This story is by Tina A. Seward and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“So why did you really come up here?”
Todd Harris shut the door to his best friends’ apartment. Leave it to Angela Fleming to get straight to the point.
Todd thrust his hands into the pockets of his brown corduroy jacket. The sheet of paper he’d slipped inside the right-hand pocket rustled. His stomach twisted as he looked at Angela.
“Why don’t we take a walk and I’ll tell you.”
“Okay.” Angela pulled her dark green sweater closer around her and joined Todd as he started across the parking lot of the apartment complex.
“I mean,” Angela continued, “you drove all the way up here from Arizona. You got here last night. You’re leaving tomorrow morning. You tell Tina and Larry you’re coming, but you don’t tell me because you want to surprise me. What gives?”
Todd pointed to a small park that adjoined the parking lot. “Let’s go over there.”
He was glad he’d remembered to grab his jacket. October mornings in Durant, a small university town in east central Utah, definitely didn’t compare to the same mornings in Tucson, where Todd was studying at the University of Arizona. Crisp, cool air blew across the parking lot, rippled through the park grass, and shimmered the leaves of several aspen trees growing around the park boundaries.
“I’d almost forgotten how chilly it gets here when fall comes,” Todd said.
“When you went to school here, you usually had your head in the books,” Angela replied.
“When I wasn’t over at your house along with Larry.” Todd smiled. He kicked at a piece of gravel and sent it skidding across the parking lot. Then he and Angela stepped over the curb and into the park.
Memories of Todd’s three best friends swirled in his mind much like the wind swirled the fallen leaves. He pictured Angela bringing out two bowls of popcorn to split between her, Todd, her sister Tina, and Todd’s best friend Larry Hartford. How many times had they picked a movie to watch, only to ignore the movie and end up talking? How many conversations had they had about Larry and Todd’s archaeology classes at Durant’s Cooper-Carson University? About Angela’s goal of teaching elementary school? About Tina’s job as office manager for a doctor’s practice?
Graduation had only put physical distance between Todd and the other three. Larry, Tina and Angela continued to email, text, and call Todd while he was at U of A. He’d come back to serve as best man at Tina and Larry’s wedding nearly a year ago.
Todd’s footsteps slowed as he looked around the small park. Maybe those low golden-brown rocks over on the far side would be a good place to sit.
“You said you stopped to see your dad in Phoenix,” Angela said. “How’s he doing?”
“As well as can be expected.” Todd swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat. It had been less than a month since Todd’s mother had died of ovarian cancer. Less than a month since he’d looked across the room at the funeral home and seen Angela standing in the entryway. Less than a month since he’d realized . . .
He was right. Those low rocks were perfect. He pointed. “Over here. Let’s sit down.”
The chill from the rock seeped through Todd’s jeans as he sat. He kept his hands in his jacket pockets, silently rehearsing what he wanted to say.
Angela’s quiet voice broke into his thoughts. “So what’s the reason for this whole trip?”
Todd took a deep breath. Then another. Then another. Maybe if I pretended this was a class presentation . . . Okay, God. I need your help.
Slowly he pulled out the sheet of paper. The wind rustled it, and for a moment, Todd visualized the sheet being blown out of his hand and him racing across the grass to catch it.
“I sent you an email last week that, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, you never got.” At Angela’s puzzled expression, Todd continued, “Let me read it first.” Before I lose my nerve.
He looked down at the printing on the page, away from Angela.
“Dear Angie,” he began. His voice shook slightly. He swallowed, cleared his throat, then continued:
“It’s nearly one in the morning and I just finished a nightmare of a term paper for my Topics in Native American Languages class.
“I haven’t really taken the time to thank you and Larry and Tina for coming down to Phoenix for Mom’s funeral. It meant a lot to me.
“To be honest, Angie, that’s not even the main reason I’m writing this.
“I just miss you.
“When I left here after I graduated, I tried to convince myself that I’d move on and forget you. But I can’t. Oh, I’ve tried, I’ve taken other girls out in this last year . . . and then, when you showed up at the funeral, that’s when I knew.
“Angela Fleming, I have fallen in love with the the most wonderful woman in the world, and I don’t know if you’ll have me. I’m a nerd who’s clueless about women. I may not wear horn-rimmed glasses and a pocket protector, but I’m still a nerd. I wouldn’t really blame you at all if you read this, laughed, and deleted it. Maybe you have someone else in your life that feels the way l feel about you. In that case, I’ll wish you well and I’ll step out of your life. But if there’s even a chance that you might feel about me the way I feel about you, well . . . maybe we could talk?
Todd lowered the sheet. He didn’t dare meet Angela’s eyes. Again the sheet rustled, and it wasn’t as much from the wind as it was from Todd’s shaky hands.
“And now I need to explain to you why you never got that email,” Todd went on. “I don’t know what happened or what I did, but that email went straight to my Native American Languages professor.”
“The same professor I mentioned in the email.”
Todd sighed and shook his head. “Apparently that just proves how totally stupid and clueless I can be.”
He heard a sniff. Then a snicker. Finally, Todd looked up into Angela’s eyes just as she burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” she said between peals of laughter. “I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you. I promise. I’m not. I’m laughing in sympathy.” She wiped at her eyes. “You poor thing!”
“I didn’t find out until Wednesday that your email landed in my professor’s box,” Todd went on. “And then he ordered me to talk to you face to face, pronto. So . . . I called Tina and Larry, asked them if I could stay, and . . . well, that’s how I ended up here today.”
Angela finally caught her breath and turned serious. “You came all the way up here just to say something you could have told me on the phone or in an email?”
Todd nodded. “I came all the way up here to tell you I love you.”
He put the printed email back into his jacket pocket and then reached for Angela’s hand. “Your fingers are chilly.”
Neither Todd nor Angela spoke. Todd listened to the soothing rustling of the aspen leaves.
Then he leaned over and gently kissed Angela. Her lips, like her fingers, were cool to the touch. But her eager response held no chill.
When they pulled apart, the corners of Angela’s mouth turned upward. “That’s not bad kissing for a clueless nerd,” she said with a soft chuckle.
Todd smiled. “I still need practice.”
“I’ll make sure you get plenty.”
It was worth the trip. Definitely.
“I think we’d better go back to Tina and Larry’s,” Todd said. “I need to warm up.”
They stood up. Todd tucked one hand back into his jacket pocket. He reached for Angela’s other hand, curled his fingers around it, and together, they started back towards the apartment complex.
“I’m glad you read that email to me,” Angela said. “But I do have a suggestion.”
“The next time you write me, maybe you should use snail mail?”
Todd laughed. “You think?”