If Only I (a short story)

girl - if only i

Henry! Come up to dinner! Lights out on your way.” Mom was always going on about the electric bill.

“Two minutes, Mom.” I crossed out what I had just written and tried again.

I watched you wipe a tear away
And smile, when 

“Wipe” was wrong. And “watched” and “when.” I changed them all, then hurriedly scrawled the rest of the lines that had formed in my head on the school bus and during a snack break in the middle of my math homework. I didn’t want to forget them.

I saw you brush a tear away
And smile, as notes began to fade.
If ever there could come a day
When I could be the one who made
You smile, who dried your tears, I’d say
God heard my heart, when silence prayed.

I sat back. It still wasn’t quite right. “Notes” sounded wrong, but I didn’t know very many music words.

“Henry, that’s a long two minutes!”

“Sorry, Mom. Coming now.” I locked my notebook in the drawer and took a moment to admire my desk. We’d seen it in a thrift store for $35, and I hadn’t had to beg very much. Mom liked the real wood and the nice finish. Dad liked the small size, so it was easy for us to carry downstairs to my bedroom. I liked that it was mine, and one of the drawers locked – and it came with keys taped inside the drawer.

Halfway up the stairs, I smelled Fried Chicken Friday. Once a month, Mom made her specialty, and Mike and I ate like we hadn’t seen food since lunch.

“So Mom,” Mike said with his mouth half-full, as he reached for another piece, “our little Henry is finally growing up. He’s using deodorant, and he showers every morning. He must like one of those little seventh-grade girls.”

Mike was a jerk. He was only two and a half years older than me, but he acted like he was grown up already, not fifteen. It was worse when Dad was away on business, like he had to be the man of the house or something.

“Mike, don’t embarrass him.”

He snorted. “Too late for that, Mom.”

He was right. I hated that I always blushed redder than Mike, and more often. I figured it was because my hair was blond like Dad’s, and Mike’s was brown like Mom’s. Or because I had a soul.

Maybe the fried chicken would give him zits, just in time for his big Valentine’s dance next Saturday. I could hope.

“So, bro, found any hair on – ”

“Michael!”

He finished his question. “Your, um, chest yet?”

“Michael.” This time it was more reproof than warning, which meant he was outnumbered for the moment. It was time to attack.

“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “He picks on me to help him forget he’s not a man yet, and actually not even enough of a boy to get a girlfriend.”

“Shut up, loser!”

Yep, I’d found a sore spot. His latest crush had told him to take a hike at school on Monday. And Wednesday. And yesterday in a text.

I overheard things.

“Michael! Apologize to your brother. Henry, apologize to yours.”

We looked at each other.

“I’m sorry you’re such a loser,” he said, with no trace of sarcasm.

“I’m sorry I’m so much like my brother,” I said just as soberly.

“Michael! Henry! Last chance!” I knew without looking that her lips were pursed, her jaw was set, and her brown eyes were glaring at each of us in turn.

I looked him in the eye and shrugged. This time, sticking to my principles wasn’t worth missing dessert. “Sorry.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled. Then his eyes glinted. “Who is she?”

“Who? The girl who doesn’t like you? That’s most of the girls on the planet. No, wait. I think it’s every girl on the planet now. Except Mom.”

I knew before Mom said it that I’d just lost dessert after all. It was worth it.

No way would I tell Mike that her first name was Rebecca – Becky – and her last name was Harmer, and her hair was the color of wheat that was ready to harvest, and her eyes were bluer than the sky on the brightest winter day, and just seeing her from two rows back in history class made me feel like I’d never felt before.

Not that she would ever know, or ever see what I wrote about her. And for her. And to her.  Or ever care that I existed.

“Is your homework done, Henry?” Mom asked.

“All done.”

“Good. Now you can enjoy the whole weekend. You know, Michael, there doesn’t have to be a girl for a boy to want to present himself well.”

“Maybe not, Mom. But there is. Look at his ears.”

My ears were burning – as in hot.

