A/N: Hey there! Thanks for clicking on this story of mine! It's a short story by all means, and one very close to my heart.
You may recognize me from FanFiction dot Net, that's where I have everything else I write. But this is not a fan work, so it belongs here.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it! Happy reading!
This Must Be Love
Someone once told me that I have a unique ability to love easily and unconditionally. I guess she was right. I often find myself missing someone I barely knew, or feeling attached to someone I met twice. I honestly don't know if this ability is a blessing or a curse. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it's amazing because I'm able to connect with people on a much, much deeper level.
I see the best in people. Or, I try to. Mostly I do without even thinking about it. To me, everyone is inherently good . . . even though I know that's not the case.
I didn't think anyone else I knew shared that ability or view with me . . . until I met Noah.
But by "met," I mean "got to know." It felt like I'd just met him, but I actually knew him for four-and-a-half years before.
We didn't talk much. But he was one of those people I felt attached to. This deep, secret, pure part of me actually loved him, in a childish way. I admired him. In him, I saw a part of myself: the part that loves unconditionally.
"Remember, be back at eleven-thirty, no later."
"Yep." I glanced over at Jackson and whispered the instructions. He nodded, but kept his eyes on the road. I pressed my phone into my ear to pick up the last of my mom's words.
"And if you go by a grocery store, can you grab some milk?"
"Okay, love you, and tell Jackson to drive safe."
"Yep. Love you, too."
After a final "bye," I put the phone away and sat back in my seat, opening my mouth to pass on the message. But Jackson anticipated it.
"Let me guess, she told me to drive safe?"
Jackson could be perceptive when he wanted and absolutely carefree and chill when he didn't care. It got on my nerves, but he was my brother and I was used to it by now. He could usually anticipate someone's reaction to just about anything—a skill we both shared.
We had a lot in common, and we usually got along well. Of course, being siblings, we had our major squabbles, but nothing time and parental intervention couldn't fix.
"Oh, and she said to get milk if we see a grocery store," I added.
Jackson nodded. "Stopping on the way back is better. We're already kind of late."
If there was one thing in the world I absolutely hated, it was being late to anything. My family was consistently late to everything (by a solid ten minutes, most of the time), and it drove me absolutely insane.
I stared out the window and mentally jumped in excitement at where we were headed.
About four months ago, Jackson and I were part of a mission trip to New Mexico. We joined a different church, hopped on their 50-passenger coach bus, and made the 30-hour long trek from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to South New Mexico.
We had about 43 people altogether, adults, leaders, and bus drivers included. There were about 35 students, and those people would become some of the most important people in my life in the next ten days.
Now, on Sunday, November 6th, 2016, Jackson and I were joining the group again, for a kind of trip reunion. Everyone except the bus drivers would be there . . . including Aaron.
Aaron Larson and I had planned this whole thing (with the help of the father-figure of the trip, Don), and I couldn't have been more excited to see him.
We pulled up at Sherry's house 5 minutes early. Sherry was with us on the trip, along with her daughter, May. She had a passion for hosting and serving large groups, so she was the first to offer to have us at her house.
I jumped out of the car almost before it stopped moving, then ran up to where I saw Sherry, Don, and Aaron, along with a few other kids, setting up tables and chairs.
First I hugged Ellie. I ran up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She turned, recognized me, and hugged me tightly. We exchanged exclamations of "It's been forever!" and "It's so good to see you again!" She was my first friend on this trip, and we spent the majority of the time together.
Then I turned to Don, who also hugged me tightly and asked me how I was. During the trip, he had been such an influential voice and supporter. I respected him so much, along with his daughter, Abby.
Second, I greeted Sherry, who had been a great companion, and the funniest, loudest woman I had ever met. She was one of three people in the whole world who call me "Kate," and I have to admit, I love it.
