From Now to You — 5

Sophomore year of high school

Stephanie walked out into the blaring sun. The heavy metal door clanged shut behind her as she scanned the bleachers for a familiar mop of wavy brown hair. Her red Converse sneakers crunched against the gravel path as she moved away from the school and toward the football field.

It was hot for late September and the trees were unmoving with the lack of breeze. Her jeans seemed constricting in the oppressive heat and she wished she had the foresight to wear shorts instead. She had on her favorite green t-shirt from a summer camp she used to go to in middle school. It was threadbare and dotted with smears and splotches of paint in every color. Her mom chided her for wearing it so often, but she always simply answered that it was her favorite. Sometimes her mother would ask her why it was her favorite shirt since she was never too excited about going to summer camp. She could only shrug in response. It wouldn’t be until much later that she would admit that it was because Alice had mentioned once in Freshman year that the green brought out her eyes.

She reached the base of the bleachers and frowned against the noon sun in her eyes as she scanned each row for Alice. She didn’t see her, which was odd, since Alice almost always came out here to write during lunch on days like this. She huffed in annoyance and reached into her back pocket for her phone.

“Looking for me?”

“Ah!” Stephanie jumped and nearly dropped her phone to the ground. She spun backwards, then forwards, and then in a complete circle. It was Alice’s voice, but she couldn’t see her anywhere. Alice’s disembodied laughter seemed to come from every direction.

“You’re such a spaz, Steph!” Alice called out as she stuck her arm between two rows of aluminum seats and waved a hand at Stephanie. “I’m under the bleachers.”

Stephanie huffed again and rounded the bleachers to get underneath. “You scared the shit out of me!” she called out when she finally saw Alice sitting in the grass. She was wearing dark blue Bermuda shorts and a pink Polo shirt. Stephanie would make fun of her preppy attire if it didn’t look so damn good on her. Alice’s long, dark hair was gathered into a messy bun at the top of her head. She was grinning at Stephanie with her back leaning against one of the many poles that criss-crossed the area behind the bleachers. Stephanie focused on that smile as she ducked and stepped over the poles and beams that separated them. She clung to a pole at each step to keep from tripping. Falling in front of her crush simply would not do. “What are you doing under here anyway? Isn’t this where potheads hang out? Didn’t really think that was your scene.”

Alice just shrugged and placed a notebook and a pen onto her lap, slipping an empty sandwich bag into her backpack. “The sun’s hot and it’s shady down here.”

Stephanie’s lips curled in mild disgust. “But there are, like, bugs down here. Like spiders! God, I bet there are spiders down here. I bet I walked right into a spider web and now they’re crawling on me!” She shuddered and shook out her short blonde hair.

Alice giggled at her antics. “Then why are you down here? Nobody asked you to stalk me, y’know.”

Stephanie blushed at that. “I was not stalking you… I was seeking you out for a very important, life-altering reason.”

“Oh, and what reason might that be?” Alice asked with amusement in her voice. Her eyes were glued to the notebook and her pen was flying across the page. Stephanie often wondered how she could write so fast and still manage to cross her t’s and dot her i’s.

Stephanie smiled softly as she watched Alice write. Sometimes she would have a look of intense concentration as she wrote, other times she’d look sad, and on rare occasions, she looked angry, but right now, she looked serene. Her full, pink lips were turned up at the corners slightly and there was a twinkle in her eyes. Wait, eyes? Oh, right. Alice was looking at her expectantly. “The reason I wanted to see you is…” she trailed off solely for dramatic effect. This only caused Alice’s smile to grow. “I wanted to ask if you wanted to go to the movies on Friday.”

“Oh, I see,” Alice said with a short nod and then looked back down at her notebook and continued writing.

“So…?”

“Hmm?” Alice didn’t pause in her writing, but there was a ghost of a grin playing across her face.

“So, what’s your answer?”

“I don’t recall having been asked a question.”

Stephanie scoffed. “I asked if you wanted to go to see a movie this weekend.”

“Did you?”

Stephanie tilted her head up and sighed toward the sky before meeting Alice’s amused gaze in front of her. “Alice…”

“Yes, Stephanie?”

“Would you like to go to the movies on Friday?”

“With you?”

Stephanie grumbled and crossed her arms over her chest. “Yes, with me. Would you like to go to the movies on Friday with me?”

“Just you?”

“Yes, just me!”

“So… a date?”

Stephanie chuckled and stretched her legs out to knock the toes of her sneakers against Alice’s. “Alice, will you go on a date with me to the movies on Friday?”

Alice tilted her head slightly and studied Stephanie’s face for a few long seconds. She looked into her eyes, blue boring into light brown. Her eyes darted to Stephanie’s mouth when the blonde bit at her bottom lip in anticipation. A row of white teeth dug into a full pink lip. Alice took in a quiet deep breath, her eyes once again anchored to Stephanie’s. She had an indiscernible expression on her face. It looked almost melancholy while still being playful and happy, as if she was giving away a prized possession for a greater purpose. When she spoke, her voice was soft but sure. “No.”

Stephanie released her bottom lip and let her tongue dart out to soothe it. “Still no, huh?”

Alice just smiled at her.

“Why? I mean, you know I like you and I know you like me — er, I mean, I thought you liked me-“

“I do,” Alice interrupted firmly.

Stephanie was growing wary of this game they played with each other. She was starting to lose confidence in how Alice felt about her despite the brunette’s reassurances. At first she enjoyed being turned down, thinking it was Alice playing hard to get. She liked wooing Alice with notes and flowers in her locker, random gifts, flirtatious glances, and discreet grazes of their fingers. But she was starting to think that she was being strung along.

They had confessed their feelings for each other over the summer and Alice helped Stephanie come out to her parents. Their hands were clasped together and when her mother asked if she and Alice were dating, Alice was quick to answer in the negative before Stephanie could say that yes, they were. “We’re just friends,” Alice had said to Stephanie’s parents, and then squeezed her hand and turned her head to look at her, “for now.”

“Then why do you keep turning me down? Is it because you’re afraid to come out? We can keep it a secret if you want, it doesn’t matter to me-”

“That’s not it. I’ve never hidden that I’m gay. That was your identity crisis, not mine,” Alice interrupted again with a playful teasing smile.

“Then why?”

Alice’s expression grew serious at the desperate tone in Stephanie’s voice. “Because,” she started then swallowed visibly, “because when I do say yes to you, that will be it for me.”

Stephanie furrowed her brows in confusion.

“Because when I say yes to you, I won’t say yes to anyone else. Not for a long, long time. Ever, if I have anything to say about it,” she huffed out a small self-deprecating laugh. “When I’m yours and you’re mine, I want that to be it. Because I don’t think I could handle having you and then… not. So, I want to wait. I want you to be sure. I need you to be sure. I know it’s probably stupid to be saying things like this since we’re barely sixteen, but- I just-,” she huffed at her own lack of eloquence. “I’m willing to wait until you’re certain. Even if that means waiting until next year or college or when we’re forty and you’re a divorcee. Even if it means waiting forever. Because I think that losing you would be so much worse than never being anything more than your friend. It’s better to be born blind than to have glimpsed beauty before losing the ability to see.”

Stephanie stared at her intently, searching her eyes. Her breaths were coming in heavy and fast. Her heart clenched with apprehension as she said, “Nothing is certain.”

Alice shrugged with a small smile, “I am.”