"You look as bored as I feel," he said when he sat down next to me.
The couch was a dingy red and I was trying not to think about what might have happened on it. I didn’t know his name but I’d seen him around the party earlier and he was mildly attractive.
"Not really my scene," I said and took another sip of whatever they put in my big red cup.
"And yet, you’re here," he smiled.
"See that blonde over there?" I asked and pointed to my roommate, dancing far too seductively with two different men. He nodded. "I’m supposed to be here with her."
"Oh," he said. "Wait, do you mean with her with her? Like, are you guys a couple?"
"Uh, no. She’s my roommate and told me we’d have fun if we came here. She’s trying to get me out of my funk."
"And how’s that going?"
"How does it look like it’s going?" I asked and downed the last of my red cup drink.
"More?" I nodded and he took my cup then returned a few minutes later with it, along with one of his own and a bag of pretzels. "So why are you in a funk?"
"Men, school, parents…you name it. Actually you know what? Don’t. I don’t wanna talk about any of it."
"Fair enough," he smiled then toasted me with his cup, leaned back and drank it quickly.
It’s not that anything with school or my parents was actually that bad, I was mostly in a funk because of the guy I’d been seeing. He’d broken up with me because we wanted different things. Mainly, I wanted to sleep with him and he wanted to sleep with men. It was a problem. I’d had a rebound fling - okay, a one-night stand - with a resident assistant in my dorm and it was now extremely awkward. Anytime I saw him we both looked the other way. He was now dating someone else in the hall and it had just served to piss me off when I found out a couple of days before that night.
I’d gotten a lower-than-expected grade on an English paper but I was still pulling a solid B. That’s where my parents came into the picture. They weren’t going to be happy with a B and would assume I needed to transfer to an all-girls school because clearly my lack of focus on schoolwork was due to the attention I was paying to boys.
"Doesn’t look like your roommate has any intention of going home with you," he said as she gave me a little wave with her fingers and followed one of the dancing guys up a set of stairs.
"Awesome," I said and finished off the drink that was starting to taste better. "Guess that’s my cue to leave then."
"Why don’t I walk you to your car or apartment or whatever?"
"Thanks, but I’m good," I said and started to push myself up from the skanky couch. It took me a second or two longer than it should have because a rush of dizziness hit me and I internally cursed the red cup drink.
"I’m sure you are," he grinned. "But what kind of gentleman would I be if I just sent you out there on your own?"
"I’m not going to sleep with you," I said and sat the cup down on a table.
"Oh good," he sighed and stood up next to me. "That’s a relief. There’s nothing I hate more than when I walk a girl home and she pulls me into her bed."
"Ha ha," I muttered and actually managed a smile.
"Come on," he winked and put out his elbow for me to take.
We were about halfway to my dorm before we said anything else and I was definitely feeling the affects of whatever was mixed together in that cup. “You didn’t have to seem so relieved that I wasn’t going to sleep with you,” I said.
"Well, while I’m sure we could have some fun I’d rather our first night together not be after one too many sips out of a red cup."
"I see," I blushed and saw him smile out of the corner of my eye.
"Feeling any better? Any less funky?"
"Eh, I don’t know. I think it’s just going to take time."
"Yeah. It’s taken over a year for me to even talk to another girl."
"Yikes. She must have broken your heart pretty badly."
"You could say that."
"Now who needs to be brought out of their funk?" I smiled.
"Sorry," he said and shook his head as though he was trying to free it of something. "I’m fine and we’re here anyway."
I looked up and saw the door to my dorm, surprised we’d arrived so quickly and a little disappointed the night was over.
"Well," I sighed. "Thanks for walking me home."
"It was my pleasure."
"I’d invite you in but…"
"I don’t think the red cup drinks have worn off yet," he winked.
"Right," I blushed and pulled the door open. "Well, thanks again. Have a good night."
"You too," he waved then I turned and walked into the building. When I looked back before walking toward the elevator he smiled and we exchanged one more wave and I definitely felt better than I had earlier in the evening. I also felt okay that we hadn’t exchanged names; there was some sort of mystery in it that I liked.
The rest of my weekend was fairly nondescript - homework, mindless television watching, ramen noodles and a random sighting of my roommate who actually wondered what had happened to me after the party. I told her nothing and listened to her story about the guy she followed up the stairs.
Monday came and went and my normal routine was back in place, which is why I was stunned to see my Friday night escort sitting in the back of my advertising class as I walked up the stairs to leave. He’d obviously been there since the beginning of the semester but I’d never even noticed him.
"You," I beamed when his eyes met mine.
"And you," he smiled as he slung his bag over his shoulder.
"Are you stalking me?" I teased.
"That’s not a problem, is it?"
"No, I’ve always sort of wanted a stalker," I smiled as we walked toward the door.
"How do you feel about your stalker taking you out for coffee?"
"I think I feel good about any drink that’s not in a red cup."
"I’m taking that as a yes."
