Sitting on the swing on her front porch, Paige was lost in the novel she was reading. Unlike most teens her age, most teens in her school and neighborhood, she preferred getting lost in made up worlds. It was a welcomed distraction from the fact that, even at sixteen, she wasn’t the type of girl other kids liked.
All girls talked bad about her, all boys ignored her completely. At least, she assumed all boys.
Walking down the street with a group of his friends, seventeen-year-old Will randomly glanced over at one of the largest houses on the block. He knew it was the Oaks residence; home of his English teacher, and he knew the young girl sitting on the front porch was his teacher’s daughter. As if it were some unwritten rule, he told himself that stepping to Paige Oaks would be out of the question. But just as he’d found it hard to avoid her presence when he saw her the night before at the drive-in, it was hard to ignore her now that he’d laid eyes on her again.
“Hey, I’ll catch up with y’all later.”
David, his best friend, looked at Will. “Where are you going?”
“Talk to Paige.”
All of his boys looked towards the large, white house. From the looks on their faces, one would assume the place was haunted. “You do know that’s Mr. Oaks’ place, right? He doesn’t like you in class, what makes you think he’s gonna like you outside of school, on his property, talking to his daughter?”
Will smiled, chuckling a little as he shrugged. “Guess I gotta take that chance.”
Simon, another friend, shook his head. “I wouldn’t do it Man. I heard Mr. Oaks is racist on the low. Only reason he don’t fail us flat out is because he’d get fired.”
Will shook his head. “You’re stupid Simon. He’s not racist. His wife is black, and he was involved with the Black Panther Party with his wife and one of her friends before it ended.” That was what his mother had told him. “Look, I like Paige, have since fifth grade and I’m going to talk to her. I’ll catch up with y’all later.”
The boys all shrugged their shoulders, walking away quickly before they could be spotted by their teacher.
Stepping quietly, he cleared his throat and waited until Paige looked up from the book she was reading. Surprised to see someone on her steps, a boy at that, Paige sat quietly for a minute before finally speaking.
“Can I help you?” She knew Will Hughes; her classmate, her father’s worst student, her longtime crush. Why he was on her steps, speaking to her, that was the great mystery. “What do you want?”
Will cleared his throat. “I-I-I was hoping that you and I could talk for a few minutes.”
He smiled, getting a small sense that she may feel the same way he did. “Well, I saw you at the drive-in last night, and I was going to step to you, but I got scared. I think you spotted me, but you turned away quickly. I got the feeling that you were either shy, or you don’t like me like that.”
Paige ran her fingers through her curly hair. “Okay. But why are you here, at my house?”
“I was just passing by. Saw you, wanted to introduce myself.” He cleared his throat, trying to force himself to speak up a little more. “I’m Will.”
His own attempt to act shy was getting him nowhere. “Well, I see you at school all the time and I always try to get the nerve to speak to you, but when you pass by I chicken out. I just, I like you, and I thought that maybe you and I could finally talk. Get to know one another. I would like to know you.”
Paige set her book down, standing up from the swing. Will was as cute up close as he was when she’d watch him from the far back of their classrooms. Him on her porch, this was the closest she’d ever been to him. “Uh, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Why not? Oh, your dad really doesn’t allow you to date any of his students.”
“Not the dumb ones who fail on purpose.”
Will gave a weak smile, knowing in the back of his mind that he really could apply himself more if he wanted to. “Oh.”
Will was about to step back, excuse himself so that he could walk away with his dignity but Paige called out to him. “What’s this sudden interest? Is this some type of bet? Because I see this type of thing all the time in books. Boys, y’all pick the nerdiest girl and pretend that you like them just to win money, or something stupid.”
He turned to her, smiling as he walked closer. This sudden movement made Paige nervous, but she stood still, looking him directly in the eye. “No, I really like you. I’ve always liked you, ever since fifth grade when I got my face pushed down in the sandbox and you stood by watching.”
“So why not say something before now?”
“I couldn’t. I was nervous, scared, afraid that I wouldn’t get it right. You’re so pretty and you’re the kind of girl I’d hate to embarrass myself in front of.”
Will nodded. “You don’t think so?”
Paige shook her head; even though her parents told her constantly that she was a gorgeous girl, she didn’t see it. “No one outside of my family has ever said it before.”
“Well you are. I’ve attempted to write you all kinds of letters over the years, tried stepping to you properly and I always get tongue tied. And then, there’s the fact that I’m scared of your father. But I really like you, Paige.”
Paige covered her mouth, giggling. Her father was harmless, but she wouldn’t tell Will that. “I like you too Will, always have.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Too shy to speak up. Too afraid to be dissed.”
“I wouldn’t have dissed you.” He smiled, clearing his throat as a thought came to mind. “Um, is it okay if you and I take a walk. Maybe we could talk a little, clear the air and see what we’re both feeling about one another.”
Just as Paige was about to answer, the front door of her home opened and her parents made their way out with her younger brother in tow. Chenoa, Paige’s mother, had her attention on little Robbie. Robert, Paige’s father, however, had his attention directly on his daughter and the boy standing close to her.
“Will, what are you doing here?”
Will chuckled lightly. “Hi, Mr. Oaks. Um, I was just passing by on my way to my own home and…”
“You should have kept going.”
Chenoa began to pull Robert by the sleeve of his shirt. “Robert, stop it, she’s sixteen now. She is allowed to talk to boys.”
“Not the ones who don’t apply themselves in school.”
Will cleared his throat, hanging his head. “I promise, I’ll apply myself more, Sir.”
“Mmhm. Stay on this porch where your grandfather can see you, Paige. Keep your hands to yourself, Will.”
He nodded and both teens waited until they were alone. “So what do you say, Paige?”
“Sure, we can talk.”
Will smiled, sitting down next to her as she took her spot on the swing again. His afternoon had just gotten better.