A Vote of Confidence
By Irene Justice
Prompt: "It's not you, it's me."
“It’s nothing personal,” he mumbled. “It’s not you, it’s me” he threw in there, and then turned to laugh with his buddies. Why did I have to like him so much? Why did I have to listen to Laura and drink the liquid courage to go up to Miguel and ask him out? His dark cornrows were absolutely perfectly braided back and his smile was as pearly white as ever, that’s why. I had been in love with him since he first came to our high school last year, late in the senior year, another reason why. He and I both went to our local university and signed up for the same Civics class, yet another reason why. Why did he have to be my crush and why did I have to ruin my freshman year in college by asking him out, when I obviously was not his type? “Hey, Jane?” he asked, after I had turned away in humiliation. “This doesn’t affect our friendship though, right? You’re still going to help me with my Civics paper, right?”
“Oh of course and forget I said anything.” The sad part was I really did want to stay friends with him. Even after I turned back to keep walking, and I could hear Miguel and his buddies continuing to laugh. I knew I was better than this. I knew I deserved better than this. I kept walking to the back of the restaurant towards the table that Laura and I had been sitting at, where she was still waiting. Thank God it was out of Miguel’s sight. Nonetheless, as soon as I sat down and slid into the booth, I dropped my head into my arms; my dry, naturally ugly and wavy, chestnut hair fell around my face.
“Oh Jane, I’m sorry. How bad was it?” she whispered.
I lifted my head up with a crease in my eyebrows and my eyes filled with water. My bottom lip slowly quivered just enough to let Laura know that if I talked about it, the waterworks would surely come.
“Jane don’t worry about that loser! You deserve so much better than him. Sure, he’s tall, dark, and damn fine…” she started.
“Laura!” I interrupted. “Not helping here.” I finished in a whispered, drained voice.
“I’m the worst friend ever. Jane don’t worry about him, you totally missed out on a bad egg if you ask me. If this is how he treats someone who has helped him with multiple papers, study for quizzes, and even asks her to give up her best friend as a project buddy to partner with him, then I don’t even want to know what kind of boyfriend he would’ve been to you.” She spewed.
“Yeah” I said breathlessly. “You’re right, I know you are. It’s just, it’s just that the first time I have ever been brave enough to ask a guy out, ever, not only does he say no, he basically laughed in my face.” I stated. “I don’t think I can ever do that again, Laura. That seriously killed me, and I have to still see him Friday at his house for his paper.” I added.
“Wait, what? You’re still going to help him? Are you nuts? Jane! You cannot let that man laugh at you in front of his friends, and then still be ridiculous enough to go and help with, I mean basically do, his paper for him!” She yelled. I was pretty sure the whole restaurant had heard this part of our conversation. I held my breath, eyes wide in disbelief and got up to peer around the corner wall. Thank goodness Miguel and his friends had left. I didn’t think this situation could have gotten any worse.
Of course that was before Friday night came and it was nearing 7:00 p.m. and I had to head over to Miguel’s house. I pulled up in front of his house and turned off the ignition. It was a humid night in July, one of the worst this month and I decided to wear a dress to cool down, which I normally didn’t do. I wore a rather fitting black dress but kept my gray and white Converse on to dial it back down. I was by no means in the mood to feel sexy and my messy bun and glasses told anyone that. I knocked on the large red door and could see through the side windows that someone was coming. I stood up and straightened my head so it didn’t look like I was snooping.
“Ah Jane. How are you tonight, little lady?” Miguel’s dad inquired. He was handsome for an older man, his gray hair only showing on the side of dark hair and only a little.
“I’m well Mr. Daniels, thank you.” I said smiling as I slid my glasses up the bridge of my nose.
He did his best Denzel voice when he invited me in, “Good, good. Now you have a seat right here and I’ll go get that dumbfounded boy of mine.” He smiled a half quirky smile, trying to imitate Denzel even further.
“Thank you, Mr. Daniels. Your impressions get better and better every time.” I said sweetly, hopefully believable. Mr. Daniels was the best, always trying to make me smile. He left me in the living room, where there were pictures of Miguel everywhere; Miguel with his football team, Miguel with his football trophies, Miguel catching a hike during a football game. I’ve seen these pictures one too many times and could tell anyone exactly what color shirts Miguel was wearing in each of them, and what his number was on his football jersey. It was 13, by the way; Miguel always liked 13 because most people were scared of it. Finally, after a few minutes of sitting awkwardly on the corner cushion of the black leather couch, Miguel came up from the basement.
“Oh, hey… Jane. Man, I feel like an ass right now, because I completely forgot that we were supposed to get together tonight for that paper. I should’ve texted you, but I got so um, swept away… in the book I was reading.” He stuttered a bit, glancing down at the carpet and not maintaining eye contact.
