I look at my tired reflection in the bathroom mirror as I quickly escaped during math class. Look at these dark circles.
In the beginning, my teachers were worried and understand, but now that almost a week has passed, I can see their irritation growing even though my grades have never been better because of my insomnia. My friends have completely given up having conversations because I either doze off or fall asleep on them.
And to top off the proverbial cherry, I haven't been able to look at Benji in the eye after yesterday's tutoring session. My cheeks flush at the embarrassing memories of falling asleep and arguing with him. I walk out of the bathroom to go back to class, but see Benji walking through the halls. I panic and walk straight back into the bathroom.
What do I even say to him? Hey, Benji. I'm sorry that I've been a major crazy bitch lately. I hope you forgive me?
That sounds like the most insincere apology that I've ever heard.
"Casey?" I hear him calling for me through the door. "Can I please talk to you?" he asks politely.
To go or not to go. That is the question. I'm tempted to hide behind this door, but I'm going to eventually confront him whether I want to or not. Plus, if I don't go out, I feel like Benji would actually storm into the girls' bathroom just to talk to me.
I hate it when my brain wins over arguments.
I peek through the door to see Benji looking expectantly at me. Dreading whatever conversation we're going to have, I slowly walk outside the bathroom with a sigh.
"Hi, Benji," I greet him awkwardly. I want to hit myself for the awkwardness. This is not how I wanted to have this conversation even though I didn't want this conversation till a lot later.
"Hey," he greets me.
"What's up?" I ask him.
"You and me are going on a date," he declares.
"What?" I ask him in shock with my mouth wide open.
"You and me are going on a date," he repeats again with the same big goofy smile he always gives me.
"I, you… we…" I stutter. "We're going on a date?" I ask him one more time to clarify.
"Yes," he chuckles. "Do you want me to say it again?"
"Where is this coming from?"
"Well, you still owe me a date from the auction, remember?" Oh, right. The auction. That totally slipped my mind.
"You know Benji. You should really fix that nasty habit of demanding rather than asking," I tell him sourly.
Shoot. I'm supposed to apologize to him. What am I doing?
"Sorry," he apologized quickly and takes a step closer to me. Benji takes my hands and asks me while staring at me intensely with his smoldering brown eyes, "Cassandra Forest. Will you please go on a date with me?"
My heart beats quickly as my brain shuts down because of sensory overload. Out of instinct, I answer him quietly with a "yes."
Benji grins widely.
"That's great. I'll see you right after school."
"Yep. We're going right after school."
"Casey," he interrupts me. "You haven't been able to function normally for the past two weeks. You're coming with me today," he says with finality.
At a loss for words, I just keep my mouth shut and nod my head obediently.
"Good," he smiles. "I'll see you later," he kisses me on the cheek and walks off to his class.
My hand slowly goes up to touch the cheek that he kissed. I don't understand him. I really don't understand him, but I guess I have a date with him today. I finally walk back to the classroom while fanning my face to cool down my burning cheeks.
"I can't do this. I'm just going to go into my car and go home. You can get my books for me, right?" I frantically ask Val as we look afar to see Benji waiting near my locker.
"We've been standing here for 15 minutes. Just go to the boy," she tells me exasperatedly.
"But, I—I can't," I tell her while shuffling my feet.
"Why not?" she asks me while rolling her eyes.
"I can't do this," I breathe deeply as I debate on whether to run or face Benji.
"I honestly don't get why you can't just go on this date with the kid."
"I just can't you know cause…"
"Oh my god," she interrupts me. "You like him," she accuses me with the most satisfied grin on her face.
"No. No. No no no no," I frantically deny.
"Yes you do. That's why you don't want to go on this date with him."
"Wouldn't I want to go on this date with him if I liked him? Plus, I like Jason, remember?" I try to defend myself.
"No. Because you're Casey, you would never actually go out with the guy you like. You're always too scared to make the next step. Plus, I never thought that you and Jason were good together."
"What? I thought you've always supported us!" I say indignantly.
"I don't know. He just doesn't feel right for you, but I really think you should give Benji a chance."
"Why not? If it goes south, it just does. But, at least you know that."
I can't think of a counterargument to that. We've already rotated around this conversation multiple times, but I just can't go on this date for Benji. I just feel so self-conscious.
"This is getting ridiculous. Here," she grabs my arm and starts pulling me to Benji. "A little gift from the universe," Val says and finally brings me to face Benji. "She's all yours," she says before walking away.
