Chapter Nine: Danielle

DANIELLE

As high school came to a close I found myself having to make a decision. As I mentioned earlier, in the Canberra school system, more often than not you moved on to another school to complete the final two years of your schooling life.

For a long time I’d always assumed I’d go to Hawker College just as my sister Rachel and various other family members had done before me. Then the high school I was going to threw a spanner in the works: they decided for the first time they would extend the school to have Year Eleven and Year Twelve classes. Meaning that I could stay where I was, and keep going to the school that I literally lived just across the road from.

There were things against it, for one the school was expensive and I knew my parents were not the richest people in the world. Secondly, we would effectively be the “guinea pigs”, the first class to go through when the school was still finding it’s feet. Thirdly, once again, I was not the most popular guy in school. Granted, just as I was finishing out my time in the Tenth Grade I had friends I regularly hung out with, I wasn’t the most popular guy in the school but I was certainly wasn’t the most unpopular. We didn’t hang out much outside of school hours, but I’m sure if I stayed at the school we would have.

So I had a decision, stay with the people who I spent the last four years of my life with, or transfer to Hawker College where about one third of my tenth grade class was heading, also not wanting to be guinea pigs, but with the added advantage/disadvantage of there being about 500 kids I’d never met before.

It was a big decision, and six months into Tenth Grade, I had no freaking idea what I was going to choose.

On a whim I decided to check out a third college’s open day. Lake Ginninderra College, a school which up until that point I’d never considered. Suddenly a third option presented itself. Here was a school where only about five people from my former high school would be going to. That’s not an exaggeration.

Effectively it would be a fresh start. If I chose it I would be walking into a school with 600 kids who I didn’t know.

I didn’t make my final decision until the last minute, something which, for me at least, is not an uncommon occurrence for me. I chose Lake Ginninderra College.

A school where I could count the number of people I knew on one hand. Where I, a guy who, at the time, was shy and not that good at making friends, would be forced to either form friendships with the people there, or travel alone.

I’m not going to deny it, those first few months were lonely and hard. Hell, maybe even that first semester.

And still, I knew it then, and even looking back now – it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I met Danielle on my first day at Lake. I was sitting in my one of my English classes when this girl walked in. Blonde. Wearing a denim jacket and matching jeans. She was also extremely attractive girl.

As time wore on I got to know her a little better. She was a happy, friendly girl. She had a lot of friends, she was popular. She seemed to get along with everyone.

It almost seemed like everyone was an instant friend to this girl. No one she met would she rarely not mind talking to with her bubbly chatting voice.

Danielle had this positive light that just seemed to shine out of her at all times, brightening the day of everyone around her.

Attractive, happy, friendly, and way, WAY, WAY out of my league.

Yeah, I think it’s safe to say I fell for Danielle from almost the first moment I met her.

Early on my crush on Danielle landed me in hot water. And in a situation which, in part, still simultaneously haunts and amazes me to this day. First semester was coming to a close, we were sitting in drama class watching each other act out our final projects.

I hated my drama teacher for various reasons which I won’t go into here, and if I hadn’t had to perform my project that day it’s safe to say I would have bailed on that class completely. In retrospect, that may have been a bright move.

I got along with a lot of people in the class. In fact I think it’s safe to say I got along with almost everyone in that class – except the teacher.

So there I was, sitting by the door next to a guy called Moose, Danielle and her best friend Rhiannon. When Danielle and Rhiannon got up to do their performance, Moose and I sat there making jokes the entire time.

Then Moose’s hand slunk down into Danielle’s handbag, and took her mobile phone. I made a joke about it, and the class continued. All the time thinking he was just kidding around and he was going to put her phone back in once she realised it was missing.

Well, Danielle grabbed her handbag and left, Moose just grinned. He slung his bag over his shoulder and took off. I sat there for a moment in stunned silence. I was torn – on the one hand there was this girl I really liked who’d just had her phone stolen; On the other hand there was Moose, a guy bigger than me, tougher than me, and with rumours surrounding him that he carried a big knife.

Not having completely thought my plan through, I waited a moment and then followed far enough behind him that he wouldn’t notice me.

He’s going to use the phone to call Rhiannon, and tell her to come get it. It’s all a joke. I tried convincing myself. If I’d thought he was actually going to steal the phone then I would have stopped him

I successfully tailed him up a flight of stairs and down two hallways before he threw something over his shoulder and sprinted away. I looked at the ground to see what he’d dumped – it was the sim card from the phone.

I shoved it in my wallet, and proceeded to spend the next evening torn between what I should do.

By drama class the next day I walked up and Danielle was telling everyone how someone had stolen her phone. I listened and then casually dropped it into conversation.

