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When Love Happens: Chapter Three
This couldn’t be happening. Was I seriously just letting her leave? Why wasn’t anybody stopping her? Say something you idiot! She’s getting away. You’re going to miss your chance. No, wait! Come back Kimberly! My words were silenced. Damn it. She’s gone now. Oh, why didn’t I follow her? Stupid, stupid, stupid…
I’ve heard it said that you always regret what you don’t say. And I can honestly say that that saying couldn’t have made more sense to me more than it did right now. The truth in that stung. Up to this point, all of my encounters with Kimberly had been bittersweet. And though I was able to use that to my advantage and teasingly provoke her during our banters, deep down I wished we could share a genuinely sweet and heartfelt moment, if only one time. I wanted to win her over so I could do whatever I had to do to prove how much I’d come to care about her. But once again, opportunity knocked, and I answered too late. I knew that I ran into Kimberly that day on sheer dumb luck, and the chances I would find her that easily again were slim to none. I was haunted by whether I would get another chance to see her. It was astonishing how I could be experiencing emotions this strong for someone I’d only known for two days. It seemed unreal and kind of fairytale-ish if you know what I mean.
In that moment I suddenly realized that I was officially falling hard for Kimberly, and decided that I couldn’t lose her. I felt my previously glued feet detach themselves from the tile salon floor and sprint into the mall. Frantically I searched for Kimberly, hoping I could catch her as she was going out the door or something, but the place was packed with people, making maneuverability extremely difficult. There was no way I could find her in that jungle of shoppers, anyway. I finally stopped running, knowing that she must have been in her car by now, and just stood still, trying to catch my breath.
“Kimberly…Kimberly…Kim…” I whispered heavily as if saying her name would magically bring her back. I knew the more I stood there dwelling on what could have been, the farther away she was getting. I experienced a tugging sensation in my heart which made me more aware of my temptation to chase after her. I had to tell her how I felt, and I would have done anything to get the chance to. But the truth was I couldn’t. At this point, it was out of my hands, and I was left with only my aching heart, wishful thoughts, and inner desires.
“Dylan! Hey, Dylan!” Steven suddenly hollered from behind. I half-consciously looked over my shoulder and saw my boss jogging toward me, waving both arms in the air dramatically. I forced myself to come to and stood up straight again, briefly shimmying my head to regain focus.
“Dylan, my God! What in the world was that? I never gave you permission to leave in the middle of your shift.”
I massaged the temples of my forehead. “Oh, right,” I said. “I’m so sorry, Steven. I know that was uncalled for. Something just got the best of me, and I totally forgot I was on duty for a minute.”
“Well, you need to get back there. A customer came to me and complained that she’s been waiting for her 4 o’clock appointment for twenty minutes. You can’t just abandon your clients; we lose sales that way.”
“Can’t I just use that as my break time for today?” I asked.
“Dylan, you’ve already used your lunch hour today. I’m afraid I can’t allow that.”
Life just kept getting better. Exasperatedly, I placed my hands on my hips, stared down at the floor, and flapped my lips. “I’m sorry, sir,” I said somberly. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”
That’s when Steven’s mood softened up a little. He took a step towards me, placing his hand on my shoulder, and asked, “Dylan, what’s going on?”
“Nothing, Steve,” I lied.
“Don’t give me that, Dylan. You haven’t been acting right all week. You were late to work yesterday, and just now you ran out of the salon like a madman. You’ve clearly been distracted. What’s bothering you?” His voice was firm but tender at the same time.
I sighed. “Steve, it-it’s nothing; forget about it.”
“Come on, man, we both know that’s not true. Now, cough it up. You can tell me.”
“It’s stupid,” I protested, wishing that he would just drop the subject.
“There’s never anything stupid about your troubles. You shouldn’t be afraid to talk about them.”
