Molly walked to school every morning, her long brown hair plaited with red ribbon. She was well liked by her classmates, but quiet. Not the shy kind of quiet; she was just a gentle creature. Her walk to school was her own every morning, until she got to them.
“They” were the man in the Caddy and the woman in the VW. They parked side-by-side in the wooded lot next to the nature trail each morning to take a walk before driving to the office. At least, that’s where Molly assumed that they went. She didn’t know many people who hiked in collared shirts and pleated pants and , though they looked fairly young, maybe in their late twenties, they dressed like professionals. But they never walked together. Caddy man would get out of his car first, shoot a smile of recognition in VW woman’s direction, and then walk briskly into the cover of trees. VW woman would watch him leave, making sure to wait until he was out of site before entering the woods herself.
Molly witnessed this exquisite dance of avoidance and desire every morning on her way to school, and each morning she added a new chapter to the elaborate tale of their unacknowledged love that she had created in her mind. Last week she imagined that VW woman shed her business attire each evening and created masterpiece paintings rivaling those of Monet in her one-bedroom studio apartment. She dreamed that Caddy man worked at her favorite coffee shop on the weekends and every Saturday morning VW woman stopped by to order a non-fat latte and catch a smile from Caddy man while he steamed some milk behind the barista bar.
On this day, Molly imagined artist VW woman and barista Caddy man again, but this time when Caddy man finished making her latte, he wrote his phone number on VW woman’s cup. Molly giggled to herself, picturing what it would be like to be in love. She knew that there must be more to it than the eighth grade version of it that she witnessed daily. A boy with an acne-scarred face would awkwardly ask a girl to go to the upcoming dance with him and the girl would try not to burst into laughter when the boy’s voice hit multiple falsetto notes as he stammered through his question. The girl would always say yes, not wanting to go alone, and then her friends would giggle uncontrollably anytime they caught her and her date even walking in the same hallway together.
There were a bunch of claims due the next day so Chris was stuck working late at the insurance firm. It was nights like these where he had to continuously remind himself that he was lucky to have a well-paying job at the age of twenty-seven during these difficult economic times. Besides, he knew that she was probably working late that night, too. There was a girl who worked for the same firm as Chris; just on a different floor, and he thought she was gorgeous. She was about the same age as him, had shoulder-length blonde hair and luminous green eyes, almond-shaped; with the longest eyelashes that Chris had ever seen. Sometimes he caught himself wondering if she even wore make up.
Chris lived for the nights when he would be walking through the parking lot to his car at the same time that she was walking to hers. He wondered if she would think that his old-school Cadillac was cool and vintage, or just an expression of him holding onto his youthful college days. He wondered if she would listen to his classic rock CDs that he kept in the glove compartment, or if she would insist on listening to a country station on the radio. Chris did a lot of wondering about her, but never any talking. He saw her almost every evening in the parking lot, in addition to seeing her every weekday morning at the nature trail near their office, but he had never spoken a word to her.
Molly left school that afternoon feeling particularly frustrated. There was a dance that Friday and two different boys had already asked her best friend, Kayla. Sometimes she wondered if boys would ask her to dances if her hair had bouncy curls like Kayla’s. Walking home with Kayla that afternoon didn’t do much to lift her spirits, either.
“So, I just don’t know which one I should go with, Danny or Brian! What do you think?” Kayla asked Molly.
“Well, which one do you like?”
“Hmmm… Well, Danny is cuter, but Brian has a pool! Maybe if I go with him, he’ll let us go swimming next summer!”
The next morning, Molly left a few minutes early for school. She had some questions for Mr. Burns, her pre-algebra teacher, before the class took their test that day. She hoped that she wouldn’t pass the wooded lot before Caddy man and VW woman arrived. As the lot came into view, she was surprised to see the Caddy parked in its usual spot with its owner pacing in front of the passenger side door. As she got closer she could see frown lines marring the young man’s face and he was tugging at his sandy blonde hair. Molly, feeling uncharacteristically outgoing that morning, called out to him; he seemed truly distraught.
“Hey there!” she yelled.
“Oh… Hi.” He seemed startled upon learning that someone else was around.
“Um, are you okay?”
“Yeah, thanks. Don’t worry about me, get to school.”
“Are you waiting for… for her?” Molly winced as she asked, realizing that even she felt weird as she came to terms with how often she did watch the pair.
“Uh, I don’t know what you mean….” The man looked around uncomfortably, trying to find something to focus his attention on. Failing, he asked, “Do you know her?”
“Not personally, no. But I see you two every morning when I walk to school. I always thought she looked like a nice girl. Do you like her?” Molly knew she might be late for school, but she finally had the chance to see her imaginary love story come to life and she just couldn’t walk away now.
“Well, I don’t actually know her….”
Molly knew the answer to her next question, but decided to play dumb. “Wait, you mean you’ve never even said hi to her? You guys walk the same trail every day!”
“I know… It’s kind of embarrassing, but I’ve never really had a way with talking to girls. Been like that ever since I was young. One time I was at a party in ninth grade at my friend’s house and the girl that I had a crush on was there too. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I was so nervous that I couldn’t even be in the same room as her. I spent the entire evening talking to my friend’s parents in the basement.”
“No way!” Molly giggled. “Sorry, but that’s kind of dumb.”
“Oh yeah?” The man frowned, but quickly changed it to a smile. “Are you some kind of dating expert?” He asked with a know-it-all ring to his voice.
The question was a painful reminder of every unacknowledged desire in Molly’s heart, and she was surprised to feel her eyes burn with the threat of tears. She looked away quickly as she bitterly answered, “No.”
“Hey, come on, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset. What’s your name?”
“Molly,” she muttered.
“Molly. I’m Chris, it’s nice to meet you. Listen Molly, I didn’t mean to make you upset. It’s probably a good thing you don’t know much about dating at your age. Actually, it’s a great thing. You have plenty of time for all that junk. Just be a kid for now because it goes by too quickly and before you know it, you’ll be working at some boring job that you absolutely hate and too scared to talk to a girl who you think is the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen. Well, maybe you won’t know much about that last part. But you get what I mean, right?”
Molly managed a weak smile. “Yeah, I get it. Nice to meet you, Chris. I’m going to be late for school. But talk to her. I think she’d like that. See you around.”
Chris smiled, his eyes filling with warmth. “Thanks, I’ll see what I can do. Have a good day at school.”
The next morning was Friday, the day of the dance, and Molly still didn’t have a date. But after everything that Chris had said the day before, it didn’t seem like such a big deal to her. The day before she had learned that a bunch of her other friends didn’t have dates either and that Kayla was really the only one going. The burden of being dateless suddenly felt a lot lighter.
She left for school, headed in the direction of the wooded lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of Chris and VW woman. Maybe Chris had gotten her name the day before and she wouldn’t have to be VW woman anymore. The lot came into sight, and Molly was excited to see both cars parked in their usual spots. She got closer just in time to see Chris and the woman enter the trail, together, hand-in-hand. She was also just in time for Chris to look back, smile at Molly, and wink in her direction.