I’m 5 years old. I dream of fairy tale romances with a handsome prince and a princess, falling in Love and living happily ever after. I loved princess movies. Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I want to be in Love one day! I’m going to be in Love one day.

I’m 6 years old and things don’t make sense. Why don’t my parents hug and kiss like all the other parents? Why doesn’t my dad come home sometimes. I think my parents are in Love but I’m not sure.

I’m 7 years old and my father is moving out. Just down the street. I’ll still be with him on the weekends. It’s okay, my mom says it’s better this way! It must be true, mom says so. Besides I get two houses, everyone else only gets one. What could be better?

I’m 8 years old now, ok, I guess my dad has what’s called “alcoholism”, he keeps going in and out of rehab, I know he’s trying for us, for his family. I believe in him! So when he doesn’t show up some mornings to walk me to school that’s OK.

I’m 10 years old. It’s my birthday, I’m with the guy I think is cute. My family is here, I’m happy, except for the one fact I can’t seem to ignore no matter how much I try. He’s not here. My dad missed my birthday. It’s okay of course! I know he Loves me and my mom. We’re a good family.

Now my mom and me are moving away to live near her sister, my dads not coming. “Things are better this way,” my mom tells me “it’ll give your father some time to figure things out. And we’ll get to go on an adventure!” She’s right of course, this will be a great adventure. I’m sure of it. I’m still hopeful that Love will find me.

I’m 12 years old and my mom and me are fighting. So I’m being sent away to summer camp, only for a week. I’ll have fun she reminds me as she shoves me out of the car. Lots of fun, don’t worry about anything.

So I do as she says. I get out, I go to camp, and I end up having the best week of my entire life. For the first time in awhile I’m certain Love is real. I meet a guy, he is two years older, a camp counselor in training. He’s cute and he’s shy and popular. But he has eyes on me, and I him. Nothing happens, not even a hug, but I’m left with a huge grin on my face. As the car drives away all I can think of is if this is what Love feels like, I want to feel it forever.

He’s all I can talk about, all I can think about, I tell my friends about him. They are annoyed. I don’t want this feeling to end. Of course it eventually does, it was only a week. I didn’t even get his last name.

It’s Easter now. My mom is away all day, she’s working, I don’t mind, she hid eggs around the house and I have fun finding them. I find them all too easily of course, and I begin to mess around. My dad calls, he misses me, we talk for awhile, we begin to fight, I get emotional. I tell him not to call me back again. I really meant it, I was angry. He calls back, I don’t answer. My mom comes home, she’s so tired she goes to bed. I feel alone. I feel anything but Loved.

It’s the next day, and my father calls at night like he normally does. I don’t answer, he leaves a voicemail, he is intoxicated, I don’t call back. It’s my rule, don’t talk to dad if he’s drunk. He calls again the next night, I don’t answer, he’s drunk again. I don’t call back. The next night he doesn’t call. He doesn’t call the next night either.

The next morning I feel hated, I feel isolated and alone. It’s my moms day off. She’s watching TV while I draw. There's a knock on the door, its the sheriff my mom tells me, probably coming to ask about the car that was broken into last night. She opens the door, he tells her, and by proxy me, that dads dead. Was found yesterday evening alone in his car, dead. I was the last person he called. I do not remember how I felt, in fact, I do not think I felt at all.

I’m 13, mom and me are moving back home, we say its to help out my grieving fathers mom, but I think we both just missed the desert. It was a fun adventure but it was time to come home. Within the next month I start school. I am the new kid, I don’t mind, I’m not myself.

My best friend comes down for a visit, I am happy, she kisses me, and we explore as any 13 year old would do. I feel sick afterwards. I do not know why.

I’m 14 and starting high school, I changed districts and know no one, again. I make two friends off the bat, this is my year I tell myself. I’m in high school now, it’s time to fall in Love and have fun.

A guy, Bryan, falls “in Love” with me, the second he lays eyes on me. I do not feel the same. I am terrified of him. He knows my schedule, he tries to follow me home, every time I turn my head, he’s there. He insists we’ll be in Love. He tells me so. I feel scared to go to school. I try to. I don’t always succeed.

I confront him, I tell him that I know how he feels and I don’t feel the same way. He gets angry. He tells me we will be in Love and I don’t know what I’m talking about. He then shoves me, before going to hit me. I run all the way to my grandmas car. I am crying. If this is Love I don’t want it anymore.

I go to the office, the only people I know who can help. They tell me that Bryan’s a nice kid. I should feel honored he likes me and move on with my life. They don’t understand, this isn’t a crush, I feel scared to even go to school.