“What are you, like my psychologist all of a sudden?’ I exclaimed. “Can’t you see that I don’t want to discuss this? I mean, seriously, would it kill you to give me a little privacy? This is my problem, not yours, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d let me deal with it alone. There’s nothing you can do about it, anyway, so why don’t we just go back to work and pretend we never had this conversation?”
Steven had a moment of silence in which he stared at me heavily, probably scrutinizing my expression for any sign of denial or a hidden yearning to talk about my problem, something I knew he’d never find. “Fine,” he said, taking a step back to show his respect for my request. “Now, let’s go back to work; you have an appointment waiting.”
“Thank you,” I said, beginning to walk up the hall again.
“But Dylan…,” Steven said not even a second later, making me stop in my tracks.
“I just want you to remember, if you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here for you.”
I sighed impatiently at his obvious hint that he still wanted me to tell him what was going on. “Sure,” I said with a stiff smile.
“Okay, let’s go. We’ve got a busy afternoon ahead of us.”
“Actually, Steven, I think I’m going to use the restroom first. But I’ll be right there.”
“Well…okay, but make it quick. We’ve lost precious time as it is. I’ll let your client know that you’re coming.”
“All right, thanks,” I said. I smiled proudly as I watched Steven jog up the hall to the salon, amazed that he had bought my lie. I honestly didn’t need to use the facilities, but Steven’s nosiness had gotten me all whipped up and I wanted to take a minute or two to cool off before I went back to work. So I continued down the hall through which I knew Kimberly had run away. It gave me some sense of comfort to be walking the same path that she once did, because it made her seem closer.
Jeez, just listen to me. I sound like a lovesick cheese-head in a sappy movie. No one feels this strongly for someone in real life, do they? It’s so over the top. I couldn’t actually be falling in love with Kimberly, right? Maybe she just happened to be the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen and I was experiencing the ultimate turn-on. Or what if I was over-exaggerating my true feelings? Maybe that was the answer. This was the first time I’d ever felt seriously attracted to a girl after all, which could be overwhelming me. But then again…maybe it was for real. Love’s apparently not a total farce; just look at all the weddings they broadcast on TV. It just never seemed like the kind of thing I would get mixed up in.
I hadn’t realized I was so deep in thought that I’d reached the end of the hall until I heard the automatic doors swoosh open in front of me. It was time to turn around and go back to work. Seeing the open door before me, however, was a tempting sight. I really wished I could have run out, right then and there and taken the rest of the day off. The warmth of the summer sun spread blissfully across my skin, as if coaxing me to step outside but I dismissed the opportunity and turned around. Work, that’s where I had to be right now, no matter how much I hated it. Reluctantly, I started venturing down the hall again, feeling a light breeze pass over me from behind as the automatic door swung shut, and did my best to resurrect my cheery disposition that I had to maintain with my customers to keep them happy. Halfway to Perfection Nails, I heard something crackle beneath my shoe, and I looked down to see what I’d stepped in. It was a piece of paper of some sort. The smoothie that I’d spilled all over Kimberly a couple days ago had left a sticky spot on the bottom of my shoe, causing the slip of paper to stick. I lifted my foot and pulled it off, intending to head straight for the nearest trash can so I could discard it. On the way I curiously took a look at the paper and realized it was a receipt. It was a receipt for an order of food service at the Crowne Plaza. For a minute I was amused by the large amount of food on the bill, but my heart was jolted when I read the signature at the bottom.
“Kimberly…,” I whispered. Could it be? Could I have really been blessed with another fortunate stroke of luck? Had I truly found my ticket back to Kimberly? Could it really be that simple? No, I decided. It couldn’t be. There had to be a thousand Kimberly’s in this mall. How could I expect my Kimberly to have coincidentally dropped an old receipt from her purse, leaving it on the floor for me to discover like it was destiny? Now I knew I was just being a mindless dreamer. I mean, what are the odds—one in a million? Probably less than that even. Still, the penmanship did look familiar, or was I just imagining it? Well, it didn’t even matter, anyway, because I had no way of proving whether this was Kimberly’s signature.
