What about now?
What if Ocean had fallen for me now? Now, when the students didn’t find me so scary anymore. Now, when people looked in my direction and smiled; now, when I couldn’t walk down the hall without someone trying to talk to me; now, when my teachers stopped me after class and asked me where I’d learned to dance like that.
Would the timing have made a difference?
The breathtaking levels of their hypocrisy had given me a migraine.
I saw Ocean again on a Wednesday.
I was at my locker long after the final bell rang, swapping my things out in preparation for practice—the talent show was over, but we still had a lot more we wanted to do—when Ocean found me. I hadn’t spoken a single word to him since the day I’d seen him in bio, and for the first time in a month, I had a real opportunity to study him. To look into his eyes.
But what I saw only made me feel worse.
He looked tired. Worn-out. He looked thinner. He never really showed up to class anymore, and I wasn’t sure how he was getting away with it.
“Hi,” he said.
I felt frozen at just the sound of his voice. Overwhelmed. A little bit like I wanted to cry.
“Hi,” I said.
“I don’t”—he looked away, ran a hand through his hair—“I don’t actually know what I’m doing here. I just—” He stopped and looked up, off into the distance. I heard him sigh.
He didn’t have to explain.
It was the middle of February. The halls had been plastered with Cupid cutouts and paper hearts. Some club on campus was selling Valentine’s Day candy grams and the violently pink posters assaulted me everywhere I went. I’d never needed an excuse to think about Ocean, but Valentine’s Day was only two days away, and it was hard not to be constantly reminded of what I’d lost.
Finally, he looked at me.
“I never got to tell you that I saw you,” he said. “In the talent show.” His mouth threatened to smile, and then, didn’t. “You were great,” he said softly. “You were so great.”
And I could no more control the words I said next than the earthquake he’d left in my bones. “I miss you,” I said. “I miss you so much.”
Ocean flinched, like I’d slapped him. He looked away and when he looked up again I swore I saw tears in his eyes. “What am I supposed to do with that?” he said. “What am I supposed to say to that?”
I don’t know, I said, I’m sorry, I said, never mind, I said, and my hands were shaking, and I dropped my books all over the floor. I scrambled and Ocean tried to help me but I told him I was fine, it was fine, and I stacked the books in my locker, I said a clumsy goodbye, and the whole thing was so awful that I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to spin the combination—that I’d forgotten to make sure my locker was even closed—until long after I’d finished practice.
When I came back to check, I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was still there. But I was just about to close it back up when I realized that my journal, which I’d always, always hidden at the bottom of my locker, had suddenly moved to the top.
I spent the whole rest of the night feeling vaguely terrified.
Was I imagining it? Had I managed to move my journal when I was reshuffling everything? Was it coincidence or accident?
What if I hadn’t imagined it? What if Ocean actually read my journal?
I’d been gone for under two hours, so I didn’t think there was any danger of him having read the whole thing, but even small portions of my diary were extremely sensitive to me.
I grabbed it from its current hiding place in my bedroom and starting reading in reverse. I figured if Ocean had started reading my journal, he’d have been most interested in the things I’d written recently, and I only had to scan the page for a second before I felt suddenly awash with mortification. I squeezed my eyes shut. Covered my face with one hand.
I had a dream about Ocean last night, the contents of which were extremely intense. This was, wow. This was terrible. I sat down on my bed, cringing through another flush of embarrassment, and kept turning pages, going backward in time.
My anger at how other students treated me now; how they pretended their original cruelty had never happened.
My thoughts on seeing Ocean in his uniform; my fear that he’d think I was interested in Yusef.
The agony of coming back to school; worrying about Ocean, worrying about his suspension.
My conversation with my father; my worries that I’d done the wrong thing.
Reflections on conversations with Yusef; how I never had to explain myself to him.
Pages and pages trying to capture how I felt about Ocean’s absence in my life; how much I missed him; how terrible I felt about everything that’d happened.
A single page that read—
I love you, too, so much, so much
It went on like this through the last few weeks. Mostly it was just me, chronicling heartbreak the only way I knew how.
I exhaled a long, shaky breath and looked up at the wall. My mind was at war with itself.
There was a part of me that felt true horror at the idea of Ocean having read any of this. It felt like an intrusion, a betrayal. But there was another part of me that understood why he might’ve been looking for answers.
I hated how things had ended between us. I hated how I was forced to walk away from him, hated that he didn’t know the truth, hated that he told me he loved me and I’d just ignored him. Especially after everything—after everything we’d been through, after everything he’d said to me and how hard he’d fought to be with me—
He told me he loved me and I’d just ignored him.
Just thinking about it broke my heart all over again. And suddenly, I hoped he really had read these pages. Suddenly, I wished he would. I wished he knew.
Suddenly, I wanted to tell him everything.
The more I thought about it, the more the prospect of Ocean discovering these pages felt a bit like freedom. I wanted him to know that I loved him, but I knew I couldn’t say it to him now, not in person, not without an explanation about the way things ended between us. It was embarrassing, in so many ways, to imagine him reading my personal thoughts. In other ways, it was kind of liberating.
Still, I didn’t know for sure if he’d read any of it.
It was then that I noticed one of the pages in the journal had been torn, just a little. I flipped to it. It was dated that last day of school, just before winter break. The day I’d ended things with Ocean.
The first part was all about his coach, cornering me. All the awful things he’d said about me. How he’d threatened to expel Ocean if I didn’t break up with him. And then more, later, about his mother. How she’d lost his money for school. How she’d asked me never to tell him anything about our conversation.
And then, at the end, how, regardless of all the threats, I just didn’t think I was worth the sacrifices he was making for me.
I closed the book. I was breathing too fast.
The next day at school was insane.
Ocean was expelled.
I was sitting with Amna under my tree when I heard the commotion. Kids in the quad were shouting—people were scrambling—and a few of them were screaming, “Fight! Fight!”
I felt a sudden, horrible feeling tighten in my gut.
“What do you think is happening?” I said.
Amna shrugged. She stood up, walked out several feet, and looked out into the distance. She’d come by today to give me a bag of ginger candies her mother had made, and I remembered this because when she spun around, her eyes wide, she dropped the little ziplock bag to the ground.
Ginger candies spilled out over the grass.
“Oh my God,” she said, “it’s Ocean.”
He’d punched his coach in the face. I ran into the quad just in time to see two guys trying to break up the fight and Ocean started fighting them, too. People were screaming at each other.
Ocean was shouting, “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites,” and someone tried to haul him away and he said, “Don’t touch me—don’t you fucking touch me—”
He’d quit the team.