I’ll let you know and we can start a club.”
He laughed a little and looked at me with a curious expression. “It’s a deal. I’m Ian, by the way. This is my last year, but if you find anyone for your club, let me know.”
“Sure thing, Ian. I’m Dessi, and I can be the president of our very own Authenticity Club.”
“Just make sure the dues aren’t too steep, and I’d be happy to sign up.”
I gave my best flirty smile and said, “I’m sure I can figure out something you have that I’d want!”
Ian didn’t really flirt back, but he didn’t shut me out, either. And so we spent the next few months of twice-weekly rehearsals getting to know each other. Neither of us was in a lead role or anything. We were just background characters with a few lines here and there. Looking back, I’m so glad it worked out that way. If either of us had gotten a major part, we would have been very busy during the rehearsals. But being in the crowd, we sat around a lot, helped move scenery, etc. And it was during those times that we talked.
Ian was handsome- looking at pictures of those days, I would still say the same. At the time, it almost seemed like he shined. I know that sounds silly, but it’s how I remember it. I’d look at a crowd of people, and they seemed like they were in black and white, and he alone was in full color. I thought it was lust at first. But after I had the chance to talk to him, I decided, with all the exuberance and foolishness of youth, that he was to be the love of my life.
I didn’t understand at first why Ian wasn’t surrounded by girls. He was so handsome. His smile was warm and engaging, his voice smooth and deep after having changed a few years before. He made eye contact when talking, looking at my eyes, not my chest. But I started to see that, as handsome as he was, Ian didn’t have the charming, charismatic personality of the popular boys. That suited me just fine. He was like a hidden treasure- a special treat that I had found.
I asked around, trying to find out if there was some secret about him. Was there something wrong that everyone knew but me? But I couldn’t get anything out of anyone. Most people just said, “Who?” I guess Ian was one of those guys who swim through the sea of students, not making waves. In my old school, I was a wave maker. Not trouble or anything (well, not once I got to high school), but just in the middle of things. My name came up in the casino siteleri gossip circles, I had my group of loyal girlfriends, I cycled through a few popular boyfriends- you know the type.
But here it was different, and I started to find it refreshing. I was no stranger to sex- you couldn’t be if you wanted to stay in the right crowds at my old school, but since I wasn’t trying to retain that image here, I didn’t feel the pressure to hook up. As far as Ian went, though, I started wanting to be with him because I wanted to be closer to him. Does that make sense? The idea of sex with him wasn’t as a means to an end- like for popularity or status or even securing a relationship. It was just…wanting closeness.
But Ian didn’t make any moves. By the end of that semester, we were friends. We didn’t have any classes together, being a year apart, so after we performed the play that winter, I was looking for a reason to still hang out. At the cast party after closing night, I slipped him a piece of paper. It read: You are invited to the inaugural meeting of the Redstone High School Authenticity Club, this Thursday after school at the flagpole.
Ian took the paper and slipped it into his pocket without reading it. My eyes followed him all evening to see his reaction when he finally read it. But I lost him when I got engrossed in a story the drama teacher was telling about a catastrophic staging of The Glass Menagerie that she had been a part of years ago. After the story ended, I was startled by Ian’s voice behind me.
“Are there any dues I need to be worried about?”
I spun around and almost fell into his arms. Almost on purpose.
“Dues? Yeah! They are…” I should have been ready for that, but I think I came up with a pretty good answer. “You have to be ready to share one secret- something you’ve never told anyone before.”
He looked up, thoughtful. Then he smiled and looked back down at me. “OK. I can do that. As long as the club president has to pay the same dues. Fair’s fair, you know.”
“Well, of course. Everyone gets the same treatment.” My heart was beating faster, knowing my plan was working.
“Everyone? How many are in the club?”
“So far…just the two of us. If you’re OK with that…”
He did that looking up and thinking thing again, then looked in my eyes and said, “I think that will be OK.”
At that point we were interrupted by another extra who was trying to get a group of us together for a photo. Ian got shuffled to the back, and I was in the front, as always. After the photo, there was a speech and some announcements and more photos and by the time it was finished, Ian had already slipped out. No matter- I would be seeing him again, and my heart skipped at the thought.
By Tuesday, I was regretting having chosen Thursday as our day to meet- I was antsy the whole week. I played through several scenarios in my head that week, and most of them involved Ian falling madly in love with me. The more I had gotten to know him, the more I realized what a special guy he was. I was nervous that I didn’t know how to handle such a nice guy- he seemed almost fragile. I was used to guys who were using me just as much as I was using them. We were objects to each other, and everyone was fine with that.
But Ian was different. Ian was a person.