I hadn’t realized just how blue my stalker’s eyes were or how much taller he was than me. I also hadn’t realized how good he smelled, how crooked his smile was or how much I seemed to be attracted to him. I kept glancing at him as we walked and when he caught my eye he just smiled and once or twice I felt my cheeks warm from what I could only assume was a blush. It occurred to me that I’d blushed more since I’d met him than I had in the whole time I was with Ryan - my ex - and certainly more than I’d ever blushed with Keith - the RA. To be fair, there really wasn’t time for blushing with Keith.
"So, what would you like?" he asked when we reached the coffee window on the outside of the student union.
"Oh, right, iced tea?"
"Of course," he smiled and ordered for both of us, letting the server know his name was William, which I made a mental note of without saying anything. He refused my cash when I offered it and suggested I find us a place to sit while he waited for the drinks.
All four tables were filled so I perched myself on a concrete bench that went around the perimeter of a large tree. He spotted me easily when he turned away from the coffee window and smiled as he approached.
"Thanks," I said after taking my tea from his hands. "William."
"Caught that, huh?"
"I’m quick," I smiled. "Plus, it’s on the cup."
"Right. Well, now you know my name…"
"Don’t laugh," I started. "But I’m Kate."
"Oh come on, really?"
"No. Not really," I winked. "But wouldn’t that have been just about the best thing ever?" I could tell he wasn’t sure and was likely starting to wonder if he should have just left me alone. "Anyway…my name’s Liz. Elizabeth."
"Elizabeth?" he inquired. "Like the queen?"
"Oh. Right. Didn’t even think about that. But I swear that’s my real name. Shall I show you my ID?"
"I think yes," he replied. "I don’t know if I should trust you."
"Smart boy," I grinned and pulled my campus ID from my bag and proved that my name really was Elizabeth, Elizabeth Waters.
"Well, Miss Waters," he smiled. "It’s very nice to meet you."
"You too, Mr.?"
"Alexander. William Alexander."
"So formal. Do your friends call you Will? Or Bill? Or something else entirely?"
"William," he said. "I think you’ll find I’m neither a Will nor a Bill nor anything else in-between. People call you Liz?"
"Some do; some use Beth. My parents call me Elizabeth Ann, friends from grade school and junior high call me Betsy - a name my 5th grade teacher gave me because there were four other Elizabeths in my class. So pick the one you like best and I will likely answer to it."
"What’s your favorite?"
No one had ever asked me that before and I hadn’t really thought that much about it. When I didn’t reply right away he spoke again.
"Don’t tell me you don’t have one."
"I honestly never thought about it. I usually just answer to whatever. But now you’ve sort of stumped me."
"Excellent," he grinned and sipped his coffee. "I imagine that doesn’t happen to you very often."
"No," I agreed. "No it doesn’t. Huh…"
I continued nursing my tea as he drank his coffee and ran the various names over and over again in my head. For the life of me I couldn’t pick one and the more I said them in my head the more my hatred for each grew.
"You’re just going to have to decide what you want to call me because I absolutely can’t pick one. In fact, I’m seriously debating changing my name altogether."
"I don’t think the situation is quite that dire," he grinned. "And I’m not sure I know you well enough to pick the best name so for now, and maybe forever, I think I’ll just call you Kate." He winked and the blush appeared again.
"You’re crazy," I said.
"We stalkers usually are."
"I suppose so."
We sat for a few more minutes finishing our drinks and taking turns looking away and back at the other when finally I decided to get back to something I remembered from our first meeting.
"So the other night when you said it had been a year since you were even able to talk to a girl…what exactly happened?"
He sighed and looked at his watch then sighed again and turned to face me. “Do you have anywhere you need to be this afternoon?” I assured him I was free and he started to tell me about Melanie.
He was sure they’d be married and had already been talking about getting engaged. They’d dated for nearly two years after meeting during freshman orientation but took things slow and even had time when they dated other people. That didn’t last long and they made a real commitment after only about eight months. I could only imagine that it was their lack of experience that broke them up…that as they got older they realized they needed to see what else was out there and that possibly she found it sooner than he and broke up with him because she fell for someone else. I was preparing a response to this scenario when he dropped the bomb of the story.
"And then about a year ago, when we were due to meet for dinner, she was hit by a driver high on something." I gasped. "She died instantly and didn’t suffer, which is all I can be thankful for, but that was that. When I got the call I felt like I’d been stabbed in the chest and wanted to die right along with her."
"William," I sighed and wrapped my hand around his wrist. "I had no idea."
"How could you?" he smiled and put his hand on mine for a few seconds.
He went on to tell me how he took some time away from school but knew she’d want him to finish and came back at the beginning of the current semester. He reiterated that I was the first girl he’d even had interest in talking to since then and wasn’t sure what it was about me that drew him in. I was flattered, naturally, but knew I needed to be careful and not lead him on in any way, shape or form. I told myself we should only be friends and that no matter how much he made me blush or how attracted I was, it really wouldn’t be right. I had no interest in competing with a dead girlfriend and certainly didn’t want to hurt him.
"Wow, I haven’t talked about this in a long time," he said.
