The next day was registration and I was working with Michael on creating the id’s and having students fill out some registration forms. The sheet that students had to fill out requested various information points including a birth date. Michael suddenly asked if someone could go find a Shannon Marie LeBlanc. She had put her birthday as November of ’97 and considering it was August of the same year, we figured it was a mistake. I volunteered to go and started searching through the various registration places. I had actually volunteered in order to get out of the office and socialize a little but unfortunately she was in the very next registration station in the history room. It was the girl who Miguel had pointed out. She had on a better outfit but her hair and glasses still were the same. After I found her, she corrected her birthday to the right year. She looked slightly overwhelmed and rather nervous about this adventure of coming to academy. I introduced myself and offered help with anything whatsoever she needed. She smiled up while looking down and I wondered if maybe I had judged this girl too harshly. That awkward moment was interrupted by an even more awkward moment when her father less than subtly suggested that he was ready to move on. I had barely noticed this guy but I suddenly was intimidated. The military background he had came out incredibly clearly; I ineptly said nice to move, I mean meet, you and headed back to the office.
We got all of the students registered and later that evening there was going to be an opening night assembly to get new school year enthusiasm going. However, after dinner there was a couple of hours to kill. The gym was open and a game of basketball was going on. Most students, myself included, were spending time catching up with friends they hadn’t seen all summer, trading stories. I saw Shannon out of the corner of my eye sitting on her own absorbing it all but not really talking to anyone. After having taking a year away from girls, the shyness with which I had approached Nicole and the one I had not been able to overcome with Jane was back. Strangely overwhelmed, I couldn’t get myself to go and talk to her. I went and found a volleyball and got a group of people to get in a circle and just hit the ball around all with the excuse of inviting her to come play. She accepted the invitation and the game lasted for a while. I was next to her in the circle and talked to her and the girl who would be her roommate, Alexis Franklin.
Alexis was a sweet young lady who for a freshman was very confident. She had a presence about her which demanded acknowledgement but a smile which beamed so brightly you knew that it was worth acknowledging. I was talking to them both but clearly wanting to pay more attention to Shannon. Alexis wasn’t catching this and kept interjecting and trying to just be part of the conversation. After the game finally died, I tried to talk to Shannon again but Alexis still came along. Alexis finally grew bored and wanted to meet other people and so it was just Shannon and I finally getting to talk.
She was from Puerto Rican descent, a Junior from Killeen, clearly ill at ease and wanting to adjust to this place, never having lived away from her parents. She had three younger siblings who were only in elementary. It was clear she was smart and that there was some part of herself she was holding back but wanted to show. Shannon wanted to be known but would not push herself onto the scene. I was becoming quickly fascinated with her when someone called out to me. The assembly was about to begin and the student association officers were running it. I muttered an odd comment about how nice it was to have met her and headed on my way. There was no magical moment where I knew she was the one. I hadn’t even decided this was someone to pursue romantically but I’d realized she had an entice all her own.
After the school assembly, I sat and talked with our group of senior friends. Josie, Jeremy, Michael, Leandro, Kisha, Ellen, Alycia were all there and so was one Junior. There was a girl I had known since I was a freshmen and she was in eighth grade, Kendra McBean. She was from the same town as Alycia so there had always been a connection. She was a cute black girl who often was louder on the outside than what was going on inside, evoking drama that I’m not sure she usually felt in order to ensure some attention. She was enthusiastic and passionate about life. She was also talented musically and had been with us in the Bell choir. Despite the fact that she was in a different class, she was a fairly certain fixture in our group. I ended up chatting with her quiet a bit that night. Someone in the group noticed and said something about how cute we looked together. We gave each other an uncomfortable look and moved on.
