Chapter 17

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It's Sunday, and I'm on my way to Triangle Park. Despite its name, I don't see anything triangular about it. It's located on a kind of steep hill, between two roads which becomes one if you're driving down the hill. (I guess there IS something triangular about it.) On one of the roads, there's a row of century-old houses escalating down. They're all facing the park, so I figure they're good for families. Kids can go to the park by themselves, and the parents can watch them from their cozy homes.

Granted, the playground at Triangle Park is pretty small, but that's only one part. If you go up the hill, you go through the "woods", which is basically a bunch of trees with a couple of benches plotted. When you walk out of there, a smaller hill and the tennis court can be seen.  

Anyway, I can see Gwen sitting on one of the benches in the "woods". She's fingering a shoelace that conveniently became loose in her tennis shoes, either out of boredom or anxiety. I have a feeling she'll tell me which when we get to talking.  

Gwen stops for a second. Looking around, she sees me, and a smile lights up her face. "Matthew!" she calls out. "I thought for a second you weren't going to come." 

I give her a crooked smile. "Why would I say yes if I wasn't going to show up?" I ask. I walk over to sit by her. On the table surface I can see names scratched onto it. Whoever "Dareek" was, I'm pretty sure he was high when he was carving his misspelled name. "So, what's going on?"

Gwen goes back to twisting the shoelace. Anxiety it is. "You going out with anyone?" she asks quietly. 

I hesitate. "Um, no. Not right now," I admit. I bring up my leg and hold it to my chest.

"Oh." Gwen seems disappointed by the answer. "Why not?"

I'm really a girl stuck in a boy's body, I think. Out loud, I respond, "Frankly, I think it's too much of a hassle." She gives me a look that seems to say, Go on. "I mean, I have work for a few of the nights now that school's in session, and when I don't I'm working on homework or studying." Or, you know, being Miya in my private time, I snark in my head. 

Gwen nods. "School is very important," she says. "I guess you're one of the few who realizes that."

"What? You aren't?"

She starts to shake her head no, but thinks again. "I don't know," she responds. "I like to learn, but I also need to be loose and free. You know what I'm talking about?" I nod slightly. Gwen crosses her legs, placing her hands in her lap. "I guess I'm a bit of an half-and-half."

"I think a lot of people are," I say. "It only means you're human." 

"You think so?" I nod again. Gwen smiles softly. "That's nice to hear." Suddenly, she leans towards me. 

Uh-oh.

"Um." I lean back, trying to avoid the kissing zone. Gwen only manages to get my cheek. "Sorry if I lead you on, but this wasn't really what I had on my mind."

She pauses. "Oh." She resumes to her position. Gwen's silent now, her face turning into a dark shade of red. 

Well, this is really awkward. "I'm sorry," I apologize again. "It's just . . . " I can't seem to tell her the reason why it wouldn't work out. She looks at me expectantly. Figuring I can use a different, less risky excuse, I open my mouth again. "Josh has a thing for you."

Gwen looks surprised. "He does?" she asks. She sounds like she believes it.

"Hoh yeah. He's the one who pointed you out on the first day of school, before the assembly," I say. "Hell, he straight up told me you were the hottest girl he's laid eyes on." She turns red again, this time for a different reason.

"So, you're not interested in me because your best friend is?" I shrug. "That's . . . interesting."

"I guess." An elderly man appears in the "woods" with his dog. They both shuffle past us, the dog stopping every now and then to sniff around a tree or bush. 

We both wait until the man and dog are out of the area before Gwen speaks up. "Maybe we can forget part of this time never happened?" she suggests. "Or start over?"

Smirking, I reach out a hand. "Hiya," I greet. "I'm an awesome dude you shouldn't have a crush on."

Gwen laughs. "OK, forgetting it is."

I pout. "What? I'm good at acting."

"Not like that."

"Well, people really like telling me the harsh truth," I mutter under my breath. 

__________

For the next couple of hours, Gwen and I continue to hang out. At some point, we decide to go down to the playground. There are a couple of kids playing with the teeter totter and adults watching them nearby. Gwen goes straight to the swings, with me trailing behind.   

"Have you been here before?" I ask her as she pushes herself off. Gwen swings a couple of times before answering.

"Nope. First time in this area." I join her by using the swing next to her. "How about you?"

One of the kids stop what he's doing and stare at us. His parent scolds him for being rude by not keeping to himself. "I've been here since I was little," I say. "I used to be the King of the Slide."

Gwen laughs, probably imagining the little me yelling out my "title". "How did the other kids take it?"

"I don't know. I was busy trying to keep Kelly from tackling me after every time I try to get on the slide." She laughs a littler harder, causing more kids to look in our direction. "It wasn't fun, let me tell you that." I grin myself, feeling glad I can make someone laugh for a while. 

She calms down, and we're silent again. I don't know what else to talk about. Instead, I push myself until I'm swinging as high as I can. Sometimes when I'm forward up high, I'd dip my head down and look at what's behind me. In this case, it's one of the roads. It used to scare me whenever I do that, mostly because I was afraid I'd fall off. But it's never happened.  

Suddenly, Gwen pipes up. "What's your worst fear?" she asks. 

I slow myself down. "Why do you ask?"

She gives me an I-don't-know look. "I think it's an important question. For instance, I have a crippling fear of being abandoned." 

"Really?"

"Really, really."

"OK, Shrek," I snark. Gwen smiles amusingly. I tilt my head as I think. What is my worst fear? Certainly not abandonment; I'm doing pretty well, I guess. And I've never had a typical fear, like heights or spiders. 

Gwen nudges me. "Still there?" I jolt a little; I haven't realized I was deep in thought for longer than I wanted to. I nod. "What is it?"

I voice my answer: "People hating me for being me."


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