Finally, I turned to Aaron. As he went in for a hug, I realized that he continued to make my list of "firsts." He was the first guy outside of my family that I ever hugged (I know, shocking). He was the first guy I ever had conversations with over text. And he was my first crush that I didn't treat like a crush. As in, I tried my very, very best to be friends with him, and so far it worked.
As he released me (I wished he wouldn't . . . stupid brain), he smiled that huge smile that I was sure melted every girl's heart. When he smiled, his bright blue eyes lit up, and you couldn't help but smile, too.
"How's it going?" I asked.
"Great," he nodded.
"Who's here so far?"
"Everyone except Garret, Anne, and, um . . . Oh, David."
"Wow. We're late." I raised my eyebrows, though momentarily distracted. I never got over his voice. It always took me by surprise, every time. It didn't seem to fit how he looked.
He was six-foot-three, and unusually lanky for a seventeen-year-old. I can honestly say I've never seen him wear anything other than skinny jeans and T-shirts or button-ups, except for the rare times he decided to swim in the hotel pool in New Mexico. Even in 100-degree weather, he would always be wearing jeans. He kept his hair dyed bleach blond, though I noticed dark roots and wondered if he was trying to grow it out. Styled, it added about two inches to his height, since he always kept it in a sort of wide cowlick, longer in the front and buzzed short on the sides and in the back.
And, like I said, his voice didn't fit. It was not high-pitched, per se, but it was just barely higher than most guys his age. And he had a tiny speech impediment, where his "s" sounds came out slightly more like "th" sounds. It took me aback every time I heard him talk, but not in a bad way. In fact, I have to admit I found it attractive.
"Nah," he continued, "you're not late. We just like to be early."
Like I hadn't noticed. I smirked, then noticed my other friends out the corner of my eye. Excusing myself, I ran to greet them.
Two hours later, I was digging into my second Sloppy Joe, while talking with Leighton. She was the longest-coming, but most-worth-it friend of the trip. We got along well, and she was the sweetest, wisest teenager I'd ever met. We'd bonded over the trip in the most interesting ways. We were never "formally" introduced; instead, we both learned each other's names by immersion, I guess. As in, I heard people talking to her and calling her "Leighton," and I guess she found out my name the same way. Then we just started chatting randomly. I learned snippets of information about her life—her mom had breast cancer, she has a few siblings and a boyfriend, she's absolutely amazing at Henna, and she can braid hair like a pro.
We'd hit a lull in the conversation when Aaron sat himself down next to Leighton.
"Hey," he said, grinning.
"Aaron!" Leighton greeted, giving him a side hug. "How's it going?"
But before he could answer, a call came from across the yard. "Leighton!"
The girl in question searched for the source of the voice. She looked at us sheepishly. "I'd better run. Sorry."
"It's all good," I assured her. "Have fun!"
"Hi, Leighton, bye, Leighton," Aaron joked.
Leighton rolled her eyes, then was gone.
I set my plate down and crossed my legs, enjoying the fact that this November day wasn't too cold to be outside in the grass, even though it was brown. "So what's been up with you?" I looked up to meet Aaron's eyes.
He shrugged. "Just working a lot."
I nodded. I knew how that was. "Still doing some photography?"
Aaron's grin got wider. "All the time. I mean, I don't have much time for it, but I try."
"Jackson let me steal his old camera. It's super nice, and I got some great shots. Maybe I'll show you sometime."
"Sweet!" This kid never stopped smiling, I swear. "Oh, hey, I wanted to ask you something. There's that big Ed Sheeran concert coming up soon, and I'm getting a group together to go. You want to come with?"
For just a split second, I couldn't think. My mind was blank. I got that cold feeling that means I'm absolutely beyond excited and super worried. But I snapped out of it, and registered that this guy, the guy I'd had a crush on for over four months, was asking me to a concert with him.
"Uh, yeah! Who else is going?"
"Well, I asked Jackson, but he said no because has soccer or something, but my sister will be there, and Joel and Sam and May and Jo and probably Leighton."
