Writing: ‘Romantic Secret’ by Jayden Lemus

This piece placed second for Middle School Writing submissions in the 2024 Ánimo Voices WRITING, ART, & SPOKEN WORD COMPETITION 2024, which invited students to respond to an open prompt. The competition is an opportunity to motivate, recognize, and celebrate our strong student voices through writing, spoken word, and art

Romantic Secret

It all started in my room - the sky dark as midnight. I was watching a romance
anime, which I don’t usually watch, but alas, it caught my attention. And at that moment, I
was entranced. The world fell silent, and all I could hear were the characters on the TV. Their
voices sounded so important... and loud, like Dr. King giving his “I Have a Dream Speech.” It
is still foggy in my memory, but I believe it was a confession of love that happened in the
show. I felt tears run down my eyes. I couldn’t understand what I was feeling. They were
tears of sadness - that much I knew. But it had a deeper meaning behind it; what I was
watching moved me to tears. It was the first of many emotions to come—a spiral of emotions
that had me more emotionally attached to a show than any other before. I felt emptiness. I
can’t find the words to describe that empty feeling you get after you’ve finished watching a
romance movie, and it had a subtle yet obvious development between the main characters.
But It was something similar to that. Mixed in with envy of how I wanted an experience
similar for my own love life. Although if the opportunity appeared right in front of me the day
later, I doubt I would do anything, which confuses even myself at times. My thoughts quickly
disappeared when I heard my mom walk down the hallway to my room. I switched to
something else very quickly before she entered. “Why are you crying?” She inquired. “I
stubbed my toe,” I said dryly. “Hard.” That night I couldn’t sleep, I couldn't tell my mom that
I had taken an interest in romance. I would’ve had to keep it hidden. But I craved more of
that unknown feeling. I wanted it back more than ever.

I kept my interests to myself for a couple of weeks, but I wanted this specific
romance graphic novel badly. The title was “Whisper Me A Love Song.” I had heard about it
on this Youtube channel called SWAYNAMI that recommends books/anime of all genres. I
was fighting with myself whether to risk it all and ask my mom if I could buy it. I decided to
go for it. I planned my words very carefully. “Mom, so. There’s this book that I saw online,
and I thought it looked pretty cool. There’s a store nearby that has it, and I was wondering if I
could buy it?” I had a sheepish grin on my face and my legs felt like jello. “UHH WITH my
own money of course.” My mom had been sweeping the living room before she stopped to
look at me. The seconds felt like hours as I stood there waiting ever so patiently. “I don’t see
why not. We can go tomorrow.” I had replied back with something, but my brain didn’t even
register it. I was full of excitement as I headed back to my room quickly. It was then I came to
the conclusion that my mom wasn’t going to make a fuss over it as I had thought she would. I
had totally expected her to tease me as she usually did with my younger brother whenever
she had seen him talking to a girl, or when he mentioned talking to a girl. He is only 7 years
old, so I found it quite peculiar but didn’t say anything. Or I had thought she would tell me
that I wasn’t mature enough for those types of books even though I’m sure I was. But when
she accepted it, I felt like I had no need to worry anymore, and I could finally buy the books
that I could previously only see online and yearn for. Weeks passed and my bookshelf grew
and grew until it was at least 65 percent romance novels. Yep, my mom was definitely okay with it.

School was a whole different problem; there was no way you’d catch me with my
books at school. Call it my imagination, but I had this whole terrible scenario in my head
where everyone would start giggling, and laughing, and whispering that I had chosen a
supposedly “girly book” since it had to do with love and romance. I had started cringing with
embarrassment at the thought of becoming the laughingstock of my class. Then it could
possibly spread across the school. I was determined to stop that from happening. As a result, I
would choose books that I had no interest in, but thought that other kids would find normal.
But I was sick of it. Sick of pretending. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting things carry on
like this. Where I would let my true self shine at home, but keep myself hidden in a turtle
shell at school. It was exhausting to keep up the act. The truth would come out eventually, so
I want it to come out in the way I want. I would just have to clench my teeth and deal with
the backlash. In our reading period, you read a book of your choice, and if you finish your
previous book, you get up and get another one from the bookshelf. One day, I had finished a
“normal” book relatively fast and went up to get another one when I saw one that captured
my attention—it had bright colors and had the word “LOVE” in big bold letters on the back of
the book. I had hoped that it would let me reunite with the feelings I had reading my
romance novels in my home. My chance was now or never. I grabbed it and quickly headed
back to my seat. I opened the book. Although I very briefly read the description on the back of
the book as I didn’t want to attract any more attention to myself standing up, it was pretty
obvious it had to do with romance. For the first few minutes I observed my surroundings.
There are quite a few rambunctious kids in my class that could cause a ruckus, but
surprisingly everyone minded their own business. I felt a huge weight lifted off my chest as I
quietly read for the rest of class.

It was then that I had thought of something: no one cares about what I’m doing. No
one is going to openly speak to me in front of everyone and put me on the spot. I’ve always
had friends with different interests, but only until I shared my identity with others did I meet
fun people. Friendly people. My people. I felt like I had a place in school when I met those
kinds of people.

For all the people who are scared to share their true identity. Just do it. Take the
hard step. You can never guess or predict how people will react. You will never know if
sharing your identity can help you meet your best friend for life, or if it unites you with the
one for you. Life is too valuable and short to hide your true self from others. Do you want to
know who I am? I’ll tell you. I’ll tell everyone that I’m not scared anymore. I am a boy who
loves romance. I am a boy who loves his family. I am a boy who likes to watch and play
baseball. I am a boy. The beauty of identity.




Jayden Lemus

7th Grade, Ánimo Florence-Firestone

Guiding Teacher: Annie Pellegrini