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An Evening on the Dock

Margaret was standing on the other side of the dock.  Her red hair cascaded over her shoulders and settled on the small of her back.  The sunlight flitted through the wisps of her translucent shirt and caught the nails that held the planks together.

I stood on the edge of the dock.  My hair was a stringy mess that reached my chin.  It was the color of vomit, and my oversized sweatshirt smelled like moth balls and sweat.

“D-do you think we should maybe check in with the lifeguard?” I gulped to Sam who was standing to my right.  “I mean they’re probably gonna want to know how many people are on the dock and what their names are and how old they are and-”

“Cass, shut up!” they yelled “just because you’re nervous to be in the same 6 square feet of space as Maggie, does not mean we have to pass up on a beautiful sunset.  Plus, it’ll do you good” they smirked, “got to get over those butterflies somehow”

I turned almost as red as Margaret’s hair.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Sam, they’re one of the best friends anyone could ask for, but I think they missed their class in “How-to-be-a-supportive-friend-when-one-has-a-crush.”  It’s not Sam’s fault that I’m hopelessly in love with a girl that may not even know I exist, but it’s not my fault that my best friend thinks the best way to get her to notice me is to make a fool of myself.

“You just got to go with it,” Sam cut through my thoughts “If she doesn’t like you at your worst, she’ll never like you at your best.”

I scratched my head “I think it’s the other way around but regardless I am not going on that dock.” I insisted stamping my foot to prove I meant business.

“Suit yourself” Sam replied, and step noisily onto the dock.

“Wait!” I called out as they made their way down the boardwalk, “what if she comes this way and then I trip and fall in front of her?”

           They simply smirked and continued walking as I clung to the side of the peer furthest from Margaret.  I was beginning to think that this might have been a good idea. She wouldn’t notice me, I wouldn’t embarrass myself.  All would be well. Then she turned toward us.

My stomach lurched and I clutched to the railing of the dock.  My face went through every shade imaginable, red to pink to green to gray in the span of five seconds.  I forced myself to look at the water below. It swirled between the legs of the dock and although I knew it was too sturdy to break, I felt as if the entire dock could tumble into the water at any moment.  I turned my eyes from the rippling water below to Sam’s face, which was peering at me with concern.

“You didn’t say you would actually faint,” they muttered, supporting me under my arms.

“I didn’t faint.” I stated quietly.

“Just fell without knowing you were falling and didn’t try to stop yourself from doing so” added Sam in an undertone.

But I barely heard them.  My eyes were trained on Margaret.  She was even more beautiful than five minutes ago.  Her face was splashed with freckles that stretched from her hairline to the bulge in her neck. Her fingers were dainty and pale blue nail polish covered her fingernails.  Somehow, the sun bounced off her in a sort of glow that clutched to the air around her.

Sam grabbed my shoulders, “You’ve got to do something, you can’t just sit here and wait for her to make the move.  If you want something done right, do it yourself.” they finished with a smile

“Okay, first enough with your proverbs.  Second there is no possible way, I am making a move- I don’t exist to her.”  I grumbled to Sam.

“You want to know the reason you don’t exist to her?  It’s because you haven’t talked to her. Ever!” I could tell they were actually getting mad at me, “God Cass, if I didn’t know otherwise, I would think that you don’t actually care about her.  To you she’s just another fantasy that won’t have a chance of being real, because you’re not willing to put in the work to make it real!” They glowered at me.

“Not everyone has it like you do Sam.  Not everyone wakes everyday being absolutely confident about who they are and what’s ahead.  Some of us are scared. You know the reason I don’t approach every her? Maybe it’s because if my parents got wind of what I was doing, they’d disown me!  They would throw me out without a second thought. Not everyone has it as easy as you Sam!” I whispered with such intensity, I could see the hairs on their neck stand up

“Easy?” Sam whispered dangerously, “You think having your parents tell you that you’re going to Hell is easy?  You think that I wake up every day with this confidence? You think I’m happy right now? Maybe I don’t know what you’re going through.  Maybe I’m wrong about somethings. But I thought you were better than this. I thought you knew me Cassandra and I thought I knew you.” Sam turned on their heel and walked away.

“Wait, Sam, that’s not what I meant,” I called out desperately, “I was just trying to get you to see it from my side-” But they were too far away to hear me, “I just-I just-” I broke down in tears.

I slid down the railing and pulled my knees to my chest.  Why couldn’t they understand? I know I shouldn’t be so self-centered but the truth of it was, I didn’t have half the confidence Sam had.  Even if it was all fake. I was so, so, so petrified of what would happen if I made any move. Let alone on her.

“Are you okay?” a soft voice chimed.

I looked up to see Margaret.  Great, as if this day wasn’t already horrible.