School started and each day was a lot of fun. I was feeling less pressure as vice president than I had as religious vice and was more at ease. I felt like I’d generally succeeded in staying away from girls the previous year and felt like if I did get a girlfriend this year, I’d be smarter about it. I was spending a disproportionate amount of time with both Kendra and Shannon although only one at a time. With Kendra, it was more than overt flirting but, both of us always having big personalities, it could mean a lot or nothing at all. With Shannon, it was just conversations, getting to know her better, finding out she played piano and sang, had grown up in Hawaii and loved the hibiscuses that were growing on campus. Shannon had never really had a boyfriend, just one boy who was one of those young relationships were you were dating but only talked on the phone and wouldn’t face each other in person. She was innocent and unsullied in part due to her shyness but I think she generally projected purity about her at that stage.
I wasn’t the only one giving Shannon attention nor was I giving her the most attention. Shy as she might have been, there two or three other boys interested in her. She didn’t have an aggressive approach at all. She was always the girl who would sit by her self. At first, it would be Alexis who joined her. Soon though, it seemed that one of the three stooges, sometimes all of them, would join her. She clearly liked the attention, it was a novelty to her and while she was besieged by so much of it, I think the newness to it was welcome to her. She had come from a tiny school where there were only one or two boys her age for several girls and all the boys had been interested in one of the other girls.
High school relationships happen fast; they start fast, occur fast and often finish fast. It’s just the nature of that age and stage of life. In our particular case, everything was even expedited. We lived at the school so we saw these people all day as anyone else would and then we had breakfast, lunch and dinner with them, evening activities and weekend activities; a socializing that was something fierce.
It was the first Thursday of the school year, a mere four or five days since I had met Shannon and since the comment about Kendra. I was coming home from working at the glass factory and on my way onto campus, Josie or Alycia came up to me and said that Kendra had a crush on me and I should think about pursuing it. Flattered, I headed into my room, got dressed and headed to the cafeteria for lunch. As I was about to head in, Alexis pulled me aside and mentioned that although Shannon hadn’t stated as such, she believed that Shannon had a crush on me and wouldn’t it be exciting to be her first real boyfriend and proceeded to sell all of what she thought were Shannon’s high points. In a situation that had never occurred before, I was encouraged to pursue two girls within a few moments time. I simply said "Oh" to myself. That was one of the few lunches I ever had by myself in high school.
While I wasn’t committed to staying away from girls like I had my junior year, I wasn’t quite ready for this. I quickly went through the pros and cons of each girl. Kendra was part of our social group so that would be easy. She was a strong personality and a lot fun. I knew her well and so she knew my baggage but I also knew some of hers. Shannon appeared to carry so little baggage but she had so many unknowns. I had not been able to put her in neat categories as I often do with most people which was both a plus and a minus.
Over the next week, I spent lots of time thinking about this and frankly flirting a great deal with both girls. Shannon continued to just be calm and collected; it was unclear whether she was interested in me or one of the other stooges. Kendra was more assertive and confident, stronger but I’d seen her relationships in the past and was worried about turning out like one of them.
I talked to several friends about this like Leandro, Jeremy and Michael and all the girls. The split was not even but some people favored each one repeating many of the same pros and cons that I had weighed out. Sadly, I must confess, I even made a coin that had Kendra taped on one side and Shannon on the other. Honestly, I can’t recall which side landed up. There was one time where as I went back and forth in my mind I called Shannon (we had payphones in each dorm). After a while, I asked her to put Josie on the phone not so much because I wanted to talk to Josie since I already had her perspective but just so that I could chat with her for a while and then let her get Kendra.
The second Friday night of the year we were having fountain service and I was desperately trying to avoid them both. However, when it was time for everyone to go around and hug each other, Shannon came up from behind me, softly touched my arm and commented on that she’d been looking for me before giving me a soft delicate embrace. Kendra found me moments later, hugged me tightly and kissed me on the cheek and commented on my outfit looking sharp. The group started to gather and both girls were coming towards me and I quickly realized that if this continued I would end up in the prayer circle with one girl on each side. I walked away and headed towards the dorm, thinking it might be better to pray alone that night.