I turned the key in the lock, twisted the doorknob and shoved open the door to the apartment my best friend and I were sharing. We had just recently graduated from UWF and were taking it slow as we started our careers. Well, as slow as was possible without going broke. We had part-time jobs that kept our stomachs full while we were searching for full-time jobs that pertained to our recently acquired Associate's Degrees.
I'd majored in photography and was trying to hitch a few jobs as a local photographer, just to get started. I was aiming to someday earn enough money to start a place of my own, or go to Europe… or both.
My best friend, Nikole, had majored in music. She could sing and play guitar and was heading for a career with her boyfriend, Peter. They had already written a few songs, and I thought they were nothing short of amazing.
We were both 21 and unmarried. The only difference was that she had a boyfriend and I didn't. It's not that I didn't get any offers, quite the opposite, actually, or rather, unfortunately. I hated seeing the hurt or mocking expressions on their faces when I turned them down, with the only reason being that I didn't date.
I had a reason for that reason, though.
You see, ever since the end of my most recent relationship - that hadn't ended well in the slightest on my part - I'd resolved not to date any guy, unless he was a possible candidate for marriage.
And maybe it wasn't fair to them, and maybe I was being selfish, but I didn't enjoy heartache, and I disliked inflicting it even more so than enduring it.
Most of my college friends thought I was crazy. But I had never been a person who changed what I believed or wanted just to fit in or please other people.
Uhm… Oh yeah. I walked, or rather trudged, through the doorway and as I closed the door behind me, took a deep breath and sighed as the smell of pizza filled my nostrils. I walked to my left into the "living room" and plopped myself onto the small couch we had, while dropping my over-sized purse onto the floor. I chuckled as I imagined what my mom's reaction would have been if she had caught me doing that back home.
I closed my eyes and tried to imagine myself in my old room with its green walls and all the space I had had. It always seemed as if I had had too much space. Now that I was living in a small, two bedroom, one bathroom apartment, instead of a 5000 square foot house, it seemed as if I never had enough. I was thankful for my own bedroom though.
As I was daydreaming, Nikole came up behind the couch and poked my stomach. I kept my eyes shut, but smiled weakly and used all my energy to swat at her. I was dog-tired.
"Hey Beth. I made pizza. Again."
Oh yeah, my name is Bethany. Hi.
I opened my eyes and sat up. I definitely wasn't thrilled at the thought of having more dinner from a cardboard box out of the freezer.
"You want any? I made a cake, too… and from scratch this time. I looked up the recipe, went to the store and bought the stuff to make it and everything. I figured I would make myself useful on my day off."
I couldn't help but smile. Nikki always knew how to make me smile. And she should have. We had been best friends literally our whole lives. She knew me from the inside out, from top to bottom, sometimes better than I knew myself.
I looked up at her and smiled. "Sure. I haven't eaten since breakfast this morning."
"And all you can say is, 'sure'?" Nikki brought me a slice on a paper plate. I hadn't had a chance to bring over my dishes from my parents house.
"Sorry." I took a huge bite and chewed it slowly. I hadn't realized how weak I was from not eating. It took almost as much energy to swallow. "I'm just really tired. I can't think of much else to say. Just give me a little bit. I'll be back to normal before long."
And I was right. By the time we were done with dinner, I had laughed so much at Nikki's stories and jokes that I had almost choked more than once. When I was 15 I'd sworn she'd be the death of me. I told her that if I died it would be of laughter, and she would be the one explaining my death to my parents.
We were in the middle of laughing when Nikki suddenly stopped, sat straight up on the couch and gasped.
"What?" I asked, a hint of curiosity in my voice, the laughter still dancing in my eyes.
"I almost forgot! You got a mystery letter in the mail today." Her smile was a mixture of mystery and mischief .
"Hm? Why the mystery?" Had she read my letter?
"No return address. No names, nothing. You can't even tell where it came from because the ink is smeared."
