‘Too many days have too quickly gone.
Awkward fingers wave awkward goodbyes.
All this time, I wished for something wrong.
For I’ve only the courage to stand and smile.
I know you better than most,
The way you hate pickles on your bread.
How you dance in your seat and nod
While rock and roll runs through your head.
There’s more to you than that, I know.
I’ve seen it here all along.
These words you’ll someday see are from my soul.
I am not, nor will I ever be, wrong.’
He slowly looked up, his eyebrows raised disbelievingly.
“You wrote about how you stalk your secret crush?”
Beautiful Reese moaned, throwing her head forward so that she leaned against the couch arm.
“I knew it was weird!” She propped her chin up on her wrists, her golden hazel eyes boring into his. “But as a poem, how is it?”
Ambrose shrugged incredulously, his face stricken in a shocked expression.
“I don’t know; I’m still trying to get past the face that you know he doesn’t like pickles on his sandwiches! I mean, who is this guy?”
Reese opened her mouth, then suddenly smiled.
“Oh, I see what you’re doing! You aren’t weirded out by what I know. You’re irritated by the fact that I have a crush and you want to know who it is so you can go beat him up for me!” She laughed and reached across the couch and ruffled his dark, stiff hair. “You’re the brother I never had, Rosy.”
Ambrose chuckled, handing her the paper and pulling his legs up so he sat cross-legged on the ancient red velvet couch. A million years of conversations between two best friends had taken place on this couch in this garage beneath the lava lamp from the eighties. It knew more about eighteen year olds Ambrose Donahan and Reese Cobrick than most people.
“Well,” he started with a satisfied grin. “When you know a girl like you for as long as I have, I’ve found that you can’t really help the protective feelings that overcome you when you hear about a guy.” His voice lowered. “Now, what’s his full name, address, and social security number?”
Reese giggled through his nose. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Yeah, that’s why I asked.”
“Than do some spy work yourself.”
“Ooh, is that your permission I hear?”
“To an extent.”
“Well, I’m not missing an opportunity like this! May I use cameras and -”
“Aw, man," he murmured through his teeth. Ambrose looked down at his watch and his eyebrows shot up. “Reese, you’re gonna be late for your piano lesson!”
She groaned, shoving herself to her feet and snatching her purse from the floor. “Oh yeah, real life. You’re going to make it to the recital Saturday, right?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Come on, I estimate you being two minutes late at this point. I’ll walk you to the door.”
She skipped blithely out of the garage, Ambrose following with a helpless smile. He opened the front door for her and pushed away the screen. Reese patted his shoulder.
“See you later, then, bud. Bye, Aunt Sophie!”
“Drive safely, honey!”
She sprinted down the sidewalk to her compact blue car parked on the curb. Ambrose watched her go, her waist length blonde hair floating in webbed patterns across the back of her ever-present burgundy hoodie. He leaned his shoulder against the doorframe.
The guy who had caught her eye was lucky, indeed.
Ambrose wondered what he was doing wrong.
Mrs. Donahan came to his side, massaging her wrist. She experienced chronic writer’s cramps and had to take frequent breaks from her flying pen.
“It’s still so weird to see her driving,” she murmured, gazing out the door as the little car turned out of the col-de-sac. “I mean, it’s been two years and all, but it seems like yesterday the two of you were in diapers in the kiddie pool.”
Ambrose glanced down at the shorter woman with high eyebrows and an incredulous smile.
“Wow, Mom, thanks for the image!”
She grinned and leaned against his shoulder, her eyes cast upwards so she met his stare. “Have you told her yet? How you feel?”
He looked at her for a long second, then sighed, looking out the door again.
“She just had me read her stalker poem on the guy she currently has a crush on. It wasn’t bad or anything, and I guess it shows how much she cares. I just need to know that she’s not putting all her hopes in this idealistic hot guy who won’t treat her the way she deserves.”
“Oh, baby, that’s what I love about you,” Mrs. Donahan said softly, patting his shoulder. “You’ve loved this girl since eighth grade, but it’s the kind of love that wants to protect her, not the kind that wants something from her. Still, I think you should tell her sometime soon. You are, after all, the package deal.” She winked as Ambrose scoffed in amusement. “Would you help me with the salmon? Dad’ll be home in a half hour.”
