Take a Chance on Me
She sat on the hill overlooking the field, the afternoon sun behind her turning her hair into brown gold. She clasped her arms around her legs, resting her chin on her knees, trying not to think. She'd had enough of thinking. She just wanted to breathe, to be, for just a few minutes. To shut out the activity and the world and the people, and exist.
Inhale, exhale, mind blank. No expectations, no pressures, no needs, no interruptions.
Her friends were gathered just a short jog away, playing an impromptu game of soccer on the field. Everyone was trying to decompress, to put stress behind them and live in the moment. Their shirts swirled around on the green grass, a mass of color as she let her eyes blur. She wasn't trying to make sense of any of it.
But somehow, he remained distinct on the sideline. He kept looking up at her, shading his eyes with his hand and staring. He'd turn back to watch the field for a few seconds, and then his eyes would be on her again. She tried with everything that was in her not to notice. Especially when he started pacing, walking restlessly, and his steps brought her slowly but surely nearer her. He looked uncomfortable, uneasy.
She really, really tried not to see. Not to see the way his brown eyes found comfort, somehow, that she was still there. Not to see the corners of his lips turn up when her eyes involuntarily flicked over to him. Not to let him inside her bubble.
He worked his way up the field and then, almost making it look like an accident or a coincidence, up the hill. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, side to side, then paced. He was ten feet away from her, intruding, insistent, and yet – seemingly – ignoring her.
Elizabeth sighed quietly. This was the story of their entire acquaintance, from day one: the first time they met, and he wouldn't speak to her but wouldn't look away; all the times since when their group of friends had hung out together and he couldn't be bothered to say more than a few words to her; the way his gaze sometimes lingered on her like it hurt to look at her. It couldn't be plainer that he didn't like her, but somehow they always found themselves like this. Alone, uncomfortable, with nothing to say.
She sighed again.
William stopped his pacing, and turned to look at her. She could find no disapproval in his face; it was more like...pleading?
"You terrify me," he said.
She was relatively certain this would end up in an insult; only her curiosity about how he'd attack her allowed her to play along. "Me? In what way?"
"Yes, you," he answered. "Every time I try to talk to you I trip over my tongue. Probably because my foot is in my mouth."
She couldn't help laughing, and his responding smile was devastating. He was so handsome when he beamed like that.
"May I sit?"
She was going to reply sarcastically, It's a free park or something equally unhelpful, but the honest entreaty in his voice softened her. "Sure." She was completely surprised when he sat so close to her that a deep breath from either of them would have made their shoulders touch.
"I have no idea how to string the words together, Elizabeth. It's like you knock the thesaurus right out of my head, and I'm left with the same three words over and over again to try to tell you everything."
"Tell me what?" she said, turning her head only a little in his direction, so little that he might have thought she was merely following the game on the field.
"That you're smart, and you're beautiful, and I can't stop thinking about you. That I'm fascinated by you, and I wish..." He fell silent.
She didn't necessarily want to know the rest of that sentence, so she didn't push.
"Charles has been telling me all along that I needed to open up more if I want you to...like me." William stumbled over the words, making it seem like he wasn't sure if that was what he wanted or not. But then he turned his face toward hers and his eyes – his eyes begged, his eyes worshipped, his eyes adored her. "Last night when Jane was over he let it slip – "
This was said scoffingly, so Elizabeth could be sure William didn't think the slip was accidental.
" – that I have a crush on you. First I wanted to pummel him; then, when Jane said you thought I hated you, I wanted to pummel me." He pulled a handful of grass.
Elizabeth's brows knit. "You have a crush on me?"
William chuckled uneasily. "No, I think I passed crush quite a while ago." He risked a glance out of the corner of his eyes.
Elizabeth didn't know what to say.
"You really think I hate you?"
"Gosh, I'm almost sure of it."
He sighed heavily, shaking his head.
"Was almost sure of it, I guess."
