August, 6 years ago
I still remember the day we met.
Mid-August, just the end of summer.
It was only a few more weeks until I started my junior year of high school.
Then it was just another year until I could come back to Florida for college and, hopefully, forever.
I was staying at my dad’s in Florida for just another two weeks, and the Summer Festival, a yearly event where they set up rides and games and stuff all over a huge, empty out-of-business parking lot, was still bustling with tourists and visitors who lived just down the street.
The sun shone brightly against the blue terras of sky, no clouds to be seen, creating enough heat to fry an egg on the pavement.
I had on a typical ‘teenage girl in Florida’ outfit: a black and white tribal print crop-top and ripped jean shorts that hardly fit my waist anymore.
I didn’t approve of the lack of clothing as much as the next old guy walking by, but it was how I got the attention of the few disloyal friends I found a way to make for the short couple of months I spent in the crocodile state.
Florida could get lonely pretty fast with just me and my dad.
Plus, it seemed like every time I came down here, I found new people to talk to and hang out with, just based on my wardrobe.
I guess the more friends a girl could get, the merrier. Even if they were stuck-up and bothersome most of the time.
And anyway, I liked wearing nice clothes. It made me feel all professional and ‘fancy.’ Whatever.
My dad had a summer job working at the Together We Can Beat Cancer food booth in the Summer Festival, where he cooked and served burgers, brats and hot dogs. The pay wasn’t bad, and he worked just about every day in order to pay for the over-priced apartment he’d been renting for us the past few years.
I had my own room, and since he’d never remarried after my crazy mom decided she wanted a random divorce, it was just me and him for two and a half months every year. If I was lucky, I’d get to see him a few days at Christmas and Thanksgiving back at home. He used to come for Halloween, too, so he could take me trick-or-treating and throw me and my friends a kid-friendly party with movies and food and activities in his hotel room, but that stopped four years ago, after I turned thirteen.
My dad was working at the cancer booth the first time you approached me.
“Hi,” a smooth voice said behind me.
I whipped around, startled, with a handful of buttered popcorn stuffed in my mouth.
My eyes widened in embarrassment at the sight of you.
Your ruffled dark blond hair, long eyelashes, forest-green eyes and perfectly built figure nearly caused me to choke on my popcorn, but I’d somehow managed to find a way to chew and swallow without having a near-death experience. You were wearing a fitted green and blue striped T-shirt and dark plaid shorts that reached your knees. A dog tag necklace hung from your neck, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the other side of the shiny metal had engraved into it.
I quickly spun around and tossed my now empty popcorn bag into a nearby trash can while also casually spitting the contents out, licking my teeth and lips as to not embarrass myself any further than I had already.
When I turned around, you had this adorable grin on your face.
I still miss that grin.
Your mouth curved up on only the right side of your face, green eyes sparkling, dimples popping out the slightest bit on your cheeks.
Your skin was the perfect shade of tan, and I was instantly jealous of your ability to tan in general. I had sensitive skin, and it burned without tanning whatsoever.
I’d find out later your mom was half Asian. So I guess it wasn’t your ability to tan, but your race that I was jealous of.
I’d also find out later that your dad, your real dad, left just after you turned four.
You told me your father went to stay with another woman, whom he’d had another child with, a half sister you’d never met.
And then, after leaving her as well, he’d found himself lost and confused.
He crashed his car into a tree going over one hundred miles per hour and died on impact.
Your stepfather, Mark, raised you as his own. You refused to call him anything but Mark, despite his constant telling you it was okay to refer to him as “dad.”
“My name is Luke,” I remember you saying, your voice nervous but certain. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”
I shook my head. “I’m visiting my dad until school starts.”
“Cool,” you said. “Where are you from originally?”
I gave you a look, something between uncertainty and carefulness, if that’s even a thing. “Why do you ask?”
You jabbed your thumb to the left, firm eyes not leaving mine. “My friend over there,” you told me, “was too nervous to come over here and ask you himself.”
I looked to where you were pointing and saw a tall, slim boy, probably the same age as me, with shaggy brown hair and dark eyes, nervously shuffling his feet in the gravel. He had tan shorts, a white shirt, and gray sneakers. His face was cute, but not even close to your level of cuteness.
My gaze returned to you.
“Bummer,” I said teasingly. “I was kind of hoping you were the one who was asking.”
You grinned again, this time finishing the adorable look with a short laugh.
