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Fog and Lightning and Buttercream Icing
A girl plans her wedding from approximately age nine. She may not know that she’s planning it, but it happens. For example: should Ave Maria be played on the piano or with violins? Will my dress have pleats or ruffles? Be cotton or silk? Should I invite that annoying friend of my mother’s or that awful cousin of my father’s? What about my hair: up or down? It’s a complicated process, planning a wedding. So I was more than a little surprised when all those carefully made decisions fled me when I first saw That Boy.
He was blond, with a straight nose and strong, planar features. His studious glasses slid down his nose and he smiled at everyone he passed. I felt my breath leave my body and stood up from the picnic bench I was working at, intrigued by him as he passed. Smashing my shoulder into the elm growing stubbornly, directly in my path of sight, I swore under my breath, blowing my cover. He looked over from the sidewalk where he was, his laptop poking crookedly from the brown leather bag with the long shoulder strap that hung near his hip, across his chest. Strangely, what I thought at that moment was, Why doesn’t he put his laptop in his bag straight? Moving away from the tree, I noticed that he was still looking, an odd tilt to his brow.
The sun was high in the sky, but I was hidden in the shadows from the elm’s damp green leaves. My face must’ve been purple at least, because I hadn’t taken a breath since I saw him. I did so now, gasping. Looking startled, The Boy came over to me.
“Hey, are you okay?” he asked. Good Lord, his voice was like fog and lightning and buttercream icing. (My mom always used to say that whenever she liked something: “Mm… it’s like fog and lightning and buttercream icing,” she’d say, smiling in bliss.) “Miss?” He gave a little smile when I looked at him from under my sloppy brownish-black hair.
Quickly, I made up something. Obviously, the Gods of Cleverness weren’t smiling on me today, for what I replied was, “I hit the tree.”
Trying and failing to hide his laughter, he said, “Yeah, so I saw.”
I backed up. I didn’t want him to think I was a creep or something. He stood where he was, then saw the table behind me.
“Oh, are you studying? You wouldn’t mind if I sat down, would you? I’ve been looking for a free table all over campus, but I guess because of the beautiful weather, everyone’s out working on something today. All the tables are taken, have you noticed that?” I nodded, not trusting myself to speak after my brilliant statement prior.
We sat and I picked up my pen again. He sat across from me, and sun broke through the shade from the waving branches overhead onto his freckled face. His glasses glinted and he smiled at my scrutiny. Blushing, I looked down. Calculus wouldn’t make sense with such a distraction before me, but I thought I should pretend to work at least.
“My name’s Emry, by the way.” I looked up.
Silence. He clearly expected me to offer my name, but I couldn’t remember it at the moment. So, seeing that a title wouldn’t be coming anytime soon, he half-shrugged and pulled out his crooked laptop, setting it on the table before me. Instantly, he was a nerd. Slightly hunched over, he started the gadget up and stared. Hardly blinking thrice per minute. And he never looked away, not once more since the evil computer went on.
“My name is Caroline,” I blurted. Emry looked at me, a faint smile crinkling his eyes. I blushed again. “You know, after that song, ‘Sweet Caroline,’ by Neil Diamond… My parents were big fans…” I trailed off, and he continued to stare, smiling.
“All right, then.” And with that, he returned to his work.
I am an only child. Perhaps it shows, in the way I say the word, ‘I’ so much. But let me tell you that I am the kind of only child that doesn’t like to be ignored, and this Emry boy just wasn’t paying me any attention. Which is why I was determined to capture his attention. (This would be the part where my best friend Libby would say, “Good luck with that, Caroline.”) Perhaps he’d made his decision when he’d first heard me speak, but I was resolute.
“What are you majoring in, Emry?” I asked, letting my pen drop to the table again, for added effect. Emry barely glanced from the screen, only letting his blue eyes rove once over my face before he went back to typing like the nerd he was. The wind brought with it the scent of a cookout somewhere beyond the small campus.
Then he sighed and took his glasses off. There were two red marks on either side of his nose from the length of time he’d worn them. Rubbing the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, he folded his glasses, set them on the table beside him, and answered in his beautiful voice. “Well, now, I don’t know, Caroline. I’m thinking about perhaps teaching when I’m out of school, though, and I really like physics. I’m taking AP physics right now, and I’m also in the Robotics club. What are you doing here? You don’t look much older than my sister, who’s in her senior year.” He paused, grinning, and I frowned, not knowing if this was a compliment. “Of high school.” I relaxed.
“I’m studying pre-med.” It was all that would come out before my brain shut off again, because his face broke into a full smile. His teeth were very straight, but one of his bicuspids was turned slightly.
“That’s great! You’re going to be an RN?” I nodded. “My mom is an RN, too, and–”
“Em? I’ve been asking all over campus for you! Did you forget about me?” interrupted a pretty voice. A pale girl with orange hair, neatly curled, pranced forward, bouncing on the balls of her feet next to the picnic table. Emry looked up, a different, politer smile on his face, taking place of the excited one he’d just been bestowing upon me. Inside, I smirked. Ha, I thought to the orange-haired ballerina Barbie. But at the same time, I felt a bit grungy. She was wearing a cute pleated skirt with a neat sweater, whereas I wore jeans and a tee shirt from the college’s souvenir shop. Cute, Caroline. I sat up straighter, trying to appear a bit prettier, more prim.