"Hi," he says with the same goofy smile he always gives me as if my friend did not just drag me to my locker.
"Hi," I say awkwardly back with an unnaturally high pitched voice. Come on. Let's keep it cool. You can do this.
"Well, we should get going," he says enthusiastically.
"Okay." I give up. I might as well go through with this date. "Let me just get my stuff out of my locker."
"There's no time for that," he holds my hand and pulls me to the front entrance.
"What?" I ask him flustered as he drags me out of the school. "Where are we going?"
"Don't worry about it. I promise it will be fun," he gives me a reassuring smile.
"That's what rapists say," I tell him apprehensively.
"Casey," he holds my face and squeezes my cheeks together. "Just trust me, okay?" He seriously stares into my eyes pleading for me to answer him.
Do I trust him? It would be a lie if I say that I don't. I mean, I already told him my deepest fear. Plus, I've never been able to resist him when he gives me those puppy eyes.
"Okay," I say awkwardly through squished cheeks.
"Thank you, mein schatzi. Now, let's go," he gets on a bike.
I don't know what I was expecting. Benji obviously doesn't have his license yet, but it's a first to be riding a bicycle as a mode of transportation.
"Where should I sit?" I ask him.
"Right here," he says and pats the back "seat" of his bike, but it's only a tiny stand meant to hold any luggage. I sit sideways and try to grip on the sides of the stand without touching him.
"Let's go," he says excitedly and starts pedaling. The sudden movement causes me to panic and grab onto his torso to make sure that I don't fall down. I always thought this only happens in movies, but seriously a girl has no choice but to hold onto the guy unless she wants to fall and die.
"Where are we going?" I ask him as he pedals us to the undisclosed destination with great ease.
"The park," he says with a smile.
"It's the first day in a long time that we don't have rain, and I think we should spend it outside," he says enthusiastically.
It's true. Today is the first day that I've seen sunshine in a week. I'm not going to lie the park seems like a great place to go after staying cooped inside during the winter. It's much different to be biking through our small town instead of driving through it. I can feel everything around me other than being blocked off inside a car. For the first time in what feels like a long time, I feel that I can finally relax.
We finally arrive at the park that seems to be filled with people who seem to have the same idea as us. With the relentless rain mixed with cold temperatures, the weather has been depressing. People are excited for any indication such as today of spring. Even though it is sunny, it's still chilly enough to wear a couple layers. Thankfully, I dressed warmly, but Benji is only wearing a light jacket.
"Aren't you cold?" I ask him.
"No," he says showing me that he's perfectly fine with his measly sweater.
"How can you not be cold with a thin jacket like that? Here," I take off my scarf and wrap it around his neck. "Now I know you won't be cold."
I can see that his ears have turned pink. How adorable. Stop. You shouldn't think of Benji like this. This date is just purely business. Right?
"What are we going to do at the park?" I ask him trying to distract myself from the internal panic raging inside of me.
"We're going to have a picnic."
"A picnic? Isn't it too cold to be having a picnic?"
"It's never too cold to be having a picnic," he smiles and changes the subject, "So how was your day?"
"Hectic. Ms. Martin, my evil Euro teacher, is telling us that we will be having a mock A.P. exam that will be twice a test grade."
"Euro? Is she European or something?"
"No, she's my European History teacher," I laugh.
"That sounds tough. I'm sure your going to ace it though."
"Usually, I would say that I probably wouldn't, but because of my insomnia lately, I've had ample time to memorize that textbook," I say grumpily. I'm being a Debby Downer again. "What about you? How are you doing today?" I ask him to change the subject.
"I just talked to my father today," he tells me casually.
"Oh?" I ask him curiously. This is the first time that he's ever really mentioned any of his family in Germany.
"Yeah, I just got a new baby sister!" he beams.
"Oh my god! Congratulations!" I hug him, "I'm sure you'll be a fabulous older brother. What's her name?" I ask her.
"Her name's Annie," he says proudly and shows me a picture of her on his phone. I see a picture of a newborn puppy.
"That's a dog," I tell him.
"Oh, sorry," he panics and quickly takes the phone away from me. "I guess I don't have a picture of her."
"I guess you really like dogs don't you?"
"She's not a dog," he says defensively.
"What?" I ask him stopping mid laugh.
"She's a wolf."
"Sorry, I guess you really like wolves," I correct myself awkwardly.