No. Obviously she hadn't read my letter. But now I was really curious. Apparently the person knew me, but who would write a letter? Was it really so important that they couldn't trust the Internet? I guess I'd find out later.
"I'll check it out before I go to bed and let you know what's up with our mystery correspondent tomorrow."
Later that night, it must have been at least 11, I sat down on my bed and turned on the lamp on my nightstand.
I opened the letter and, out of sheer curiosity, skipped to the end of the letter and read the name. I was almost sorry I had. For a full second I couldn't breathe; I couldn't think, I couldn't move, I couldn't speak.
Let me explain: When I was in high school, there was this guy. But not just any guy, no, he was the most popular guy at my school and at my youth group. He had the looks and the brains. He had the shaggy blond hair, bright blue eyes and perfect smile. He was sweet, thoughtful, had an amazing relationship with God, and every girl admired him. Especially me.
Of course, the problem with being an average, not-so-popular girl with subtly curly, chocolate-colored hair, freckles across the nose and pale blue eyes, was that guys like Nathan didn't notice a girl like me; except when I ran into him in the hall and dropped my books on his feet. True story, but I won't go into that one… for your sake, of course.
Still, I adored him like every other girl, except I didn't let anyone know. Not even him. I kept my distance and admired from afar. I had realized and admitted to the fact that I never had a chance with him, so I made it seem as if it went both ways. Whenever he would look at me when we'd pass each other in the hall, which did happen a couple times, I would pretend that I didn't notice, even though if my heart had had a face, it would've been smiling.
Although, sadly, pretending not to like him made me seem even weirder to the other girls in school and at youth. I never knew why being quiet amounted to weird in the first place, but apparently it did.
So, there was this gorgeous, practically perfect guy who I adored until our senior year when all of a sudden, I lost interest in him. I didn't know why, I couldn't explain it. Later on though, I told myself it was a good thing, since right after graduation, he left for Ohio to stay with his older brother for a while. Or at least that's what I heard. Nobody, not even his parents knew why he left. Of course there're lots of rumors about it, but we won't go there.
So, he was the one who had written me. After about 3 minutes of wondering how he knew my name, got my address, and knew I still lived here, I decided to actually read the letter. Perhaps my little mysteries inside the larger mystery would all be explained once I read it.
I was in town a week ago, and I stopped by our old church that we used to go to. I wanted to see if you were there so maybe we could have lunch or something. But your mom said you had stopped going there a few years ago. She didn't tell me the whole story, but I understand being hurt by people in the church. Maybe I'll explain that one to you some time.
Anyways, I wrote you a letter because I didn't want to ask your mom for your number. That would've been… awkward. Instead your mom eventually ended up telling me the name of the apartment you're staying in. So I stopped by and asked where you lived. They told me but I was too chicken to stop by myself and say hi.
So here you are, hopefully, reading my lame letter, which I should probably explain.
Well as you probably heard, after graduation I went up to Ohio to stay with my brother. I stayed there and got a job and things were going pretty good. Well about a month ago my brother got promoted and had to move to Indiana or lose the job. Of course he needed the job, so I told him it was ok and I'd just come back here and stay with mom and dad 'til I could get a job and a place of my own. Well when I came back, I wasn't sure who still lived here and who had moved on. So I stopped by the church and saw some people I knew, but they were all older. Well, duh, I mean, we all are, but I mean they were old… like my parents. Apparently none of the kids we went to church with stayed there. But I did see your parents, which reminded me of you.
So, like I said, I talked to them and now once again, hopefully, here you are.
So, I wrote all of that just to ask you if you'd have lunch with me sometime. I know we didn't really know each other back in high school, but I figured that since I'm back in town, now would be the perfect time to get to know each other.
Anyways, I wrote my number on a piece of paper and stuck it in with the letter. Call me if you want to hang out sometime. And even if you don't, let me know. That way I'll know you're not ignoring me.