Around this time, a young man catches my eye, we have eye contact and my heart erupts into tiny butterflies, dancing around in my chest. I am startled, I have not felt like that in years, never so suddenly. His eyes. That’s it. I’m drawn to his eyes. They’re a beautiful brown and I find them haunting my dreams. I am shy and do not approach. What would I even say? “Hi I’m a lonely freshman and I love your eyes, wanna go out?” yeah, no. His name is Zach.

While being harassed by Bryan, I find myself admiring Zach more and more. Summer is approaching and I still struggle to go to school. I lose my friends, and I’m failing classes. I don’t see the point of going.

It’s the last day of school, Bryan approaches me. He tells me we need to talk, I walk faster. He follows, we really need to talk, he insists. I fight down the urge to run. He grabs my shoulder and yanks me back. We need to talk. No. No we really fucking don’t. Fuck it, who cares, I run. My last day of my first year of high school and I want to cry.

I’m 15 and I’m in 10th grade. I join the crew of the musical for the year, Zach's going to be in it. This is my chance, I will talk to him, we will fall in Love. Right? Fairytales can still happen can’t they? It doesn’t matter, it wouldn’t hurt to try. He gets the lead supporting character. He’s amazing, I watch from the sidelines. I cannot bring myself to talk to him. And so I watch him fall in love with someone else, they are happy, I do not mind.

I deal with Bryan. He is back, he is rude, he is worse than ever, he knows my new schedule, my new locker, everything. He follows me without hiding, I am scared. So I do not mind, not fully anyways, when the now senior, Jason, begins talking to me. I do not mind. I do not mind.

I am balancing three guys. The guy I adore, the guy who haunts my every move, and a friend. Jason is the other supporting lead, he is everything I wished I was, funny, charismatic, charming and, popular. So when Jason calls me pretty I don’t mind. When we spend hours talking and goofing off I do not care. He is funny, he is the embodiment of life itself it seems.

I do not mind when he calls me beautiful, he says I’m pretty and I want to believe him, but when I look in the mirror and I see my sorta long sorta blonde hair, acne and braces I flinch. My eyebrows are bushy, nearing a monobrow and my eyes are too beady and small. I am not pretty and I know it, but if he says I am then I must be.

He makes me feel special even when I understand I am not. Working together on the musical is a blast and I can find myself looking forward to going to school. Not just for Jason and Zach, but for everything. I am happier.

So when the day comes and my mom and I fight and she screams at me to walk home after rehearsal, I do not mind as much. Jason offers to give me a ride home, I say yes. Why would I say no? Rehearsal gets out 3 hours early. 3 hours too early. We get in his car and he tells me he needs to make a ‘quick’ pit stop at his house. I don’t mind, I don't particularly want to go home anyways. When we arrive at his house we end up watching a movie, some horror movie, the title doesn’t matter anymore. My shirt is tight fitting and uncomfortable, I ask him if I can change my clothes and he offers a nice shirt. I wear it. It’s big and comfy.

He drinks, I watch the movie, his arms over me all of the sudden and we’re cuddling. I don’t mind, the feeling is nice, he absentmindedly strokes my hair and I smile, I could fall asleep, is this Love? To feel connected to someone and comfortable and safe? Yes. Maybe so. Maybe this is what Love is. Then we share a glance, and he’s leaning in and I find myself not wanting to run. This is safe. This is ok. Oh how wrong I was.

The kissing is nice, it is pleasant, I don’t mind. But then, his hand wanders and I begin to mind, a lot. I cant find my voice, or find any strength. I left myself. As he drunkenly drives me home, I stare out the window. And as I crawl into bed that night, I tell myself, “He was drunk, hammered really by the way he was downing those drinks. He probably won’t even remember”, yet I still find myself crying.

So he sees me the next day, he waves and I recoil. He wants to hug and I want to run.

I don’t go to school for the next week.

When I return, everything is better. Jason and I are back to hanging out.

It’s the day before Winter Break and Jason and I are alone, I want to leave fast, Bryan is near and he’s become worse then ever. I can’t even look at him without wanting to run. But I am here with Jason. I am safe I tell myself. Jason hands me a tiny cup, ‘the worlds smallest mug’ it reads. He says it reminds him of me, Merry Christmas. He doesn’t bring up that night, it’s easy enough to forget as is.

