My best friend was 14 when she fell in love with a 21 year old. My friend's older boyfriend was close with a guy I'll call T. My mother, spying him from the front window, asked me how old he was."I don't know," I said. After awhile, my friend and her boyfriend disappeared, leaving T. Many memories remain fuzzy, but incidents such as that day in the forest remain in crisp detail. It was late and my parents were asleep as we drove over to the house where T. At some point, my friend left to go somewhere, and for whatever reason I didn't go with him. Maybe he only stepped out to go to the store down the block. This was after the night at his house, though how much later I cannot say. "That's your mom talking."I told him that this wasn't true: it was my choice. He stopped the car with a jerk, right past the top of my driveway, and I grabbed the door handle and got out. For many years afterward, I took total blame for everything that happened between me and T. It was with this in mind that I began my narrator Sydney's story in I'm 44 now, married with a daughter of my own. The teen years loom ahead and I've experienced too much to rest easily. Don't worry about being nice, or hurting someone's feelings: they'll get over it. You don't have to wait, I want to tell her, until you have no choice. (I know how that sounds: I cringe now just typing it.) But at the time, to us, it wasn't weird or taboo as much as this epic, forbidden romance. Before long we were all hanging out together, driving around in his car: T and me in the front, my friend and her boyfriend in the back. What I do remember is sitting on a couch with T., him putting on a Elton John song and telling me, in words I can't recall specifically, that he wanted to be my boyfriend. I just recall being almost to my house, when I told T. I could see my house now, coming up ahead."We need to discuss this," he said. Like me and Sydney, she will most likely yearn for attention at one point or another. But how can I teach her that it is just as OK to need that scrutiny to stop? There was safety in the shadows, but also a kind of darkness. " my friend whispered as we walked back to the car with the guys a few steps ahead. "Like we were supposed to be boyfriend and girlfriend, or something.""Well," she said slowly. I'd completely accepted her romance with an older guy as normal, even destined. When he wasn't upset, he was in kindness overdrive, buying me things: a gold necklace with a floating heart, stuffed animals.In tenth grade, we made friends with a group of older guys who hung out on the main street of town, which ran parallel to the local university — guys who'd once gone to our same high school and had never left the social scene. I remember how quiet it was, birds soaring overhead, no other sound. I grew to dread the moments we were alone, especially when I needed a ride home at the end of the night to make my curfew. In the initial years following, I never really talked about this with anyone other than my high school girlfriends and various therapists.When they weren't doing BMX and skateboard tricks in front of the post office, they were spending what money they had at the nearby arcade, or spinning on stools and shooting straw wrappers in their favorite burger joint, just across the street. We had gotten in the habit of him driving me home, and my suddenly wanting to make different arrangements seemed to inconvenience everyone. As I got older, however, the more I realized that my experience was not an uncommon one. There was something especially cool about being friends with them. ""So, no normal 20 year old wants to hang out with someone who is 15. Stay away from him."This was the sort of thing that always led to my leaving the room in a teary huff, maintaining loudly that she Just Didn't Understand. One Saturday, the guys planned a picnic in a nearby forest park. Even worse, I couldn't say why I didn't want to go with him. It seemed just about every woman I knew had a similar story, a time when wanting attention meant getting the wrong kind entirely. I can see problems like for example she cant drink (legally) and i like to go out a lot with my friends so that could cause a problem amongst other things.