Like any Santa Monica High School boy sitting next to Maria Theresa, Norman debates his chances. Without looking at her short black skirt or the bra straps visible through U2 tee shirt, he knows her sandal dangles from a perfectly painted toe. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and consumes her sweet fragrance, not sure whether it comes from shampoo, cologne, or just her natural beauty.
Against all alphabetical probabilities, Norman O’Sullivan sat next to Maria Theresa Perez at the long black science desks for four years. Each morning he arrives first, dumps his backpack at his feet, opens a thick book and calculates his odds, figuring the shoes his mother buys at Goodwill and the hand-my-down clothes from his cousins in Oklahoma City. The odds aren’t good.
But after all the years, she knows recognizes him and as they shuffle out of class between the desks, she politely asks, “Norman, did you see Spiderman?” or “Are you going to the dance?” He mumbles “no,” trying not to knock over the chairs. Once out of class, he thinks, “She’s so much nice than the other popular girls,” and usually turns the wrong way. Another time, she might congratulate him, “Great science project!”
Each morning he brushes his teeth and takes a long shower, thinking maybe today she’ll turn those dark brown eyes towards me. Before her long hair settles back to her shoulders, I’ll say, “Yo neighbor, you want to walk home with me today?”
Each afternoon, Norman walks alone and settles at the kitchen table to do his homework. He watches out window waiting for Maria Theresa to pass. He waves at her from behind the curtains his mother made from old sheets.
Sometimes she asks for a homework assignment or help with a math problem. He closes his eyes and prays, “Let me answer without dropping my papers or laughing.” When he talks to her, he keeps his hand over his mouth and his elbows at his side, in case of bad breath or body odor.
Graduation is Friday. They sit listening to announcements about cap and gown pickup and Grad Night. Norman isn’t going to Grad Night. He holds his yearbook with both hands, “Maria Theresa?”
She immediately stops talking to the girl behind her and spins around. He hair flies across his hands and her knees touch his for a brief second, “Yes, Norman?”
“Will you sign my yearbook, please?” He pushes the book forward, but when he realizes it’s against her breasts, he drops it. He doesn’t say anything, or even breathe.
She just laughs and picks it up. Embarrassed, he puts the book in his backpack when she returns it.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” she asks with a little laugh.
He’s too afraid, but when he's safely home behind the bed-sheet curtains he reads, “You’re a cool guy. Too bad you’re going away to college and we didn’t spend more time together.”