LOVE ME NOT • by Stella B James

He loves me.

I study the petal held between my fingertips with interest, amused that something so fragile could determine my heart’s fate. I drop it to float down and land on the pavement where many discarded petals lay scattered at my feet.

My head falls back, breathing in a sigh of contentment, enjoying the warmness that spreads over me. Warm like his fingers when they accidentally brush against mine. Warm like his honey brown eyes that sometimes linger on me when I am up at the board working out a frustrating math equation. Warm like his voice that soothes over me as his breath tickles against my cheek.

***

He loves me not.

I heave a heavy sigh, dropping the petal with a frown. Maybe I’ve misread all the signs, and he isn’t interested at all, thinking me too young and foolish. He isn’t even that much older, he simply treats me as if I’m that much younger. One glimpse of my fantasies, and he wouldn’t think me so young.

***

He loves me.

And though he sees me as this young, untouchable thing, he still offers to tutor me. We sit in our abandoned math class, heads close together as he explains the equations to me. The letters and numbers blur together as I lose myself in his voice, that sweet smoothness I so want a taste of. His hand usually finds its way to my shoulder, a move meant to encourage me, but his fingers are like fire against my skin.

I swear those fingers once brushed through my hair, allowing the strands to fall away from my shoulder. I could feel his breath puffing against my neck as he coached me right along, praising me for almost getting the problem right. The math equation wasn’t my only problem.

***

He loves me not.

I roll the petal between my fingertips, flicking it away from me. His girlfriend is the real problem. I’m not even sure if she’s his girlfriend yet, but I know they’ve been on dates. I saw them at the movies once, and a week later, at an ice cream place. I watched with narrowed eyes as she fed him her ice cream, leaning over to kiss him with a smile matching his own. He smiles at me as well, just not like that.

***

He loves me.

I wasn’t so friendly at our next tutoring session, unable to get him and the girl’s image out of my head. It was seared there, like someone had taken a cattle prod and pressed it into the deepest recesses of my brain. I didn’t want to see it, but it was there all the same. I even went out of my way to replace my worn jeans with the flouncy skirts she seems to always wear.

“That outfit looks nice,” he told me, and I nodded as if the compliment meant nothing, but I silently replayed the simple statement in my head as I drove home that night.

***

He loves me not.

My new look garnered more attention than I had planned. One of the jocks took special notice and decided to crowd me against his locker in between classes. It didn’t matter how hard I pushed or how loud I complained. Classes had started, and we weren’t within earshot of any of them. Clammy hands moved up my skirt, and I felt an unknown heaviness sink in the pit of my stomach.

And then he found us, shoving the jock away from me before threatening him every which way. My heart pounded, certain this was a true testament of his feelings toward me. He checked to make sure I was okay, which I assured him I was. But when I went to hug him in my relieved gratitude, he held a hand between us and shook his head. That hurt worse than whatever the football player had planned for me.

***

He loves me.

I rushed out after his blunt rejection and trudged across the empty parking lot to my car. Just as I unlocked the door, he called out to me. I stood frozen, staring at my reflection in the window until his hand grabbed my elbow and spun me around.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked, and I wanted to yell at him that no, I was not okay, but I mumbled out something unintelligible instead.

Then he hugged me, his arms wrapped tight around me, a hand tangled in my hair. I could feel his lips against my ear as he whispered out a breathy, “Good”.

***

He loves me not.

I lost my mind in that moment. Maybe it was the way his body felt pressed against mine. Or the way his cologne had my head swimming. Or the fact that I’d probably never have another chance like this. I moved my head to the side and stood on tip toes to kiss him. He let out a weird strangled sound and pushed me away, my back slamming against my car door as I watched him disappear.

***

He loves me

He smiled at me today. A small quirk of his lips as his eyes met mine, but I’m sure it was meant for me. I felt my cheeks heat up with embarrassment and ducked my head down, wondering if anyone else saw our silent interaction. He had caught me watching him, but sometimes I catch him watching me so it can’t be that big of a deal. And he smiled at me.

One more petal left on the flower now. I glare at it before putting the thing in my mouth and tearing it from the stem. Chewing it into oblivion, the bitterness is satisfying in a small way.

Our tutoring session was cancelled today, but I still make my way to the classroom. He’s in there, as if he knew I would still come. He stares at me, watching silently as the door closes.

“Hello, Mr. Anderson.” And I lock the classroom door behind me.


Stella B James runs on coffee, chaos, and Southern sass. Check out her Instagram @stellabjames, where she shares her writing and inner musings.


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