The cast party is coming up. The Musical is a success. My friend drives me to the party, on a mansion atop of a hill, alone, secluded. A place where teens can go all out. We laugh and I know tonight will be a great night. A night with Love in the air. People scream of laughter and dance everywhere. It reeks of booze and weed. I am uncomfortable so I search for the kitchen.

I end up in the guest bedroom, subconsciously I must’ve wanted to go here I decide. To get away from everything, take a nap, wake up and be in my bed. Anything to get the smell of alcohol out of my nostrils. I am in there for awhile I suppose because Jason finds me. We are sitting on the bed, my head is in his lap and we are laughing. He’s telling me stories of his past and he calls me pretty and I start to believe him. Maybe I really am beautiful. He kisses me again, I pause. What if it happens again? But I assume he’s sober, or more sober, or has some morals. He doesn’t. It happens again. I can’t even bring myself to say no, I caused this I remind myself. I didn’t stop him, I must have led him on. I am shocked that it is happening again.

I don’t come to school for a month.

It’s not just because of Jason. Bryan was getting worse and worse by the day, I had gone to the office again. I was told I enjoyed the attention and I secretly loved Bryan back, that has to be why I was making such a fuss about him. He shoved me at school, breaking my phone. “An honest accident! He’s harmless!” The school says. I don’t bother going.

Months pass. I am trying to forget everything but going to school and seeing Jason and his friends is proving to be too much sometimes. He considers me his friend, or maybe something more, he doesn’t specify.

It’s my birthday, I am 16. The age of Love and teenage dreams. I am alone with Jason. Bad bad bad. I know this is not good. I do not feel good. He pulls out a tiny wrapped box and hands it to me, “Open it when you get home?” he asks of me. I nod, he hugs me and leaves.

I am home, I open up the carefully wrapped box and I am in awe. It is a beautiful sterling silver anklet with an intricate design, a note is written, “Something as beautiful as you”. It is beautiful. Beautiful enough to forget what happened. Or just enough to pretend that things are ok.

The theatre banquet is next week. Jason wins best actor, best director and best writer. I am happy for him, I think. In the heat of the moment he runs to me. We hug and he kisses me. I freeze. He freezes. He seems to be bashful and embarrassed about what he just did. I want to run away and hide.

Proms in two weeks. He asks me to be his date.

I say no.

He is sad, but takes another girl anyways, he turns rude and hostile. He says cruel things, fighting with me whenever he can. When school ends and he graduates he says it’s best we remain strangers.

When I receive my yearbook, I see him, he won “Best Overall” for winning five other categories; best eyes, best hair, best smile, most likely to succeed and most likely to be famous.

I don’t talk to him again.

I am unsure if what we had would be considered Love. I think of him and feel sick, but I know I cared for him, I must have or else I would not have gone through all of that. Is this what Love is?

I am a junior now, Jason has left. Bryan is getting worse and worse if that’s even possible. He follows me everywhere, tries to follow me home. Tells me he knows we will be in Love.

The school says “Get over it. He only has a small crush on you, you want all of this attention we know it.” I don’t. I really really don’t. It’s now been three years and they haven’t done anything. “He’s a good kid!” They cry. He’s one of the two people in the world I wish were dead.

I stop going to school. I’m tired. They’ve begun to tell me I’m stupid, I’m failing school because I don’t know the material. They forget about the boy stalking me on a daily basis.

Mysterious flowers are on my doorstep, “Hope to see you in school soon ❤”. I panic. It’s my stalker. It’s Bryan, it has to be. Mom tells me I’m overreacting and it’s probably just a worried friend.

I don’t go to school at all.

I leave school a year early and go online. I finish my studies away from everything.

I am 18, I am in college pursing my dreams. There is a man, we see each other often. I do not know where we fall. We are close and he feels like my home, though I am hesitant to tell him so.

We are walking downtown together, it is late. I turn my head and see Jason. He see’s me. For a moment I wonder if he does not recognize me, but his expression changes. He is sad, longing. And I know he remembers. He glances down. He see’s the sterling anklet around my ankle. I notice it too and advert my gaze, I speed up, dragging my friend with me. Or is he my date? I do not know anymore.

I feel sick and leave early. I am in my dorm and I lay down, I am crying again. I do not see my friend after that, I do not know why, but I cannot bare to see him. Or maybe I simply cannot bare for him to see me. I do not know.

I am 24 and I am lying in bed next to a man I do not Love. Not in the way I did others. This is different. All of them have been different since then. But this man, he has stayed with me, he has given me a ring and I tell myself I am happy. As I drift off to sleep I wonder, Is this Love?

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