"Something like that," he laughs to ease the awkwardness in the air.
We both finally arrive at the isolated park near the woods. Past the little playground where little children play, there is a picnic set up near the forest. We sit down at the picnic. He opens the basket and hands me a sandwich and some warm soup from a thermos.
I really thought that this date was going to be weird, but it's really different, a good different. I forget about my exhaustion and just have a fun time with the boy in front of me. While eating the food that he set up, we talk about random things. I don't remember laughing so hard in a long time.
We get on to topic about the future, and then he asks me a peculiar question that I never put much thought into thinking about, "Why do you want to go to college?"
Taken aback by the question, I ask him back defensively, "Why are you asking me this question?"
"Why do you want to go to college?" he repeats the question.
"It's the next step," I answer him and pop a grape into my mouth.
"Next step to what?" he keeps pressing the question.
"Well, to get a good job and become a doctor," I tell him.
Doesn't everyone know this?
"Why do you want to be a doctor?" he asks again.
What is with him and all these question?
"To make a difference."
"Is that even a question?" I ask him frustrated.
Noticing my frustration, he tries to explain all his questioning, "I know that you're a smart girl. Everyone knows that you are a smart girl. You could go into any field of work, yet you want to be a doctor. Everyone wants to make a difference in his life, but you want to make a difference by being a doctor. What I really want to know is why do you want to make a difference as a doctor?"
Flabbergasted, I struggle to find an answer to his question, "I… I… well… I don't know," I answer him honestly. Being a doctor has been the only path that I've thought of. It's always been the goal ever since day one.
I have never admitted that to anyone else before. I created these fake generic explanations in order to people to think that I'm not aiming to be a doctor for no reason. It's as if he always knows the right buttons to always push to leave me speechless.
"I don't know," I tell him truthfully, "I haven't really thought about anything else, what do you want to be?" I fire his question back at him. Maybe I can stump him like he did me.
"I'm taking over my family's business," he smiles proudly.
"The brewery?" I ask him.
"Yeah, the brewery," he brightens up with the memories of his home. "In Germany, I was still learning the basics of the trade before I came to America," he explains.
As Benji excitedly talks about his life back in Germany, I can't help but smiling at all his stories. He creates the imagery of the small village perched high within the mountains of Germany hidden by the forest just like a fairy tale. His home sounds just wonderful compared to the small suburban town that we're both stuck in.
"That sounds just beautiful," I tell him and then sneeze.
"Anyways, we should get going now." He notices me rubbing my arms as the temperature has dropped for the night and packs up the basket and the blanket we sat on. We both headed on home.
On the way back, we both walk together in silence but it's a comfortable and companionable one. We both talked for such a long time that I guess we reached the point of just enjoying each other's company.
We both reach the front door to my house and look at each other.
"I had a fun time tonight," I tell him awkwardly.
"Me too," he says.
"Well, I guess I'll go in," I tell him.
"Wait, Casey!" he calls for me before I open the door.
"What?" I ask him.
"I have a present for you," he says and reaches in his pocket for what looks like a necklace.
"That's beautiful," I admire the necklace in awe.
"Here, let me put it on for you," he says and puts his hands around my neck to put the necklace on. My skin tingles in the places that he touches to put on the necklace.
"There," he says once he gets the clasp on for what felt like an eternity.
"Thanks Benji," I touch the necklace, "You didn't have to do such a thing."
"Don't worry about it," he says sheepishly. "This is a type of amulet from my country. It's supposed to help you sleep at night," he explains.
"Really?" I ask him. I'm not one for home remedies or talismans. Growing up in a house with a doctor who denounces all solutions without a scientific explanation can do that to you. But, this time I have a strange feeling it will work. I want to trust Benji – no. I trust Benji.
"Yeah, you won't have any more nightmares to haunt your dreams," he says.
"Thank you." I tell him.
"Good night, mein schatzi." he says and kisses me on the forehead before leaving.
"Good night," I repeat and enter the house. I hear my heart beating erratically as I lean against the door. This wasn't supposed to be like this. I'm not supposed to like Benji. I'm supposed to like Jason like always not the strange German who whirls into my life.
That night I tried falling asleep like every other night. A part of me doubted that this would work, but a part of me wished so badly that it would.
"I swear that if this works," I mumble to myself, "I will kiss Benji tomorrow."
And then, I have the best sleep I've had in ages.