“Of course he’s embarrassed. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? I wish you’d treat him better. He’s your brother, and you were a lot like him, two or three years ago. Try being kind for a change.”

I didn’t want Mom defending me that much, but I was glad she was doing it. Which didn’t make sense to me, but it was how I felt.

“So, Henry, was today that assembly at school?” she asked. “With the symphony?”

I swallowed before answering. “Yeah.”

“How was it?”

“Good.”

“What did they play?”

Star Wars, Pirates, some other stuff.”

Other stuff like the long song that made Becky cry a little, “Adagio for Violins” or something like that. I remembered the Italian word, but not what they said it meant. The song had no words, but somehow it said things in notes that I wanted my poems to say in words.

I’d sat so that Becky was a few rows ahead of me and a little toward the center, so I could watch her and still look toward the stage. For a while, as she watched and listened, she hardly moved a muscle. I could see her hair, but not her face.

The Adagio song started soft, slow, and gentle. It stayed slow but grew louder and louder. They’d told us another Italian word for that. Just when it was as loud and strong as it could get, I thought, it suddenly became soft again, but the melody didn’t change.

She squared her shoulders and brushed her hair back, and I saw a little smile, but also the tracks of tears sparkling in the lights.

“What did you like best?” Mom asked.

Becky, I thought.

Pirates, maybe. The Adagio thing was good too.”

“The what?”

“‘Adagio for Violins,’ I think.”

“Probably ’Adagio for Strings,’” she said, “by Samuel Barber. It’s famous. And very poignant. They used it at the end of a sad war movie once. Not sure which one.”

Mike looked up from his fourth piece of chicken. “Our Henry is a lover, not a fighter, Mom.”

“Good,” she said. “The world needs more lovers. Fewer fighters too. Pass the potatoes, please.” She turned to me. “We have it on CD. You should put it on after dinner.”

Not where Mike might be listening, I thought.

When the dinner dishes were done – my job was drying them – I retreated to my room and pulled out my notebook. Hours always passed like minutes, when I wrote and rewrote and rewrote.

I wish that I were brave, that I
Could say to you the words I know
Will never reach your ears, your eyes,
Your heart – for if they did, I’d die.
Or would I live? Perhaps I’d fly
And feel and touch. If only I …

Before bed I found the CD, which was easy, because the whole album was called Adagio for Strings. I put that track on repeat in my room, set the sleep timer for an hour, and turned my thoughts to Becky.

She played flute in the school band. I knew from history class, because she usually had her flute with her in a small black case, and a cardboard folder of music with “Flute 1” written across the front in large, black letters. I wondered if there were any violins in our band.


At school on Monday I saw a poster about a band concert on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. It was free, and Mom said I could go. She offered to go with me, but I told her I just needed a ride. She said that was okay too.

I studied band instruments online, so I would know them when I got to the concert. They were confusing. Trombones and French horns were easy, but I wasn’t sure I could tell a trumpet from a cornet, or a euphonium from a tuba, or an oboe from a clarinet. If they even had all those instruments. I read that a lot of bands didn’t use them all. But the flute was the important one, and I was pretty sure I could tell it from a piccolo, if only because Becky would be playing it.

I sat four rows back in the auditorium, near where Becky sat on the stage. The chairs on stage were in half-circles. She was at the end of the front row, so she was easy to see. She wore a black dress and low, black heels, and she’d done something nice with her hair. She looked grown up. And so pretty.

When the band teacher announced the first song, I thought its name sounded like some strange kind of pasta. I listened as carefully as I could to the flutes, and I tried really hard to like them, but I didn’t. They were shrill, and a weird vibration made a lot of their notes sound bad. The louder they played, the worse it got. I hadn’t heard that when the symphony came, and it wasn’t the vibrato they had shown us. Maybe some of the flutes were broken, or they were playing the wrong notes.

When the teacher announced the second song, I only half-listened. It was something about a pasture in Ireland, I thought a minute later, when I tried to remember – after he said, “Our flute soloist is Becky Harmer.”