I found a red phone smashed up in the carpark just outside yesterday,” I tried to sound as believable as possible. “I salvaged the sim card from it if you wanted to try it in yours.”

At the end of the class she decided to give the sim card a try, even though she fully expected not to be hers. It was, of course. She jumped up and down excitedly and gave me a hug. A hug that melted my heart.

Ed, a friend from the class, saw the extremely attractive girl giving me a hug and exclaimed

And I GAVE HIM THE SIM CARD!”

Which elicited a few laughs at his attempt to get cozy with Danielle.

The hug sent my moral barometer into overdrive. Now I was even more torn up inside over whether I should tell her the truth. That hug had won me over. So I told her. I told her I’d seen Moose take the phone, throw the sim card over his shoulder, and then take off.

I said all of this in full knowledge that Moose could quite easily kick my arse, and that he probably would. I apologised for not stopping him.

Danielle was an awesome girl. The beating would be worth it. I’d just think of how nice it felt when she’d hugged me.

I then proceeded to spend the next 18 months avoiding Moose wherever possible.

About two weeks after the whole phone fiasco, I was walking back to school from the mall, when someone from about 50 meters in front of me called out to me. It was Moose. Cautiously I walked closer. He was getting something out of his bag.

It’s the phone! He’s giving the phone back to me to give back to Danielle! I breathed a sigh of relief. So it HAD all been a joke.

No, wait. That’s not a phone. It was most definitely not a phone. It was a big FREAKING KNIFE.

Moose’s friend, who seemed as stunned at the turn events as I was, asked him what the hell he thought he was going to.

I didn’t wait to hear Moose’s answer. I don’t know if his friend stopped him. I don’t know if Moose had actually planned to use the knife. I got the hell out of there. I don’t think I’ve ever moved so fast in my entire life.

After running fast, I aimed for the most public place I could think of that was nearby. I burst through the doors of the public library and headed straight for the kids book section. It was children’s storytime.

I stayed there all morning, slumped in the corner praying to God, Buddha, Spongebob or anyone else that was listening.

Eventually I headed back to school. Moose and I never really spoke after that. We had classes together and in time, I think we silently agreed to let the past stay in the past.

But I never, ever, was around him when other people weren’t.

Danielle and I didn’t have that many classes together after that first semester. We were in the same media class for a while. Then we ended up in Maths together. We were sitting next to each other with a teacher I don’t think thought highly of either of us. I don’t know what his problem with Danielle was, especially as on at least one instance did her ‘speaking to him like a friend’ one day before class but his issue with me was that I was always late for classes when they were first thing in the morning.

Maths became bearable cause Danielle was there though. We talked and joked, occasionally worked. It was fun. I even considered completing maths for my last term of school because she was in it. If my grades in the class had been better I might have.

One day, I became filled with this insane confidence, I haven’t experienced until I wrote this book. I decided to ask Danielle out on a date. Not only that, but I thought if I was subtle enough, I could ask her out in such a way that if she wasn’t interested she’d just think I was kidding around.

To my surprise: it worked.

Now, I’ve retold this story so many times since that I’m almost certain that I’m remembering it differently than how it actually happened. That the me of now is so in awe of how smooth I was that I probably remember being a lot smoother than I actually was.

So, it went like this:

Danielle had mentioned something about dinner, and I remember her laughing about how it had come up and I seized my opportunity.

Well, you know, maybe you and I should get dinner sometime?” I said casually, and because we had been kidding around moments earlier, she thought I was joking.

I kinda have a boyfriend,” She’d laughed.

Well then,” I said, still smiling. “Lunch it is then!”

I am pretty sure I will still have a boyfriend at lunch,” She informed me.

So breakfast is probably totally out of the question then?” I tried.

Yeah, I don’t think he’d like that either.”

Well then how about this…” I sat up, trying to sound serious. “…if we were the last two people alive, would you go out with me then?”

Okay,” she said. “THEN I would go out with you.”

For years to come Sangas, Josh, Sare, Cat and even Jason would know Danielle only as the girl who I’d been looking up if I somehow became the last man alive.

My time at Lake, and in school in general, came to an end when everybody else’s did. I didn’t think I had enough friends at the school to justify going to the end of the year graduation formal. And I REALLY didn’t have the money to.

I remember collecting my graduation certificate from the school that day. I remember looking down at my UAI and learning I was one lousy point away from needing to get into university. I remember feeling like someone had punched me in the gut. I remember standing there in shock how at my plans for the future had just evaporated in a single moment and looking around that school and thinking that I really wouldn’t miss that place. I was lost, shocked, and scared as all hell as I had no idea what my future held anymore and it scared the hell out of me.

