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Girl Meets Boy by Jen Barnhart

Girl Meets Boy
Jennifer Barnhart


I, 15 and pudgy with acne-prone cheeks, clutch a Tupperware container to my chest. Inside are gigantic chocolate chip cookies.

The door opens. Craig, 16, skinny with nerdy-cool glasses which are just nerdy on him, looks at me like a bag of flaming dog poo left on the welcome mat of his white wraparound porch. Mums and pumpkins stand on either side of the door.


I thrust the cookies forward.

These are for you. I’m sorry about lunch. I’m sorry I just stood there.

I knocked him flat on his ass today and not in the metaphorical way. I was pulling my sweater around myself like an invisibility cloak to hide the wet spot in my lap from where I’d dribble water, and I didn’t see him until I’d hit my head on his chin and sent him sprawling.

If it had been a movie, I would have said something witty. Something to show the me that’s hidden beneath the fat and mortification. I stood with my hand over my mouth.

If it had been a movie, Craig would have laughed and made a joke about how I left him breathless.

(to me)
Are you stupid? Watch where you’re going.

His friends laughed, helped him up. He left, but he looked back over his shoulder to where I’d bent down to wipe up the orange Gatorade he’d spilled. Our gazes met, a flitting second where I saw his embarrassment, and he saw mine.

That moment is called the Meet Cute. The moment when the boy meets the girl of his dreams except he doesn’t know it.

Meet Cutes always end with the two soon-to-be lovers walking away from each other destined to meet again or there would be no movie.

Craig doesn’t take the cookies.

I have a gluten allergy.

I’m sorry. The same words in my head that won’t come out. The tears press against my eyelids. He’s looking at me, and he’s supposed to see beneath the bad haircut and unflattering clothes because I’m clearly not comfortable but I’m here, right here, with him and somehow that’s what’s important.

It’s nice, though. Do you want to come in?

He holds the door wide. My elbow brushes his stomach as I enter his home. He smells like oranges and sweat.

We’ll go to his room, and I’ll see the person he is behind his glasses and allergies. We’ll connect.


Our nightly ritual goes something like this. Mom prepares dinner so it’s on the table by six when Dad walks in the door. He’s off work by three, but there are stops to be made before coming home. He has to help a friend replace a transmission or grab a beer or shoot the shit, because a man’s got to relax in order to appreciate his family.

The three of are finished with dinner by 6:30. Dad goes to the living room, flips to the Big Ten network and falls asleep within ten minutes. Mom will wake him at eight so he can take a shower before going to bed.

Mom and I wash dishes, careful not to clank the glass together and wake Dad. I wonder if mom ever imagined herself in a kitchen barely five feet wide, with a cracked red linoleum floor, standing hip-to-hip with a 13-year-old daughter who is five inches taller than her and outweighs her by seventy pounds?

Why don’t you go out with friends?

She swishes her dishrag over a plate without looking at me. Front, back, front again. She runs her bare fingertips over the surface, checking for missed food particles before handing it to me to rinse.

Who has time for that? There’s always something that needs doing here. Besides, I have you.

I rinse the plate and the next two she hands me. Three plates, three forks, three glasses. Never less. Never more.

I’m old enough to stay by myself.

As alone as a thirteen year-old can be with her father asleep in the chair.
So you think.

The women in my family don’t have best friends. They have husbands. I didn’t know Girls’ Night was a thing until my best friend Julie’s mom gave us twenty dollars, told us to order ourselves a pizza because "your father won’t think to feed you," kissed us both on the head, and said she was going out with the girls.

It sounded scandalous and decadent and like something I would do when I got older. From her flirty summer dress with the embroidered daises, I pictured Julie’s mom strolling arm in arm with beautiful friends, laughing as ice cream dripped from their cones and onto their hands because they were too busy talking to eat it before it melted. Julie’s mom would choose strawberry, of course, because it complemented the color of her dress. They’d window shop at those ritzy stores in Downtown I’d never been in but imagined that even the air inside smelled expensive.

I asked what her mom did when she went out with the girls.

The usual stuff. Bitch about Dad. Drink too much. Relive the glory days when she was homecoming queen and losing five pounds meant giving up pop at lunch.

I promised Julie that when we were older and had our Girls’ Night, we wouldn’t do stuff like that. Except maybe the drinking, but we’d do something fun, like a road trip. We’d be like Thelma and Louise. Except without the murder and rape and driving over a cliff part.

