The People We Meet, writing

what two teenage girls from the suburbs taught me

I felt a warm hand on my knee and looked pointedly at it before answering the all-important question directed at me: Is the beer tent lit?

Two girls sat across from me on the streetcar, but it was clear who played ringleader. Sipping the last of her bottle of Coke, Ringleader pulled another out of her backpack. The bottles were full but the rings around the neck were already broken (explains the sort of woozy dancing). They must have hugged 3 times on the short ride to the fair. They weren’t from “around here”, they told me; they were from a smallish town not dissimilar to where I grew up. Ringleader looked like a downtown girl, Giggles looked sort of like a lost but content puppy.

Ringleader continued to put her hand on my knee every time she turned to speak to me. I gave her a sly smile — your charm doesn’t work on me — I know your tricks. Save it for the boys at school.

Watching them from the corner of my eye had made me feel both sad, and happy. They weren’t sure exactly how to get to the fair, so today must have seemed like a big adventure to them. I remember my first time taking public transportation downtown, and I remember feeling terrified. These girls gave no indication of fear, aside from Ringleader asking me upon sitting down: You know how to get to the fair, right? You’ll tell us when to get off? I wanted to turn off the music blasting from the tinny speakers of their phones, and then give them hugs. I wanted them to stop talking, and I wanted them to ask me for life advice I was highly unqualified to give.

Had they done so, I would’ve told them, stay friends. Don’t ever let a boy, or another girl, drive a wedge into your friendship. Never lose your sense of fun. Be considerate of other people (read: use headphones. You can continue dancing, but use headphones). Stay happy. Don’t be too cool to be excited.

But they didn’t, so they continued bouncing in their seats, and I looked out the window. Head bobbing to my own music.

I guess maybe her charm did have an effect on me after all.