In this very dark moment there suddenly became a brief beacon of light.

As I stood there staring at the school one last time, having to face the long walk back to my bike and the ride home as my now completely uncertain adult life began Danielle walked past.

She was lost in thought and had a neutral expression on her face, but when looked up and saw me, she smiled. A real genuine smile, like someone greeting an old friend. I smiled back.

Okay, so maybe I’ll miss some things from here.

Years went by, YEARS, before I saw Danielle again. Once again I’m pretty sure I noticed her before she noticed me. In fact, I know for a fact I did.

I was working at the law firm, and she started work at another firm in the same building. I always saw her just when I was too busy to step aside and say Hi.

Then one day I was in the lift alone when it stopped at her floor and, low and behold, she came in and wouldn’t you know it? She actually recognised me! We chatted till the lift reach it’s destination, and then two weeks later I stopped working at the law firm.

So when it came to contacting Danielle, I hadn’t seen her in a while.

I still don’t know why I thought Danielle was going to react badly when I contacted her about the book. I guess the amount of time since we’d last seen each other, and since we were never really that close, seemed to make to me certain that she was going to be one of the crushes that gave me a flat out No from the start.

I guess there are times in life when you really don’t mind being wrong.

She was surprisingly easy to find. I’d randomly searched her name on Facebook, Her profile appeared in my search results with a picture which matched the girl I’d had a crush on all those years ago.

Once again, I seemed certain she wouldn’t want to be involved. With acceptance of this anticipated oncoming rejection, a new confidence formed: if she was going to say No, then I may as well not beat around the bush and just go out and ask her.

It went like this:

From: Liam

To: Danielle

Hey,

Your probably don’t remember me – we went to Lake Ginninderra College together.

I’m just gonna cut right to the chase here – I’m writing a book about tracking down and interviewing every girl I’ve had a crush on. I started with the first girl I had a crush on (when I was six years old) and went from there. Which brings me to you.

I’d like to interview you for the book. If you don’t want to be involved that’s completely understandable (I know how strange the whole idea sounds) but if you do that would be awesome.

If you want, I can email you what I’ve written so far so you can see what it’s like.

-Liam

I sent the facebook message and went on with life while awaiting what I was certain would be slightly negative response. So it was a complete shock to the system when a week later I got this as a response:

From: Danielle

To: Liam

hey,

yeah i do remember 🙂

that sounds kinda interesting. would love to have a sneak peek!

D 🙂

That wasn’t negative. That wasn’t a No. Hell – if I didn’t know any better I’d say that leaning was towards a Yes. I did a victory lap around the house, I called up Sangas to tell him the good news. If I’d had a ladder handy I’m fairly certain I would’ve climbed on the roof of my house to do a dance of joy.

Of course, I emailed her a copy of what I’d written so far.

Not wanting to rush her I waited patiently for her response. There’s something to be said for the phrase “A watched pot never boils.” I’d been in such a good mood at her positive reaction, I barely even noticed it took her a month to respond.

From: Danielle

To: Liam

Hey there

Sorry it has taken me so long to reply…

I havent got to read it all yet but it seems kinda interesting and quirky.

Count me in.

Of course, another victory lap was required. We organised a time to meet while exchanging emails about what each other was doing. Danielle was now working as a legal assistant at Comcare, a government department which I visited on a daily basis when I worked for the law firm. After figuring out the mutual friends we had, and how long we’d worked in the same building, she asked me what I did.

I must have successfully made my job sound more interesting than it actually is because she seemed interested in it. Then I explained how much I earned and the interest quickly faded.

Throughout all of this, of course, we organised a time to meet. Admittedly, it took two failed attempts. Once was because I’d double booked and another because she got held up at work at the last minute.

She was so happy to take part the re-scheduling didn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact when the second attempt didn’t happen I remember sms’ing both Jason and Sangas the following:

Re-scheduled again! Third time’s a charm. At least she’s keeping me on my toes! 🙂

Third time was a charm – we agreed to meet at the coffee shop where I’d met most of the other crushes, on a Sunday so that pesky day job didn’t get in the way.

Not wanting to be late I actually showed up half an hour early and sat waiting, happily. Occasionally thumbing through the notes for the book I’d written. I glanced at my phone to check the time twice. The second time was honestly just out of curiousity, and sure enough it read 1pm – the exact time we’d agreed.

Right on cue I looked up and noticed Danielle walking towards me, smiling that same smile that brightened my back in school. She looked like she hadn’t changed much since school.

Long time no see,” she said as she sat down. After I asked her what sort of coffee she wanted I ventured inside and grabbed us both a coffee before returning to the table.

