Ed first saw Kristen on the day of the Frozen Storm. It was during a football game against Linneman High. Ed’s head wasn’t in the game. That was the way it was done. The moment he stepped onto the field he let his mind drift away from what he was doing. As long as he didn’t think or pay attention or try to make any decisions, he played just fine. Ed’s body knew how to play football. He had no idea.
Linneman snapped the ball and everyone on the field exploded into motion. Ed felt his legs rush out from under him. His eyes and his mind wandered.
And there she was. The sky was overcast and the stadium was full of mist. The lights lit up the field, but the mists shrouded the stadium and made it hard to see the crowd. Except there she was. Her bright, wicked smile burned right through the fog. Ed could see her, standing up there, talking to a big group of people who all seemed sort of oriented around her. The way people oriented around Joe Malif in the cafeteria. He had never seen her before. He had never seen her before? He could barely make out her face. But there was that sharp, electric smile. And she seemed to be staring right at him.
The play ended and the defensive line reformed. Ed could still see her, leaning on one hand and low to the ground. He turned to the player next to him.
“Steve, do you see that girl?”
“Which one?” said Steve.
“Right up there,” he pointed. “The one with the big teeth.”
The look Steve gave him was visible through his helmet. “Yeah, I see her.”
“Who is she?”
“I dunno,” said Steve. “I saw her earlier. I think she’s new. Why?”
“Is she…is she staring at me?”
“Dude,” said Steve. “Girls don’t stare at the JV left defensive end.”
“Yeah. You’re probably right.”
The quarterback snapped the ball. Ed leapt into action.
Twenty minutes later the game was called because the sky began to spit out sharp pellets of ice down upon them. Linneman was up by 7, so they won. Ed didn’t care. The entire time, wherever he went, she stared at him.
That night Okenville experienced the worst ice storm anyone could remember. Trees froze up and bent over from the extra weight. Kuwasa river froze over. Pipes in people’s houses burst from the flash freeze. Ed didn’t sleep. The hail pounded on the slanted attic roof just above his head. He stayed up the whole night and thought about that smile.
It didn’t take long to figure out who she was. Everyone was talking about her. Her name was Kristen Selka. She was a transfer student from Hawaii. Everyone wondered why anyone from Hawaii would come to this frozen hellhole of a town. There were rumors that she was kicked out of her last school. There were rumors that her dad was a murderer in prison for life. Those didn’t survive the first time he showed up in his vintage Mustang to pick her up. Opinion was divided on how hot she was. Some guys thought she stole the top spot for recreational viewing from Cynthia Brown. Some thought she was a butterface. Ed knew they were all wrong.
She was fire. She was perfection.
Over the next few weeks Ed stole looks at her whenever he was near. Whenever she walked by. As she sat across the room in the study hall they shared together. He kept waiting for her to look back at him. She never did. She must not have been staring at him on the football field. It must have been his imagination.
Okenvile stayed frozen that entire winter. Less than a week after the Frozen Storm a blizzard hit the town, and the ground was covered in snow that never melted.
One day, Ed cut through the woods on his way home, as he sometimes did on days when Marisol had theatre and couldn’t walk home with him. He’d been coming this way as often as he could, lately. Ever since the ice storm. The world looked right. Everyone else complained about the cold and the dreary sky. Ed didn’t want spring to come. He didn’t want it to end.
As he walked underneath one of the tall trees he heard a creak from above. He looked up to see a huge branch rushing towards him. He leapt out of the way, but it landed on his legs and knocked him to the ground. It didn’t hurt. But he was stuck. He wiggled his toes. Nothing was broken.
Ed sat up to look at the branch. It was enormous. It had his legs wedged into the ground. There was no way he could move the branch or pull his feet out from under it. Not like this. The only thing he could think of was to dig his way out. There was more than a foot of snow between his legs and the frozen ground. It was packed down by the impact, but it should still be doable. He picked up a sturdy looking stick and got to work.
It took more than two hours before he was able to wrench his legs free.
“Nice job,” said a voice behind him as he got to his feet and brushed the snow off his legs. “I didn’t know of you could do it.”
He turned. And there she was. Kristen Selka. Standing against a pine and wrapped in a purple and orange scarf. She smiled that white-hot smile at him. This close it was almost too hot. He felt it burn into his face. Like a brand seared into his flesh. He was marked.