“Oh no worries, what book?” I asked earnestly. He had never mentioned reading a book before. I immediately imagined him reading Jane Eyre or Jane Austen, fulfilling the fantasy of reading the classics together, sitting by a fireplace with a soft flannel blanket draped across the both of us but then I came back from my day dream as I realized this was Miguel I was talking to and he was most definitely lying.
“Oh um, well, I guess it was more like an article not an actual book.” he continued. “You’d be surprised what kinds of intelligent things are on Facebook.” he said surely, confident in his ability to read a full article on Facebook. “It was about how this one school didn’t have a football team and this kid, I can’t remember his name, started a petition and got the whole town to sign it, in order to get a football team for the school and he raised the money they needed for all of the equipment and stuff.” Of course there were some articles on Facebook or any social media platform that held real merit or factual evidence but this, coming from Miguel, I suppose was an important issue, at least it was to him.
“Yeah of course, there’s a lot on there, on Facebook I mean.” I replied, hoping I didn’t sound arrogant. I really was impressed that he read anything at all. During our study lessons, he refused to read anything at all, always had an excuse. He stood there on the other side of the room with his hands in the pockets of his black shorts, his white t-shirt highlighting his upper chest and triceps and then I noticed him pursing his lips and glancing around the room and then back at me as if he were waiting for something else. Duh! He wanted me to leave now, of course he did. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I got up, the skin from my thighs peeling off of the furniture, making an embarrassing sound, my eye went wide and I hoped he wouldn’t make this situation any worse than it already was for me. “Ok, should we reschedule then?” I asked, not wanting to reschedule at all. He started but was cut short when we both heard the crash. He didn’t move. He stared right at me, squinting, trying to figure out whether I heard the sound as well. Then I heard laughter from the basement, too - He definitely had friends over. Reading an article, right.
“So, I was thinking maybe you could do like a rough draft of the paper for me, like before, and then I can really get a good idea on how to write this paper on equality? I really want to do justice to this assignment, ya know?” he slyly asked, nodding his head in a yes motion, which somehow hypnotized me into nodding yes, too. “You really are so smart and I know with your help I’ll really nail this assignment. Again, I’m sorry about tonight though. Maybe we can get together Monday after school to go over the draft. Alright, I’ll see you Monday? Thanks Jane, you’re the best.” He said, rushing his explanation so he could turn on his heels and run back down the basement stairs, this time I could hear him shushing the kids but unable to stifle his own laughter as well. I even heard a kid ask as I walked to the front door “And she said yes? Oh man Miguel, she’s got it bad for you!” and they all started laughing again as I pulled the door closed behind me, stepping out into the humid, empty darkness of this July night.
Why was I so lame? Why did I have to be such a dork and have no spine at all? I hated myself in this moment. I really did. My eyes burned again and I bit my lower lip to stop myself from crying… again and headed towards my car. I put my key in the ignition and turned it, ready to go home, but fate wasn’t having it; the car didn’t start.
“Why have you abandoned me?!” I yelled asking to no one and nothing in particular. I got of my car and turned to face it. I kicked it. Nothing happened other than my big toe went a little numb. I lived 10 minutes driving to Miguel’s house, so the walk back would take about 30 maybe, and then I would still have to figure out how to get my car out from in front of his house before Miguel or his friends came outside. I could imagine them now, “Damn, Miguel! You’ve got her wrapped!” “She’s a stalker!” “Miguel, get a restraining order!” I had to get my car out of here.
I called my dad and of course got no answer. It was a Friday night and he and my step-mom were out doing karaoke for sure. I called Laura to see if her dad could help too, and nothing. I glanced up at the big red door. It stood out more now from the street than standing up close and in front of it. The porch light lit the door with a yellow hue, which seemed to make it more of a blood orange red, rather than a fresh strawberry. I thought of the red balloon from Stephen King’s “It”, then. I thought of my death if I were I to go back up to the door and ask Mr. Daniels if he could help. He was a good man - Not only would he help me, but he would make Miguel come up and help me, too. No, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sign my own death certificate, just starting my first year of college. I should’ve never come here. I should’ve never asked Miguel out. There’s a lot of things I regret in this moment.
I pulled out my phone and did what I thought any normal girl my age, in my situation, would do; I YouTube’d how to start my 1999 Chevrolet Cobalt when the ignition wouldn’t start. I got back in the car and skimmed through a few videos, starting them and then stopping when the person would ramble too much about pointless nonsense. YouTube was great when the person got to the point, being a free site and all. I finally got to the part of making sure the wires were connected to the battery the way they should be, according to Matt who was a 55 year old mechanic. I got out and lifted the hood of my car, strands of my hair falling from the makeshift bun I had fixed right before leaving the house. I pushed my glasses up my nose again and used my phone as a flash light. I noticed one of the wires loose just like Matt had indicated and tightened it with a small toolkit my dad had put in my trunk.
