Can I Sit with You?


Will You Go Out With Me?

by Sarah Dopp
Eleven years old at the time

His name was Stephen Lawful, and he was the only boy in the fifth grade who was taller than me. His best friend was Joey Marcus — the shortest kid in the class.

Stephen looked like a teacher. He had perfect hair, parted on the left side and swept over his forehead with gel so that it never moved. He wore a long, tan trench coat and carried one of those big black umbrellas that you only see at golf courses. He talked with a lisp, and he used big words that I’d never heard before, but he always said “please” and “thank you,” even to the janitors. When he and Joey walked next to each — like they did every recess — the other kids laughed behind their backs about how silly they looked with their two-foot height difference. But they were best friends anyway.

Stephen and I (and Joey, too) were Smart Kids, and in our school, that wasn’t really a good thing. They put us in small classes, always with the same other Smart Kids, and they kept us away from the rest of the fifth grade. They called us the “best and the brightest,” and they were proud of us. Unfortunately, all that meant to us was that there were 200 other fifth graders who wanted to beat us all up.

The Smart Kids always sat together at lunch, even though it was embarrassing. Stephen being six feet tall, Joey being four feet tall, me being lanky and gawky with big glasses and clothes my mother picked out for me — we all just kind of looked like a circus. The rest of the Smart Kids were weird, too. To pass the time, we picked on each other. We were good at making each other feel worse.

But Stephen was always nice to me, and he made me feel like a real person. I started to think about him a lot –- like more than I thought about my other friends. I thought about him on the bus, and in class, and during dinner, and before I went to sleep. He was so tall. So nice. So sweet. So cute.
And I wondered if maybe he thought about me a lot, too.

I didn’t tell anyone about how much I liked him. I knew they’d laugh at me. Everyone thought Stephen was way too weird, and I wanted them to think I was cool.

A few weeks went by, though, and I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It made me nervous. I felt like I needed him. I was writing his name on my notebooks and staring at him whenever I saw him and — omigod I had such a massive crush on Stephen that it was starting to eat up my insides and turn my brain to mush.

Finally, I confessed the crush to a few of my friends at a sleepover. They giggled and teased me a little, but they saw that I was serious and they agreed that Stephen was nice. We all decided that I needed to ask him out.

So I ripped out a piece of notebook paper and wrote him a letter in my neatest, prettiest handwriting with a pink pen:

Dear Stephen,

Will you go out with me?

Love,

Sarah

I was so nervous when I wrote the word “Love” that I almost spelled it wrong.

I folded the letter up into a square and wrote “To: Stephen, From: Sarah” on the front.

I gave it to him on Monday morning, when we were all outside before the bell rang. My hands were shaking and my friends were staring at me and all I could manage to say to him was, “Here.”

I didn’t pay attention to any of my morning classes. All I could do was stare at the clock.

At lunchtime, there were a bunch of people sitting in between Stephen and me. Everyone knew about the letter, and he still hadn’t answered me. Our faces were both bright red.

I poked Jen, who was sitting next to me, and asked her to ask Derek to ask Joey to ask Stephen if he read the note. Five minutes and lots of whispering and giggling later, Jen turned to me and said, “Yeah, he’s read it.”

I sat there for another five minutes, not really sure what to do. Finally, I poked Jen again and asked her to ask Derek to ask Joey to ask Stephen if he had an answer. There was a lot more shuffling, whispering, giggling, and talking. Ten minutes passed and no one was talking loud enough for me to understand. My chest was tight, my knee was bouncing uncontrollably, and I couldn’t eat my spaghetti.

Finally, after forever, Jen turned to me and said, “He says he doesn’t think of you that way. He says he thinks of you as a sister.”

I was quiet for a minute. “So, um, is that a no?” I asked.

Jen turned around and whispered some more. It took another five minutes. Lunch was almost over and people were starting to dump out their trays. My heart was aching and I was trying not to cry.

“Yeah,” she finally said. “That’s a no.”

It took me a month of avoidance and frustration and fantasies and anger and crying before I could hang out with Stephen again. All through middle school, and even all through the beginning of high school, I still liked him. I still wished we could be boyfriend and girlfriend. He was still the nicest guy I knew. But he never opened up to the idea. Eventually, I moved to another town and didn’t have to look at him anymore.

When I was twenty-one, exactly ten years after I wrote him that letter, I had lunch with Derek from middle school. We were talking about our lives and the people we knew, and I asked what everyone was up to these days. He started listing them off. “Jen’s a marine biologist in Florida. Joey went to Harvard for Engineering and he’s working on his Master’s now.”

“What about Stephen?” I asked.

“Oh, he ran off to LA with his boyfriend and no one’s heard from him for awhile.”

“His boyfriend?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah,” he said. “He’s gay. Wait. You didn’t know that?”

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