Or did I?
A bell dinged in my head, and when I gasped at my realization, my lungs were restored with the hope that once again lingered in the oxygen around me. I quickly pocketed the receipt and rushed down the hall, effortlessly bypassing the shoppers like an Olympic race horse that was used to navigating through tight, crowded areas. I definitely alarmed some people as I tore through the mall, but they were all left untouched so I didn’t bother to excuse myself as I passed them. I reached Perfection Nails in record time. I half-tripped at the entrance and recklessly threw myself at the front counter, snatching the sign-in clipboard.
“Oh, Dylan, you’re back! Good,” Steven said, coming up beside me. “I’ve got your station all set up for you and I sat your client down in a chair. She’s ready whenever you are.”
Completely oblivious to Steven’s presence, I frenetically filed through the multiple sheets of paper clipped to the board until I came to the one dated as yesterday. Then I anxiously ran my finger down the paper in search of Kimberly’s name. I scanned through two sheets of paper (apparently business was booming that day) before stumbling across her name. “Ah! Yes!” I exclaimed in a whisper as to not make a scene and disrupt the serenity of the boutique.
“Dylan, what are you doing?” Steven demanded.
Bookmarking the correct sheet with my finger, I dug into my jeans pocket in search of the receipt. In the heat of the moment with my adrenaline pumping, my mind clouded and I couldn’t remember where exactly I had put the receipt, and when I didn’t find it the first time I dipped my hand into my pocket, I became a little panicked. I desperately started to search my other pockets, and to my relief found it in the left back one. I ripped it out.
“There you are, you little monster.”
“Dylan, what is going on? Are you listening to me?” Steve said.
I straightened out the crumpled receipt and laid it out flat next to the sign-in list, praying for a miracle. I took a good long look at each signature, comparing the two letter by letter, praying for a miracle. A smile that seemed to stretch as far as the Nile emerged on my face upon completing my analysis. The two signatures were identical. Victory was mine.
“It’s her,” I breathed.
“What?” Steven said.
I didn’t reply. I could only smile.
Suddenly, Steven smacked his palm on the counter, startling me. I turned to him. “Oh, hi there, Steve!” I said joyfully.
“Don’t ‘Hi, Steve!’ me!” he replied crustily. “I’ve said your name three times already. Don’t make me do it again. Your client is waiting for you.”
“I found her,” I beamed.
“I found her Steven.”
“I’ve been given another chance.”
“What in God’s name are you talking about?”
My eyes widened suddenly. “Wait a minute,” I said. I held up the receipt again. “The Crowne Plaza? I-I think I know where that is!” Absentmindedly, I began to pace back and forth. “Hang on, hang on,” I mused. “Oh, that’s right! It’s out by the old McDonald’s. That’s just around the corner! I can go straight there after work. Oh, my goodness, this is intense. It’s too easy! I can’t believe it. I found her, I finally found her.”
“Dylan, I have no idea what you’re blathering about, but I know that if your client leaves and we lose a sale, I’m docking it from your pay.”
I placed my hands on Steven’s shoulders. “Oh, right away, sir!” I cried, ecstatic. I felt like I was walking on air. This couldn’t have turned out more perfect. I didn’t even care that I had to work anymore. In fact, something inside me was actually looking forward to working now. I could have danced all the way to my station without even caring if it made me look like a queer.
Still in daydream mode, I took a seat in the cushy leather chair before my client, not bothering to notice her face. I just said pleasantly, “Hello, how are you today?” and prepared myself mentally to give her whatever kind of manicure she should request.
“…Dylan?” she cried.
The familiar voice broke me of my trance, and I attempted to study her face. “Maggie?” I exclaimed.
“Oh, my gosh; I haven’t seen you in forever!” she said.
“I know! How long has it been—two years?”
“I think so. So how’ve you been?”
Her question brought about my fantasies of Kimberly again, and the dorkiest grin took over my face. “Everything’s been peachy-keen.”