“Yeah. Can I make the Teriyaki?”
“You know it. Dad likes the way you do it better, anyway.”
Reese glanced up anxiously at the clock, tapping her manicured nails on the wall behind her. She had dressed up for this, beautifully elegant in her knee length red dress with the flowing skirt and the tight three quarter sleeves. Her hair was curled and her makeup was done to perfection. Everything looked good eight minutes to the announcements, and rock and roll loving, pickle hating, super handsome Tyler from school still was not here.
Despite how kind she had thought him when he looked up at her during AP physics and nodded when she asked him to her piano recital, Reese was a little put off. He had agreed to meet her outside the stadium fifteen minutes before she had to line up so she could get them seats together. She had been waiting in the frigid breezes until Miss Bea had come outside to drag her into line. Even still, her eyes scanned the congregating crowd for his face.
Ambrose, smart in dark slacks and a long sleeved blue dress shirt, stood in the front row, ushering his parents and little sister into the seats he had saved by the Cobricks. He caught Reese’s anxious scan and smiled, giving her a thumb’s up as their dads shook hands and moms instantly fell into a whispering fit. She smiled weakly back. She hated how much a disappointment, one that should not have even surprised her, shook her confidence. She had always been an accomplished pianist and knew this piece better than she knew Tyler. She did not need him to perform to her best ability.
Still, it would have been nice.
The lights dimmed and all chatter died to a hushed murmur as the stage lit with a single flood light and Miss Bea tip-toed to the center, tilting dangerously far forward in her typical six inch heels. She smiled at the audience, clasping her hands before her.
“Good evening, all, and thank you for coming to our Fourteenth Annual Winter Showcase.”
The applause was uproarious. The theater was chock full of patrons of the youth in their arts and enthusiastic family members who never failed to attend one of the performances. There was talent there, and the community loved to support it.
‘He probably never liked me to begin with.’
“We have a plethora of extremely talented performers this season, as we seem to be lucky enough to have every time the showcase rolls around!”
‘Who was I kidding?’
“Now, of course, we must go through the emergency protocol. In the unlikely case of an emergency, please proceed calmly and in an orderly fashion to the exits at the left and right.”
‘Well, I guess I wasn’t really thinking, anyway. It’s not like he’s anything like Ambrose.’
“There is a first aid station around the corner towards the bathrooms…”
‘Yeah, I want someone like Ambrose. I guess he’s pretty much my standard for guys. Thoughtful, dependable, lets me cry when I need to and always listens. He hasn’t missed one of my recitals. Guess that makes him pretty much perfect.’
“And absolutely no photography of any kind. Now, please relax and enjoy our show. I welcome to the stage our lead pianist, Reese Cobrick.”
The applause shook the floor as she delicately stepped onto the smooth wood platform. She stared at the grand piano, slowly approaching it.
‘I want...I think I…’
She glanced down, exactly at the base of the stage. Ambrose leaned back in his seat, slouching just a little to hide the phone he had smoothly whipped out his pocket and was holding at an upward angle. He had a video of each of her performances.
Reese’s eyes filmed with shocked tears. Why had she not seen it before?
His eyes flicked up to meet hers, seeing her expression in his video. He frowned in concern.
“You okay?” he mouthed.
Slowly, she nodded.
“Am now,” she breathed. Then she smiled at the audience and curtseyed. Someone whooped. She turned and lowered herself to the bench. The cheers hushed to an expectant silence. Reese could feel them sitting on the edges of their seats.
She could feel Ambrose’s smile as he watched her fingers touch the keys.
The theater filled with music, but none that could match her heart’s peaceful thudding as she scripted the words she would say to him before he left that night. He would give her a bouquet of carnations, as always. She would look him in the eye and tell him what she should have known all along.
Ambrose stood on his toes to see over the bobbing heads of dozens of congratulatory music patrons bearing flowers and boxes of candies. The pitiful hall lights glinted off of perfectly curled golden hair. He gently wove his way through the crowd, holding the paper bound bouquet of carnations close to him to protect them from being squished by well-wishers.
Reese’s blue eyes sparkled at him from beneath a hood of dark lashes.
