1996, age 16: It's mid-August in Connecticut and we're eating dinner out on the screened porch, watching the flicker of fireflies, listening to the drone of the lazy overhead fan. My friend Katrina---who is eighteen and drives a Jeep Wrangler---is coming to pick me up in fifteen minutes, and I scoot back from the table and run upstairs to get ready, emerging in a white Jimi Hendrix t-shirt which my mother tells me is too tight (it is, it always has been) and so I sulk upstairs to change. In Katrina's car, we drive around aimlessly for twenty minutes---there is absolutely nowhere for two underage girls to be on a humid Thursday night in suburban Connecticut, or at least that's how it seems---and then I have a great idea. "The beach," I say. "Let's go to the beach."
There are people at the beach, a shadowy crowd of them, and after a little hesitation, we park and walk slowly over. Katrina does the talking and someone hands her a beer, and then we're chatting with two ham-thighed nineteen year olds with their baseball caps on backwards. Being in such close proximity to boys I don't like makes me think, immediately, of boys I do like, and so suddenly, just because I'm feeling brave and a little unlike myself, I say "hey, do you guys happen to know a guy named Sean?"
It's a stab in the dark, a total left-fielder of a question, but it's been almost a month since my strange trifecta of encounters---three times in five days---with the wild-haired bike-riding boy I've since decided I'm in love with. I've been looking for him---it's a small town, how many places could he be?---and I haven't been able to find him again: not in the grocery store, not at the pizza place, not riding his bike on the sidewalk. I've searched for him from car windows. On my desk, his name is doodled on scraps of spare paper.
"Yeah, I know Sean," says one of the boys. "Kind of curly hair? Nice eyes? He's here tonight. Somewhere."
And then it's like a tiny miracle, because after all that looking I've done on my own, there he is at last, strolling out from some dark corner by the payphone. How have they made him appear so easily? "Hey, Sean---got a girl here says she knows you," says his friend, and Sean squints at me confused, not remembering.
"We met...about a month ago....the beach....." I fumble, and it's my accent that finally tips him off, because his face lights up in recognition as I speak. "You!" he says. "You look different! Your hair is up this time."
We sit on a bench and talk (he's drinking coffee, I'm cross-legged) and later we all drive to a party at some girl's house, Shana or Sharon or Shannon---I don't think I ever actually find out which---and someone hoists an enormous blue cooler of beer up onto their shoulders in the elevator, and Sean and I spend the evening together on the balcony, flirting and not-flirting but mostly flirting.
Back at school in September, I send him a postcard, keeping it light and nonchalant. Weeks go by, a month perhaps, and then a postcard comes in return. When I go home again at Christmas, he still hasn't left for Vermont---the plan, for some reason, was always to move to Vermont, though in the end it never happened---and we talk on the phone a few nights a week, long conversations about nothing.
One nerve-wracking night, he comes to pick me up---the first time we've seen each other since the summer---and we go to Dunkin Donuts for coffee, and then spend the evening driving aimlessly around town. The snow has turned into slush, and I'm tan in a white sweater because I just got back from Mexico, and even though we've never before discussed being anything other than friends, I can't help thinking gleefully, as we're standing at the counter waiting to place our order, of how we must look to all the people around us: exactly like a couple.