Mike and I have found a rhythm that works. Every school day, I try to wake up at 6:30 in the morning, and I’m met by Mike at our front door an hour later with a coffee to go in his hand. He’s figured out that I don’t really come to life in the mornings without coffee, so he put it on himself to make sure that I have my cup of coffee every morning. He wants to be the one to do it, just in case I ever oversleep from our late-night phone conversations and cannot make the dark, hot nectar of delight myself.
How he is unable to ever oversleep - I’ll never know.
Even though I have a car, I have no job. With Mike offering to drive me, I don’t have to worry too much about gas. A job would be nice though, just to have some of my own spending money. Dad works so hard for what he makes; I feel awful asking for money so I can buy things here and there.
On Friday’s, Mike will stop at a McDonalds on the way to school to buy us breakfast. He calls it ‘Happy Fuel’ to start the soon-to-be weekend off right.
This Friday has proven to be no different. I think we’ve found a special tradition between us as we pull up to the McDonald’s drive-thru.
Mike cranks down his window, rests an arm on the door, and places a large warm hand on my knee. “What do you want, babe?” he asks.
I pretend to look over the menu even though I always order the same thing. “Two Egg McMuffins and an orange juice, please,” I tell him with a smile.
He shakes his head. Mike puts in our order as he squeezes my knee, causing me to laugh while the lady on the other side repeats the order even though it shows up on the screen for us.
When he’s satisfied with the tickles, he rolls his truck forward. As we wait patiently for our turn at the next window, I see a ‘Now Hiring’ sign.
“What was that for?” I demand a reason for the tickle even though he just likes to do it out of nowhere regularly.
“For a few weeks now, you’ve ordered the same thing,” he teases.
“Then why do you always ask me what I want if you already know.”
He chuckles and says, “Because one of these days, I know you’re gonna switch it up. After I put the order in, you’ll be like, ′Wait, I want a breakfast burrito instead,’” he mocks, giving me his best version of my voice – which isn’t even close to how I sound. I’m not that whiny with my non-southern accent, am I? “Then I’ll have to have the poor girl who’s taking the order, erase everything on the screen. So, I just ask every time.”
I laugh and roll my eyes because deep down, I know he’s not wrong. He’s found out that I have a routine, and after I stick with it long enough, I’ll change it just to try something different occasionally.
Like two weeks ago, instead of taking out the clothes I plan to wear for the next day on the night before, I waited until morning, just because. I won’t be doing that again; my whole day was out of sorts after that, and Mike could not stop teasing me about it.
Today, I french-braided my hair. I usually just wear it down or in a messy bun, maybe even in a ponytail. Today, however, I decided to braid my hair for kicks and giggles – which I’ve done only one other time in my life.
For mom’s funeral.
“After school, can you bring me back here? I want to apply,” I state, bringing my focus back to the ‘Now Hiring’ sign. I need to take my mind off the memory of when I last braided my hair and the fact that Mike knows me better than I’d like to admit.
Those dark brows gravitate to each other, and his eyes narrow in on me. “Apply for what?”
With a laugh, I point at the sign, then his eyes follow. “I’d like to get a job,” I tell him.
“Why?” he asks, baffled.
“Why?” I repeat with a soft smile. “So, I can have my own money. I hate having to ask my dad for money. It would be nice to have my own.”
Mike shakes his head. “No. Whatever you need, just let me know, and I’ll make sure you get it.” He sounds a little rattled.
Why does this bother him?
“Mike,” I say. “I don’t want that on you. I’m eighteen, and it’s time for me to get a job. I have to start somewhere; I have a car I’m responsible for now.”
The truck inches forward, and he hands the woman on the other side of the window cash, then hands me the food. He knows it’s not up to him, right? I don’t need his approval to get a job.
When we get to the school parking lot, I hand him his food. In the middle of a bite, he says, “I just want you to be safe.”
“I will be safe.”
“You don’t know that.” His eyes narrow on me.
“How do you know that I won’t be?” I challenge.