“I dunno.” You smirked. “I think going back and explaining that you’re interested in me and not him would be bad for our friendship.”
I smiled, half enjoying the way your voice sounded when you joked, almost like you were on the verge of laughing before you’d even said what you wanted to say.
“Michigan,” I said. “That’s where I’m from. I live there with my mom.”
“And your dad?”
“He’s here. He works at the Together We Can Defeat Cancer booth by Bob’s Burgers.”
You nodded. “Guess I’ll have to eat there more often during the summer.”
“I guess so,” I smiled.
“So,” you said, taking a careful step closer to me. It was easier to hear from that distance. “Do you want me to call my friend over so you can give him your number?” You grinned again. “Or you could give it to me first.”
“Or I could just put my real number in your phone,” I said, “and you could give him a fake number.”
You lifted an amused eyebrow. “Sounds dishonest.”
I threw my hands into the air jokingly. “Well, do you have a better idea?”
You smirked and put a finger to your chin, pretending to be in deep thought. “I could get your number, call you and start a casual conversation in which I explain that the guy over there isn’t actually my friend.”
I looked to where the other boy had been standing just moments before and saw that he was no longer there. He must have wandered away. I turned back to you.
“So who was that?” I asked, pointing in that direction.
You merely shrugged. “I dunno, actually. I figured if you thought a different guy wanted your number, you’d be interested enough to give it to me. At least then I’d have a chance to get to know you.”
“You don’t seem like the kind of girl who would fall for a guy like me, that’s all.”
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked.
In that moment, my entire head of hair whipped out in front of my face when a sudden gust of wind decided to come plummeting through the festival grounds, rustling the palm trees around us and sending trash skidding across the gravel. I attempted to keep my uncooperative brown hair back impatiently, waiting for an answer, with little success.
You shrugged for, like, the fourth time in this one conversation, and watched me with a cloud of humor in your eyes as I struggled to straighten out my waves. “Not necessarily,” you said. “I just mean that beautiful girls don’t usually look at me the way you’re looking at me right now.”
I felt a smile poke the side of my mouth, heat rising in my cheeks. “Oh,” I said. The wind had died down a bit, and I didn’t even want to try and imagine how hectic my hair looked after that mini tornado destroyed whatever style it had been put into this morning. “That was nice,” I said dumbly, half frowning at myself for that lame excuse for a thank you. “I mean, thanks,” I said quickly.
You laughed at me, and this time it was a real laugh, one that completely revealed your dimples and lit up your eyes like a kid watching fireworks on the Fourth of July for the first time.
“You’re cute,” you said, still smiling at me. “What’s your name?”
I stared at you for a moment, deciding to either start something new or walk away.
“How old are you?” I asked.
You were still smiling. It took everything I had not to smile back. “I turn nineteen next month.”
“You’re two years older than me.”
I laughed. You had a clever way of charming me into trusting you. “Fair argument. Did you graduate?”
“Are you going to college?”
“I’m majoring in law enforcement.”
I felt one of my eyebrows perk, surprised at your answer. “You want to be a police officer?”
“Ever since I can remember, that’s what I’ve wanted to be.” You shrugged. Again. “My stepdad is one, and I guess that’s where I get my motivation from.”
I stared at you for a bit longer, judging you with my eyes, deciding if it was a good idea to give away my name to an older and charming college boy.
Eh, what the heck.
“Give me your phone,” I said finally, holding out my hand. “I’ll create a contact.”
“With your real name and number?” you asked.
I laughed, nodding. “Yeah,” I answered. “With my real name and number.”
You smiled and reached into your pocket to retrieve your phone. “Good.” I felt my stomach jolt with butterflies.
Our eyes met.
I typed my name and number into a new contact and gave you back your phone.
“Ella?” you’d said, staring at the screen. You looked up, your eyes meeting mine. “That’s all I get? Just your first name?” You sounded generally concerned.
I grinned and turned. “That’s all you gave me,” I replied.
There was a long pause, and I figured you’d walked away. I took a few steps.
“Luke Jason Simons.”
I stopped, inclining my head. “What?”
“Luke Jason Simons,” you repeated, taking a step in my direction. “That’s my full name.”
I blinked at you. “Daniella Kay Ryefield.”
You smiled at me. “Lovely.”
I laughed a bit, not expecting you to call my name ‘lovely.’ It didn’t sound lovely to me.
I began to turn, but you caught me by the arm before I could move away. “When can I see you again?”