Okay, just so we’re clear on this, to this day I have no clue what in God’s name possessed me to actually use the expression, “peachy keen” in a legitimate sentence. But I swear that was not me talking.
Maggie eyes twinkled mischievously. “Oooh, I know that look, Dylan,” she teased. “Come on, who is she?”
Same old Maggie. She always did have a thing for reading people—well, mostly me. “Wow, you haven’t changed a bit, have you?” I said. “Okay, you win. Her name is Kimberly, and I think I might like her.” For some reason I was bashful to admit this.
“Oh, don’t give me that. ‘I think might like her.’ Give me a break. You’re totally wonderstruck. It’s in your eyes.”
Normally, I’m a tough nut to crack, but Maggie was always good at breaking through my shell. “Okay, maybe a little,” I confessed.
“I thought so,” she laughed. “So how long have you been going with her?”
“Oh, I haven’t,” I said. “We only met two days ago, but she already means so much to me. It’s strange, but…something about her is special. I’m going to visit her at her hotel tonight, actually, and hopefully disclose my feelings for her.”
“Well, she’s a very lucky girl, Dylan,” Maggie said. “But of course, she’s not as special as I was?” She winked jokingly.
“Oh, no, of course not, Maggie,” I laughed. “I mean, who could replace you?” I’d always found it funny when Maggie would play stuck-up. She had such a laid back but dynamic personality. That was one of things that I admired about her. “So, what would you like done today?”
“My regular French,” she said, unhesitant.
“Oh, that’s right! Of course, how could I forget?” We shared a casual laugh, and I said, “Here, give me your hand.” Then I began her manicure.
The story of Maggie and I is one of a bittersweet taste. The first time she came to Perfection Nails, I was a bit startled by her appearance at first. She was a curly redhead with a few freckles dotting the line of her cheekbones, and she was wearing a cropped denim jacket with black cowboy boots. She clearly cared about her appearance, and was much more put together than most people who came to the salon. She was just a stylish kind of girl, a real cutie, something that you don’t see every day. And it took one glance at her to know that I was crushing hard. So, lucky me, I was the one who got to give her a manicure. We started talking, and there was an instant connection between us. She was sweet and funny, and so easy to talk to. Of course, I eased into my flirtatious phase, and once that began she was sold. There was obviously a mutual attraction here, and we both wanted to find out what else we could get from each other. So she became a returning customer. She came in every three weeks for a French manicure, and would request that I be the one to give her one. Overtime we learned more about each other and the feelings seemed to keep going strong. But eventually we lost control of our emotions and after I clocked out one night, we snuck across the street to a dark alley together, where things got a little hot between us. Well, it started out kind of awkward and shy since neither of us was used to the feeling of being drawn to someone, but it wasn’t long before she was straddling my lap and we were making out a little. It was a pretty steamy moment and I honestly was kind of enjoying the experience, but once I realized that my shirt had been removed I pulled away from the kiss, knowing that if we didn’t stop now we’d end up doing something we would regret later. After that, the spark seemed to disappear instantaneously. She crawled off of my lap in silence and grabbed her jacket off the ground before walking away without even saying goodbye. That’s when we both realized that this had been merely a fling. There wasn’t love in either of our hearts, only the typical teenage hormones that are lustful intentions. It hadn’t meant anything to either of us. But it was disappointing, because for a minute we both swore that there was something serious going on between us. But, oh well. Such is life. But it’s not like she ran away forever. She continued to come to Perfection Nails every three weeks and we maintained a healthy friendship. However, after six more months, she moved to Florida with her family, and I hadn’t heard from her since. Two years flew by, and now I was seeing her for the first time again. But by the way we looked at each other we could tell that neither of us had changed in our time apart.
Seeing Maggie again kind of took the secretiveness out of me, and I ended up spilling the entire story of Kimberly and me, from the smoothie incident to her walking out of the salon in silence. And she turned out to be oozing with advice. Apparently she’d learned her share of lessons in love. Getting a second opinion on this gave me some consolation.