If I told you that I was surprised, it would be an understatement. I was in shock. An hour later when Nikki came in because my light was still on, I was still sitting on my bed staring at the letter sitting in front of me.
"Are you alright Beth?" Nikki moved slowly to the edge of my bed and sat down. She probably thought that if she made a sudden move I would've had a seizure. And I might have. It's probably a good thing we never found out.
Nikki picked up the letter. "May I?"
I just nodded.
I watched her as she read the letter, flipped it over, read it again and then set it down and stared at it.
"See!" I practically screamed. Nikki jumped when I yelled, and it startled me too. "It does something to you," I said, lowering my voice. "I can't explain it. You just don't know what to do with it."
We both just sat there for a second. I wasn't expecting it, but all of a sudden Nikki said, "Well, good luck with calling him tomorrow. I'm going to bed. Goodnight."
Nikki got up and started to leave the room.
"Wait!" Why was she leaving me? She didn't really expect me to call him, did she? "Nikki, I can't just call him."
"Why not? He asked you to, didn't he?"
"Well, yeah… so?"
"So, the guy was desperate enough to send you a letter. I think you should at least call him back and see what happens. Five years ago you would've given almost anything for him to even talk to you. I know you don't drool over him like you used to, but don't you think it could be fun to have lunch with him? Maybe you could finally find out the real reason why he left."
I thought about what she said for a couple minutes. Suppose she was right. Maybe it would be fun. He had seemed like a fun guy back in high school. And I was curious about his mysterious disappearance right after graduation.
Maybe I should go.
"I'll think about it. You could be right. I'll probably call him tomorrow and ask him when he'd like to hang out. It might be fun." I tried my hardest to sound convincing, more for my sake than hers. Maybe if I told myself I would have fun, I'd eventually believe it.
"That's my girl! And I'm always right. You'll see; you'll thank me for this someday. Now get some sleep so you don't fall asleep while you're on the phone. That wouldn't exactly be the best first impression."
I laughed. "You're right, of course. 'Night Nikki."
One ring. My heart was pounding. Two rings. I was starting to sweat. Three rings. "Hello?" My heart skipped a beat. It was Nathan. But what was I supposed to say?
"Um, hey, it's Bethany." I hoped I didn't sound nervous.
"Oh, hey! I didn't actually think you'd call." He certainly did sound surprised.
"I don't blame you, honestly."
He chuckled. "So, are you calling cause you wanna have lunch sometime, or are you gonna tell me to get lost?"
I tried and failed at holding back a giggle. "Actually, I did want to see when you were free to have lunch. Are you surprised?"
"Actually, I am. I really thought you'd ignore the letter altogether. I know we weren't exactly friends back in high school. I honestly didn't even think you'd know who I was."
"No, I knew."
Oh boy, did I ever know. You have no idea, Nathan Williams.
"And you really do want to have lunch?"
"Absolutely. Just name the time and place. The time though, might be a little difficult, if you're busy these days. I know I am."
"Actually, I haven't been in town that long, and I'm still looking for a job. So I guess whenever you're free is fine."
"So let's say, tomorrow, my day off; you don't have anything going on?" I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to him.
"Not that I'm aware of. Yet, anyways."
"So does that mean we're on for lunch?"
"What time should I pick you up?"
"Oh, uhm, around noon I guess?" I had originally been planning to meet him somewhere. I hadn't considered being picked up a possibility.
Oh well, I guess. This'll be interesting… actually, that's probably an understatement.
"Okay then. I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
I chuckled. "Yes, at noon."
"Hm? For what?" His sudden comment caught me off guard, especially since I didn't know what I'd done that he should be thanking me for.
"Calling, for one thing; and going to lunch with me is pretty awesome of you, too."
"Oh. Well, I could still cancel on you, you know." I hoped he could tell I was teasing.
"That's true, but then so could I."
My heart sunk at the thought. "You're not going to, are you?"
He laughed. "Of course not."
I laughed with relief. "Okay. Well I'll see you tomorrow, then."
