Misinterpreted Love

For Cath Steiner, the notorious tomboy, the fine line of separation between the male and female population of the school did not seem to exist. She tamed the romping football players, extended her reign to the boys’ lacrosse team, and ruled the soccer field. Whenever her parents or friends chastised her behavior, she would laugh good-naturedly and say, “Chill, people. Boys aren’t contagious aliens from another planet. They’re perfectly safe, and they don’t bite.”

It was one thing to say that you were friends with boys, but another thing to say that they accepted you as one of them.

“Cat, one day, you’re just going to forget your gender as a girl,” cautioned her friend, Tiffany Helens. As always, Cath dismissed the warning with a laugh.

“Don’t be silly, Tiff. How would I forget my own gender?”

Tiffany frowned and released a huff of disapproval. “Honestly, don’t you ever think about how the guys feel about having you around?”

“What do you mean, how they feel about me?” Cat inquired casually, only paying half attention to the conversation. “We’ve been over this, Tiff. They just accept me. It’s easy. You should hang out with us sometime! They’re so fun to be around – ”

“You’re driving off the road again,” sighed Tiffany, shaking her head. “Face it. No matter what, you’re still a girl, Cat. Do you think that the guys just forget that there’s the distinction of gender between you and them?”

An annoyed itch to snap kindled within her, but Cath was used to tolerating the naggings from her female friends. “Tiff, I know what I am. I know that I’m a girl, and I know full well that the distinctions between different genders don’t melt away. But at least I’m trying something no girl has dared to try.”

Tiffany bit her lip and dropped the subject. She detected concealed, restrained irritation in Catherine’s voice – a sign that her friend was at the edge of the cliff of control.

“Well, you’re partly right, I guess,” Tiffany admitted. But she did not fail to repeat her admonition. “But honestly, try not to be the super-dense girl that you are and open your eyes. There may be someone holding you in his heart.”

Cath rolled her eyes. “I don’t have time for that mushy stuff, Tiff. I’ll think about that when the time comes, alright? I’ll see you in AP Calc.” With a signature, boyish smirk, Cath hurried over to the brunette soccer captain who was waving at her from a few feet away.

“Andrew Hemmingway, I demand to know where you were last Friday during the first soccer meet!”

The boy feigned an earache before his fingers re-focused themselves on the Rubix Cube. “Christ, calm down, Kitty-Cat. I’ve got a mom at home. I don’t need another one.”

“I pity the poor woman who is obliged to be your mother,” Catherine deadpanned dismissively. “Don’t avoid the subject. Where were you slacking your butt off while the whole team was toiling without you? I want honest answers, or you’re not seeing the soccer field ever again.”

“I had some family emergencies to take care of,” Drew said, stuffing the rainbow cube into his pocket. “It was on short notice. I didn’t have time to tell you or the guys.”

Cath froze, the awkward silence crashing over her almost immediately. She’d known Drew long enough to be his sibling, and she knew family was definitely a touchy subject.

“Gosh, Drew, I…” She faltered before continuing. “I didn’t know. How…how did it go?”

“How do you think it went?” The waver in his voice was so subtle that it almost passed her ear undetected.

Cath groaned. “I swear, this is the only time I’m gonna do something this affectionate in public,” she muttered, extending her arms out to the slightly downhearted boy. “C’mere.”

“Yes, mother,” Despite his wry smile and slightly sarcastic tone, Drew was grateful. “Does this mean we’re official?”

“We never were and will never be official, Hemmingway,” Cath answered straightforwardly. “So stop the joke already. It’s getting old.”

“What if I said it wasn’t a joke?”

Cath blinked, a bit shaken as the Emerald-green orbs stared intensely into her own blue ones. “Wh…what do you mean, it wasn’t a joke?” she sputtered, obviously flustered. “A-Are you playing some kind of prank on me?”

A spark of raw annoyance flashed within the abyss of green. “Why the hell would I joke about something like that?” he demanded. “You goddamn airhead! Haven’t you realized that all the guys in the whole school would give almost anything to hook up with a girl like you?”

Cath flinched as his words hit home. Usually she had plenty of energy left to shoot something witty back at him, but right now, she was at a loss for words. All she could do was stare stupidly at the boy that had always joked too much to be taken seriously.

But right now, Drew was a bittersweet smile that concealed all the bruises he’d gotten.

How stupid could she be?

“Oh my god, Drew…you can’t…” Cath forced her lungs to re-function. Breathe in, breathe out. “Drew…you can’t mean that.”

The boy scoffed and looked away. “Right. It’s not like you’ll believe me even if I told you I wasn’t pulling your leg.” He grinned tiredly. “Besides, you kind of indirectly rejected me. What am I supposed to say to that?”

Her insides twisted furiously as a dull ache of guilt slowly reduced her heart to ashes. “Drew, no, that’s not – ”

“Forget it, Steiner,” he interrupted, still grinning. “Just…forget it. I’m sorry for lashing out on you.”

“Drew, listen to me for a sec – ”

“I need to get to class. Catch you later.”

She watched him walk away until he just faded off into the distance – a colorless ghost within the crowd of the main hall.

She didn’t realize the tears scorching her cheeks until she tasted the acrid saline.