Mom looks at me sideways. Her hair is still neat and tidy in a bun at the base of her neck despite the heat of the kitchen. I can feel the sweat sliding down between my too large breasts and soaking into my one good bra. I’d have to wash it before bed tonight.

You could go out with Julie’s mom. She went out Friday with her friends. It could be fun.

She scours the bottom of the lasagna pan with more vigor than needed.

I knew letting you sleepover was a bad idea.

The panic feels like a bubble trapped inside my throat. I wish I were smarter. I wish I knew what I could tell her and what I should keep secret.

Her dad was there. It wasn’t like we were alone.

Who leaves two teenage girls alone with a man?

She hands me the baking dish. It slips from my fingers and clunks into the sink. Mom looks over her shoulder into the living room. Dad is still asleep.

No more sleepovers with Julie. She can stay here, of course, but I don’t want you going over there.
That’s not fair.

She lays her wet, soapy hand on my forearm. The tips of her fingers are pruny and hot from the water.

If anything happened to you, I’d never forgive myself. How could I trust a woman like that to take care of you?

I want to ask a woman like what? What was wrong with Julie’s mom?


I leave Craig’s house, still clutching the Tupperware to my chest. I wait to eat cookie number one in case he’s watching me walk home until I’ve passed the shedding ash tree four houses down. Deep red leaves crunch under my boots. I’d read somewhere that the smell of fall is the smell of death.

At the corner of Yew and Oak streets, I brush crumbs from cookie number two off my gray sweater. I’d stayed forty-five minutes and don’t remember the color of the paint on Craig’s walls.

Craig wears gray Hanes boxer briefs.

I break some of cookie number three off as I pass the walking path two blocks from my house and feed it to the ducks. Who am I kidding? I eat most of the cookie. Ducks chase me.

The sun sets behind the houses facing mine, casting long shadows over me as I sit on the porch swing, eating cookies number four and five.

Craig takes off his glasses. He says it makes me look like a painting, all soft and out of focus. His carpet needs vacuumed. The tiny tongues from ripped notebook pages stick to my knees and shins.

The chocolate doesn’t mask the saltiness that lingers on my tongue.


I take my Algebra book from the bottom of my locker. Last night I couldn’t concentrate on the quadratic formula and have to finish the twelve homework problems during study hall.

Julie leans against the locker next to mine.

I signed us up for the computers on

The library is our neutral ground. She stopped asking me to come over last year. I stopped asking her over around the same time. We stay for hours at the library and no one tells us to leave.

What time?
I wonder if she can sense the change in me.

Three. Don’t be late.

She waves and heads to her Chemistry class. I’ll tell her about Craig on Saturday. Discussing it in a text isn’t safe. This is a conversation to be had only in hushed voices in the paperback aisle as we snicker over ridiculous romance titles.

I close my locker. Craig is coming down the hall with his friends. I don’t know if I should wave or smile or even make eye contact.

He stops at my locker. After some elbow nudging, his friends go on without him. I feel the weight of their gaze and wonder if Craig told them about what I did last night.

That book weighs a ton. Maybe you got mine from last year.
He takes the book from me, flips it open.

That’d be weird.

Weird meaning a sign from the universe that Craig and I are meant to be together.

I put my initials right here in mine.

He points to the inside seam of page 314. It’s blank. He closes the book with a SNAP, hands it back to me. The initials would have been a little too serendipitous.

About yesterday...

He pushes his glasses back into place. The tops of his ears are red.
I was an ass. I don’t like being laughed at, and I felt like everyone was staring at me. I shouldn’t have called you stupid.

His fingers brush mine, like a butterfly flitting over a flower, before he stuffs his hands in his pocket.
Last night was nice.
My mind is screaming at me to say something clever or funny or seductive.
Maybe you could come over again this weekend and hang out? Saturday?

I hug the book that wasn’t his to my chest. I want to ask if it’s a date or if it’s just as friends or if he thinks I’m a slut.

That sounds fun.

He looks around, then leans forward, kisses my cheek and walks down the hallway. I would have gladly suffered a hundred days of detention for that PDA.

A stupid grin remains on my face all day, even when I get a zero for not turning in my homework. Who really needs the quadratic formula when the Ordinary World is left behind.

Julie will understand why I can’t hang out on Saturday.