Emry stood from his seat and closed his laptop, sliding it into his bag. It rested crookedly, which made me give the digital device a pale scowl. “No, I didn’t forget you,” Emry replied to Barbie. She gave a gleeful smile.
Collecting his glasses, they set off, not bothering with me anymore.
Going back to my work dejectedly, I rolled my eyes. Whatever, Caroline, I thought to myself. We can study by ourselves. (Dad says it’s all right to talk to yourself as long as the voice in your head is always your own.) The breeze came suddenly from the opposite direction, as if it were taken by a sudden whim to tease me. And then, something tapped my shoulder lightly.
“We should hang out, Caroline. Would you meet me at the library tomorrow or something?” Emry’s Honolulu-blue eyes smiled down at me from their six-foot perch and I barely answered, so lost was I.
“Of course.” That real smile broke his steady features again.
“Great. Five o’clock?” I nodded and my eyes dropped to the pocket of his khaki shorts, where the crooked laptop’s bag rested. He readjusted the strap of the bag on his shoulder. Taking a few bouncy steps backward, he breathed, “See you then!” and looked over his shoulder as he loped back to where Barbie stood, waiting for him.
Just perfect. All my wedding plans, carefully thought up, were gone down the drain, and I would have to think of new ones to fit the nerd I was now in love with.
I walked cautiously into the science library, where the silence was as penetrating to the soul as Chinese Water Torture is to the mind. My anatomy textbook felt like it was a million pounds in my arms. The fluorescent lights made the sun from the windows pale, which I couldn’t bring myself to like. It’s the middle of broad daylight, kids, is it so hard just to leave the lights off until the sun is gone? The industrial red-speckled grey carpeting beneath my feet dulled my footsteps as I moved, looking for my knight in khaki. All through the tomes, college students that looked just the same occupied round tables.
Taking a vacant seat at the farthest corner of the room near a window, I wished I hadn’t come ten minutes early. Opening my book, I tried to focus on the skeletal structure of a grown human’s in relation to that of a human child’s. Colorful tibias and fibulas and humeruses (humerii?) blurred before my eyes.
“You didn’t start without me, did you?” came a quiet voice from behind. I grinned. And there he was, a heavy-looking textbook gripped in his hand. What really made my day (and made me lose all rational paths of thought as well as made me feel a bit claustrophobic) was that instead of sitting across from me, he sat right beside me, even pulling the plastic, maroon-colored chair closer and dropping his book on the table. “What have we got here?” he asked in a breathy voice.
“Anatomy,” I replied. He cringed visibly. “Come on! You don’t like anatomy?”
Shaking his head, he studied me closer. “And you do, I assume?” Controlling myself, I gave a casual shrug and he chuckled.
Quietly, we worked side-by-side for nearly two hours, whispering advice to each other as we took notes, giving out little tidbits of ourselves like chocolate chip cookie dough to children. When it began to get dimmer outside the window, Emry picked up my book from right beneath my nose, and scooped up his own book, holding out his other hand for me to take. A little nervously, I did so, but his hand was cool and his grip was strong, calming me slightly.
We left the library, and looked up toward the sky. The sun was red on the horizon. Students were walking in groups and pairs along the sidewalks, very few with books or backpacks. But all were smiling and laughing. I would want my wedding to be on a day like today. A happy, sunny wedding in the spring. “So what about Friday?” asked Emry, swinging my hand between the two of us casually. “You free?” Surprised, I glanced at him.
He laughed. “Why do you think? I want to take you out. Maybe downtown or to the park. There’s going to be a concert.”
I sighed lightly. He didn’t know that I had never actually dated before. “Oh. Okay. Yes, I think I’m free.”
“Great,” he smiled to me. “I think you’ll like me, Caroline.”
You’re probably right about that, pal, I thought.
“Where have you been?” I asked Emry when he came home that night.
“Relax, Jody,” he replied, dropping his book onto the counter and patting my shoulder condescendingly. His eyes didn’t meet mine, and he sank into a chair by the window. “I’ve been studying with a friend.”
I raised my chin defiantly. I had an idea of what that word meant. “Right. Okay, don’t tell me.” He was such a mule: stubborn and irritating. I slumped onto the couch, pouting and crossing my arms over my chest, willing tears to come.
“Stop it, Jody,” he said, running a hand over his face. “I know when you’re faking. If you remember, I have six little sisters who do just the same thing: turn on tears like water from a faucet. I’m going to bed.”
Desperate, I jumped up and sat on his lap before he could get very far, twirling my fingers into his hair. Frowning, he moved me aside and stood, stretching and going to his wing of the apartment.
