Home > The Upside of Falling

The Upside of Falling
Author: Alex Light


THERE WERE CERTAIN DAYS I could remember like they were yesterday. The summer morning when my mom finally learned how to bake, which, coincidentally, was also the day our apartment stopped smelling like a smokehouse. Or when I was ten and learned how to ride my bike without training wheels. But remembering wasn’t always a good thing. There were days I would give anything to forget. Like the day my dad left. Or the first time I flunked a math test.

Then there were the days that made up most of my life, the ones that were completely unnoteworthy, blending into one another. I had gotten into the habit of ending every day with the same question: Was it worth remembering or forgetting?

Today was on a one-way ticket to being forgotten. And first period hadn’t even begun yet.

I was sitting with my back against the last standing oak tree at Eastwood High, a book resting on my knees. It was my favorite reading spot on campus. Tucked away behind the football field, it was far enough away for privacy, but not totally isolated. I could still see morning practice and the members of the football team who were running around with their shirts off. That was enough to indicate that fall was nowhere to be found here in sunny Georgia. Although I’m certain they’d still be shirtless even if the weather dropped below zero. Apparently showing off one’s abs trumped potential frostbite.

Peering up from my book, I quickly snuck a glance at the team. It was nothing more than a little peek, but it was enough to notice the groups of students that were lined up on the sides of the field. They were mostly girls. I had to give it to them. Getting out of bed early just to watch football practice? It took dedication. Plus, it wasn’t any stranger than getting up early to read in peace.

I’d thought my love for romance novels would have died with my parents’ divorce. Instead, it made me crave them more. I was going through two books a week. I could not get enough. It was like, if love couldn’t exist in reality, at least it was alive in fiction. Between the pages it was safe. The heartbreak was contained. There was no aftermath, no shock waves. I mean, there’s a reason all books end right after the couple gets together. No one wants to keep reading long enough to see the happily ever after turn into an unhappily ever after. Right?

I jumped when the bell rang. The book fell off my leg and I picked it up quickly before the grass stained the pages green. I shoved my things into my school bag before trudging down the hill, across the field, and into the blue-lockered halls that were now alive with students rushing to make it to first period on time. It was kind of fun to watch. The freshmen ran like their lives literally depended on it. Meanwhile the seniors rested lazily against lockers, like the laws of time didn’t apply to them. I pushed past all of them, winding my way to English class. I didn’t like to be late. Not because I was a Goody Two-shoes or anything. I just despised the way people stared, like arriving after the bell rings makes it open season for dirty looks or something.

“Morning, Miss Copper,” I called when I got to class, throwing my teacher a friendly wave. She grunted, turning her eyes back to her computer screen. I smiled to myself. Some things never changed. I could always count on her early morning hostility.

When I was at my desk in the back row, I returned to my book. The characters were kissing now. Could love really make the world stop? Why did it make every female character feel alive? Wasn’t she alive before she met him? Or was she in some zombie-like, comatose state? How did love change that, and more importantly, why couldn’t I seem to get enough of this unrealistic crap?

My thoughts were interrupted when the two girls in front of me caught my attention. One was pointing to the door, the other was straightening the collar of her shirt while fluffing out her hair. That could only mean one thing . . .

Brett Wells walked into class the same way the sun pours in through a window, slow and captivating. Time seemed to stop as he smiled at the teacher and made his way to the desk in front of mine. I glanced at the clock to make sure it hadn’t. Just in case.

I had to give it to the guy. I think he may be the one person who could blur the lines between reality and fiction. With that head of hair that was a little more gold than brown, effortless smile, and altogether unwavering perfection, it was easy to lose yourself in his bright blue eyes. He could have walked out of the pages of a book and materialized in front of me. It was no wonder half the student body was in love with him. Even the teachers weren’t immune. I think Miss Copper was blushing. Yuck.

Adding to his mystique was the fact that his parents were considered some of the most generous in our entire school. Before junior year ended, rumors started circulating that his family was going to donate thousands of dollars to redo the football field. They were really well off. Why? I didn’t have a clue. But when the school term started a few weeks ago, the goalposts were sparkling, the paint on the field was still fresh, and the bleachers were no longer covered in rust and multicolored gum. The Wellses came through.

Now I was eyeing the navy-blue varsity jacket hanging off the back of his chair. It was like a flag, announcing who he was: Brett Wells, captain of the football team. Not that I knew anything about him other than the whispers I heard or the checks his parents liked to write. But part of me wondered if he was as nice as everyone said. Or if his relationship history really was nonexistent. I mean, with a face like that? Doubtful.

“Becca Hart?” Miss Copper asked, pulling me out of my thoughts. “Care to answer my question once you’re done with your daydream?”

I felt my neck warm first, then my cheeks. A second later it reached my toes. “What was the question?” I managed to choke out.

“I asked you to define the concept of star-crossed lovers.”

I flipped through the pages of my notebook to yesterday’s lesson. “Star-crossed lovers are two people whose love is doomed,” I read aloud. “There are so many forces working against them that not even the stars can keep them together.”

Satisfied, Miss Copper wrote my answer on the blackboard, the scratchy noise of chalk filling the silence that settled over the classroom. When she finally turned back around, my heart rate had returned to normal. Until she said, “And do you think it was worth it? For Romeo and Juliet to fight for each other knowing their love was doomed?”

I usually preferred not to speak out in class. But when the topic was about love in literature, I had a bad habit of going off on cynical mini rants.

I shook my head. “No, it wasn’t worth it. Falling in love destroyed both of their lives. What is the point of loving someone when you’re certain you can’t be together?” I tapped my pencil against my desk, ignoring the students who turned to stare at me. I knew the expressions on their faces all too well. I was used to it by now. They were the same raised eyebrows my mom and best friend gave me. Only I didn’t want their pity or reassurance because my mind was made up. No room for negotiation here! Love was destructive, dangerous. It was safer on pages, and these books were enough of an experience for me. I mean, look at Romeo and Juliet. Was the play tragic? Sure. But did I have to worry about a century-long feud coming between me and the nonexistent man I loved? Definitely not.

When Brett turned to glance at me over his shoulder, those thick eyebrows drawn together, I looked down at my notebook. Numbers filled the back cover, scrawled down in yellow highlighter, blue pen, pencil—whatever I had on hand. It was a countdown until graduation, when I could leave this school and its thousands of unfamiliar faces behind.

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