"I've never hated you," he said fervently. "As if I could! You captivated me the first time we met, and I haven't been able to take my mind off of you since that day. Every time we're together I find something new to admire about you."
Elizabeth swallowed hard.
"I understand now why you're always so cool toward me, if you think I hate you." His shoulders drooped.
"But...you like me?"
William half-smiled and focused on the grass. "I do much more than that. But yes, I like you."
She watched him as he made his awkward confession, smiling at the way his eyebrows rose when he said "like" to give the word significance she didn't understand. He risked a glance at her, and their eyes held for a few seconds before his dropped again.
"What's not to like? You're the complete package. I mean, you're funny, sweet, kind, gorgeous, intelligent, confident... My favorite thing in the world is to be with you. Even though, I now realize, you've mostly been trying to get me to go away. I'd be with you all the time, if you'd let me." He cleared his throat as his eyes followed the players on the soccer field.
Elizabeth was staring at him, scrutinizing him. It was like she was seeing him for the first time, understanding him for the first time. "I wasn't trying to get you to go away, really..."
He turned to her and raised one eyebrow.
"Okay, I guess I was. I just didn't know why you'd want to hang around someone you didn't..." She stopped speaking when he cringed. She noticed how handsome his face was, even when he wasn't smiling. Even when he was embarrassed and uncomfortable. And finally, she turned again toward the soccer field, her eyes unfocused and unseeing. "I'm sorry. Sorry I was rude to you."
William laughed a little, humorlessly. He twisted some pulled grass between his fingers, using his thumbnail to split the blades into strips. "You have nothing to apologize for, honestly. I was so enraptured I only saw the good. And I was so busy falling in love with you that I didn't bother to make myself lovable in return." He said this so casually as he stared at the field, so easily, more simply than he'd ever conversed with her before.
And Elizabeth didn't breathe from the word "love". It knocked the wind out of her, just the same as when she fell out of the tree as a child. For a few seconds, there was no air for her lungs and her head started to spin.
Then he turned to her, his eyes hopeful and imploring, his cheeks rosy from blushing. He bit his lower lip and waited, caressing her face with his gaze.
"You love me?" Her voice was no more than a whisper.
He nodded, letting his admission swirl around them for a long moment, before speaking again. "And you don't like me."
"Well, I wouldn't necessarily say..."
"What would you call it?"
"I don't know you."
"I make you uncomfortable. You wish I'd go away."
She groaned with indecision. How to say what was on her mind? "Ten minutes ago, yes." She could see that his breathing was shallow, that his shoulders rose and fell uneasily with the irregular gulps of air, that his eyes traced the outline of her lips.
Then his gaze strayed to the field below them. "And now?"
"Right now I'm pretty comfortable." She bumped his shoulder with hers. "It's okay with me if you stay a while."
William turned to her, placing one hand behind her on the grass. "It would be my pleasure." Slowly he reached up and touched her hair. "But you know, if you let me stay, I'll just fall deeper and deeper."
She had no response for that, verbal or otherwise. She just watched the change that came over his expression as he combed his fingers through her hair and rubbed one thumb along her cheek. In all his prior awkwardness there had been no hint of this man, the one who looked at her with such naked admiration, who seemed so blissfully confident as he gently touched her face. Her breathing was just as shallow and staccato as his when he pulled his hands away.
Elizabeth swallowed hard again. "So..."
"So." William half-grinned as he turned back to the field. "Will you go to prom with me?"
High school had been years ago. "I beg your pardon?"
"I don't even know what the next step is, Elizabeth. Dinner? A movie? What if I choose the wrong restaurant or the wrong genre? What if I cook for you and burn it? Is that my one shot? Because I'm not really asking you for a date. I'm not asking for a few hours of your time in which I try to impress you." He turned his body toward her and leaned in, so their shoulders were touching and his face was inches from hers. "I want a future, not an evening. The question I really want answered is, will you give me a chance? Please?"
Her answering smile was so small it barely turned up the corners of her mouth, but the change it wrought on her face filled him with a surge of hope.
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