“Hey,” I said to my mother. “Some of the girls at my school are saying Berrie fancies me.”
“Well, you’re going to have to get used to this,” she answered. “Throughout your life, there are going to be lots of girls that fancy you,” she lied smoothly.
“Because you’re tall and you’re handsome and you’re clever,” she continued to lie, “and girls like all those…”
“Mum, I’m not handsome!” I moaned, rolling my eyes. “And everyone at school hates me because I’m clever! And being tall isn’t an advantage; it’s much more difficult to hide from adversaries!”
“…so tell me about Berrie?”
But there wasn’t much to tell her. I didn’t know her very well. I knew her name and that she was in a different class from me. If I strained my memory, I could picture her in my head. That was about it.
“And she’s in love with you,” added my mother.
“Mum! She’s not in love with me!” I yelped.
“So she likes you,” she steamrollered on, “and do you like her?”
“What? That’s GROSS! I don’t want a girlfriend! I’m not into that!” (Eleven-year-old ILB was convinced that he was immune to the burgeoning feelings everyone else was talking about. A year or so later, previously asexual ILB started getting unexpected and intense crushes, but that was a bad time for all involved.)
“So you’re not even interested a little? Is she pretty?”
I put it out of my head, as best I could, for the rest of the year. Every now and again, one of the bolder girls who giggled a lot would sidle up to me in the playground and whisper “Berrie fancies you” before evaporating into the ether before I could respond. I went to the school leavers’ disco (for some reason) and spent the entire time by the buffet table; a gaggle of girls swept over to me and asked me to dance with Berrie, which I politely but firmly declined.
Throughout this whole debacle, however, there was one crucial variable missing from the equation: Berrie. As above, I didn’t know her particularly well, and as far as I was aware at this point, neither of us had ever said a single word to the other. She remained both distant and unclear, and since we had no point of contact, that wasn’t entirely unforeseen. If it was her sending the missives, she wasn’t making too much of an effort.
On the last day of school, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her taking a picture of me. I pretended not to notice.
“I had a dream last night about my new school. Berrie was in it and she kept pulling me around corridors by my sleeve.”
“Berrie? Is she still madly in love with you?”
And just like that, she was a constant presence in my life. Whether in the classroom in a distant corner, sitting near me in the lunch hall (near enough to exchange pleasantries, not right next to me), getting touched up by my bully in year 8 Maths (“yes, I am, and I’m enjoyin’ it”), or eventually appearing in my life four times a week since we went to the same church and Christian youth group, there she was. Four years after hardly being aware of her presence, here we were as friends.
I hugged her once in the swimming pool, which made her turn bright red. At once, the questions started again, although from her best friend this time.
“Why did you want a hug from her?”
“I… I like hugs?”
“But from her, specifically?”
“I hugged Mark too…?”
“He doesn’t count. Why her? Do you fancy her?”
“No! I don’t! Just because she fancied me when we were in year 6 doesn’t mean that…”
Whoops. I wasn’t supposed to know, clearly.
But now we had a line of communication. The best friend made a few inquiries and took great pains to assure me, while not looking me in the eye or speaking particularly loudly, that what had happened in primary school hadn’t happened: Berrie had not fancied me, the five or six girls who all told me the same thing were having a laugh, and that she didn’t have a single picture of me anywhere in her house.
She couldn’t explain the missive asking me to dance. It all seemed a little suspect to me, to be honest. But, due to the fact that I was dying a thousand deaths from the crush I had at the time on the silver girl who bore the same name as Berrie, she was more interested in that.
I thought it best to drop the subject.
Lightsinthesky somehow found out that Berrie had recently become single the week after I did. As far as I was aware, this was private information and I had no clue whatsoever how he found out. Of course, he made no secret of the fact that he considered her fair game pretty soon afterwards.
“Hey, do you know if she has another boyfriend yet?”
“Well, no,” I admitted, “but from what I’ve heard she goes through boyfriends pretty quickly…”
“Right. But, I mean, does she have a crush on anyone? Anyone you know? It’s difficult to tell if a girl fancies you, right?”
I didn’t say a word.