Sunburn is a big part of my life. My memories of childhood beach vacations are filled with the overwhelming scent of sunscreen and the inevitable hot pink discomfort born of being pale and inattentive to my daily sunlight quota.
Consequently, I’ve never been too fond of sunlight. It tends to be very cruel, and quite sadistic to boot, taking great pleasure in coloring ovoer my peaches and cream complexion with a pinkish Sharpie. I mean, come on. Everyone knows how bad Sharpies are for your skin.
That didn’t stop me from agreeing to the Picnic Proposition, as it has become known in my internal monologue. The entire idea was off-putting, except for the unavoidable fact that the invitation had winged its way to me from Ambrose Stonestreet, for whom, I admit, I carry a bit of a roaringly huge torch. No sooner had the words left his mouth than I was nodding emphatically, eyes gone all wide and starry at the prospect of—oh my God—time alone with him. By the time I realized the danger I had just put myself in, he was long gone, and I was in the dining hall.
From there on out, I was a mess of worrying over the damnable traits of my pigmentation, so much so that I forgot to take notes in both my Gen. Chem. and Physics classes. My roommate was suitably horrified—possibly even moreso than I—to find that I had nothing to help us with our homework, which led to our…maybe fourth actual conversation. Which went, more or less, like this:
"What do you mean you don’t have notes?" The confused frown on Meline’s face was likely to get stuck there if she kept it up much longer, considering the significant strain it was likely putting on her facial muscles to twist themselves about in such a way.
"I—uh—well, I wasn’t paying attention. I guess," I replied, picking the ugly remnants of nail polish off my thumbnail, because staring at that mess was much better than making eye contact.
"Jaden! What the Hell?"
I looked up, wondering when it had become a law, the infringement of which was punishable by shouting—and, judging from the recognizable state of apoplexy she was entering, violent evisceration—that I had to take notes for her lazy, drunken ass.
"I have a lot on my mind," I said, giving her a look that plainly stated my skepticism for the validity of her ire. "Sorry. Why don’t you just borrow someone else’s?"
She chose not to reply, opting instead to squint at me.
I waited for her to storm out pissily, but she didn’t stop squinting, and I quickly became alarmed. I felt like a deer staring down a formerly dark road at its fast-approaching doom.
"What?" I asked, voice shooting up a few octaves.
"You’re you. The only things you ever have on your mind are books and music, and those’ve never distracted you from taking bizarrely flawless notes before," she said, continuing to squint for a few more seconds before she straightened her face into its usual order, one eyebrow arching. "What’s up?"
"Like you care. Jesus."
I wasn’t about to admit that I was spending all my time worrying about sunlight, and Ambrose Stonestreet, and what he would think of me when, inevitably, I turned the garish shade of pink native to flamingoes and boxes of tampons.
But, of course, she wouldn’t stop asking until I told her. So I owned up to it.
The silence that followed my rambling, needlessly long admission was rather violent, and though I was sure that my unfortunate cuttlefish reflex had turned me almost as pink as the sunburn I was fearing, I looked up in order to gauge her expression. I needed the extra few seconds to prepare myself for Meline’s reaction, because honestly, it was probably going to be mean and bitchy and crippling.
On a scale of one to Devastating, Soul-Crushing Mirth at My Expense, the look on her face ranked about a four, which confused and scared me. Since when was my frequently absent roommate not a flaming queen of catty?
"So…wait," she started, expression sinking further into the realms of quizzical and bemused. "You were distracted for a normal-people reason? Oh, honey."
And then…she was….helping me? I really don’t remember much of that part. I was too horrified. After all, she was the last person with whom I wanted to discuss this.
I survived somehow, though, and I found myself hiking up a fairly tame mountain with Ambrose a week later, huffing and puffing and wishing I had taken advantage of the free gym access.
Of course, Meline hadn’t helped at all with the sunburn problem—she just said that I should use some goddamned sunscreen, and if I got burnt, to blame it on my complexion in a funny, charming manner. Needless to say, “funny and charming” isn’t in my repertoire, so I really just went with the bit about sunscreen.
However, the entire thing didn’t turn out that badly. Or, at least, what did go wrong wasn’t due to me getting burnt or…twisting my ankle, or something. What did go wrong was, more or less, the result of Ambrose packing a Tupperware container of potato salad without accounting for the potential peculiarities of forest-dwelling rodents.
Ambrose, babe, blame it on the chipmunks. Those goddamned chipmunks.