It was a soft, haunting song, and Becky played the first thirty or forty notes all by herself, before the rest of the band started playing. It was beautiful. She had a vibrato, just like the symphony players, with none of the nasty vibration. Maybe you had to have at least two flutes for that, because, when it happened, it sort of sounded like they were fighting.

At the end of the song the audience clapped, and the teacher had Becky stand up. She smiled shyly, blushed, and did a small, quick bow, and we clapped louder. Then she sat down.

I watched her for the rest of the concert and wished they would let her play by herself again, but they didn’t. I still didn’t like the flutes, when they played together.

The concert lasted 36 minutes. I texted Mom to come get me and went out front to wait for her. I didn’t see Becky anywhere. Maybe the band went out a different door. Or maybe they had to find out which flutes were broken.

In my head I tried to replay her solo that I liked, but I couldn’t remember it clearly. I shook my head in frustration.

And froze.

She was standing a few feet away, like she was waiting for a ride too.

My ears went red, and my mouth went dry. I had to talk to her.

“Hi,” I croaked.

She looked at me without smiling. “Hi.”

While I tried to think of something to say next, she looked away.

“Is it hard to be in the band?” I asked.

She turned back to me, and I felt warm all over. Not the way my ears felt warm.

“No. You just have to practice at home every night, and some of us take private lessons.”

“I’d be too nervous to play in front of people.”

Like I’m almost too nervous to talk, I thought. I should have a website for all the things I can’t say. I could call it WishICouldTellYou-dot-com. I could make one for my brother at the same time and call it Mike-dot-loser.

“You get used to it,” she said. “I’ve played since fourth grade, but I’m nervous sometimes, like tonight, when I had a solo. You could probably tell that from the first few notes.”

“No, I couldn’t. You were really good.”

She smiled at me, and I knew that nothing so wonderful had ever happened to me before. “Thanks. Are you thinking of joining the band?”

“No, just curious.”

“Okay. Do you have a brother or sister in the band?”

“No.”

“You just came to the concert?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool. I’m glad you liked it.”

It was getting a little easier to talk. “I liked that band at the assembly too.”

“What band at what assembly?”

It was a strange question. It was only a few days ago, and it had made her cry. She couldn’t have forgotten already.

“Last week? The symphony?”

She laughed, and I didn’t know whether to be devastated that she was laughing at me or awestruck at the sound. It was like the brook that burbled through the park in my neighborhood, where I liked to write.

“That’s not a band. It’s an orchestra.”

I felt stupid and small. I’d read about this, but I couldn’t remember the details. “What’s the difference?”

“Violins, mostly. And violas and cellos. Also string basses, but some bands have one of those.” She waved energetically at an approaching car. “There’s my dad.”

“Didn’t he go to the concert?”

“He did. But he didn’t want me to have to walk all the way to the car in these heels. He’s nice like that. So, uh, bye.”

I was still trying to think of what to say next, when she turned back to me. “I don’t know your name.”

I don’t either. No, wait.

“Uh, Henry.”

“I’m Becky. Bye, Henry.”

“Bye.”

I watched her get into the car, close her door, and ride away without looking back.

“Bye, Becky,” I said under my breath, as their car turned a corner and zoomed away. “You’re amazing.”

Then it hit me.

Crap.

I should have opened the car door for her. Between that and my not being in the band or even knowing an orchestra wasn’t a band, now she’d think I was a loser. Henry-dot-loser.

Mom came for me a few minutes later. I answered her questions about the concert without thinking very much. Then I retreated to my room, pulled out my notebook, and stared at it. All kinds of confusion swirled in my head. Finally it settled down, leaving only words, so I wrote them.

To speak is torture, pain, a wall.
My words, near-spoken, die unborn.
I freely write as water falls,
As wind blows through an open door.
You’ll never see these lines at all,
Nor ever know that there was more.

On Friday afternoon, the last hour of school was our Valentine’s Dance in the gym. Becky spent most of it sitting on a chair, looking pretty in jeans and a colorful t-shirt that said “Seattle.”