“How long have you been standing there?”he asked.
“Twenty minutes,” she said. Her husky voiced sounded clear. It didn’t shiver or stutter the way most people did in the cold.
“Twenty minutes,” Ed mouthed.
“This time,” said Kristen. “I was here an hour ago. And an hour before that. I saw the tree land on you.”
“I wondered if you were going to make it,” she said nonchalantly. She leapt up onto a fallen log nearby and walked along it, her arms extended for balance. “I gave you a fifty-fifty chance. You’re very strong, aren’t you?”
“I guess,” said Ed.
“I saw you at the football game, you know,” said Kristen without looking at him. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” said Ed. “I guess I do.”
“I bet you’ve been wondering why I was looking at you,”she said. “And why I never look at you at school.”
Ed said nothing.
“Are you angry we me?” asked Kristen. “Are you angry I didn’t go for help? That I left you to dig yourself out or freeze to death?”
He thought for a minute. “No,” he said at last. “Not really.”
Kristen’s smile grew wider. Ed winced against the heat. “Good,” she said. “You passed.”
The she turned and started to walk back into the frozen forest. Ed could have gone after her. He could have called out. But he didn’t. After all, he didn’t really know what to say.
Kristen still wouldn’t look at him at school, after that. But she started to pass him notes. They said things like, “I’m thinking of you,” and “It’s too hot without you.” Some of them asked him questions like “How much can you bench?” and “What is the sexiest book you’ve ever read?” He sent back replies. The expression on her face when she read them was completely neutral. She had other people send him notes. Wherever he was he might at any moment be given a note. In the middle of a math test, in the boy’s locker room, even one time in the bathroom. And people started to notice.
Marisol corned him one day after school.
“Are you and Kristen Selka having a thing?” she asked. “I mean, you’d tell me if you were having a thing, right? That’s not something you’d keep from your best friend?”
“A thing?” said Ed.
Marisol rolled her eyes. “You know. A sex thing.”
“Good,” she said. “Because Ryan Sutherland would totally kick your ass.” She looked him up and down and grinned. “I’d like to see how that went for him, actually.”
“Yeah. They’re, like, an item. Didn’t you know? I heard she let him through the back door, if you know what I mean.”
“The back door?” asked Ed.
Marisol scoffed. “You know, the forbidden highway.” Ed’s face was blank. Marison rolled her eyes again, and said, “Anal. There, I said it. Are you happy?”
Ed swallowed heavily.
“Okay, so you’re not having a thing with Kristen,”said Marisol. “But do you want to?”
Ed’s eyes widened. So very slightly. But Marisol knew him very well. She laughed. “I knew it! Jesus, Ed! You can do better!”
He shook his head. “There isn’t better. She’s perfect.”
“Puta madre,” said Marisol. “She’s a psycho! I heard she got kicked out of her last school for killing the principal!”
Ed considered this. “Wouldn’t she be in jail?”
“I don’t know!” Marisol threw her arms in the air. “That’s just what I heard. Listen, just promise me you won’t do something stupid, alright?” Ed stared at her. “Alright?”
“Alright,” said Ed.
“Alright I promise I won’t do something stupid regarding Kristen Selka.” Marisol seemed satisfied. On the rest of the walk home, they talked about cupcakes.
Ed intended to keep his promise. He always intended to keep his promises. And he didn’t for nearly 13 hours.
A shrill noise woke him up. He blinked against the dark and looked over at his alarm clock. 3:32 AM. The shrill voice came again. It was his phone. He picked it up. The call was from UNKNOWN, so he answered it.
“Ed?” the tiny licks of flames in Kristen’s voice danced inside his eardrum.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m stuck outside of Whitehaven. My bike broke down.”
“Your bike? You have a bike.”
“Well, it isn’t mine,” she said, laughing. “I took it off some guy at the bar. But it broke down. And I think he probably wants it back. Can you come get me? I’ve got my phone’s GPS enabled.”
“Yeah,”said Ed. “I’ll be right there.”
He sighed, and looked over at the stuffed orangutan Marisol gave him for his 12th birthday. It was named Marisol. “Sorry, Marisol,” he said to it. “I tried.”