I looked at you, my eyes automatically going to the hand you still had around wrapped my arm. You saw my expression and slowly let go, your eyes apologetic.
“Sorry,” you said, stepping back. “I didn’t mean to... I hope... I’m sorry I grabbed you.”
I blushed, my eyes staring at my feet. I couldn’t help but chuckle at your embarrassment and polite reaction. “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
We were quiet.
“Can I see you tomorrow?” I asked, looking up from the boring gravel ground. Your face was way more entertaining than a bunch of dusty, sand-colored rocks.
You nodded happily. “We can meet here. In front of the - ” you looked up ” - the Mac Shack food booth?”
I looked around at nothing in particular. “Okay,” I said finally. “Does noon work?”
“Noon sounds perfect,” you said, grinning again.
“Okay,” I smiled.
We both took a step back.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Daniella Kay Ryefield.”
I smiled. “Bye, Luke.”
I saw her and immediately knew my life would never be the same. She was so beautiful, so free and unique. All I’d ever wanted I saw in her.
When I first saw her, her hair was bouncing in brown curls. I first saw her from the back, and then she turned around, and my life changed forever.
Freckles spotted her nose like kisses from the heavens, and I found myself wishing I was the person who had put them there. I couldn’t look away from her brown eyes. Even though I’d never liked chocolate, they made me crave it. My heart leapt in my chest at the sight of her. Everything about her was perfect. She would later describe herself as “perfectly imperfect,” but I could never see her with flaws. Perfection was and is the only word I could ever use to describe her.
Despite my nerves and shaking hands, I decided to approach her and try to play it cool.
She definitely didn’t look like the type of girl who’d fall for a guy like me.
I wasn’t a good person. I tried to be, of course, but I just wasn’t. I was, according to my mother, a waste of a life. I was lazy and arrogant, but put the lives of those I cared about before mine. Because I really didn’t care about my mother, she didn’t see that part of me. She saw the arrogant guy, the one who refused to listen to her because she was wrong and needy, selfish and unkind, not the caring guy who just wanted to find his place in the world.
I took one step in your direction, and you turned away. I thought you were going to leave and I’d lost my chance, but you just stood there.
At the time, I had no idea you’d just stuffed your mouth with overly buttered popcorn.
I took a few steps, then turned away, turned back, and away. I told myself I wasn’t good enough for a girl like you, that I was setting myself up for failure, but then suddenly I was standing behind you and out came a nervous, “Hi.”
How lame was that? ‘Hi’? I could have at least tapped your shoulder first. When you turned around and saw me, scanning my appearance with your eyes, I thought you were going to throw up. Instead, you spit out your popcorn and threw the remaining of it in the trash, which I thought was a waste of butter and salt and also really cute.
We talked and did our best at not being awkward. For having no idea who the other person was, I thought we did pretty good.
Taking into consideration how well talking to the opposite gender had gone for me in highschool, I was doing great.
I grabbed your arm within twenty minutes after we met, and felt awful for doing it. There was a right and a wrong way of getting a girl to go out with you, to give you a chance, and touching her without her permission wasn’t one of them. I thought you were going to push me away, call me some awful name and then stroll away in all your gorgeous glory, but instead, you laughed. I’d almost sighed with relief, but decided that might’ve been a little awkward.
When you agreed to go on a date with me, I had to hold back my inner happiness, but couldn’t keep back the smile that crept onto my face.
We went our separate ways.
And the next day we met at the Mac Shack food booth.
It was a perfect date.
At least, I thought it was a date.
I hoped it was a date.
You brought me flowers and told me I looked beautiful, even though I hadn’t worn anything fancier than the day before.
We walked around the Summer Festival grounds from noon until the city’s curfew, which was eleven, talking about our family and telling funny stories and asking about opinions and favorites and hobbies.
By the end of the night, I could officially say I was falling for you. Falling as though I’d jumped off a diving board in the dark. Falling as though my heart was in my stomach and my head was in my heart.
Falling in love.
You walked me home, insisting that I introduce you to my dad, which I finally did.
He invited you in for a quick bite, but you told him you needed to get home before your folks started to worry.
You kissed my cheek before you left, and we stood in the doorway of the apartment hugging.
It was probably the best night of my life.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is where our love story begins.
I went back to Michigan after the next week, still dating you. We weren’t official yet, and I’d kind of been hoping you’d ask me before I left for my mom’s, but you never did.