I was so nervous just looking at her that my legs felt shaky and my stomach hurt a lot, but I finally walked up to her and opened my mouth to ask her to dance.

What came out wasn’t words. It was slimy, school lunch-flavored vomit, with cookie-colored chunks. I caught most of it with my hands, but when I looked down, I saw that some had escaped – and it wasn’t on the floor. It was spattered on her shoes.

I tried to say “I’m sorry” with my eyes for about half a second, just before I ran for the big garbage can inside the nearest door. A minute later, I was in the restroom down the hall.

I cleaned up my hands and face and tried not to think. I scrubbed a few spots on my shirt until they were just damp with water, not obviously smeared with vomit. By the time I was done, my stomach felt a lot better, but the rest of me wanted to die.

I’d barfed on Becky’s shoes at the Valentine’s dance.

The dance was almost over, and I didn’t think I’d barf again, so I didn’t go to the office and call Mom to pick me up. I just sat in a bathroom stall, waiting for the last bell to ring, so I could slip out and cower in the front seat of the bus, where no one would pay any me attention at all, I hoped.

I silently cursed whatever made me throw up. I cursed the Valentine’s Dance. I cursed St. Valentine, whoever he was. I cursed the fifteen minutes they spent in all the seventh-grade homerooms, telling us how to act at our first dance – how to ask someone, how to accept when someone asks, why it’s usually rude to say no, and how girl’s choice works. I cursed the half-hour I spent at lunchtime, at a dance lesson they said we could go to if we wanted, because I’d learned just enough to think I could do it, even if it was scary. I cursed the school and the calendar. I cursed the whole universe, for having me in it.

Except Becky. I didn’t curse Becky.

I was actually sick until at least the next Wednesday, and I managed to stretch that into a whole week out of school. I didn’t think I could stretch it longer, and I was pretty sure Mom and Dad wouldn’t agree to let me transfer to a new school, even if I was a laughingstock. Which they didn’t know, but I could have told them.

I was the boy who barfed on a girl’s shoes at the Valentine’s Dance.

Back at school on Monday, I found out where her locker was and slipped a small envelope into it. The words hadn’t come out very well on the card, though I’d worked on them for a whole week. But I couldn’t wait any longer.

“Becky, I’m sorry I barfed on your shoes instead of asking you to dance. I’m very, very sorry, and I’m very embarrassed. If your shoes are ruined, tell me how much I owe you, and I’ll pay for new ones. I hope I didn’t ruin Valentine’s Day for you. Please accept my apology. I’ll never embarrass you again.  Sincerely, Henry P.”

I expected kids to laugh at me a lot that day, but no one did. No one even mentioned it. Not a word for two days, not even at lunch, where there was always talk of barfing.

On Wednesday I sat in my usual corner for lunch and ate my sandwich. I tried to compose a few lines in my head, but I could only think about Becky, and I hadn’t been able to write about her since the dance where I barfed on her shoes.

I didn’t see a girl standing next to me until she spoke.

“You didn’t ruin my shoes, Henry.”

I turned to look, then realized who it was and avoided her eyes. “I didn’t?”

“I just wiped them off.”

“Oh. Uh, good, I guess. Definitely good.”

“Thanks for the card.”

“You’re welcome. I’m very sorry.”

“I know.” I saw what I hoped was a little smile. “I never thought asking me to dance would make a boy throw up.”

I hung my head and wanted to die. “It wasn’t you. I was sick. I mean, I didn’t know it until right then. I thought I was just nervous, but I was sick. I missed school for a whole week. Because I was sick.”

I was a useless fool when I tried to talk.

“Are you better now?”

“Not sick. Still a laughingstock.”

“Nobody’s laughing. It was just me, remember? My friends were dancing. And I didn’t tell anybody. Well, except my mom. You’re not a laughingstock.”

“I barfed on your shoes.”

“Yeah. My baby brother does that sometimes. It’s not that big a deal.”