When I had finished applying the liquid acrylic over her dazzlingly long nails, I told Maggie, “So that’s why it took me so long to get you started today. I was having a Kimberly crisis. And for that, I want to say I’m sorry for the wait.”
Her face brightened. “Are you kidding? You don’t have to say you’re sorry,” she assured. “I’d wait a year for you if I had to.”
That settled my stomach a little. “Okay, good. Because I figured you were getting antsy or impatient after waiting for more than a half-hour.”
“It’s no trouble.”
“Cool,” I said. “So, anyway, tell me. What are you doing in Michigan anyway? I thought you moved to Florida ages ago.”
“Well, yes, I did. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely state, but…it wasn’t home. I never felt totally content there. So, I told my parents sorry, but I was going to pack up my things and go. After all, I am an adult; my parents never expected me to stay forever. I’ve just always been really attached to my family, and I thought it’d be a great family opportunity, going to Florida. So, they told me go right ahead, but to make sure I write every week.”
I smiled. Maggie was such a gem. She was so down to earth, and just plain nice. I couldn’t help but admire her; her parents obviously had raised her well, which meant they must have had their own heads screwed on straight—not your average family in this day and age. “You guys seem so close,” I said. “You are an extraordinary person, Mags.”
“Well, I try to do what I can to make the world a better place for everybody,” she responded politely.
“I wish I were more like that,” I said, my eyelids lowered.
“Don’t say that, Dylan. You’re wonderful.”
“Sometimes,” I said.
“Always,” she corrected.
I shook my head. “Whatever,” I said. At this point I’d airbrushed the white paint over the tips of Maggie’s nails and applied a clear coat. “Okay, so I think you are just about done, here. So how about you go over to the counter and get out your money and I’ll be right over?”
“Sounds good to me.”
I checked my watch as I began to clean up my work station so it would be ready for the next client. It was 5:30; perfect. It was just two more hours until the end of my shift, just two more hours until I could see Kimberly. Just two more hours—hang in there, man. You can do it.
I couldn’t believe how antsy I was becoming. I felt like a little boy waiting for dessert at a restaurant—hungry and refusing to shut up until I got my slice of Kimberly pie. Was it normal for me to feel silly over this? I couldn’t sort all this out on my own. I had too many questions. But perhaps everything would be made clear to me tonight. Maybe tonight would be the night where everything would fall right into place…or out of place in the worst case scenario. I really didn’t know what I expected to happen. I was pretty much just going out on a limb here. But if it happened to get me where I wanted to go, then I was totally okay with it.
Those final two hours of my shift dragged on longer than an entire week usually would for me. I found myself restlessly tapping my foot and constantly looking at my watch. Finally, when I was at the point of believing that closing time would never arrive, Steven started to dim the lights in the salon and told all of the employees to finish up as soon as possible so he could lock up. Eagerly, I rushed through my client’s second coat of nail polish and sent her to the drying table where she slipped her hands underneath the rays of ultraviolet light.
“That’s my last customer, Steven,” I said to him, grabbing my brown leather coat from the break room. “I’m leaving; see you tomorrow.”
“All right, Dylan. Have a good night,” he answered.
Excellent, I thought. He wasn’t asking me to stay behind and help lock up or anything. I left the salon immediately anyway so he couldn’t change his mind. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to the Crowne Plaza. Until I found Kimberly, the rest of my world was to be put on hold.
* * * *
Despite my familiarity with the city, that darn cluster of trees outside the Crowne Plaza had never failed to make me lose track of the building, and more than once had I found myself retracing my steps, trying to remember where to pull in. I probably would have had the same problem that night as well, especially considering I was in the dark, but when I approached the street across from the hotel, I saw a dim light illuminating the parking lot and was tipped off right away.
