“Good morning Nel.” I hear from behind me on the cement sidewalk.
Turning, I saw Morgan smiling with her backpack tossed on one shoulder, with her purse tied to the open strap.
“Running a little late today?” I replied, moving so we could walk side by side.
Morgan was a Junior in high school, yet very calm for her age. Usually I wouldn’t associate with high schoolers, mostly because I had no way of knowing them. But I met Morgan when I was hosting one night at the restaurant I work at. My dad has his own business as a chef, but I chose to work for another place because I didn’t want to depend on him like that. This was a month after I had been hired, and it had turned into a regular routine by then. She showed up with her family, waiting for a table because we were packed with people. They had waited for twenty minutes, and while I felt bad there was nothing I could do but apologize. She looked up at me with her big dark piercing eyes and gently said “It’s fine.”
They waited another five minutes, and then Ben came in. He kissed me on the cheek and said “Working hard I see.”
No sooner had he said that, he handed me two carnations, whispering “Go to the dance with me?” and placed them in my hand.
I stared at the flowers, then stared at him, trying hard not to look unprofessional, but also pondering the notion as well. Ben knew perfectly well I hated dances, but he just kept saying “it’s a once in a lifetime experience! And our senior year! We should try everything at least once!”
For the past month that was all I heard. And his final words each day on the subject always caught me off guard: “I wan tot make more memories with you.” His earnest sweet voice made me think about it, and oh how much that made me angry and happy. How many memories could we possibly need, I would think. But then again, where is the point where we have enough memories. He would say that, I knew he would, so I never said it out loud. And at the same time, I always wanted to leave it at “I want to make more memories with you.” He had never actually asked until this moment.
The winter formal was like a challenge, me against him. It was also a choice I had to make. He stared right back at me and said “Tell me later, ok? I know you’re working.” Leaving as he kissed my cheek again.
I tried not to watch him go, but my gaze still turned to see his broad shoulders from behind. His silhouette was strong, but more along the lines of confidence rather than physicality. Other than his shoulders, everything else was skinny or ordinary. His torso was short and skinny, his legs longer than usual bit his arms normal length. He stood without fear, looking forward rather than back, that’s how he always looked when I saw him.
A table was ready after a few more minutes, and I escorted the family to it immediately. As she passed, Morgan looked at me, walking side by side with me, and told me “He was waiting outside for half an hour with those flowers, I think he was nervous, ‘cause he tripped over his own feet.”
“He always does that.” I commented without thinking. Oops, I thought. Now I sound like I don’t care.
“Maybe you should say yes, I mean he tied really hard to not look scared, even though he was sweating so much outside.”
She went to her seat and I told the family to please wait until their waiter came, and walked away feeling an odd sensation. I was blushing, thinking of how he must have been standing outside in the cold, and of course I left the restaurant.
He never looked scared at all, not in front of me. Always taking my nonchalant attitude with excited strides, Ben chased his own girlfriend and happily took her blank expressions. I wasn’t for pda or any signs of him winning this sort of game, but I also knew he deserved better. It never came into my mind, though, how hard he tried for nothing in return. How even he wasn’t capable of being big and strong all the time. I wasn’t the only one with weakness. I shouldn’t have tried to do things like this. He needs something to rely on, as do I. someone to give him comfort.
And I think I want him to rely on me to give that comfort.
“Ben!” I caught up to him quickly, and shouting his name gave him a start.
Surprise to see me, he tried to stop acting so fidgety, and gave ma smile. “Oh! What do we have here?”
“Yes. I’ll go to the dance with you. And I. . .” Grabbing his arm, I pulled him in as I wrapped my arms around his waist since he was slightly taller than me. I think I really like you.
“Don’t think you should try so hard for something so simple. If it’s what you really want, just tell me, and I’ll say yes.”
There were always movies that involved mushy moments like this, and it made me feel uncomfortable to watch, and just thinking about me doing such things made me more nervous about it. But this wasn’t awkward. This was right. This was what he needed. The way his arms slid onto my hips felt warm and soft. His hands on the arch of my back comforted and calmed me, but was also strong in action. He really did need this, after working so hard just for me, always.
“What kind of dress will you wear?”
“Do you really care about that?”
“You look good in short strapless dresses.”
“How would you know that? I haven’t worn a dress in years, let alone for you to see!”
“You would look good in one.”
“Are you trying to tell me something?”
“Dark green. And it’ll show off your legs and cute small shoulders.”
I pulled away to look at him. “I don’t know whether to think you’re a pervert or secretly gay.” A smile escaped me when he laughed.
There was a quick kiss before returning to work, but before that I watched him walk the other way to home, seeing a slight jump in his step. Did I just smile again?
Back at the restaurant, I sat quietly beaming in my seat, when I saw that girl and her family leaving. As we crossed paths once more, she looked at me and said “I guess you caught him?”
It wasn’t any of her business, but there was no reason not to say anything. “Yes I did.”
“Good. I see him around school and he’s always looking for you.” I had never seen this girl before! Go figure someone else noticed his effort too.
“What’s your name?” I called out just as she was going out the door.
“I’m Morgan. And you?”
“Well Nel, I’ll see you at school then. Have a good day.”
“You too.” I figured I wouldn’t see her, and that all she said was simple courtesy.
But no. the next day she said hello in the middle of the hallway, and actually Ben waved back before I got over the shock and did the same.
Morgan slowly crept her way into the soft place in my mind, to the point where I think she’s the epitome of comfort. We both joined environmental club, where I learned the most ridiculous things about her. She hates asparagus just because it makes her pee smell funny, she never goes to bed without reading a section of her favorite book. Her favorite sport was soccer, but the best part was the hot Cubans. For some reason, she just stuck with me even when I graduated. She didn’t fade. She never seemed like someone who would fade. But I hadn’t seen her for awhile, not since the funeral. But I wondered how she was, if she was alright after that.
But maybe she’s worrying the same thing about me.