I texted you the second I stepped into the airport, and when I arrived back at my mom’s, I immediately made a Skype and we video chatted for what seemed like forever, even though it was only for about three hours.
We shared music, and I showed you around my room, putting posters, books and pictures into the camera’s view.
“Wait,” you said, pointing to the computer screen. “Is that you?”
I’d assumed you meant the picture of my fifth grade self standing in front of a fireplace, delicately holding a violin and smiling shyly.
“That one?” I asked, pointing to the picture. I watched you nod, and then sighed. “Can’t you tell by my awful hair?” I asked jokingly, clicking the button that turned the camera back to reveal myself.
“I like your hair,” you replied. “It’s... natural.”
I snorted. “You’re cute.”
A smile poked at your mouth. “Not as cute as you.”
I gave you a look then, one of my own invention: a mix between appreciation and ‘stop that.’
You merely chuckled. “Do you still play... whatever instrument you were holding in that picture?”
I grinned. “You mean this?” I asked, reaching out of camera view and plucking my violin from its case beside my bed. I strummed my finger over the strings. “Yeah. Do you play an instrument?”
Your eyes squinted for a moment, and then, slowly but surely, you nodded. “I can play the guitar and piano.”
I frowned. “That makes me sound boring.”
“I think you’re quite fascinating, to be honest.”
I smiled. “This,” I said happily, holding out my violin, “is Ginny.”
“Ginny?” you repeated, smirking with humor sparkling in your eyes. “Like Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter?”
My mouth fell open. “You know Harry Potter?”
“Heck yeah,” you said, leaning back in your chair and folding your arms behind your head, watching me through dark eyelashes. “My favorite book series by far.”
“When I get the chance to, yeah.”
“What’s your favorite book?” I asked, criss-crossing my legs on my amazingly comfortable bed and plopping my chin in the palm of my hand.
You let out a long breath, your gaze fixed somewhere I couldn’t see, obviously thinking. “That’s a tough one. I guess I’ll read anything by Stephen King.”
“Stephen King?” I repeated. “What are you, forty?”
“No,” you said casually, leaning forward and folding your arms on the desk, resting your chin on your forearms. “At least not yet. I’m thirty-nine, so.”
I laughed. “Wow, an older guy. What does that make us? Twenty-two years apart?”
You stuck out your lower lip and nodded. “Nice math skills, Ryefield.”
“You know my first name’s Daniella, right?” I said.
You grinned. “Yeah, I know.”
I said nothing, just stared at you through the screen.
The camera made your eyes look almost gray, but I could still see your brown-green eyes in the back of my mind. The camera quality gave your hair a weird black tint, hiding your naturally dark blond in a fuzzy haze.
I blinked at the screen, realizing you were staring right back at me, and blushed, feeling as though we really were face-to-face in that moment.
“What?” I said. You said nothing, just stared at me. I thought the screen had frozen at first, but then you blinked and I realized you were, in fact, just staring at me. “What?” I said again.
You shook your head, just gently enough for me to see.
“Why are you staring at me?” I asked, feeling like maybe there was something on my face or in my teeth.
I looked to the corner of the screen where a small square showed my face and did a quick check for anything obvious. When I glanced at you, the corners of your mouth were curved, showing a small smile.
“Ryefield, do you know you’re beautiful?”
I stared at you, my eyes darting back and forth between your gray-tinted orbs, trying to find something, anything, that would tell me what to say. I found nothing. “What?” I said dumbly.
Your chin lifted off of your forearms. “Do you know you’re beautiful?” you repeated more clearly.
If you’re reading this, Luke Jason Simons, wherever you are, you should know that I heard you. I heard you. I just didn’t think I was awake. I mean, stuff like that only happened in dreams, right? Dreams and movies. And also cheesy books.
I remained staring. Then, slowly, after I realized you were actually waiting for an answer, I shook my head.
“Luke,” I began. “I’m not - ”
“Yes you are,” you said, interrupting me. “You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
That was the first time the words ‘I love you’ popped into my head. I didn’t say them though.
That would’ve just been awkward.
Skyping with you was probably one of the most amazing things. It definitely beat homework or video games. Plus, I just loved seeing your face. That always made my day better.
I tried to compliment you as much as I could. I read online somewhere that the more you call a girl beautiful, the more likely she was to believe it. I really wanted you to see yourself as I saw you. Beautiful, smart, funny, talented and the best person in the world.
I was also kind of hoping you’d fall in love with me.
I guess that didn’t work out as I’d wanted it to either.