Spring meant a lot of things. It meant that the school year was almost over, it meant that the snow was finally gone. But most importantly, to Ellen, it was the beginning of football at recess.
Ellen was the only girl at her school who like to play football with the boys. When the snow melted and the flowers started to grow, Ellen would line up in that first Sun of the season to be picked for teams to play football on the playground.
There was only one problem with Ellen playing football. None of the boys would ever want to tackle her. This always meant Ellen would never really feel as if she was a part of the game, more like someone who stole the ball from the boys. Of course, she had no problem tackling them. She loved a good end to a play.
As the regular players lined up and chose teams, the game began on the teacher’s whistle. Like usual, she was given the ball and started running to the end zone, her long, wavy hair flowing behind her as she would pick up steam. She ran faster and faster until, out of nowhere, she was hit from the side, and with a big thud and she was on the ground with a boy on top of her.
He popped up and reached out his hand to help her up. She was shocked that a boy would finally tackle her. She looked up at the boy with the sun blinding her behind his head. He was short and cute, and he had dark hair and brown eyes.
“Need a hand?” he said following a couple of seconds of Ellen staring at him. “I’m Daniel Prima.”
“Ellen” she replied, taking his hand to get up.
Later that day, she told her parents with excitement that she met a really cool kid today. “His name is Daniel Prima,” she said.
“Daniel Prima, that must be Debra’s son,” her mom replied absently while looking for a bowl for her baked potatoes.
“Good family, his dad is a dentist I think,” her dad added.
This, of course, was of no concern to Ellen, who cared more that a boy had finally started allowing her to actually play with the boys the way she always wanted, like a real player. Daniel and Ellen played football happily for those last months of school. The next year, Daniel moved to public school. Ellen was devastated. Going back to playing without that feeling she was really part of the game -- it was worse now that she knew how great it could be.
Ellen left football behind when the boys grew to be twice her size, but she was still willing to do all the things any guy would do. Nearing the end of her junior year of high school, Ellen took a job at a warehouse, pulling stock and taking inventory. She was, of course, the only girl for miles, and most everyone in the warehouse were lifers. She was totally surprised to run into Daniel Prima. In fact, on her first day, she literally ran into him, butting him with a box she had just pulled down from a shelf.
“Oof! Body slam. Guess you finally got me back,” he said. They both laughed, remembering how they had met almost exactly five years earlier.
They spent the days working and making jokes together, under the unromantically bright LED lights. The work was boring, but they were completely entertained by learning about each other. They discovered a shared love for building projects and sound systems. Throughout the spring and into the summer, they encountered many interesting characters, engaging them in conversation only so that Daniel and Ellen would have something to joke about later.
One quiet warehouse worker, Malcolm, started to develop a liking for Ellen. He would say hello every time she passed.
Then, he started asking her questions, like “what is your favorite song?” or “where do you live”? Ellen did not give it a second thought.
One day after work Ellen got a text. Hey Ellen, it’s Malcolm. Some of my friends are having a party Friday night. I hope you can come, bring some friends. I can pick you up or give you the address.
She had no interest in going to his party and even less interest in spending time with Malcolm after work. At the same time, boys never paid attention to tomboys like Ellen. She confessed to Daniel that she did not know how to respond. Daniel told her not to worry.
“English is my thing. I love to write. I’ll be your anti-Cyrano, I’ll just tell you what to say,” Daniel said earnestly. Together, Daniel and Ellen would craft texts to try and decline his many persistent invitations. Every new text sparked a little more angst but would always have a witty response. The texts would eventually end, but the jokes about Malcolm continued.
Little did Ellen know, with each text that they thought of together, Daniel was making sure Ellen would be available for him… eventually. For her part, Ellen wanted to make sure that she could spend as much time with Daniel as possible. After the texting incidents had ended, she began to create problems and find projects for them to do together.
She decided that she wanted her room repainted and invited him to help her with the edges because, according to her, “Daniel’s hand is much steadier than mine.”
They painted the room from the deep blue to a brighter red. After that, she was sure that the room needed a new desk, one that they would have to build together. This is how they spent their summer, finding new projects and building them, and by the end of it, Ellen had a new speaker system, skateboard, desk, and framed records to hang on her newly painted walls.
Summer and all of its projects ended without a word between Daniel and Ellen. She kept hoping he would say something about how he felt. For his part, Daniel was oblivious. All he knew was he liked spending all his time with Ellen, but he never thought it was that important to say so. After all, actions spoke louder than words. They parted ways once again, as they heading off to their senior years, finding themselves both busy with college applications, prom, and graduations.
Shakespeare the Poet, nothing could ever be this boring, thought Ellen. She had tried to get into a cool freshman seminar for the spring semester, one where she could critique mobster movies or argue about the need for more girl’s sports in high schools. She missed out when her computer died on registration day, and ended up in a class that was just about love, mushy love. What did she know about love, Ellen thought, she was eighteen and she had never even had a boyfriend. The words meant nothing to her. She did not understand all the fuss.
She read the poems with little interest, and no surprise, she was doing terrible in the class. Her papers came back with slash marks of red that matched her high school bedroom walls. Her grades were barely above passing.
Ellen sighed and decided she needed a tutor. Someone who could make sense of the words and could help her write fantastic papers - or at least decent ones. She dreaded the appointment, tearing herself away from a game of ultimate frisbee on the quad to meet the tutor outside in the spring sun at Rick’s Cafe patio.
The place was deserted. The weather was too good, everyone was jogging, lounging on a picnic blanket with a boyfriend, or on the porch of some frat party playing beer pong. It felt like she was the only one stuck working.
She went inside Rick’s to get something to drink before the tutor arrived. She backed up as she opened the door, and felt someone hit her from the side unexpectedly. In one second, she hit the ground. A man’s hand reached out to help her up. She could not see his face because the sun was blocking her view, but she grabbed his hand and he helped her up. She mumbled thanks and went to brush off her legs.
“Daniel?” Ellen asked.
“Ellen,” he laughed. “We can’t stop running into each other.” She knew then. She would pass the class, and a whole lot more.