“Thank you dad,” I whispered to the night sky, my only companion in all of this torment.
“Hmm,” a man’s voice startled me, and I jumped, hitting my head on the hood of the car. I reached up, rubbing the Everest-sized bump beginning to form. “Jeeze, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He said and I turned to see the voice materialize into a man. This guy was around my age, maybe a few years older, with brown hair and a light stubble, and smiled at me, maybe pitying me, but I couldn’t really be sure. I had had just about enough embarrassment for one night.
His red flannel shirt, moved with the breeze opening to show off his plain grey t-shirt underneath. He looked so laid back with his worn, tan messenger bag strap laid diagonally across his chest, dark blue jeans and flip flops. I met his dark brown eyes, as he slowly stepped towards me, holding out his hand for me to shake. He smiled then, a devilishly handsome smile, reminding me of one of the protagonists of The Wild Montana Rescue series written by Susan May Warren that I was recommended earlier this year. I felt heat rise to my cheeks and I tried to glance away, but felt my gaze drawn back to those metallic gray eyes and I found it nearly impossible to look away.
“I’d offer you some help, but it kind of looks like you know exactly what you’re doing.” He said, stepping back. He brought his hand up to his eyebrow, seemingly trying to think of what to say or how to say it. “Listen, do you maybe want to come out with me tonight? I know you don’t know me, my name’s Ben by the way,” he added with a dorky but cute wave, “but I mean if you’d like, I’m heading to, well I’m actually heading to a reading of an author I’ve never read before.” He stood confident and steadfast and was so interested in me. This was unexpected for sure. I had come here originally to do Miguel’s paper for him, and hoped that I would get to sit next to him and smell his sweet cologne that he always had on and instead I stood out front of Miguel’s house, fixing my own car, and talking to a handsome stranger.
My mouth started to open and I was ready to answer when a door opened and laughter fell out of the house behind me. I turned to see Miguel and his two buddies from the diner earlier, come stumbling down the steps, along with a couple of girls that I had seen at school, though I didn’t know their names. They stopped laughing once they reached the end of the sidewalk and spotted me with the hood up on my car and me standing with my red oil rag, crunched up in between my pale fingers. Miguel’s eyes went past me to Ben’s and he nodded and then looked back to me.
“Jane, are you ok?” he asked, “Do you need any help?” truly seeming concerned.
“I don’t, thanks.” I gestured back to Ben who was now behind me and to the left a little, “Ben actually walked up right as I finished up.” Miguel seemed unimpressed but nodded anyway.
“Jane I was just saying to the guys, that you should come and hang with us tonight. Right, Mark? Ty? C’mon we can talk about stuff at the diner over some steaks.” He genuinely seemed to want me to come with him, but why? Why now? He blew me off only a little while ago in his living room, making fun of my desperation with his friends before I was even able to make it fully out of his house. Why now did he want me to come out with him? He glanced at Ben again whom, I couldn’t believe was still standing there behind me.
“Jane, I should probably…” Ben started and I turned quickly and smiled.
“Right, I’m right behind you. Let me just make sure she’s good to go.” I saw Ben’s face immediately light up and my heart filled with excitement and I almost couldn’t hold the butterflies that were fluttering around in my stomach. I got in, said a quick prayer, turned the key, and my car started. I smiled and looked up and whispered, “Thank you”. I got out, closed the hood and gave a thumbs-up to Ben, who smiled and winked at me, then went to get in and start his truck. I looked back over to Miguel, who seemed to be in shock that I just ignored him. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, and started to get back into my car, until he yelled out to me.
“Jane, you don’t even know him. It’s me you asked out, remember?” he asked taken aback by my sudden lack of self-esteem. I thought about it for only a moment longer and then set my jaw and raised my two hands slightly off the car door and roof, and slid into my seat. I leaned over the passenger seat as I slowly pulled up in front of the group.
“I’m sorry Miguel, but you implied you weren’t interested and Ben seems to be, so... It’s nothing personal you know. Oh, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’ll probably be busy Monday after school too. I guess you’ll have to do your own assignment this time.” I watched as Miguel’s mouth opened and his friends all stared with bewildered looks on their faces. I smiled and pulled out from the sidewalk to make a U-turn, wheels slightly squealing as I turned and then beeped and waved at Miguel and his friends. With my head clear and my heart pounding, I followed Ben down the street, into a night full of possibilities.