I should’ve suspected something was wrong from the beginning. But I was 16. And hopeful that I was, in all my 16-year old wisdom, wrong.

That the Leroy in KFC that afternoon was not the boy who offered his hand to me at the pool four years ago should’ve set off the bells like it was Sunday morning at Vatican City. From the strapping and wholesome boy-man, the president of a church youth club, he’d become Bad Boy Leroy Chan, lighting up a Salem and using the name of the Lord in vain more than a couple of times. 

When he blew smoke at me, he’d chuckled and pushed me playfully with his shoulder. I’d coughed and coyly averted my eyes, all the while wondering if I was dreaming. I’d ended up giving Corinna and hew new boyfriend death stares for no reason.

Leroy wasn’t the only one who’d transformed. Joanne had morphed into an ‘ah lian’ (Malaysian Chinese slang for a girl who tries too hard) version of Girl, Interrupted‘s Susanna Kaysen. But she’d seemed unsure of her ‘new status’. Stealing drags from her brother, she’d give me side glances as though I was going to report her to the headmistress, and at the same time challenging me to do so. She was most definitely not the stamp-collecting, junkfood-eating, giggly girl Eunice had adored from four years ago.

And yet, sitting there, swathed in cigarette smoke, the arrogant me wanted to believe. I wanted to believe that all these years, Leroy Chan had against hordes of crazy teenage girls who, if rumours can be trusted, kept the family phone so busy his parents had to change their number, cradled a fondness for me. Who knew? Perhaps it was the way I laughed. Perhaps it was how I’d made him laugh. I knew my winning personality would come in handy one day.

I needed to believe.

 

I should’ve known something was wrong when Andrea called me.

Ah Andrea, Victor’s older sis. Big-boned, boisterous, plainer than even me Andrea, who had the bad fortune to always end up as someone’s big sister in school, particularly boys she liked. We’d hung out back when I was still attending church. It was the unspoken rule then that Leroy was hers. No one disputed that fact, not even Leroy. No one dared to.

When Andrea identified herself on the phone, I’d almost hung up, afraid that she would somehow jump out of the phone and beat me up for sitting next to her boyfriend. Was Leroy still her boyfriend? Was he ever?

And then I’d caught myself. I was 16. I was older. She might’ve been bigger than ever but I felt I had the chops to stand up to her.

The fact she sounded friendly did not make me drop my guard. Nice Andrea was scary, because she was well known for being crudely honest.

“So I heard you are going out with Leroy Chan?”

“Wow. From Victor?”

“Who else?”

A polite laugh, and then silence.

“We’re just friendslah,” I said quickly.

“You’re going out with him again tomorrow right?”

“A bunch of us are. I’m just accompanying my friend Corinna and that David guy. Are you co-“

“I need to tell you something, Jenn,” Andrea cut in

Another pause.

“Yeaa?”

“What if I were to tell you that Leroy is…he likes you?”

The room was suddenly very hot.

“Who told you that?” I turned on the standing fan. It started to whir loudly and I quickly switched it off.

More pausing.

“Leroy.”

She sounded disappointed.

“Er,…” I sat down noisily at my dad’s computer.

“Anyway, he wants to know how you feel about him. Before he, you know…tries.”

A part of me was jumping for joy. The other was holding that part down with one hand, and trying to continue the conversation coherently.

“I dunno.”

My best ‘blur’ act. 

Silence, and then a sigh.

“Do you like him?”

Eunice’s head appeared through the door. I held up a finger but was grinning so widely she frowned and came in.

“I dunno, Andrea. I haven’t seen him in so long,” I tried to sound all cool and reasonable.

“Well. It’s Leroy Chan, Jennifer. Everyone has a crush on him.”

I laughed politely.

“Maybe,” I said uncomfortably. And then “I dunno, man.”

“Well have fun this Saturday,” Andrea answered curtly.

“Okay. Thanks, Andrea.”

I spent the next 15 minutes jumping on my bed, shouting “he likes me!” while Eunice watched, rolling her eyes.

It was the happiest day of my life.

 

Leroy and I went out for approximately two months. We held hands. We snuggled. We looked into each other’s eyes.

On Valentine’s Day 1989, he took me for dinner with Corinna and David and then he drove around town.

The highlight of the evening was when we bumped into one of my seniors at school, Pauline, who’d proceeded to call the whole world after that to inform them of my undeserving good news. The next day, I went to school as the Girl Who Snagged Leroy. At recess, all the cool seniors came to sit by me, assessing me from top to bottom, suddenly very interested in the music I liked and the sports I played, while my friends ate their mid-morning meals gingerly, quaking in their canvas shoes, stealing reverent sidelong glances at my new best friends. These were people who never even looked at us before today. Only Corinna knew what was going on, and she’d sat chewing her fish balls happily as the Girl Who Introduced Leroy to the Girl Who Snagged Leroy.

THAT became the happiest day of my life.

 

This tale can also be found at A Tale A Day.