Had he not been oblivious to Ms. Adu’s crush, he might not have waited until she left Ridgeway High to tell her that he, too, wanted to be more than study buddies. “I thought she was really attractive,” he said. “I thought someone with her vivacious personality and friends all around her would never date me.”
In 2012, after sophomore year, Ms. Adu transferred to Houston High School, about 20 minutes away from Ridgeway, in Germantown, Tenn. Her mother had heard good things about the school’s honors and advanced-placement programs, and Ms. Adu was ready for a challenge.
Also, getting away from Mr. Canales, who had become a close friend, seemed a good idea academically. For better access to his table in chemistry class, she had intentionally botched assignments; students who were underperforming sat closer to the teacher’s desk.
Ms. Adu and Mr. Canales never lost touch after her transfer and were texting daily. In the spring of 2013, she told him she had been asked to junior prom. “He was like, ‘That’s not happening,’” she said. In the same text exchange, he asked her to be his girlfriend. Ms. Adu has no trouble recalling the date: “It was April 7, 2013. I screamed. I put the phone down and ran laps around my house. I felt like I was president of the entire world. I said, ‘I’d love to be your girlfriend.’”
Their first date, a few weeks later, was a “Percy Jackson” movie. Ms. Curtis, who had raised her daughter to embrace cultural differences, liked Mr. Canales immediately. Mr. Canales’s family approved of Ms. Adu right away, too. “My parents had told me in no uncertain terms they wanted me marrying a Jewish girl,” he said. But given his struggles at home, “they were just happy Brittney was a normal person.”
At the end of his junior year in 2013, Mr. Canales had graduated high school. “I wanted out,” he said, so he took summer classes and enrolled at the University of Memphis as a 16 year old. In 2014, when Ms. Adu graduated, she followed him there, despite acceptances to other colleges. “If I didn’t love him so much, I would have been like, ‘Why didn’t I go to Maine or Minnesota or other places I had gotten into?’” she said. “But I think our relationship is worth more than a degree from anyplace.”