I’d first laid eyes on her two weeks into freshman year of college, when we were all just starting out our adult life. I was only eighteen then, but I knew I was falling in love. Her dirty blond hair, sun-kissed skin, and ocean blue eyes had gotten my attention, but it was everything else she was that I fell in love with: the way she spoke, the way the sunlight hit her long, wavy hair, and the way she tilted her head back when she laughed. She seemed so perfect, so flawless. There was only one problem: Anne was everything I am not: confident, beautiful, and personable. I couldn’t dare speak to her; I could barely be around her.
I’d never spoken to a girl before, and I never had one. But this one I had to talk to. I had to find a way.
My guy friends encouraged me to speak to her, but some things are much easier said than done. Yet, year after year, I tried. I hung around her big group of friends, went to her big parties – though I hated big crowds – and even walked to her classes once I’d memorized her schedule, just to see her.
Still, I never got a chance. I was one of those invisible guys in the background. I heard her speak, share her dreams, and joke around with her friends. The more I saw and heard from her, the more I fell in love. I even joined her organizations, which didn’t interest me, just to be around her and get a chance to talk. Yet, every time I tried to start a conversation with her, nothing came out.
It wasn’t until grad school that everything changed. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the room. She was right there in my very first class. The same hair, the same eyes, and those perfect, rosy, plump lips. What are the odds? The best part: for the first time, those beautiful, wide eyes were looking right into mine from across the front of the room. I almost feared she was looking right through my soul. She smiled. I swear she smiled at me. But I couldn’t smile back, I froze. I froze and ran to a random seat in the very back before I immediately realized it will be my unassigned assigned seat for the rest of the semester. “Dammit, Matt. Could’ve sat just a little bit closer to her instead of as far away as possible,” I sighed – it’s all I had the courage to do. That was my best chance I’d just ruined. “Here goes another hopeless semester.”
The semester had ended and even though we never spoke, I caught her looking at me multiple times throughout the months. Maybe not all hope was lost.
We didn't share any classes the second semester, but I saw her around every once in a while. She still looked at me and she sometimes smiled – that smile that took my breath away every damn time. I recalled her laughter, her wit, and her sense of humor from the days of undergrad. I longed to hear her voice again. And I longed for her to be mine.
One day, I finally decided to do it all without thinking. It was the thinking that always ruined my chances. I didn’t think. It was Friday, February 14th, 1992 when everything changed forever. On this cold winter morning, I decided I had no better chance to express my love to her and accept the consequences – be they good or bad – like the man I was trying to become. I woke up, showered, polished myself, grabbed breakfast, and ran to the store. I bought the largest teddy bear there was, the sweetest smelling flowers, the most expensive chocolate, and the card with the most meaningful, expressive words. That oughtta do it. If I can’t speak my love, maybe I can show it.
I had once again memorized her schedule for the semester. I waited outside her Quantum Mechanics classroom with all the gifts. I had to remain seated or my legs would’ve given out. I felt so wobbly and shaky, but I dared not think. This was the day that would change my life forever. Five years of falling in love with her...five years I’d been wondering whether she’d ever be mine; I wouldn’t wait another day.
The clock had struck 10:50 and I could see through the glass everyone getting up. The professor never let class out a second too early or too late. I could feel my chest tighten and each breath getting shorter and faster than the one before. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. I guess that was a good thing – I couldn’t run away.
She finally walked out last. She loved staying till the end to ask questions. It never struck me in undergrad that she studied physics, and I never thought she’d continue with me in the same school to study it, though she had taken a math class or two. Either way, I admired her passion for knowledge.
“Shit, she’s looking at me,” I thought when I’d come back to the moment. “Shit, Matt. Say something. Anything.”
“Hi,” was all I’d managed to let out. Not bad. Could’ve been worse.
“Hi stranger! Who are you waiting for with all that cute stuff?” She grinned. She knew it’s for her, right?
“For you.” I sounded like a robot and hoped maybe she can lead the talking.
“Oh my God, you’re so sweet! You know, I’d been waiting for you to talk to me since I first saw you in Thermo earlier this year! Never thought you wou...” I couldn’t hear anything else.
First? First saw me?? Was I that invisible? Wha—
“Julie!” another familiar voice yelled from across the hall and Anne turned. Wait, then she can’t be Anne...Julie? Who’s Julie??
I’d turned to the face calling out and that’s when I realized I’d screwed up the one thing I thought I did right. There’s two of them?!
“Hi! You look familiar!” spoke the second Anne who’d just showed up. “We took undergrad here together, didn’t we? I’ve seen you around. Mark, is it?”
“Matt.” I mumbled after what felt like ten years of silence.
“Right, Matt! Didn’t know you had a thing for my sister! Bummer, you’re so cute!” She laughed. THAT’S the laugh. That’s it! That’s the one I fell in love with.
The other Anne, who I then supposed was actually named Julie, echoed. But it wasn’t an echoed laugh. It was totally different. Who’s THIS girl? This isn’t who I fell in love with. My gifts...
“We’ve always had the same taste in guys!” Julie exclaimed, yanking all the gifts out of my hands. I was surprised I am still standing, and even more surprised I was still holding up anything other than my posture.
I could hear my inner self cry. You’ve GOT to be kidding me.
“So Anne, what are you doing here?”
“Figured I’d come surprise you for your first Valentine’s without Luke and take you out. Didn’t want you alone, but I guess you won’t be alone after all.” Sweet Anne looked at me and winked, and I almost drooled. So selfless and so sweet and so perfect. And who’s Luke? Couldn’t have been long since he left Julie and she was already into me? Does she even know how to love? I’ve been crazy for her sister for five damn years! They are nothing like each other.
“That’s so sweet of you. You’ve always looked out for me.” Well, I'm glad we both agree she’s the sweet one. I mentally smacked myself.
“I’ll let you love birds go and I'll meet you later tonight, Jules.” Anne hugged her twin tight and walked off, taking my hopes and dreams with her. Anne now thinks I’m the sweet guy who saved her sister from longing heartache, and Julie now sees me as her hero. It took me five years to admit love...how long will it take me to admit NO love to this one?
“I grew up in southwestern Virginia, right near...” I shut her words out as she grabbed my arm and started walking.
Well, on the bright side, I may be seeing much more of the actual Anne now...
The door of my room is thrusted open and my two little men barge in, bringing me back to the present.
“Grandpa!” they both simultaneously cheer and a moment later, there is a knock on the door.
“Old man, our sons are here,” grumpy Julie languishes. I grimace. How'd we manage to stay together all these years? “Anne is here too. You should come say hi.” My face lit up. Maybe I stuck around all these years for her.
“D’ya hear, boys? Annie’s here!” I shriek as I jump out of my rocking chair.
“Grandpa, how’d you meet gramma Jules?” one of the boys asks.
“Well, Joshie,” I chuckled, “it all started with a misunderstanding...”