First Impressions

            I met my boyfriend before he achieved immortality. It was three years ago, the summer before ninth, and Caitlyn Rivers and I were helping her mother in the front office. Her mom’s a guidance counselor, and Caitlyn and I filed in exchange for perfect schedules. That morning, we were taking a filing break and sprawled across the speckled blue carpet, sipping on some mocha frappa somethings and flipping through a magazine when a deep Southern voice fell over the counter and landed on the floor. “Hey there.”

            My eyes lifted from the pages of the magazine to breathing perfection staring down at me. A boy with the brightest blue eyes stood next to his grinning father. I blinked and looked again. He was definitely real, and slowly, he turned up the corners of his mouth. His smile sent a rush of emotions into me. Very pleasant ones. The kind that makes a girl get up and go to school in the morning.

             “I need to get my boy here registered for school. We just came from Texas.” The father began as he tousled his son’s hair. “An’ Austin here should be startin’ in the ninth grade, ma’am.” I snickered at his name, imagining a bunch of older brothers named Houston, Dallas, Antonio, and Galveston. I wondered all sorts of things about him in the minutes before we ever spoke, but mostly, I wondered if the scheduling goddess could put him in some of my classes in the fall.

            Mrs. Rivers met them at the counter. “Welcome to Florida. You’ll find our weather is just as hot…” Her voice trailed off into more polite adult conversation, and Austin came around the counter toward us. His arms were folded across his chest, and he cocked his head to the right. “You girls into football?”

            “Uh, yeah.” Caitlyn popped up and gestured across her Riverside Cheer T-shirt. “My boyfriend’s Brandon Edwards; he’s the starting quarterback on the freshmen team.” She had an uncanny knack for dropping the boyfriend bomb into every conversation.

            Then his bright blue eyes fell on me. “And what about your boyfriend?”

            Caitlyn intercepted the question like I was a deaf mute. “Oh, Chloe only dates smart guys.” I was barely fourteen, and barely dating, and if I had a type, it would definitely include him.

            “Well, I’m smart…smart enough to get her to go out with me.”

            Now, I wanted nothing more than to go on a date with him, so I could stare into those brilliant blue eyes and run my fingers through his golden blonde hair. But one thing fueled my response more than my attraction to him; no matter how hot he was, I couldn’t resist a comeback. “You wanna’ bet?”

            “Aw, c’mon now,” he spoke in his slow Southern drawl and smiled again—this one bigger, bolder, and more powerful than before. “If we bet, baby, then someone’s gotta’ lose, and it ain’t gonna’ be me.”

            “Uh.” That was my pathetic reply.

            “I’ll take that as a yes then,” he said, smiling.

            Caitlyn exchanged numbers with him, and apparently, she gave him mine—my home phone, that is. I wasn’t permitted to have a cell back then, and by Friday night, my father was pacing by the front door, eager to put a face to my new frequent caller.

            “Son,” my father started as Austin entered the house. “Did you put our number on speed dial?” My father meant this sarcastically, which was how he approached any guy who braved the front door.

            But Austin replied evenly, “Yup, number seven.” Then he turned to me with his smile-and-wink combo. “It’s my favorite number, you know.”

            I nodded, barely, but yes, I had noticed the golden number seven around his neck on the day I met him. And over the course of our phone calls, he explained how it had always been his jersey number.

            Austin gave me a long, lingering stare before he spoke again. “You look real nice tonight.”

            “Thanks,” I said and bit down on my lower lip. I had on a pair of jeans and a white top, and I couldn’t ever remember wearing more clothes than my date. He wore a pair of shorts and what was left of a Dallas Cowboys T-shirt. The arm holes were cut so low that I received a full fall preview. I started thinking about football practices on hot August afternoons and how our cross country team always ran by the practice fields…

            My father brought me back to the present tense. “Be home by ten, Chloe.”

            “It’s eleven in the summer, Dad.”

            “Summer’s almost over.”

            “Yeah, but it’s a Friday night.”

            My dad appealed to Austin. “What about you? What time do you have to be home tonight?”

            He shrugged. “When I feel like it.”

            “You know,” my father said, moving in closer to my date, and at six and a half feet tall, he used his height for intimidation. “There’s nothing but trouble after midnight.”

            “Well, I kinda’—”

            I grabbed Austin’s hand and cut in, “Appreciate the reminder, Dad.” And we almost made it out the door, but my father had one final question for my date. “Are you driving tonight?”

            “No, I’m only going into ninth.”

            “For the first or second time?”

            “Dad!” I was horrified, but Austin just smiled again. “No, Sir, I’m just real mature for my age.” And I could attest to that. Most ninth grade boys looked nothing like him, but apparently, the puberty fairy had made all her visits.

            “Good, good.” My father moved in toward Austin, resting a hand on his shoulder. “Then you’ll be responsible enough to have my daughter home by ten o’clock.”

            “Eleven,” I repeated as I pulled Austin out the front door and down the steps, but my father’s voice followed us. “How about ten thirty?”

            “It’s not negotiable, Dad.”

            No worries there. I made it home well before ten o’clock. As soon as my friends and their dates got comfortable in the movie theater, Austin’s two arms turned into eight. The octopus offered me an arsenal of cheesy come-ons, which I fought off with sarcastic disdain, and before the movie ended, I excused myself, found a pay phone, and arranged for a ride home.

            I didn’t want to call my parents, and most of my friends were only legal to drive bumper cars. So I was left with one option: I called on a friend who surrounded himself with upperclassmen. As a freshman, he pitched for the varsity baseball team, but by the time he arrived in his teammate’s blue Mustang, the movie had ended. Everyone was waiting outside with me as my friend slipped from the car. With his male bravado in high gear, he singled out my date with narrowing eyes. “Stay away from her.”

            Austin shrugged. “Why? What’s it to you?”

My friend chewed his gum slowly for a minute and stared back at Austin unflinchingly before he took my hand and turned around slowly; offering no reply, he led me toward the blue Mustang, still purring at the curb. We climbed into the back seat, and the driver turned. “Where to, man?”

            “My house,” my friend replied, and if the guys didn’t already know, he added, “She lives right behind me.”

            That was the moment when Rob Callahan met Austin Walker, and you know what they say about first impressions: they’re pretty hard to change. His and mine.


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