The walls of Craig’s bedroom are blue. The ceiling is white. I sit on his unmade bed and watch him play Call of Duty. The corners of his mouth tighten to form a little O of concentration when he pushes the R1 button. He makes the same face when he unhooks my bra.

I text Julie. Can’t make it to the library. Sorry. Craig and I going to a movie. Maybe next week. This is the third Saturday library date I’ve missed. I’ll make it up to her. She doesn’t text back.

Craig asks me what I think about Ohio State University. I think it’s four hours away. He begins to fill out the application for admission. I slide my hand up the inside of his thigh. He takes off his glasses and closes his eyes. Ohio State can wait.

Julie and I are at the library. She forgives me for being obsessed with Craig. I’m allowed to get mad at her when she falls in love and starts ignoring me. Best friends for life. Julie is in the psychology section. Her mom and dad are getting divorced and her mom moved out. What kind of woman leaves her husband and kids?

Craig sends me a goodnight text at eleven. We’ve been dating five weeks. I close my eyes and think about the dress I’m going to buy for the Homecoming dance.

Julie and I buy dresses for homecoming. Mine is pale-blue like fairy wings and swirls around my legs like magic. Julie’s is a long, slinky black sheath dress, which makes her look old-school Hollywood glam. She doesn’t have a date to the dance. Craig still hasn’t asked me. School dances are an absolutely necessary step in becoming a woman, like getting your period.

Craig had flowers delivered for my birthday. They’re pink and white carnations with baby’s breathe in a pretty purple vase. The card says Every day with you is a reason to celebrate. I love him so much it makes my heart hurt. He asks me if I want to go to the Homecoming game with him. I’m in Spanish class conjugating the verb perder before I realize I’d said yes to a football game and not a dance.

Julie asks me to go to the Homecoming dance with her. Her mom said she’d rent us a limo. Her dad said he’d pay for a spa day, hair, nails, and facials. We can dance with each other and everyone and forget about the stupid boys who won’t know what they’re missing. She grabs my hands and dances me around the hallway until Mrs. Craumer yells at us stop that foolishness and get to class. We don’t need dates. We have each other.

At the Homecoming game, Craig tugs me beneath the bleachers during the third quarter. When the team scores, the stomping on the metal bleachers make the world feel like it’s about to burst open, but it doesn’t and then it’s just noise and movement.


Skin squelches on vinyl. I lean back, trying to look like Cleopatra welcoming Mark Antony. This is the first time I’ve been in the backseat. Not the first time I’ve come parking with Craig.

His hand pushes up my skirt, squeezes my hip. I wish I hadn’t ordered the chocolate milkshake.

I need to get the car back by eleven.

The window handle digs into my bicep. Why do guys always think old cars are so cool?

(gazing into Craig’s eyes)
I love you.

He pushes my bra and shirt up at the same time. He grabs my boobs like I’m a dairy cow.
God, I love your body.

He doesn’t tell me how beautiful I am, how he loves my smile, my eyes, my essence that drives him to think of me, and only me. He yanks off my panties.

I lift my hips to help.

I press my hand to the steamed up window to keep my head from cracking against the arm rest of the door. Directors should really research all aspects of their films. I’m going to have bruises.

Craig shakes and shudders like he’s run a marathon in five minutes before he collapses on me. Between my legs, I’m slick and sweaty. I feel hollow. Tonight is the Homecoming Dance.

I wanted Craig to see me in the dress I’d bought and be blown-away, stumbling over words that can’t be expressed with anything other than a simple ’you’re beautiful’. Me. I’m beautiful. It’s not the dress but everything that is me and Craig would see it and know it and he would love me.

He fumbles for his glasses which he left in the rear deck.

I wanted to dance with Julie to all the fast songs and when the tempo changes, I’d turn and Craig would hold out his hand to me. He’d wrap me in his arms and hold me close. We’d press our cheeks together, and I’d breathe in his air and we’d stop hearing the music.

Is that cum on the seat? My dad will kill me. Are there any napkins left?

I tug down my skirt. In the movies, the first time would be beautiful. It would be destiny. Two broken souls joining to create a universe that makes sense because we’d found each other.

Just use your sock.

I get out of the car, not even trying to be graceful about it. I need starlight. I need cold to freeze whatever it is inside of me that feels like it’s about to break. I need air that doesn’t stink of sex and chocolate milkshake.