“Hey!” she greeted. She looked unusually euphoric. Of course, she had performed well. Ambrose stepped closer, pressing the flowers into her hands and pulling her in for a hug.
“And yet again, I find myself blown away by your natural talent!” He lowered his mouth to her ear. “I got the whole thing on video, too.”
She giggled as he stepped back, dipping her nose to the flowers and breathing in.
“Thank you, Rosy, for always being here for them.”
“Pfft, please, it isn’t even a chore! I’m going to edit all the videos together and create the best video montage of Reese Cobrick’s finest moments ever!”
Reese ducked her head bashfully, tucking her hair behind her ear. Ambrose liked it when she did that.
“Ambrose, can we talk somewhere...quieter?”
He looked around. He pointed.
“That’s the door to the biology club’s garden, right?”
“No one ever goes there. Come on.”
He led her through the maze of music lovers and pushed the door open, holding it out for her as they stepped into the cold, late autumn air. Most of the vegetation was nearing its winter quietus, but there were still some leaves on the vines crawling up the stucco wall outside of the theater and the white posts of the gazebo that sheltered the biology club’s prize. Reese moved to the white iron bench nearly hidden by a gigantic agapanthus and sat, crossing her ankles beneath her. Ambrose leaned his shoulder against a post, fingering a Turtlehead flower brushing his elbow.
“So you were perfect tonight,” he stated. Reese smiled peacefully.
“It was only because you were here.”
His eyebrows shot up. “Yeah? That explains your continued successes, than! Looks like I’m your good luck charm.”
“I think it’s a little more than that.”
Ambrose cocked his head. Goosebumps had risen on his skin, he realized. Must be the cold.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that…” She released a short breath, her eyes fixed down on the hem of her skirt. “I’ve...kind of been fooling myself. I’ve liked a lot of guys, but nothing ever happened because they never measured up to you.” Her tone grew tighter as she sped up. “You were always my standard and I never really realized until tonight when Tyler didn’t show up. I realized that every guy would only disappoint me unless he was like you, acted like you, treated me like you do. And then...it hit me that you weren’t my standard.” She rose her eyes to him. Ambrose held her gaze, swallowing heavily. “You were...the one I wanted all along.”
His stomach churned. He had wanted to say it first. He had wanted to let her see how much he loved her. He would have been gentle, but he was not willing to let go of her.
How had she gotten to it first? And just barely, too.
“Ambrose, please say something,” she whispered, her breath catching on the beginnings of tears. “Don’t leave me hanging.”
He drew in a breath. “So Tyler doesn’t like pickles, huh?”
“Ambrose, come on!”
“I’m kidding! Sounds like these words are from your soul.”
She sighed through a smile, shrugging helplessly. “And I was wrong, after all. It was a stupid poem, basically about my blindness. But what do you have to say?”
He gestured to her. “Look in the flowers.”
Reese frowned, but looked down into the bouquet. White carnations had always been her favorite. This time, though, there was a card tucked into the stems. She gently pulled it out. Written in his unmistakable, all caps print were three short words.
A tear slipped down her cheek and she covered her mouth with her free hand.
“For how long?” she breathed through her fingers.
“Since forever. I knew that you were meant for me, Reese. My mom seemed to know that, too.”
She laughed shortly, looking down at the card again. The words bored into her mind.
“Can you tell me? So that I can hear it?”
He smiled gently, crossing to the bench and sitting beside her. He looked her in the eye.
“I love you, Reese.”
She closed her eyes and leaned her head on his shoulder. His arm surrounded her and she wasn’t cold anymore.
“I love you, too, Rosy.”
He chuckled and kissed her soft hair.
“Do you still want Tyler’s social security number?”
“Nah. Looks like it was a false alarm. His address might be nice, though, considering how badly he disappointed you tonight.”
“Ah, it was nothing you couldn’t pull me out of.”
She looked up at him. Ambrose was grinning from ear to ear, looking over her shoulder. He nodded back towards the door.
“Looks like we’ve got a fan club.”
Reese looked back and laughed. Their mothers were squealing with each other behind the glass doors, slapping each other and laughing animatedly.
“Guess they’ve sort of been waiting for this, huh?”
Ambrose bent and kissed her cheek. “So have I. ‘These words you have heard are from my soul’.”