Back in high school, some guys would do everything from putting up billboards to making videos that made their way online to ask out a girl or even express their interest in a girl. Stella envied the girls and thought it incredibly romantic. Her best friend, Leah, remarked that it was both manipulative and egocentric. It would be hard for a girl to turn down such a public gesture without seeming a jerk. Any male who chose to share his feelings in such a public venue loved the attention too.
Leah could have been right, but it didn’t stop Stella from wanting to be the girl who got the unexpected balloon bouquet in class, even if it was from a boy she didn’t consider date material. It still signaled her desirability. A few guys did pursue her. Nothing big, subtle gestures including walking her to classes, chatting her up, and showing up at places she frequented. It was hard to remember when it stopped. Could have been her junior year when everything else fell apart.
The ducks quacked a noisy welcome the closer they came to the water. Too bad, their enthusiasm resulted from whatever tidbit they could solicit. Quacking equaled a natural plea for attention. Look at me, over here, not my cousin, but me, here, quack, quack. Ducks resembled humans in that regard.
A small scattering of young weeping willows hugged the banks. The slender bowed branches were not enough the hide a brass quartet that might begin to play once they came into view. There was also no splash of color against the browning grass to indicate a picnic. Could be Cam was the creative type and had penned a poem he wanted to recite privately. A sideways glance at her lover didn’t reveal any anxiety or even excitement about the upcoming grand gesture.
A park bench boasting a broken slat and hundreds of students’ messages either scratched or written squatted by the path. A swoop of his free hand indicated they should stop at the bench. Seriously, the pond was close, and it would sound so much more romantic in the retelling.
Cam dropped her hand and sat on the part of the bench that didn’t have the broken slat. Great, now she’d have to balance on the edge of the bench or fall off. It wasn’t the setting she wanted, but ten minutes ago, she didn’t even know a romantic gesture was a possibility. Moving her feet about a foot part, she managed to balance herself on a two-inch wood slat. If she lost her balance, she’d fall off the bench or slip back into the hole created by the broken slap. It would probably snag her new jeans too.
Her hands smoothed down the thighs of her jeans. Stella couldn’t afford to ruin the jeans since it had taken forever to save up for them. It had been an extravagance, but she felt the jeans were worth it. The polite thing would have been to let her sit on the unbroken part of the bench. Of course, not sitting on the bench at all would have been better. Concentrate on the moment. Don’t ruin it by picking it apart.
What details could she remember when she pulled it out to reexamine it as an older woman retelling the story for her grandchildren or anyone else who might listen? The sky was blue, which wasn’t that unusual. The sun was shining until a fast moving cloud blotted it out making everything a little dimmer.
“Stella, I need you to do me a favor.”
Cam’s baritone melted her stiff, upright posture, but the words were wrong. Was she wrong about the grand gesture? Could be she wanted it so bad that she’d created indicators that weren’t there. An audible sigh escaped her lips. Favors were never good. Usually they consisted of copying her homework. Some favors were harder such as her mother’s request to have nothing to do with her father after the divorce became final. She’d only agreed because she was living with her mother. Ironically, she didn’t have to break it because her father had no interest in seeing her. He didn’t even bother to show up at her graduation.
“Um, what is it?” She did not intend to promise until she heard it. The acrid smell of duck poop crinkled her nose. A rather fitting detail for a romantic gesture gone south.
His hand reached for hers resting on her thigh. Maybe the romantic gesture wasn’t totally gone. He might ask her to love him forever or something else like that. If so, she didn’t want that type of long-term commitment. After all, Cam was her only real relationship, although at times their relationship status was a bit vague.
Come back next week to discover what the favor is.