I can hardly believe my eyes. Is this the college he decided to go to? I definitely get that it is close to home and everything, but what are the freaking chances? I scramble to pull out my notebook and tablet, so it looks like I'm looking at my notes when I'm actually looking at him. Are my hands shaking? I wouldn't be surprised if they were trembling slightly. It's been months since I've seen Felix.
It doesn't look like he's changed at all over the summer. His dark chocolate brown hair complements his pale blue eyes perfectly. His slightly thinned face is shaved clean, one of my personal favorites on a guy - matches the rest of his frame. Lightly muscular, incredibly smart, and a heartbreaker waiting to happen.
I see him collect another set of dishes from an abandoned table and quickly turn away to look out the window. I wouldn't consider myself a timid person. I can usually walk up to anyone and introduce myself. It's just something about him that makes me tongue tied and shy.
I remember the day I met him as if it happened yesterday.
We were actually part of the same summer fun league swim team growing up. Back in middle school, my mom liked involving me in sports and camps to keep me active. Swimming was the best way to stay fit without the threat of damaging my fingers for guitar and piano. Mom also heard that swimming helps with breathing control and lung strengthening, which supposedly would help my singing.
I was waiting by the diving board during a competition when the straps to my goggles broke. They snapped in half moments before I was supposed to race. They were my favorite, lucky pair, and I was immediately disheartened.
“Here, use mine," I heard a boy say from behind me. I spun around and there was Felix was holding out his pair of goggles. Our eyes met. My heart skipped a couple of beats. I barely had time to say thank you before it was my turn to race.
I didn't feel the freezing water as I dove in and swam as fast as I could. It didn't even matter that I accidentally inhaled a mouthful of water as I finished first in my heat. I didn't know what a crush was, nor did I know at the time that was what was going on. What I did know was that I liked this guy.
Everything was so rushed after my race; I didn't really get to thank him for letting me use his goggles before I was ushered away back to my spot to wait for the next race. Sadly, that was his last race of the day, and he left the competition immediately after he finished.
I always imagined going up to him and starting a conversation, but I could never buck up the courage to go and say anything. I had guys who were friends and never had issues going up to anyone to start a conversation. There were these pep talks I would give myself if I thought we were going to be in the same place. I had it rehearsed and everything.
“Hello, my name is Shania Sterling. I don't know if you remember me, but we used to be on the same swim team in middle school. We also went to the same high school, but that's beside the point. It's just… you let me use your goggles and, I know it's super late, but I just wanted to say thank you and that, maybe if you're interested, we could get ice cream or coffee sometime."
I never used the line, but I thought it was a good introduction. Maybe it was embarrassment or shyness but walking up to him or seeking him out was always so intimidating.
When I did see him, I could only give a partial wave before feeling my cheeks get hot. My fight, flight, or freeze response had me deadlocked at freeze anytime I saw him and, sadly, he never really approached me.
Even though I became completely paralyzed at the thought of going up and talking to him, it didn't stop me from learning about him from his friends and school events. He enjoyed music. He used to be part of quick-recall and trivia nights. He was athletic - running and swimming for the school. He enjoyed helping others, always offering to take other peoples' lunch trays and to help the sanitation specialists sweep.
He was and is a great guy. The only issue came up when I saw him and wanted to say something. Even though we didn't have any classes together, I would see him at school functions and events from time to time. I would have gone up a few times if I weren't stopped by my mother.
My mother always encouraged me to be social and to be polite, but things were different for Felix because of what happened to him in middle school.
No. It wasn't puberty. It was a lot worse.
All middle-schoolers have hormones to worry about. Pimply faces are the most common problem for some while others have to take out their anger and frustration on whoever they deem better or worse than them. Bullies become even more savage and social status is sometimes tied directly to how quickly your body changes and develops.
However, for some, there is something worse to worry about. It only happens for the boys as far as scientists can determine, and it is a rare genetic mutation that is arguably worse than death.
Lycanthropy is a rare genetic mutation which makes a person become a werewolf. The polite way to say it is that people with Lycanthropy are “shifters," but a lot of people call them Lycans. It only happens in boys right as they're going through puberty and is brought on by intense emotions. There are medications Lycanthropes can take to help counter and manage their condition, but nothing is full-proof and there is no known cure.
A few scientists discovered a Lycan's transformation has something to do with adrenaline being released which triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response and only affects the “Y" chromosome, which is why it only affects boys. The media call it the “Lycan Hulk effect," named after the Marvel character “The Incredible Hulk."
Personally, I think it's just rude to call it that because it alludes to Lycans having some kind of anger management issue.
The condition is only a hundred years or so old and there is only speculation as to when or why this became more prevalent in recent years, but no one really knows. Some historians and cryptozoologists say that it's been around since the first report of werewolves in folklore, but it might just be superstition.
Unfortunately, like the old folklore, Lycanthropes seem to lose control of themselves when under this “Lycan Hulk effect" and end up attacking people. Some Lycans have come forward to talk about what shifting feels like and how they've coped with it. Others have tried to actively promote and educate others about Lycanthropy, focusing heavily on the hate and discrimination they face on a daily basis.
This was something I did see firsthand through Felix. I watched in middle school as this happy-go-lucky guy became a reclusive introvert who tried to avoid people, even his friends, out of fear of hurting them. I saw the way others treated him, and I'm ashamed to say I still never gathered the courage to go and talk to him even though his Lycanthropy had nothing to do with my hesitancy.
Despite his Lycanthropy and the time that passed since middle school when we first met, I am still crushing on Felix. If he came up right now and asked me out, I would say yes in a heartbeat.
Nothing like that would be so fortunate to happen to me though. Even spending middle and high school together at the same places, he never approached me. My friends would say that I can be intimidating to approach, but I wasn't always popular on social media. Maybe he wasn't interested in me. Maybe I wasn't his type.
With this disheartening thought, I decided to ignore that line of thought and focus instead on some reading and research I need to finish by the next class.
Still, I can't help but find myself distracted by the memories of Felix, what might've been, and what could be if I could just get over my nerves. Why is having a crush so difficult!