Winter Of Love

Entry by: jaguar

21st November 2016
Were winters colder then, just as summers seemed warmer? Certainly she’d been more conscious of the seasons. Winter lasted from November to March, from the first clench of cold to the crocuses. All that time something had held her heart like a fist, tightening, tightening until it finally let go.

She was five months off sixteen when it started. The only girl in her form not to have been kissed. The rest of them were joking about the day they’d finally do the great act of adulthood. All Eileen dreamed of was someone asking her to dance.

It was strange how the true currency of people got debased by trivial things. So you might be a brilliant scholar, wit as sharp as sabres, pretty enough in your way but if you hadn’t attracted a member of the opposite sex you were nothing. In her own head, by her own judgment Eileen had become nothing. She couldn’t give herself away.

It was difficult too to work out how the boys were judged. A way of wearing their collars, a suggestion of chest hair, the support of their strange peers – all seemed more important than personality. Eileen peered from the shadows at the ones who strode centre stage and didn’t think much of them.

Dad laughed at her concerns, told her it had always been that way, she should have seen him in skin-tight jeans and agonising shoes. He said she should think like a predator, pick out one who was further out from the crowd than they deserved, pick them off when they were most vulnerable. Mum snorted, said was that how he’d punched so far above his weight in nabbing her? They were in hysterics as Eileen went upstairs to watch the snow and cry.

Her best friend Jen was seeing a boy called Gavin who did a lot of smouldering but couldn’t string two words together. Eileen thought Jen could do better although she also slightly envied her. Gavin hung out amongst loads of kids in the park. On that snowbound day some were in full ski gear but the more popular boys had nicked a school-lunch tray and kept trying to pile on to it. It didn’t take Jen long to drift over towards Gavin leaving Eileen alone.

Eileen reminded herself that no one was bothered about her, it didn’t matter that she was on her own. She thought about what Dad had said and tried to picture the kids as a herd of wildebeest. It was surprisingly easy. The boys on the tray were the crocodiles in the river. The other kids hurtled towards them before being sucked in or chucked out.

Robert stood alone, the opposite side of the crowd. She’d noticed him before, so tall and thin, gawky as a giraffe. A clever boy but a latecomer, moved into the area six months before. He had even fewer friends than Eileen and was teased more often. Bullied even, she’d seen how they hacked into him in football practice. Seen the flare of surprise then outrage in his eyes before resignation and pain took over. The only one who took his side was Gavin who often put his silent bulk between Robert and the other boys.

Did Robert deserve to stand no chance of getting on that tray? He was attractive in a diffident, fend-off way. Jen said Gavin described him as his closest friend. Eileen thought about Robert's deep voice. She imagined what it might sound like calling her up, asking her out. She shivered, looked across at him just as he raised his eyes and met hers. Eileen nodded, smiled and waited as he gave their schoolmates a wide berth on his way over to her. He offered her his arm and she took it, suddenly aware how slippery the ground might be.

Was that been the moment she’d chosen him? Looking back Eileen wasn’t sure she ever made a conscious decision. It wasn’t as if Robert asked her out so she had to say yes or no. They came together like flakes in a drift, cleaving to each other as the world went wild outside. They just seemed to be the same side of the group after that. The same side and holding hands.

Their locked hands acted like a key to the group. Suddenly they were included, invited to everything, treated as if their awkwardness was cool. The two of them were much bigger than the addition of their individual selves. Eileen could feel herself grow into her new persona. She watched Robert reclaim and expand the personality he’d had before his move. How funny he was if people listened. How the other girls sort of sucked themselves in, held their breath as he passed.

He said she didn’t have to worry, he wasn’t interested in the silly, giggling fools. Only Eileen and Jen mattered to him. He’d just been waiting for Eileen to notice him. Eileen said it had been the same for her although it was a lie. As far as she could remember it was her first lie but she meant it kindly. She was amazed how quickly they were both changing, trying personalities on like outfits and asking each other’s opinions. She wasn’t sure she knew who she was anymore.

Like going from a chrysalis to a butterfly, Robert said. Eileen winced thinking how clichéd love could be, how she’d fooled herself their relationship was unique. Had it ever been about them as people fitting together rather than a sense of belonging? If Eileen wasn’t sure of her own identity from day to day how could Robert be so convinced he knew her? When she tried to talk about it Jen just tutted, said she over-thought things and should be grateful she had Robert rather than a Neanderthal like Gavin.

Robert was fixing a swing to a tree in the park for Eileen’s sixteenth birthday. He was so focused he trampled on the emerging crocuses. Eileen didn’t know how to tell him she’d outgrown swings long before. How to tell him their winter of love was over. She stood frozen as Jen left her to join the group of girls around Robert. A group that looked just like a herd of wildebeest waiting to cross an unseen peril.

Robert gestured to Eileen to come and try the swing but she shook her head. He shook his head back at her like a reversal of the gesture she’d first made to him. He knew it too, she could see it in his face. Jen clambered into the tyre swing and Robert pulled her back towards him. Eileen crunched her eyes up to keep the tears trapped and blindly turned for home. She bumped straight in to Gavin who must have been standing behind her.

‘Are you OK?’ His face was stiff with concern as he steadied her. ‘I know how it feels.’
‘How what feels?’ Eileen asked, shocked that taciturn Gavin even had feelings. She'd laughed when Robert told her Gavin was quite the philosopher. Yet his presence, his expression cradled and lifted her mood.
‘Being with the wrong friend.’