"I’m glad you told me. I’m terribly sorry that you had to go through something so horrible but please know that anytime you need to talk, you can always reach out to me."
"Thanks, Kate," he smiled. "That’s very sweet. So, what was it that put you in such a funk last Friday night? I mean since we’re apparently telling our sad tales now…"
"Well, it’s nothing like what you’ve been through and frankly seems quite trivial now."
"Nonsense," he said. "You listened to me and now I’m here to listen to you."
"That’s very sweet, but let me just quickly summarize by saying that there was a breakup, a one-night stand rebound, a less-than-stellar grade and the impending judgment of my parents about all of it. But then I met you…"
The blush arrived right on queue and I even detected a slight hint of pink on his cheeks.
"We seem to be filled with sweetness today," he grinned.
"It’s almost nauseating," I offered.
"Almost," he winked.
After another few minutes he offered to walk me back to my dorm and I was happy to have the company across campus. We talked some more as we walked, mostly about classes, our majors, what our plans were for the weekend, and before I knew it we were standing in front of my building again.
"Well, here we are," I said and looked down at my feet, feeling awkward and unsure about what might happen next.
"Thanks for walking me home…again."
"My pleasure…again," he grinned and I couldn’t help but smile. "Maybe I could have the pleasure once more on Thursday?"
"That would be lovely," I said.
"Until then," he smiled and picked my hand up and kissed it like a true gentleman. "Goodbye, Kate."
"Bye, William," I blushed as he returned my hand. He turned away from the building and I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched him go. He looked back before disappearing around the building and we shared another wave.
I sighed as I hugged my books then walked in and tried to figure out what was happening with my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to be called, I was falling for someone I barely knew, and I was suddenly focused on having a proper sort of relationship instead of just jumping into bed or even kissing. I also felt strangely energized to study. William had definitely done something to me and I was pretty sure just being friends was off the table.
We repeated our afternoon two days later, and again the next week. Mostly we just got to know each other, talking about our upbringing, our families, what we loved to do, our favorite foods, that sort of thing, and it was nice just getting to know him. On the fourth Thursday of our little chats, a little over a month after we’d started them, he reached for my hand as we walked and it felt as natural and right as everything else about our relationship had felt.
"I really like you, Kate."
"I really like you too, William."
"And I think it’s about time I took you out on a proper date."
"That sounds nice," I smiled.
He kissed my cheek after we planned a Friday night outing then said goodbye and did his customary wave before disappearing around the building.
"Finally," I sighed to no one but myself while simultaneously putting my hand where his lips had been on my cheek.
"Finally, what?" Keith asked and until that moment I’d pretty much forgotten he existed.
"Nothing," I snapped and turned toward the door.
"I haven’t seen you around much," he said as he followed me in.
"I’m sure that’s made you happy."
"Hey," he said and reached for my arm as I rounded the corner to the elevator. "This is what you wanted, remember? You weren’t looking for something long term."
"I know," I sighed. "I was stupid."
"Are you saying you’re looking for something different now?"
"Yes, but not with you."
"Ouch," he smiled.
"Sorry. That didn’t exactly come out as I meant it."
"I sort of figured that when I saw you with William."
"You know him?"
"He used to date my sister." As soon as he said it I almost stopped breathing.
"Melanie was your sister?" He nodded and I felt horrible once more. "Keith, I had no idea."
"It’s okay. We were half-siblings and weren’t that close but you know…"
"I’m so sorry. From what I know she seemed pretty wonderful."
"She would have liked you," he smiled. "And the fact that you’re with William actually makes sense."
"Thanks, I think."
"It’s a compliment," he assured me. "Though I think you and I could have been pretty good together too."
"I…I’m really sorry, Keith."
"Don’t be," he said and leaned against my arm. "I think this is right for you, and I don’t even know you that well."
"Thanks, Keith. I hope things between us can stop being awkward now."
"I think they already have." I smiled and nodded. "Take care of yourself, Elizabeth," he said then gave me a hug.
"You too," I said as I gave him a quick hug back. "I better get going."
"Right. See ya."
It was the closure I’d needed and as I made my way to my room I felt even better about things with William. When he picked me up the next night for our evening out I was so excited that I walked right up and kissed him on the mouth in the middle of the lobby. He didn’t hesitate to kiss me back though it was fairly clear he was surprised by my actions.
"Well," he blushed when we pulled apart. "I was sort of hoping to save that until the end of our date."
"Sorry," I smiled through my own blush. "But I just couldn’t wait."
"I’m glad you didn’t. Now we can enjoy the evening without the pressure of that first kiss looming. I knew I picked the right girl to stalk."
"That you did, William. Also, I’ve been thinking about it and while I’m totally fine with you calling me Kate I think the name I really love is Elizabeth Ann. I know it’s formal and I know it’s what my parents call me but it is my name and I actually do love it."
"Very well, Elizabeth Ann."
"Say it again," I breathed.
He smiled and leaned in then put his lips near my ear. “I think I’m falling in love with you, Elizabeth Ann.”
© Carrie M. Medders