           “I just notice you were crying and everyone was walking by.”  Her voice was like hot chocolate.

           “Yeah I’m fine,” I mumbled trying a watery smile, “just allergies,” I lied.

She chuckled softly, “Those are the strangest allergies I’ve ever seen.”

           She slid down next to me and there we were.  Margaret and Cassandra, sitting next to each other.  On purpose.

           “Seriously, what’s wrong?” she inquired, “because those aren’t allergies and I just saw Sam stalking away from you.  Did he reject you or something?

           “They” I corrected automatically.

           “My bad,” Margaret corrected herself calmly “them.  Did they reject you?”

Now it was my turn to laugh.  Sam had told me that if even they ever dated anyone, under no circumstances would it be me.  I was about to make up some excuse as to why Sam stalked away but then their words came floating back to me. “To you she’s just another fantasy that won’t have a chance of being real, because you’re not willing to put in the work to make it real!”  I took a deep breath.

           “Actually, we were fighting over you.” I looked sideways at her but her demeanor didn’t change, “Sam was chastising me for not being more confident, and I accused them of having it easy.” I said all of this very fast and forced my eyes to the ground as soon as I finished.

           There was a pause and I knew I had blown it.  The moment seemed to stretch on forever. I could hear children in the background and parents telling them to ‘slow down or you’ll get hurt!”  A soft breeze curved around me and with its melodies floated past my ears. The sun was beginning to sink below the tree line. Sam was right, it was a beautiful sunset.

           “Well,” she sighed softly turning her soft brown eyes towards me, “you have no reason not to be confident.”

           My breath caught in my throat.  Did she just say what I think she said?  I opened my mouth to say something sweet, or kind, or at the very least acknowledging, but instead I choked on my own spit and coughed.  It was one of those hacking coughs that makes you take huge, gagging breaths of air, even though you can’t get enough oxygen. Margaret’s pupils dilated

           “Oh my God are you okay?!” she yelled, “do I need to call an ambulance or a doctor?”  She whipped out her phone and frantically began dialing 9-1-

           “Wait!” I gasped, “I’m fine, just out of breath”

She sighed with relief and leaned back against the railing.  The little color that she carried had faded from her face and her eyes were closed with concern.

           “Don’t do that!” she scolded.

           “Sorry!” I replied, “I was going to say something but...” I trailed off.  I was going to say something.  It was going to be the something that I’d wanted to say for months on end.  It was going to be perfect, but instead

“I like you!” I blurted, immediately averting my eyes to the ground.

There was a moment of silence when I knew that I’d blown it.  She hates me, I thought.  Absolutely hates me.

           “Took you long enough.” she murmured, leaning her head against my shoulder.

           “You knew?” I questioned.  I had literally done everything to avoid this girl and she knew!

           “I’ve known for a while, but you seemed so unsure.  I needed you to figure it out for yourself.” She picked her head up off my shoulder and turned back to me, “Do you know how cute you are when you’re worried?”

           I didn’t know what to say.  Of all the outcomes I had imagined for today, this was nowhere to be found on the list.  Her hand snaked down from her lap and made her way onto my thigh. It made my skin tingle as her soft fingertips made their way over my jeans and down toward my hand.  She laced her fingers lightly around mine.

           “B-but my parents won’t let me do this,” I stammered.

           Wait to go Cass, you always have to complicate things, don’t you?

           “I don’t care about that,” she whispered into my ear, “and maybe with time you won’t either.  But until then I’ll hold you until you believe in your happiness more than their fear.” ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



           Margaret throws her arm over my shoulder as we lean against a tree.  It’s a year later and I still haven’t told my parents. Margaret has brought it up, but every time she does I shut her down.  Thankfully she’s let me be on that matter.

           “I thought it would be warmer today,” commented Margaret as she snuggles up against me, “luckily I have you.”

I smiled into her hair and let my brain wander wherever it wanted to.  I’d talked to Sam a couple months after we fell out. I’d apologized and so did they, but we haven’t talked since.  Even this fairy tale doesn’t have a perfect ending.

I pull myself back to the present.  It’s a perfect day, even if it is a little cool.  The Autumn light slides through the trees and catches the life around us.  People walk briskly to their cars before the evening light disappears entirely.  A dog breaks away from its leash and the owner runs after it shouting its name.

I glance behind me to see a leaf break away from the branch above.  It floats gently through the air, then is blown quickly by an up draft.  I wonder if it knows anything at all. If it is aware of the constant wind that dictates its life, usurping it of all free will.  It falls again this time settling on the earth behind me. For a moment it is still, unchallenged by wind for the time being. But then the wind shifts and it blows boldly down the path, not knowing, and perhaps not caring, what comes next.