Something was going on, and I wasn’t going to lose my man to some mousy little girl without a voice. Following him down the hall, I sat on his bed as he tugged off his polo shirt. “I heard that she had a problem, Em. Like OCD.”
“Really? Who is that?” he asked, nonchalant.
I rolled my eyes. He was a terrible actor. “That girl that you’re seeing. What’s her name…? Caroline. She’s messed up.”
An awful look crossed his face, and he took a step toward me. It was scary, almost. “Don’t talk like that, Jody. You don’t know anything about her.”
“And you do?” I demanded, triumphant. He looked away, disappearing into the miniature closet.
“Yes, sure. But unfortunately, I can’t let you out of my sight, so I’m not allowed to move out. And I wish you’d stop acting like we’re dating, Jody. It’s really not appropriate for the situation at hand. I was hired to look after you by your insanely rich father. It’s not like I could just turn him down, either. So I think it would be easier for both of us if you kept your distance.” I snorted. The boy was so stinking cute.
In Health 403 the next day, I sat down in my usual seat, and touched the corner of the desk, like I always did. It was just a habit; helped me concentrate on the subject. I was contemplating powdered sugar or buttercream icing on my wedding cake, and whether Emry liked either of those, when a shadow passed over the desk, and I turned my eyes upward. It was Barbie. She had a plastic smile, full of pink lips, and I felt a stab of jealousy. I wished I could be pretty, too.
“Hey, there, Caroline, mind if I sit here?” she asked. I started to protest, but she didn’t see, already making herself comfortable in the chair that was usually empty, giving me a cushion of comfortable emptiness from the rest of the students. I felt an involuntary twitch at the corner of my eye. That desk was always empty. Always.
Class began, but I couldn’t concentrate. How could I concentrate when someone was in my personal bubble? As class ended, I looked at my pathetic notes and sighed. Perhaps I could ask someone else for a recount of the lesson. Standing, I quickly backed away from the girl occupying the cushion that should’ve remained vacant. It wasn’t an issue. Class was over and she’d go back to her regular seat tomorrow.
Not so, my friends. She came back to the seat every day for the next week, whispering things to herself and smiling at me with big teeth and pink lips. I told Emry about it when we were walking to the coffee shop one afternoon.
“Do you know that girl? The one with orange curly hair?” He didn’t respond right away, pulling a few bills from his wallet and handing them to the gaping girl who would serve us. Then we sat at a little round table. Emry sighed.
“Yes. She’s an… acquaintance. I’m not technically supposed to tell people about the situation we’re in…” and he trailed off after that, accepting the latte that the curvy girl set in front of him. Not wishing to press him for information, I dropped the subject.
So when I got to class the next Monday and she was still in the seat that is supposed to be kept empty for my own comfort, I snapped a little. “Um, you can’t sit there, miss,” I said.
Smiling, Barbie turned slowly to look at me. “Why ever not, Caroline? I’ve been sitting here for quite a while and you haven’t said a thing about it. Does it bother you?” she asked, drawing out the words. Again, my eye began to twitch. Just say no, Caroline. Of course it doesn’t bother you. No, that’s a lie; it really, really does bother you. Just don’t admit it. Don’t.
“Yes, it does bother me, actually.” Way to go, kid. I stood my ground, though, and waited as she stood up to move.
As she passed, she whispered in my ear, “He’s not going to marry you, you know. Emry doesn’t particularly like crazy people.”
Watching her saunter away, I stayed standing, frozen. How did she know that I planned my marriage so carefully? What if she told Emry? How did she know what Emry cared about, anyway? Disturbed, I sat, laying my head on my arms.
“What’s the matter, Caroline?” asked Emry a few days later as we sat under the self-same elm that we’d met beneath. I frowned.
He snorted, closing his laptop. “Nice try. What’s going on?” I waited for a long time before answering.
“Why can’t you just put your laptop in your bag straight? Is it so hard to just take a little time to make sure something’s perfect?” I demanded, knowing that I sounded insane. Surprisingly, Emry didn’t look shocked at my outburst. Instead, he removed his glasses and turned to me.
“Caroline, listen to me. Breathe first, though.” I did so, looking at the bark of the tree instead of his face. “Not everything has to be perfect, okay? Can you hear me?” I nodded grudgingly. “Good. Here,” he said, pulling me closer so my head rested on his shoulder. I was tense at first, suspicious because he’d never done this before, but he wouldn’t let go, so I let myself relax. “I’ll put my laptop in my bag straight, if it bothers you so much, but don’t let it get to you, okay?” Switching his voice to a whisper, he added, “And don’t you pay Jody any attention; she’s jealous of us. I like you just the way you are. Like I said, don’t go and let something so trivial get to you. We’ll be fine.” His voice made his chest rumble. It sounded comfortable.
I remained silent, pouting. He smelled like spring wind and the cinnamon gum he liked to chew. Snuggling a little closer, I mumbled, “Emry? Don’t listen to me. I like it when your laptop is crooked. I really like it.”
And then he laughed. It sounded like fog and lightning and buttercream icing.