maple syrup

She wasn’t really pretty, not by a long shot, but myself and my best friend Nick were both entranced from the moment we saw her lounging on one of the two beat up couches in our buddy Jack’s basement.

Jack’s house was the neighborhood hangout for anyone who needed a warm place to crash, the kids who didn’t have a place to call home. The tenants came and went, but Nick and I were regulars because Jack had a pretty decent set-up down there and the weed was always readily available. Sometimes, if we were lucky, someone would bring a six pack of beer. Cable on an old projection TV and a PS3 with video games galore was the focal point, where most everybody congregated. Two cigarette burned recliners were rarely empty, the prized seats in the house.

And the threadbare beige couch that had seen better days. Which happened to be where she was, like some sort of goddess, a sight for sore eyes after a particularly shitty day at school. Nick and I were days away from graduating. Our buddy Jack dropped out last year, content to live rent free, taking advantage of his flaky, but kind mom, who gave him whatever his pathetic heart desired.

She looked us over with her maple syrup eyes, light brown tight curled short hair like a Brillo pad on her head. She had some acne, but the skin that wasn’t blemished was like the cream that the stray cats in the yard lapped up out of the dollar store bowls.

“Hey,” she greeted us lazily, smiling a bit. Her voice was lovely, with a hint of wariness. It was evident that she wasn’t sure what to make of us, two 18 year old boys gawking at her like a bunch of love-struck fools.

Nick was the first to recover enough to respond.

“Hey,” he said, as smoothly as he could muster. I could feel his nerves jangling, which was unusual for someone as suave as him.

I just nodded, idiot that I was.

Jack was sitting on one of the recliners, smoking a joint, his long legs casually crossed in front of him. He had the life, that’s for sure. A future of getting high and eating Hot Pockets.

“Hey you fuckers, this is Crystal,” he said, introducing us, then passing the joint to me. For the first time ever, I waved it away. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Crystal.

Nick took the joint instead.

“Nice to meet you, Crystal,” he offered, smiling at her, his initial awkwardness now forgotten. For the first time since we were 5 years old in kindergarten together, I hated his guts.

She gazed disinterestedly at him, with those amazing eyes, the ones that reminded me of pancakes drenched in golden brown maple syrup.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked casually, reaching for a cigarette on the ancient wood coffee table.

My heart skipped a beat and I instantly broke out in a cold sweat.

Nick recovered quickly from her rebuff and shrugged in my direction.

“This is Paul. Say hello Paul,” he mocked, trying successfully to make me feel like a damn parrot.

“Um, hi,” I said, knowing that my voice cracked in places that shouldn’t at my age.

I was rewarded with a huge smile, her perfect teeth, slightly yellowed by nicotine, showing in her cupid bow lips.

“Hey, Paul.” Her voice was honey sweet, like a child’s.

Our eyes locked. To this day, I can still remember that feeling of intense connection, like both of our souls had intertwined in some kind of lovers dance.

For a moment in time, we were the only ones in that dank basement that smelled of reefer and patchouli.

I stood there shaking inside. Crystal broke our link first and I felt myself deflate like a balloon, until she patted the spot beside her with her delicate hand, nails painted a pale pink.

My legs moved of their own accord and I was finally sitting close to her. She smelled like cigarette smoke and some kind of flower.

I knew that Nick was bristling beside me, not used to being rejected by a female. But he plopped down onto the opposite recliner, starting a conversation with Jack, finally letting me have the girl.

For the first time in my young life, I was in love.

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