Her baby brother? Kill me now.

“My cousin did it a lot worse once. That was gross. Hit my shoes, socks, jeans. He was drunk. And fifteen. They grounded him for life, I think, mostly for trying to drive their car.”

I just looked at her.

“I guess I understand,” she said. “I’d be embarrassed too.”

But you would never do that, I thought.

“I have band,” she said, “but can I tell you something?”

“Okay.”

She hesitated, and new color appeared in her cheeks. “Next time there’s a dance, if you’re not feeling sick, you could ask me again.”

Not in a million years, I thought. I’m permanently and irrevocably mortified. And isn’t it nice that I’m a poet, so I know lots of big words for that feeling?

She must have seen it in my face. Her shoulders slumped. “Not if you don’t want to.” She turned away.

“Okay, I will. I mean, I want to. I will.”

She turned back, smiling slightly. “Okay. See you.”

The warning bell rang, and I headed automatically for my next class. Mr. Robbins stopped me at the door.

“No food in the classroom,” he said. “This you know.”

I looked down and saw my half-eaten sandwich in my hand. I said I was sorry, and I stayed out in the hall until it was all in my mouth and I’d wiped my hand clean on my jeans.


Bus 23 stopped at a corner near our house. Sometimes I took it to the library, and sometimes I just rode it. There were always things to see, and I got ideas for poems from the people, the shops, the houses, and the cars. And all the signs.

So I went for a ride the next Saturday, because I needed new ideas. I still couldn’t write about anything else, and I couldn’t write about her.

When the bus stopped in front of an especially boring gray building, I was looking at a brown-skinned woman four seats in front of me, wondering if she was from India. I looked up, when the driver opened the door, and my eyes went wide.

Becky was showing the driver her bus pass. Then my heart fell. A boy I didn’t know got on behind her. He was carrying her flute and her music folder.

I slouched, so she wouldn’t see me, if she looked toward the back.

The bus was full of old people, mostly, so Becky and the boy just stood in the aisle, near the front. They laughed and talked. She seemed relaxed and comfortable, and he seemed confident – in other words, nothing like me.

I missed my stop, because I didn’t want to attract attention, and I wanted to see where they got off. It was a few blocks past my stop. I wrote the location on my hand: Porter Road at 23rd.

I rode to the end of the route and back, debating whether I should look out the window and try to see Becky. If she was outside, she might see me. Or she might be with that boy, and they might be holding hands or something. I decided not to look.

I looked anyway – and I saw her in the front yard of a house, carrying a big, black trash bag. The boy was there too, shoveling the walk.

I almost laughed aloud in my relief. He was probably her brother. No wonder they were so comfortable together. I wrote the house number on my hand. Not that knowing she lived at 2287 East Porter Road would ever do me any good.

At home I wrote her address in my notebook, then tried to start a poem. About anything.

Nothing happened.

I wanted her to talk and laugh and smile with me, like she did with him, and I wanted to write about it. Or anything at all. But still nothing.

In my nighttime prayer, besides the usual stuff, I asked God to help me write again. And I asked him to help me not be such a loser, so Becky would like me. I didn’t know if God handled things like that, but I asked anyway.


A few days later, I stayed behind after history class to make up a short quiz I’d missed. On my way to the teacher’s desk to hand it in, I saw a sheet of paper on the floor. We were supposed to pick up litter, and the teacher might have been watching, so I did.

It was a parental permission slip. Those were always going home for something – a field trip, an activity, some embarrassing subject they needed permission to talk about in class.

It was Becky’s. She had filled in her name just below the warning in bold letters: “Must be signed and returned by March 7.” It was for a band trip to an elementary school – and today was March 6.

“Thanks for letting me take the quiz, Mrs. Lowe,” I said, all but running out of the room. Becky needed this paper today.

I didn’t catch up to her, and I didn’t see her near her locker or anywhere else, so I came up with another plan.

When I got home after school, no one was there. I left a note: “Going for a bus ride.” Then I raced out the door to the bus stop.

