Days as a Freshman: 95
“So…” I clicked the old flashlight onto a brighter option and pulled my hat farther down onto my face. “How was Thanksgiving at your aunt’s?”
Even though I had secretly wished he had forgotten, Daniel B. had arrived at my house a few minutes after 7 on Thanksgiving night, a giant blue coat around his skinny frame and a round plate covered in tinfoil in his hands. I had prepared my parents and my two sets of aunts and uncles for his possible arrival, but as soon as I saw his twitching face behind our glass door, I knew all the preparation in the world couldn’t save this night from becoming extremely awkward.
After an hour of good-natured attempts at questions around our large wooden table, I had suggested Daniel B. and I take my old dog Spud out for a walk. My dad’s bushy white eyebrows went up at that suggestion, and I did my best to shoot him a “don’t get any stupid ideas” look.
Usually, you invite a guy to take a walk at night because you want to make things romantic. This invitation had nothing to do with romance, and everything to do with alleviating some of the unwieldy tension in the air.
Once we were outside, our boots crunching against a tiny layer of snow that had fallen on the quiet street, my body started to relax and I could breathe normally again. I mean, I loved my parents, but my mom and dad were both older, around 65, and often didn’t comprehend me as well as I wanted them to. I don’t think they understood that I had I invited Daniel B. over out of politeness. I think they actually thought I liked him.
Which pretty much embarrassed everyone.
“Thanksgiving was okay at my aunt’s.” Daniel B.’s scarf was pulled right up to his chin, muffling some of his woods as we power-walked behind my large German Shepard. “I miss home though. My aunt is a little…” we walked in silence for a few seconds as Daniel searched for the right word, “she’s a little insane.”
“Really?” I tried to pull back on Spud’s leash, but only managed to make him wheeze from the tension around his collar. “Like, actually crazy?”
“Sorta.” He paused again. “She takes medication, so most of the time you can’t tell. But every once in a while…she’s goes batshit.”
I laughed, my voice bouncing off dark houses and falling into frozen lawns. “Sorry” I said, instantly feeling horrible for laughing about someone’s legitimately crazy relative, “I’m sure it’s not funny.”
“Oh, it is.” Daniel B. jogged a little to catch up with me and Spud, “it’s funny. Just not when you’re alone with her and a bunch of her nutso friends.”
Shining the flashlight onto a familiar clearing, I unhooked Spud from his leash and let him lumber ahead to pee on whatever he felt like. Walking up next to me, Daniel B. stood close enough to brush his shoulder with my own, and we stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the dark outline of my dog walk and pause, walk and pause, until he temporarily faded from view.
“You sure you’re dog’s alright?” Daniel’s voice was a little gravelly, and he coughed, clearing his throat.
“He’s been peeing in this clearing since I was five years old. I think he knows his way around.” I hadn’t meant to come off brisk, but Daniel’s closeness was making me a little antsy.
“So…like…” he coughed again before continuing, “do you have a…thing for Sasha…or whatever?”
Spud’s collar jingled in the distance. I contemplated calling him back over and totally ignoring Daniel B.’s question, but being rude to someone you had invited over for Thanksgiving desert somehow seemed sacrilegious.
Instead, I just answered his question with a question of my own. “Why do you think I have a thing for Sasha?” I asked, keeping my voice as even as possible.
“I mean…I don’t know. It’s probably totally dumb of me to ask.” I heard him kick the dirt underneath our feet. “I just…I mean, whatever. Stupid question. I’m stupid for asking.”
Spud’s collar jingled a little closer. “No, wait, why’d you ask that, Daniel?” I left out his last initial on purpose, needing someway to get back at him for being so nosey.
“I just…I don’t know. He’s kind of…look, personal opinion here, but I just don’t like him.”
“And I think you’re pretty awesome,” Daniel wasn’t pausing, his words coming out fast and little breathy. “And that’s the only reason I ask because I don’t like him…hanging around you.”
Spud nudged his head against my knees, and I leaned down and clicked his collar back onto the leash, wondering how to reply to such a clumsy sentence.
“Holy…it’s already ten? I should be going home.” Deflecting away from his own words, Daniel B. started to walk back towards my driveway, a beat-up blue Bug (obviously belonging to his aunt) waiting for him to hop his awkward self inside and speed off.
“Do you want some of the pie you brought?” I jogged after him with Spud, grateful that he had saved us both from a horribly weird interaction.
“Nah. Keep it! I think I might be allergic to pumpkin anyway.” Practically sprinting now, Daniel B. threw himself down my driveway and into the driver’s seat of his aunt’s car. Spud, sensing a possible chase, took off after him, dragging me along.
“Thanks for the invitation, Grace.” Holding his door open slightly, Daniel straightened his glasses and looked down at Spud. “Sorry I’m so weird.”
“You’re not weird, Daniel.” It was kind of a lie, but I could practically feel his discomfort.
“Yeah, well, I am. I just…I wouldn’t say I didn’t like Sasha if I didn’t really mean it.” He closed his door and rolled down his window a few inches. “Have a good night, kid!”
Stepping on the gas, Daniel’s tiny car shot up my driveway backwards, stopping inches away from my mailbox. Two friendly beeps and he was gone, taking his inept social skills with him but leaving his words behind in my brain.
Did everyone know something about Sasha I didn’t? Was there something I was missing? Pulling Spud into the garage, I unhooked his leash and opened the door to my house, warm air hitting me in the face as we walked inside. Was Daniel B. just acting silly around me, or had my crush on Sasha really blinded me to some kind of dangerous, vital character flaw?
I needed to figure things out; I needed to investigate Sasha.