My hair is wet from the long shower. In the movies, I’d be in a sexy tank top with a blanket wrapped around me but falling off my shoulder. I’m wearing fuzzy zebra print pants and an ugly blue robe with a teddy bear on it.

I sit at the vanity, brushing out my hair. Selfies of Craig and me that I’d snapped with my phone and ridiculous hearts I’d written our name inside of with pink and red markers frame my face in the mirror.

My phone RINGS, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It’s Craig. Julie hasn’t texted me all night.

(forced excitement)

I can’t stop thinking about tonight.

He doesn’t say I can’t stop thinking about you.

Me either.

The shower hadn’t washed away the smell of his body, the taste of his sweat, the slick wet between my legs as I think about the feel of him pressed against me.

You were really quiet on the drive home. You okay?

I’d had sex, in the backseat of an Impala with an eleven o’clock curfew.


I turn from my reflection. My dress hangs on the closet door. The tags dangle from the armpit.

What are you doing? Something sexy?

I just got out of the shower.

That’s sexy.

I want to tell him that I’d vomited before I’d gotten into the shower.

Are you still naked?

It’s cold.

You’re no fun.

I’m going to call Julie. See how the dance went.

Streamers, balloons and Christmas lights don’t cover up the decades of sweaty gym smell.

I grip one of the hearts and yank it off the mirror. The ragged edge of the red corner remains stuck in the frame.

I’m glad you decided not to go either. It was nice that it was just me and you.

I shred the heart into tiny pieces that drift like red ash fall to the carpet.

Are you still there?

Sorry. I’m just tired.

In the movies, he’d tell me he’s coming over because he knows that something’s wrong. He’d show up outside my window, scale the house, with pilfered flowers despite the fact that all the flowers are dead because of the cold, and he’d sneak into my room and hold me, just wrap his arms around me, and we’d talk all night.

It’s been a long day. A really, really, really good day, but yeah, I know what you mean.

No, you don’t.

I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Hey, I just want to tell you that I’m glad you ran into me in the cafeteria. I never would have noticed you if you hadn’t--

Never? Because the only way a boy would notice me is if I literally knock him on his ass because I’m built like a linebacker. It’s hard to breathe.

and then tonight wouldn’t have happened and that would have really sucked. I’ll call you tomorrow. I love you.

I turn my phone off and toss it on my bed. I love you.

I strip off the robe, let it fall to the floor. My tank top follows, my pants, my panties. I take my dress from it’s hanger. The material slides over my skin not like magic but like a polyester-nylon blend that sticks to my damp skin.

In the movies, this is the Dark Moment, sometimes called The Dark Night of The Soul. The moment when everything looks it’s worst. The heroine must make a choice that will irrevocably change who she is, who she wants to be.

I remove a picture of Craig from my mirror, brush my thumb over his thin face.

If this were a movie, Craig would have taken me to the Homecoming Dance.

I put it back on the mirror with the others.

If this were a movie, I would have gone without him. I would have danced without a care in the world with Julie, in my dress that made me feel like the person I am inside my head.

The music would have slowed and I’d turn and there Craig would be, corsage in hand, looking repentant. He’d apologize for being an ass and I’d forgive him. The song playing would be our song, and it’d rise to a heart-thumping volume until the shot faded to black.

I slide the dress from my shoulders, let it crumple at my feet. I stare at my naked body framed between the photos and hearts. My hands cup my breasts, slide over my stomach, rest against the dark triangle of hair.

I think about Craig’s hands, the long, skinny fingers, the feel of them on my breasts, between my legs. I think about the look on his face as he panted over me. I think about the look on Julie’s face when I told her I didn’t want to go to Homecoming.
I want to be mad at Julie for not texting me like she promised. I want to call her and ask her to come over after the dance.

I want to hate Craig for screwing me in the backseat of a car. I want to hate the ache deep inside that makes me clench my thighs together and press against my hand when I remember how his hot breath tickled against my neck as he exhaled out my name. I hate that I want.

I climb into bed naked and pull the blanket up over my head. 

Fade out. 

© Jen Barnhart 
Image "Screenplay" © Flickr user Matt Richards

Jen Barnhart is a senior at Missouri State University, graduating in May 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing with a Creative Writing minor. While she hopes to make a career writing best-sellers, her backup plan is to work in the publishing industry.