Twenty minutes later, I walked up the sidewalk at 2287 East Porter Road and rang the bell. I told myself I was brave, standing there with weak knees and shaky hands. I was about to ring again, when the door scraped open.

“Yes?”

I had never seen so many wrinkles on one face, and the woman was shorter than me. Becky’s great-grandmother, maybe?

“Is Becky home?”

“Who?” she asked too loudly.

I cringed and tried to talk louder. “Uh, Becky. I brought her something from school. I think she needs it tonight.”

“There’s no Becky here.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve lived here forty-seven years, young man. I’d know if I had a Becky.”

My heart sank.

“Do you, uh, know if anyone named Becky lives nearby?”

“Can’t think of one. Good day, young man.” She pushed the door closed.

I trudged halfway back to the street, then stopped and scanned the neighborhood. There were plenty of houses, even a few people outside, mostly children. But no Becky and no Becky’s brother, if that’s who he was. Had I written the address wrong? No, I recognized the miniature wheelbarrow in the flower bed.

The door opened behind me, and I turned.

It was the old lady again. She spoke slowly but precisely. “Young man, you asked about a girl named Becky. Am I remembering correctly?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“The Harmers across the street have a girl about your age. Her name might be Rebecca, if I’m not confused. Could she could be your Becky?”

My Becky. Something inside me came to life. “Across the street?”

“Not directly across. That white brick house belongs to the Smiths. The Harmers are in the stucco house next to them.”

I pointed. “That one?”

“I can’t see where you’re pointing, when you’re so far away, but from where we’re standing, it’s the house to the left of the white brick one.”

“Thank you!”

Twenty seconds later, I couldn’t remember looking both ways or crossing the street, but I was standing on Becky’s front step, telling myself I was brave again, and ringing the bell. And the door was opening.

Becky was opening the door.

Her forehead wrinkled. “Henry? Hi.”

“Hi.”

When I didn’t say anything else for half of forever, she asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I brought you this.” I held out the paper, and she took it.

“My permission slip for band? How’d you get it?”

“On the floor in history, after everyone left. I guess you dropped it.”

“Honey, who is it?” called a woman’s voice.

She rolled her eyes. “Someone from school, Mom.”

“Okay. Don’t forget Madeline’s cinnamon roll.”

“In a minute, Mom.”

She turned back to me. “Sorry. Parents. How did you know where I live?”

“I didn’t.”

She frowned a little. “You’re here.”

“Um, right. Um, one time on the bus, I saw you and a boy, maybe … maybe your brother, in front of that house.” I pointed to 2287. “The old woman there said you might live here.”

“That’s Mrs. Kunz. I was helping Sean mow her lawn. He’s her grandson. I’m supposed to take her a cinnamon roll right now, actually. Then I have to go shopping.”

I was pretty sure she would only help a boy who wasn’t her brother if she liked him. This was a disaster.

“I guess I don’t know him,” I said.

“He’s from across town. He has piano lessons on Saturday at the same time I have flute lessons, and then he takes care of his grandma’s yard, so I see him on the bus. I help him sometimes, when I need a service project for church.”

“Seventh grader?” I blushed to suit the question I wanted to ask. Was he her boyfriend?

“Not sure. Eighth, maybe? Thanks for bringing this.”

I shrugged. “It’s for tomorrow. Looked important.”

“It is, sort of. I’m glad you found it. Thanks, Henry.” She was smiling now, and her eyes sparkled. She hadn’t looked like that when she talked about Sean.

I didn’t know what else to say, so I said, “Okay. You’re welcome. Bye.” I turned to go.

“Henry?”

I turned back. Her cheeks seemed redder.

“Do you like cinnamon rolls?”

“Um, yes.”

“And you’re not sick to your stomach or anything?”

My heart went cold, and my face went hot. But her smile was friendly, not mean.

“I feel okay.”

“Want a huge cinnamon roll to take home? Mom just made some. We have plenty.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

“Cool. Wait here.”

