The sand stung her legs as she stood on the beach, staring in disbelief at her boyfriend. “I, I, I. Me, me me. Does it always have to be about you?” Mia cried, her hair blowing across her face as she struggled to pull the long stands free and push them behind her ear. She stood a few inches shy of Joey’s tall stature and stared into his ocean blue eyes.
“I’m not trying to make this about me. I just wanted you to understand where I was coming from when I said I couldn’t be there for your birthday party.”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this at the last minute. Everyone is coming with a date.”
She knew she wasted time arguing over the inevitable. His schooling took priority. When they first started to date, he told her he had to focus on school. He was informed his studies in the medical field took precedence over everything. She agreed his schooling was most important when she started to date him. However, she never thought that meant total loneliness, dateless, so forlorn, especially when it counted most—her birthday.
She took a step back.
“But, I have no choice. I have to work in the emergency room that night. My instructor said, ‘no excuses for anyone.'” His voice trailed off, and he looked across the turquoise water.
Mia turned on her heels and walked away. “What’s the use,” she muttered to herself. Glancing back, she saw him standing there, shoulders slumped as he watched her trudge through the soft, powdery sand. She knew he couldn’t do anything about missing her party, but it was her birthday. “What now? I’ll just cancel everything? I don’t want a party now. Not without Joey there.”
The tears began to cascade down her cheeks. She swiped them with the back of her hand. “Stop crying you big baby,” she scolded. “Suck it up.” Had anyone been near her, they would’ve thought she’d lost her marbles talking to herself. “Okay, get a grip.” She picked up her pace, kicking sand within a foot of each step as she neared the beachgoers basking in the sun.
“Hey, watch it!” a man with well-proportioned muscular features shouted. He sat up and dusted the powdery stuff off his back.
“Sorry,” she muttered, without slowing her pace.
The man jumped up and followed her as she trudged to the parking lot. “Hey, wait up,” he called after her.
She kept moving.
“Hold on,” he said and grabbed her arm as he caught up with her in the parking lot.
She turned and glared at him with watery eyes. “What?” Mia snapped and jerked her arm free, so she could slip into her flip-flops.
“Sorry.” He apologized for grabbing her arm. “But, I recognize you from Mr. Burns’ chemistry class. My name’s Josh Douglas.”
“Oh. Hi, I’m Mia Waters.” She pushed her shoulders back and looked up into his face. He had a huge scar that ran from the corner of his mouth across his right eye. Hoping her shocked expression didn’t show, she looked away. “What were you saying?” Her mind was on her 21st birthday party and no date. Now, she worried he noticed her surprise at his appearance.
His lip and eye drooped on the side with the scar when he smiled. “If this is a bad time,” he hesitated, “I can catch you later.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just…never mind.”
Generally, she didn’t pay attention to whom she sat near because most days she barely made it to chemistry class on time. She would have remembered his face for sure. She wished she had noticed him in class, so then her shocked expression wouldn’t have been so evident.
“No problem. That’s everyone’s first reaction when they look at me. I’m used to it.” He smiled a crooked smile and continued, “Anyway, I’ve been wanting to ask if you’d like to go with me to my fraternity party Friday night. I need a date.” He shifted from foot to foot on the hot pavement.
She felt terrible for her reaction. “I don’t remember you in class, but then I don’t remember anyone in that class.” Then she thought maybe this won’t be so bad after all. I could go Friday night with . . . Wait, what did he say his name was? Oh yeah, Josh, and he could come to my party, Saturday. After all, Joey and I aren’t dating steadily—yet. I’m open if I want to date. Who says I can’t go out with someone else. He’s always too busy for me lately, anyway.
Josh cleared his throat, while still switching feet on the hot pavement. “I sort of know you from class,” he said almost as if he were asking her a question instead of making a statement.
Mia noticed his jumping increased in momentum. “Let’s get you to cooler ground.”
“Thanks.” He sighed. “So what do you think? Date Friday night? With me?”
They walked swiftly towards the showers at the end of the boardwalk. Still fuming over her conversation with Joey, she knew it was too late to cancel her party. Her parents would kill her, and that meant she needed a date and fast.
“I’ll make you a deal. I need a date Saturday night for my 21st birthday bash. My date just cancelled. Would you be willing to go? You might even know some of the people that’ll be there.”
She didn’t seem to mind his scar so much. In fact, she rather liked his smile.
Josh ran cold water on his feet. “Yeah, sure. Where and what time?”
“Meet me here at 8, Saturday night. The party is just down the beach.” She wondered if she was making a huge mistake. Nah, I deserve to have fun. After all, it is my birthday, she thought convincingly.
“Deal. Where can I pick you up for Friday night?”
They pulled out their cell phones and exchanged numbers. She looked past the scar and noticed how nice his eyes were when he stared down at her, and how confidant he carried himself. Then she noticed his physique and felt a warmth creeping across her cheeks as she couldn’t keep herself from staring at his broad chest and six-pack abs, or was that an eight-pack.
“See you in class tomorrow,” he said with a warm smile that connected with his eyes.
She nodded, slipped her phone in her bag, and headed for her car.
Anxious to get home, she pushed the ignition switch on her dash and started to back up when Joey walked behind the car. She slammed on her brakes and rolled down her window. “Are you crazy? I could have run over you.”
He slid into her car. “Who’s the dude?” Joey nodded towards the beach.
“You saw that, huh? Just somebody from my chemistry class.” She glanced in her rearview mirror and was relieved to see Josh nowhere in sight.
“Are you okay?” He rubbed the back of his neck, and bit his lower lip.
“I’m fine. I just didn’t expect this to happen on my birthday.” She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. She wanted him to leave before she started to cry again. “I need to get home, Joey. It’s getting late and I have a paper to write.”
She waited. She felt his eyes burning a hole in the side of her face. Not able to stand it, she looked him straight in the eyes. “I’m going out with someone Friday and Saturday. So, I’ll be fine. I’ll see you when you can find some free time.”
“Mia . . . I’m sorry. I understand. I wouldn’t want to hold you back from dating other guys. You knew when we first started . . .”
She cut him off. “I know. Let’s not go there, okay? I will see you later. I really do have to go. She turned her head away.
“Okay, then, I’ll catch you later.” He stepped out of the car, but before he closed the door, he whispered, “I love you.”
The disappointment in his voice was more than she could bare, but she couldn’t hold back the waterfall that was about to overflow its borders, again. That was the first time he had ever told her he loved her.
“I love you, too, you big dope.”
Of course, he didn’t hear her response because she had already pulled away. She had committed to Josh and didn’t want to hurt his feelings, even though they had just met. But, she was hurting the man she loved. What the heck, she thought.
“I’ll figure it out tomorrow.” It was too much for her to think about today.