“Elena, it’s too dangerous out there. Have you forgotten what happened about a month ago?”
No, I haven’t forgotten. It was a month ago - nothing has happened since. “I can’t let that ruin my chances of living my life, Michael.”
“Full first name again, huh?” The corner of his mouth twitches.
I just stare at him with wide eyes. I’m sure my face is a little red from the frustration of fighting for the right to get a job even though I know it’s not up to him. But still, he is my boyfriend - a boyfriend who is the president of a motorcycle club and who likes to be in control.
Michael Gilbert will not stop me from acquiring a job no matter how dangerous the world is. He can’t keep me locked up in a bubble forever.
He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Fine. But one of my brothers or I will be sitting in the McDonalds during your shift. Deal?”
It’s a bit much, but at the same time, I love how much he cares about me. He really is worried about my safety. If it means I don’t have to be wrapped up in a bubble – I’ll take it. Plus, it would be kind of nice to have someone I know nearby in case something bad does happen...
A shiver runs through me at the thought that Mike could be right to worry.
“I’d rather just be the one to provide for you, but I get it,” he finishes.
“Deal. I’m glad you get it because you’re my boyfriend - not my husband. I can’t let you provide for me like that,” I say in between bites of egg and juicy sausage bites, ignoring my previous thoughts of something bad possibly happening while at work.
“Husband?” His voice stops short.
“What?” I nearly choke on the swallow, realizing what I said a moment ago.
“Have you thought about that kind of thing?” he asks cautiously.
Just the thought of me being his wife gives my belly a twisted sweet flop. I need to shake that thought away. We are too young to think about things like that. I know we love each other, but...marriage? I can’t believe my mind went there, and it hasn’t been the first time I’ve thought about it.
I’ve thought about it a lot—way more than someone my age should.
“Not really.” My voice shakes on the lie.
“Uh, huh,” he says into his coffee.
I break apart the muffin of the Egg McMuffin with my fingers and hesitantly ask, “Have you?”
Mike finishes his breakfast burrito then turns to face me, his expression is thoughtful, and his eyes are a bright green. “I’ve thought about it here and there. I’m not sure I’m marriage material, though.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m... not sure I’d be good at it,” he mumbles.
“Why do you say that?”
He exhales, “Because of the life I lead -it wouldn’t be fair for a wife.
“...Oh.” That statement bothers me more than it should.
“If it makes you feel better though, there’s only one woman that I ever thought about in that way,” he says with the corner of his lips slowly curling into a wicked grin.
Is he joking with me?
I roll my eyes. “Whatever, Mike.”
“I’m serious. When I think about my future, I see you. I’d like to think that maybe someday I can get on one knee and ask you to be my wife. I haven’t met anyone who has planted a root in me quite like you have.” He shrugs a shoulder.
The pulse at the base of my throat is dancing like wild butterflies; his gaze falls to my lips - those eyes have gotten darker. He is dead serious about maybe making me his wife someday.
Clearing my throat, I say, “Well...we’ll just have to see. But Mike, I don’t believe you.”
He doesn’t hide the slump in his shoulders at my reaction. “Why not?”
“Mike, we’re eighteen and haven’t even graduated high school yet. You said so yourself that you may not be marriage material.” I half-laugh to lighten the mood.
“Right. We’re eighteen,” he says it as though I’ve crushed his soul.
In reaching for his hand, I give it a little squeeze.
The truth is, I would love to marry Mike someday and have a family with him. In all honesty, if he asked me right here, right now, my reckless heart would say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, my brain is telling me that we are just too young to have that kind of talk about such a serious commitment, even though it’s doing wild things with my imagination. Such as what our wedding would be like, how handsome Mike would look in a tux, and having my dad give me away; it would be a royal blue and coral-colored wedding.
It would be magical and beautiful.
And so far into the future that I need to stop thinking about it repeatedly. However, the image of his face lighting up when I walk down the aisle towards him has me feeling all sorts of warm fuzzy, feelings.
I smile up at him. Maybe one day.