He was a year above me at high school. He was in a reasonably nerdy, but not wholly unsociable group of friends. They once invited my friend Clare and I to a party in Nick's rumpus room. I remember being a bit uncertain going in, but then we ended up all telling funny stories about Mr Braiden the Manual Arts teacher (nicknamed "Band-Aid" because of his cavalier attitude towards healing shop-inflicted wounds), and playing air guitar to Killing in the Name. It was the first time I'd head Rage Against the Machine.
|Ah, Thich Quang Duc. Your protest resonated more strongly |
when accompanied by the thumping riffs of Tom Morello.
Tragically, I suffered from reality blindness and an unrecognised desire to cause myself misery.
I saw that Nick was a smart, kind lad. But why on earth would I want to hang around someone who actually enjoyed my personality and my company?
Oh no, better to reserve my crushes for pointless wastes of space who relished the attention but cared more about exactly which section of the Toombul Shopping Centre was the coolest place to "hang out".
There I are many reasons why I would like to slap 15-year-old Natalie about the ears, but none greater than this. Given a TARDIS, I'm sure I would cause some sort of space/time paradox upon beaming into 1995, snatching myself by the topsy-tail and screaming:
"You moron! The boys you don't like are exactly the decent ones you should spend time with. They can teach you about cool nerdy stuff. They probably like Frontline and Blackadder as much as you. And for God's sake don't try to wear cheesecloth hippy skirts and style your hair with a fringe because you CANNOT pull that shit off."
Of course, it wasn't that I didn't like Nick. I just didn't LIKE like him.
So when he asked me to the movies, I freaked out a bit. But I went along, because I'm nice, and he was nice. And I don't like to upset people. Really I don't.
Nick said I could choose the movie. I chose Dumb and Dumber, because it was a silly comedy. Nick had already seen it, but was happy to see it again. I mean, how nice is that, Teenage Natalie?
The problem was Romance. I figured the antics of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels would keep the mood light, and there would be no time for Any Kind of Funny Business.
You see, I had never been kissed. And I was absolutely terrified of it.
I was scared I'd react like a stunned squirrel, or pull away, which would only make Nick feel bad. The alternative was to have a first kiss that I didn't really want, and Nick would know it, and then feel bad anyway.
Cue time-travelling Girl Clumsy, returning in furious fashion:
"Oh, who gives a crap! You may as well snog somebody who wants to snog you back."
The movie passed without Any Kind of Funny Business. It was awkward, but not wholly unpleasant. But I had this feeling, this dread in my stomach, that it was a set-up for something. That Nick's Year 11 semi-formal was coming up... and that he wanted... a date...
The ring of our old yellow rotary phone used to be comforting, but that day it was a shrill harbinger of unbearable and unavoidable awkwardness.
I can't remember Nick's exact words. I'd feel bad putting him in a quote that might not have been. But he asked me to go with him to the semi-formal. Simply, politely.
And I felt awful, truly awful, as I told him no.
Teenage Natalie didn't want Nick Niceguy to think that she actually LIKE liked him, the way he LIKE liked her.
Teenage Natalie was trying to avoid hurting Nick Niceguy's feelings.
I can't remember if I heard any sadness or disappointment in his voice when I told him. Maybe I've forgotten it because it was horrid. More likely there wasn't any, and he was just accepting and polite. Because he was a Nice Guy.
As it happens, he went with a family friend, a girl from another school who'd been the only other girl at that Rage Against the Machine party. She was sweet. I saw a photo, they were both smiling. I felt like I'd done the right thing. I probably had. I probably hadn't.
After falling asleep to the sound of regret, that was the note that I woke to.
And, forgetting the need for a TARDIS, Girl Clumsy reached through time to berate Teenage Natalie:
"You should have just gone. You should have JUST. GONE. Accepting didn't require you to LIKE like him, or kiss him, or do anything except just accompany him to his semi-formal. You would have made his night. You missed a chance to really show you're a nice person. Sure, you were scared of hurting his feelings. But maybe you wouldn't have. And maybe instead of spending all that time worrying, you would have just had a fun experience. Honestly, please, PLEASE just take my advice."
And Teenage Natalie reached back and said:
"Is that... a FRINGE?"