How was your Saturday night?” I asked.

Boring!” She lamented. Apparently while she was originally planning to have a big night, the party she was at had finished early. Or at least, she’d left early due to boredom. It hadn’t been one of her friends holding the party, it had been an acquaintance of her boyfriend’s.

The mention of her boyfriend peaked my interest.

So, how did your other half react when you told him about the book?”

He was okay! I showed him your email and I told him ‘I think I’m going to agree to it.’ And he was perfectly okay with it, he thought it sounded like a great idea.”

Well, that was good to hear. I knew for a fact at least one of the former crushes boyfriend hadn’t been completely okay with them meeting up with me, so it was nice to know Danielle’s was fine with it.

He did say that if I disappeared, he’d know who did it!” She joked. I laughed.

So he knows who to kill if you don’t make it home!”

We reflected on school as she tried to remember how many classes we had together. Without missing a beat I told her we had three. An English class in the first semester of school, and a drama class in that same semester. Then a year or so later we had maths together.

She told me her best friend from school was currently in Quebec, which came as a surprise to me.

I told her how surprised I was at her wanting to be involved and looking back I really didn’t know what made me so certain she wouldn’t want to take part. She was surprised too that I seemed so certain she wasn’t going to take part and seemed even more surprised when I thought she wasn’t going to remember me.

Not only did she remember me – she remembered bumping into me in the elevator when I worked at the law firm. She remembered that I’d said I was “gophering”, a phrase which I used to use often, in part because of how many times I was simply called “Gopher” in the first six months I worked at the law firm.

We exchanged stories about working at law firms, which I guess are sort of like housemate stories: everyone who’s worked in a law firm has similar stories, but they all have their own variations.

Eventually I asked the now infamous question.

Did you ever know I had a crush on you?”

The answer was, to my simultaneous surprise and relief, No. I was surprised because I’d had a crush on Kari shortly after Danielle and Kari had known from Day One.

I was relieved because when I asked her out, which as I’ve already mentioned I was impressed with how smoothly I pulled it off, she had taken as a joke. Obviously if she’d taken it seriously she’d remember it now.

In fact, even as I attempted to relate the story of the famous ask out, not only did she not remember it, she contested my version of it saying she would’ve figured it out if it happened as I retold it.

I admitted that back then I’d been a lot more subtle, and now it had been so long, that I’d retold the story so many times that it had evolved into something that was a lot less subtle, and something that should would have remembered.

Danielle’s first crush was a guy named Brock, who she went to Preschool with. Read that: pre-school. My first crush was in first grade, which meant Danielle successfully was the first girl I’d interviewed who’d started her romantic life long before I did.

Did you ever have a crush on someone for a while then actually go together with them?”

There was Phillip, a guy she’d had a crush in high school. She finally went out with him in Year Ten for about six months, which let’s be honest is pretty good for a high school romance. They broke up and went their separate ways, bumping into each other a few years later and stayed in occasional contact, though she did suspect that while she just wanted a friendship, he may have been after something more.

After high school she went to Lake Ginninderra College where we met. While she was there she started seeing a guy named John, with whom she stayed with for five years (with a brief break up in the middle). At one point they were even engaged.

For those playing the numbers game, yes – she was with John when I attempted to ask her out. So, once again, it was entirely good that she never realised I’d actually asked her out.

Was there someone you had a crush on for a while, then realised they were the complete opposite of what you thought?”

Yes. There was a guy named Paul, who I went out with during the brief break up with John. Turned out he wasn’t who I thought I was and it sort of ended badly,” She’d replied. We talked about that for a bit, for her sake and Paul’s, I won’t go into that here.

We talked for a bit more. She told me she was selling her car and even offered to sell it me, but with my history with cars and the price she was after, I had to politely decline.

We realised we both like the same tv show, Nip/Tuck, and she asked me to reveal the identity of the killer, a major plot point on the show for two seasons, I tried to keep it a secret before giving in and telling her. I didn’t reveal all the plot points so she’d still have some surprises.

She told me she was planning to move to Cairns later in the year. She talked about how much she liked it there with such excitement, it was really nice to hear.

She asked me about my love life. I mentioned I was single, then tip-toed around why I’d chosen the “monastic life” for a year.

As the time came to an end I walked with her back to her car – only to discover she’d earned herself a parking ticket. Even then she took it all in good humour, not once being angry that the parking inspector had caught her. Or at me for organising the situation that lead to the ticket.

She gave me a lift back to my car, which was parked a fair distance from hers and then I drove home, humming to myself. It had been a good day.

Now came the hard ones.

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