I was about to say "goodbye," but he hung up before I could.
"So," Nikki said, while somehow gracefully falling onto the couch beside me, "it sounded like it went well. No stuttering, choking or unintelligible mumbling. That's a good sign, at least."
I had to laugh. Of course she'd be trying to help me see the bright side, because normally, I'd be going on and on about how I was sure I'd just made a fool of myself.
But oddly enough, today wasn't normal at all. I'd woken up before 9 and wasn't tired; I'd had a craving for cereal at breakfast, which I hadn't eaten since high school; I'd decided to wear an outfit that had been sitting in my dresser drawer for the past two years, untouched (I was surprised it still fit); and the most recent non-normal thing I'd done that day, was call a guy I knew in high school who I'd never spoken to in my life until that very day. I wasn't exactly sure what was going on, but I had a feeling that soon there would be bigger changes in my life than a craving for cereal.
"Actually, Nikki, it didn't go well at all."
"What are you talking about?"
"It went… amazingly great! He was so easy to talk to. I couldn't believe it."
"So, I'm getting the vibe that you enjoyed the conversation…?" Nikki was giving me a skeptical look, so I laughed and lightly smacked her on the arm.
"Yes I enjoyed it, you butt. Am I allowed to do that? Or am I destined to be miserable the rest of my life?"
"Of course you're entitled to enjoy a conversation! It's just… unusual for you to enjoy talking to any guy since… well, you know, of course. I'm so glad that you're finally happy. I'm just… I dunno. I just don't wanna see you hurt again. Cause any guy that does hurt you in any way, I will beat the breakfast out of whatever son of a b-"
"You better not have been about to say what I hope you weren't."
"I was gonna say, "Son of a batch of cookies," but if you prefer the original version…"
"Oh, shut up, nerd!" We both laughed.
"So, you really are excited about this? I mean, I thought you lost interest in the guy way back during our senior year of high school. Why the sudden enthusiasm? I know I told you that you should call him, but I didn't actually think much would come of it."
"Actually, that's a really good question. Cause I don't know. I should be hiding from the entire male species. But… I don't know. Nathan just seems… different. He was the sweetest, most caring and genuine guy I'd ever known. Well, from a distance. There's just something different about him; even just reading his letter.
"Still, I guess I shouldn't get all wrapped up in a guy, when I don't even know if he's as excited to see me as I am to see him."
"True," Nikki said, getting up from the couch. "And you also don't know much about him, except what you remember from high school." She walked into the kitchen where I followed, and started preparing her lunch. "And that was a long time ago. I mean, nobody around here heard from him for four and a half years, not even his parents. Now, I dunno what happened in the first place that made him leave, but to not even talk to his parents…"
Nikki stuck a frozen macaroni and cheese dinner in the microwave, set the time and pushed start.
"So you're saying that maybe he's not the same guy I thought he was, and that maybe he has some deep, dark secret that could put me in danger or come between us if any of this actually turns into something?"
"Basically. I mean, you see it, right?" She grabbed a fork out of what was eventually going to be the silverware drawer… a plastic fork.
"Yeah, I do. And it's a good thing you pointed this out to me before I got too involved this time. Unlike last time…"
"Sorry! Sorry… I didn't see it until then, honest. You know I wouldn't have let him near you if I'd've known."
"Of course I know. So," I said, in an attempt to change the subject, "when exactly are we upgrading to real food? I dunno about you, but I'm not sure how much more of this meal-in-a-box I can handle."
"Hey! No dissing on Lean Cuisine. You have to admit, it's better than store brand." She pulled her plastic container of mac 'n cheese out of the microwave and immediately started eating.
"Yes, it is, but homemade is even better than 'Lean Cuisine'." I made the emphasis clear.
Nikki pointed a forkful of macaroni at me. "True. But until we can actually afford that, Lean Cuisine it is!" She grinned at me as she shoved the macaroni into her mouth.
I rolled my eyes. "Just you wait."