"Nice." My smile only got bigger by the second. "I think if I can get a ride I can probably come!"
"Awesome. Oh, and I'm paying for your ticket."
In the car on the way home, I had to face it. Even after trying to talk myself out of it, I still had a huge crush on Aaron Larson. I'm actually not sure how it started. One day he was this new kid from Constance who I'd never met, who dyed his hair, and who everyone seemed to love, and the next day I decided I loved (or rather, liked) him too. Maybe it had to do with my testimony . . . and my dream.
Our hotel was called La Copa. It was technically a hotel, but looked more like a motel. It had two huge walls, with one set of rooms facing out and another set facing into the courtyard, which was formed by the office building and another wall. In the courtyard was a swimming pool, which was surrounded by a gate. If you were to walk out of my hotel room, you would turn left, walk down a long, long balcony (where all the other rooms for our team were), then when you hit the end you would turn right, walk down a short flight of stairs, and end up in a brick-paved area next to the pool, but outside the gate. It was formed in a semi-circle, with two lampposts on each end. This was where our team met every night to sing, share testimonies, and talk about the day. This was the place where some of my favorite memories were made.
My testimony is not nice. It's not one of those "I was raised Christian, got baptized when I was ten, started dating a Christian guy when I was sixteen, graduated with a 4.0, went through Christian college, got a master's in theology, then didn't do anything with it, but instead I raised my two children, got a dog and a cat, bought a two-story house with a white picket fence, and lived happily ever after" kind of testimonies.
Mine is ugly. Mine is full of anxiety, depression, self-hate, heartbreak, etc. I've lost loved ones. I've self-harmed, but in less obvious ways. I used to punch windowsills because they were convenient, sharp, and if anyone heard it, they would think I dropped something. Also, it never left scars—just red marks on my knuckles—so no one would ever know what I did.
Kids told their testimonies every night. I've always been shy and afraid of talking in front of really anyone, so it took encouragement from my roommates (Liv, Bella, and Anna) and Aaron to go up there and talk in front of forty-plus people.
But I did it. My hands were sweaty and shaking, and I couldn't look anywhere but the ground, the distant wall, and Don's encouraging face, but I talked my way through it, since I'd played it out in my head often enough. By the end I was in tears, and so were a few other people. I went to sit down, but didn't get far. About four people came up and hugged me on the way to my seat, which just made me cry a little harder.
We all stood when our leader, James, got out his guitar and started to sing those familiar worship songs. About halfway through the song, Aaron, who was standing right in front of me, turned around and gave me a huge hug, and said, "Thanks for sharing."
I'm just a bit ashamed to say that was my first hug from a guy my age, outside of my family.
And honestly, I didn't know Aaron had a soft side.
I'll just say, that hug meant the world to me.
Then, that night, I had a dream. In my dream, the trip was over and we were all going home. I was crying because I thought everyone would forget me and I would never see them again, which I told to Aaron. He wasn't able to tell me that they wouldn't forget me, and I woke up, momentarily convinced it was real.
That day, after morning prayer, I called my mom like I did every day while I was there. We talked for a bit, then I told her about Aaron. "I think I really like him," I admitted.
Her only comment? "Well, I guess it'll keep your mind off you-know-who."
Yeah, I knew who.
I'd had an incurable crush on Noah Stevenson since I was just barely thirteen.
Three years is a really long time to have a crush. Especially when you've hardly ever had a real, solid conversation with said crush. It gets to you after a while. And I tended to obsess over little things anyway. So I guess you could say that at that point it was a bit unhealthy.
So I started full-out crushing on Aaron, but I kept it super chill on the outside. I would joke around with him and talk when he was around, but I never made it obvious that I liked him.
I might have smiled a little wider when he made a joke or goofed off. I might have stayed with his group when we went out to eat "because Jackson was there." I might have scanned a crowd for him, quickly, to make sure he was around.
But I never made it obvious.
Because that's how I roll.
Stay tuned, thanks for reading!