When I pulled in, I realized the light I’d seen was emitting from a lone car in the lot. Both front doors were open as well as the trunk, allowing the brightness to spill over, contaminating the darkness with a small ring of light. Within the luminosity was a little shadow cast by a person sitting on the ground, leaning back against the open trunk. Once I’d claimed a parking space and stepped out of the car, I was able to hear dismal music emanating from the radio, which gave the whole scene a dreary kind of effect. I knew that it was none of my business, but I casually ambled in the direction of the car, planning to get just close enough that I could see the person’s face and then make my turn toward the hotel entrance. I had to look twice, but realized it was Kimberly sitting behind her car, the very girl I was searching for. She didn’t even notice me standing there at first, probably assuming I was just another hotel guest passing through. Then, as I continued to observe her, I saw her face was moist, subtly glistening under the light of her car, and I knew she had been crying.
“It’s getting late,” I said quietly. “You might want to turn in.”
She gasped and turned her head. Seeing me, she nervously hugged her knees to her chest and quickly looked away again, but didn’t say anything.
“Trust me; the nights of this city are not kind to women. You could run into some serious trouble around these parts,” I said.
Kimberly, looking straight ahead, took a few shaky breaths and sniffled lightly. I watched her eyes blink rapidly and her lip quiver. Then, with one prolonged sigh, she crossed her arms overtop of her knees and slowly turned her head toward me again. Her eyes were filled with despair. “What you said before…,” she said softly, “are you sure?”
Knowing she was referring to the time I called her by name, I gave a half-smile and nodded slowly. “Yes,” I affirmed.
She inhaled waveringly and once again looked straight ahead, this time pressing her lips together and squeezing her eyes shut. It wasn’t long before she was burying her face in her hands. A few seconds of tension passed, and then she let out a woeful cry that still reverberates in my ears today. Feeling the utmost sympathy for her broken soul, I took a seat beside her and tenderly placed my hand on her shoulder.
“Kimberly,” I whispered, “I need you to know how I feel about you.”
She shook her head inside her palms, whimpering her objection.
“Shh. I have to do this. I’ve been looking for you for days, and I just have to tell you how I feel.”
Kimberly lifted her head and cried, “I know how you feel, Dylan! I know!”
“Of course I do! And it scares me, okay?”
“What scares you?” I asked calmingly.
“That I might feel that way about you, too!” she exclaimed sorrowfully. She sniffled again and wiped her eyes. “It-it just scares me.”
“Why are you so afraid?”
Kimberly suddenly shoved my hand off of her shoulder. “No! Look, just go away, okay? I have nothing to say to you. All of you men are the same, and you don’t get it. You just don’t get it.” Now she was weeping again, and had turned her back on me. Though my pity hadn’t faltered, my suspicions were raised.
“‘All of you men?’” I repeated. “There was someone else wasn’t there, Kimberly?” She refused to answer me, but her body language told me all I needed to know. Leaning my head in next to her ear and placing both hands on her shoulders, I murmured in her ear, “Kimberly…I don’t know what that guy did to you. But…I promise I will never hurt you.”
She seemed to quiver beneath my touch and hesitantly turned back around. “Dylan, please…I’m frightened,” she said shakily. “Don’t make me do this.”
Gently stroking her hair, I said, “We don’t have to. We can end this whole thing right now. If you want me to, I will leave this minute, and it’ll be like we never met.” It broke my heart to utter those words, but I figured if I truly cared for Kimberly I could let her go. “So…do you want me to stay?”
We spent what seemed like forever staring intently into each other’s eyes. Gradually, I felt our faces inching closer but just when I swore that we were about to have a magical moment, Kimberly unexpectedly turned away. It was over.
“I see,” I said, standing up. “Well, if that is what you want, then I’m happy to oblige.” A golf ball-sized lump formed in the back of my throat, but I did my best to swallow it down. “Goodbye, Kimberly,” I said. With that, I turned around and headed back to my car, feeling tears well up in my eyes. It was the first time I’d ever cried over a girl.