Thursday after school, I hurried through my locker ritual- throwing books into my backpack for the evening. I made my way to the flagpole and was happy to see Ian already there waiting- I stopped and watched him for a few minutes from a distance. He would occasionally wave or say high to someone passing buy- guys and girls alike. He would later tell me that, though a lot of those people would call him a friend, he couldn’t think of them in those terms. Most of them were ‘acquaintances.’ The title ‘friend’ was special and was not something to be casually tossed around. I felt privileged when he later called me his friend.
But that’s jumping ahead- listen to me, all over the place!
I walked up to Ian and said, “So, where to?”
He smiled and said, “You don’t have a plan? You invited me, remember?”
“To The Noggin Shop, then,” I declared, pointing my finger authoritatively in the air. I don’t know if it’s still around, but The Noggin Shop was one of those used bookstore/coffee shop places that weren’t as common 20 years ago as they are now. It wasn’t a popular hang out among the high schoolers, but it always had a small crowd of college kids studying and talking softly. And it was close to our school.
Ian drove us there, and we got settled in at a corner table. On an early December day, tucked inside a warm shop with a hot chocolate and a handsome man, it was cozy. It was one of those moments where you feel like life is such a good thing and you feel like it might just go on and on this way until the world just turns into heaven.
We sat down canlı casino and Ian said, “Alright, madam president, would you like to open our inaugural meeting by sharing your deep, dark secret?”
I sipped my chocolate, wiped the cream off my lip, and smiled. “OK, here goes: I’m 19. I’m 2 years behind my class because I got held back a few times in middle school. My home life sucked and I wasn’t handling it well, so I started failing classes and acting like a royal bitch. I even got arrested. I’ve dealt with all that now, and I’m back on track, and being at a new school has even helped me straighten out some more.”
Ian’s eyes were locked on mine while I talked- I wasn’t used to that. His eyes widened in surprise when I told him how old I was. Then they winced in sympathy when I mentioned my home life. Then they opened in surprise again when I told him I’d been arrested. He was easy to read and easy to talk to.
“I would never have guessed 19,” he said. “You look…” he hesitated.
“Like a 14 year-old?” I suggested.
“I wasn’t going to put a number on it. I was just going to say ‘younger.'”
“Well, I think of myself as petite, but some kids have come up with worse names. I don’t have a curvy body, that’s for sure.”
“I bet you hate being called ‘cute’,” he said, knowingly.
“Depends on who’s saying it and why,” I flirted.
“I know you never did theater before, but did anyone ever ask you to be Peter Pan?”
“I…had a reputation. People knew not to ask me things that might make me angry. Jail, remember?”
“Were you violent?”
“I put a girl in the hospital. I tore out big chunks of her hair and bloodied her face. We were both 13.”
“Yikes! I’ll try to stay on your good side.” He took another sip and smiled at me. “So I won’t mention that your secret doesn’t technically count, since your parents probably know how old you are.”
“Well, you’ve been warned. But what about your secret?” While he sipped his drink and looked around, I was silently hoping PLEASE let it be, ‘I think you’re pretty.’ PLEASE let it be, ‘I think you’re pretty.’ PLEASE let it be…
“I want to be an astronaut.”
I think my disappointment was plain on my face, but Ian wasn’t looking.
“I know that doesn’t seem like a big secret, but it’s a big deal to me. I’ve never told anyone. My dad has my life mapped out, and he doesn’t…he’s not the kind of dad who listens…or cares…what I want. But I’m 18 now, and I can make my own choices. So it’s like I have this…secret life, studying the sky, researching what I need to do to prepare. When I finally tell my parents, it’s going to be an ugly day. But…I don’t think they’re going to be happy with my life anyway, so…”
Well this was more serious than I had intended. But I didn’t mind- once I had gotten over the disappointment of him not taking the opportunity to hit on me. So we talked about his family and his dreams. He told me about watching stars with his little sister Gina, who was…what…9?…10 years old at the time? We talked about his plans after graduation and how he was already being enrolled in a college he didn’t want to go to. I knew I should talk about my family, but I wasn’t ready yet. I liked the kindness in his eyes when he looked at me and I wasn’t ready for that to go away.
We talked for an hour, at least. And then, without any awkwardness, we stood up to leave. I was close enough to my house that I could walk home, but Ian was going to need to drive. Before we walked out the door, Ian touched my hand- not holding it, just touching it to get my attention. My heart swelled and my loins stirred.
“Dessi, I like our club. Same time next week?”
“Yeah. But you might have to pay your dues again…”
“I will if you will,” he smiled gently.
And so it went for a few months. We met once a week or so, usually at The Noggin Shop. We talked and shared secrets. We never invited anyone else into our ‘club.’ For me it was a healing time. I was restructuring who I was as a person, and Ian was a surprisingly sage and caring voice in that process.
