I knew I wanted to date Dakota from the first time I had met her. She was so shy and quiet, but there was something about her that made me feel nervous. In life science, all of my friends were jerks and partnered up while I was dozing off. And then, lucky me, I get to be partnered with the prettiest girl in class. “Hi, Dakota, right?” I at her, trying to blanket my excitement with a smile. “Yeah. What’s your name?” She looked down at me as I took my seat next to me. “I’m Phillip. Phillip Hopkins. Nice to meet you! She nodded at me in acknowledgement before going back to looking at the front of the classroom. I never really understood why I was attracted to shy girls. There was something about them being so closed off that I guess I took as a challenge? I wanted to see if I could be that guy who could help them warm up to the world. My parents, they told me it was important to be outgoing, because people who are shy always fall behind. And I would rather not let that happen.
Crap. I looked down. The beaker slipped my hand and landed on the floor in pieces. I thought that being lab partners with Dakota would be easy, but being around her, it made me feel nervous. Being flustered, it sucks. It feels like everything is going in fast motion, like a blur. “Oh god, we’re going to get a zero on this.” Dakota shook her head worriedly. “I’m so sorry.” I looked at her. “We can talk to her about this. She can fail just me.” Dakota frowned at my proposal. I really felt bad. I did not want her to get an F because I was being an idiot. “No, we’re partners, so we both deserve the grade. I’m not going to bail on you just because you’re the one that messed up. If it was the other way around, it would be no different.” She reasoned. The brunette was clearly unhappy, but hearing what she said, I was touched. She stood by me, despite how clumsy I was being. Unfortunately, the rest of our partnership was spent with her getting snappy and passive aggressive at me. I tried to make small talk, but she would just scold me and tell me to focus on the lab. 7th grade ended on a very awkward note for us. I just lost interest in dating her, because she was too high strung. Girls can be weird sometimes.
8th grade. It was not fun for me. Well, it was at first. My friends and I hung out a lot, but then December 12th happened. I was in English and I was asked to come to the Principal’s office. I had no idea why, and I was scared. Was I framed for something? Am I going to be expelled? I have no idea. When I arrived in the dusty office, I got a phone call from my dad on the Principal’s line. “Phillip. Your uncle is going to come pick you up really soon.” “Pick me up? Wait, where’s uncle Rick taking me?” He could hear his dad holding back tears from the other side of the line. “To the hospital. Your mom, she got into a really bad accident.” I could feel my stomach sink. The entire world just went black and white to me. Everything slowed down. “Phillip? Phillip!” The principal shouted.
The car ride to the hospital felt like it took an eternity. I wanted to make sure that my mom was fine. Every red light and stop sign was just prolonging that wait. “What happened?” My voice, I could hear it cracking from not speaking for so long. I looked at Rick, treating his answer. “She was driving to pick you up from school, and the ice on the road, it was too slippery. Her car slid through a rail and into the river.” Rick began, finding it difficult to summarize what had just happened to his sister-in-law. “We don’t know what happened. The driver behind called 911, and they retrieved the car and her body from the DuPage. She’s in the hospital, but that river was freezing cold, and-” I could tell he was on the verge of tears. “Uncle Rick…” I did not know what to say. I was only 13 years old. How was I supposed to know what to do in this situation?
She died before we could even arrive at the hospital. I felt so helpless. We couldn’t do anything to save her. The doctors and my dad refused to let me even see the body. I still remember what my mom told me when I was little. How she hoped for me to grow up to take care of others. To love my own children as much as she could possibly love me. But she’s not here to love me anymore. She was gone. She was in heaven, loving and caring for the angels in the sky. That’s what my dad and uncle Rick assured me. It was hard getting over her death. I went to therapy for a couple months, and tried different hobbies. My dad insisted that I get out of the house more often, just so that I would not be reminded too much of her. And we moved into a smaller apartment, just so that it would not feel so empty. Uncle Rick would visit often.
One of the hobbies, or rather goals, I took upon myself was trying to get as many 5s on AP tests as physically possible. By freshman year, I had already attempted the Physics and Spanish AP tests and got 5s on both. Sophomore year, World History, Chemistry, and Economics. Junior year, Calculus AB, US History, Biology, and Language Composition. And Senior year, Literature, Calc BC, Physics C, and French. I wanted to get as many credits as possible going into college applications, just so that I can work and pay for less when it came to college tuition. I did not want my dad paying my tuition. School became a huge focus for me. Until I met Dakota again in Junior year. I was not expecting to see her, let alone get placed in the same group as her. It was awkward at first.
“Hey, I haven’t seen you since like 7th grade!” I laughed. “Fancy seeing you in Bio AP!” I tried my best to diffuse the awkwardness of the situation. She looked uncomfortable and like she was fighting the urge to roll her eyes at my remark. The first few weeks were bad. She was not happy that we were put in the same group. But I tried my best to contribute. This time was different. I was not flustered or embarrassed being around her. I knew what I needed to do. Back then in middle school, I did not need to try. High school, one bad misstep and I will have to go to community college. I refused to be a statistic. I did not want to be one of those kids from a single-parent home who could not afford to go to a good college. And I think somewhere down the line, Dakota started to recognize and respect that. She knew that I had changed.
The funniest thing was when we started dated. That kiss, I was so relieved that I did not get a concussion from falling over; my backpack broke my fall onto the concrete. I used to have a crush on her back in middle school, and now 7th grade Phillip gets his wish come true. I get to date one of the prettiest and hardest working girls in my school. The first thing I noticed when I got to know Dakota was how ambitious she was. She was taking AP and honors classes consistently, she knew that she wanted to go into marketing right away, and she was kind above all else. Whenever anyone was struggling, she offered to help them. She grew up, just like how I did. She went from being passive aggressive to nurturing and loving. And that’s why I was glad to have somebody like her in my life.