She disappeared into the house, then reappeared with a plate and a paper bag. “This one’s for Mrs. Kunz.” She held up the plate. The cinnamon roll was at least six inches across and maybe two-and-a-half inches tall. It was covered with plastic wrap.

She handed me the bag. “This one’s yours. I wrapped it for you.”

“Thanks.”

“Want to help me deliver this one?”

“Okay.”

“I have to hurry, so we can’t stay, no matter how much she wants to talk.”

I ended up hurrying too, because the bus turned a corner half a mile up the hill, just as Becky handed the plate to Mrs. Madeline Kunz.

All I could think about on the way home, once I convinced myself that I’d remembered to say goodbye to Becky and thank her again for the cinnamon roll, was what the old lady said when she saw us at her door.

“Oh, it’s you. You found your Becky.”

My Becky.

I thought about those two words during dinner, when they asked me about the cinnamon roll that was now on the kitchen counter.

I wasn’t in trouble with Mom and Dad for going to her house, once I explained the important paper and reminded them that it really was almost entirely a bus ride.

Then there was Mike, who wasn’t completely stupid. He knew right away that the girl in my story wasn’t just any girl – which is why I said her name was Amanda. He said something I didn’t understand, but I could tell he was teasing me about her, because Dad told him to watch his mouth, leave me alone, and eat.

Mom said I didn’t have to share my cinnamon roll if I didn’t want to. But it was huge, and I wanted to. She said that was very generous of me. I didn’t tell her my big reason for sharing it was so I could give Mike the smallest piece. He glared but didn’t complain.

The cinnamon roll was fantastic.

Dad took Mike’s place with the dishes and sent him to do homework. That usually meant Dad wanted to talk.

“You went right up to the edge of what we mean when we say it’s okay for you to take bus rides alone,” he said. “Assuming you’re telling the truth.”

“I lied about one thing.”

“You lied to us?”

“Her name’s not Amanda. It’s Becky, but I don’t want Mike to know.”

Dad grinned. “From now on, Amanda will be her code name, if we need to mention her.” He put down the scrubber. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Can you change Mike from a jerk into something better than a jerk?”

He chuckled. “Yes and no.”

“What does that mean?”

“No, not in the way you’re thinking. Yes, but it may take us a few more years. Until then, we have to try not to kill him.”

On my way to the basement, Mom handed me a thank-you note and an envelope. “You know what to do,” she said.

“What’s this for?”

“A really big, homemade cinnamon roll.”

“It was a thank-you cinnamon roll, for delivering her paper. Should I thank her for thanking me?”

“I guess you don’t have to.” She smiled. “But maybe you want to.”

She had a point. I wrote out my message for the card in my notebook and worked on it until I liked it. That way, I wouldn’t waste the card if I didn’t like the first thing I wrote.

At the last minute I crossed out the part where I said I like to write poetry, so maybe I should have written it as a poem. If she knew I was a poet, she might want to see my latest poems – which would be disastrous, because they were all about her.

The last thing I had to decide was whether I could write the word love in the card at all, even if it was about a cinnamon roll. I decided I could, and I felt brave again.

“Dear Becky,

“Thanks for the huge cinnamon roll. I shared it with my family. We all loved it.

“Sincerely, Henry.”

I sealed the envelope, printed her name neatly on the front, and turned back to my notebook. There I wrote what the old lady had said, even though I could never forget it: “You found your Becky.” For a long time I read and reread the words, and replayed in my mind the few minutes we’d spent together, at and between front doors.

For the first time in a long time, the words came. I leaned forward and wrote.

“My Becky”? Could it ever be
That you would think or say of me
That I am yours, and you are mine,
And we are ours, till end of time?
That’s probably too much to get
From just a cinnamon roll. And yet
Your laugh, your smile, your azure eyes
Are everything. If only I …

Photo credits: Janko Ferlič on Unsplash and Megumi Nachev on Unsplash.


From the Author

David Rodeback

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