I wasn’t sure what Ian was getting out of it. He didn’t seem to have anyone else close to him; I think I had managed to become his best, if not his only, friend. I kept trying to make sure he knew the door was open for more, but he seemed slow on the uptake. And I was torn about that.
Here was a guy who would talk to me and care about me. Here was a kind person who wasn’t trying to use me for something. I still couldn’t believe he was genuine- I could only imagine that he was insecure or unsure how to start something sexual with me. He had to want what guys always wanted from me. But even if he was just biding his time, it was a very enjoyable process- getting to know someone, not worrying about keeping them happy with you.
And yet I wanted more. The past 7 months living in this kaçak casino town was the longest stretch of celibacy I had experienced since…since a long time ago. The relationship didn’t feel complete, I didn’t feel complete without that ultimate intimacy. I wrestled with those competing urges- letting myself enjoy a chaste friendship on the one hand, and on the other hand wanting to move this relationship to the inevitable point of feeling Ian swell inside me.
In the end, it was the undercurrent of familiarity that pulled me towards what felt most natural to me. So I resolved not to get to the end of February without having made a move on Ian.
“You’re the only guy I’ve really talked to since I moved here.” It was a statement with a hint of self-pity. It was the secret I shared with Ian for the meeting of our ‘Authenticity Club’ during the first week of February. “I’m not sure what to make of that. I’m used to getting a good bit of male attention, and even though I’m not the hottest girl in school or anything, I feel a bit slighted.”
“Maybe it’s just that you’re such an unknown to most people- you showed up in their classes this fall and most people’s social circles are already well-established by junior year.” I was glad to see that Ian wasn’t staring out the window today- my secret was drawing him in.
“Yeah, but still- I would hope at least a few guys would consider it worth the risk to break out of their circle.” (And now the tricky part- self-denigrate without going overboard and sounding pathetic.) “A girl likes to be wanted, to know she’s worth a risk or a sacrifice. I miss that. I miss feeling worth someone’s while.”
Somewhere between jest and comfort, Ian replied, “Well, there are a lot of other things I could be doing this afternoon- you’re worth my while.” I smiled at that.
“Take me out next weekend- for Valentine’s Day,” I suggested, then held my breath. He stopped mid-sip, the mug resting just below his lips.
“You want me to take you out?”
“Why not? Or am I not really worth your while?” I was being playful, but also dead serious.
“No, it…it…it’s not that. It’s just…” He sighed and gazed out the window for a minute. I held my breath again until he looked back at me and responded with, “As friends?”
“Of course, silly, as friends. Because…that’s…what we are. Unless you’re wanting something more…?”
“As friends, Dessi. Because we’re friends.”
I didn’t know how to feel. I was excited and happy and at times even elated. But then his insistence that we go “as friends” would bring me down to earth and I’d feel despondent and disappointed and frustrated. Why was he holding back? But not to worry- he was a guy and there are ways of making a guy more interested in you. I started scheming.
By the time the next weekend rolled around, I was pretty confident that my relationship with Ian was going to change after that night. I spent a good hour cycling through my wardrobe, trying to find just the right level of sexy but not threatening. Something that said “friends” but which invited more than that. I went for a looser, lower-cut dress that screamed “girl next door.” But it was just a bit too big for me, so the neckline hung loose, giving a free show to anyone who was interested. And with Ian being about a foot taller than me, all he had to do was look down…
Ian picked me up right on time, and I didn’t make him wait. As fun as it is to know a guy is squirming in his seat thinking about you getting dressed, I didn’t want him to spend any more time in my house than he had to. I met him at the door, introduced him to my mom, who was right over my shoulder, then guided him right back out the door to his car.
Ian’s car was…sensible. It wasn’t flashy or fast or fashionable. It looked like something that a guy 20 years older than him would use to get to and from an office job. I looked around the inside a little more carefully this time- I had plans for this space. I didn’t expect to be laid out on the backseat that night (though I was open to being surprised), but as long as there was room to reach over…
My thoughts were interrupted by Ian asking about dinner. Would Chinese food be OK? I was fine with anything- not that I would have been picky on Valentine’s weekend. Ian probably had made a reservation already. Once we arrived and were seated, we took the menus and I suggested we pick out dishes we both wanted to try. “Don’t worry, I won’t give you cooties or anything,” I teased. Ian just smiled and said something about how sharing dishes was customary in China anyway, so we could probably pick 3 or 4 things to share.
Once we’d ordered and were face to face in a romantic setting, Ian reached into his pocket and pulled out…a stack of paper. Not paper, really, it was more like index cards cut smaller and rubber-banded together. He shuffled the cards and explained, “I thought that I would prepare a list of questions we could ask each other. There are about 40 questions in here. The rule is, we take turns drawing a question, and you can either answer it yourself or ask it of the other person. No skipping.”
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