She stood outside of the Italian restaurant in her favorite blue dress and reconsidered for the hundredth time. Things like this didn’t usually work out for girls like her. Plain overweight girls didn’t have secret admirers.
Although her hair was very manageable, it was still just brown. Her eyes nice but mostly hidden behind reading glasses. As a scholarship student she also worked in the college library and book store. She drew her share of attention, even went on dates when she found the time, but no one that would think or could afford to bring her to a place like this.
From the beginning it had all been very mysterious. The first note had been left with a rose at the book store. The note simply read, ‘You’re cute.’ She had thought it very nice but put it away and didn’t give it another thought until a week later when the first flowers showed up for her at the library. Just a card: Thinking of you.
After that they showed up at her dorm room- flowers and cards alternated for the next two weeks, every few days. She found it flattering and daydreamed about him a time or two. After all she wasn’t hurting anyone. since he was determined to stay a secret.
But the one that really captured her attentions had been waiting for her when she’d had a bad day and worried she’d failed an exam. It was a funny card and written in his now familiar handwriting: I wish I knew what was troubling you, but I decided to bring a smile to your face instead. Even if I won’t be able to see it. It had been left with a box of chocolates.
After that they showed up at her dorm room- flowers and candy alternated for the next three weeks. She found it flattering and sometimes daydreamed about the man that seemed to be pining for her. She knew the reality would never live up to those dreams, but decided they couldn’t hurt anyone since he seemed determined to stay secret.
When she came back to her room one night and he found her roommate fanning herself with a card and wearing a smirk.
“What is it?”
Sonya handed her the card. “This was stuck to the door when I arrived. It looks like you finally get to meet your admirer.”
Julie couldn’t believe it. “Please meet me this Saturday night at Bella’s Café. I’ll be waiting at seven.” She looked at Sonya with wide eyes. “This has to be a joke.”
“That’s an awful lot of money to spend on a joke.” Sonya commented. “Why would you suggest that?”
Setting the card and her purse on her desk, she turned to her friend. “Because things like this don’t happen to girls like me.” She looked at her blond friend, slender friend. “To someone as beautiful as you, maybe, but not me.”
Sonya stood up and stomped over to where Julie stood and pulled her to the mirror and standing behind her. “You have been letting those sorority snobs get to you. They’re jealous of you.”
Julie scoffed. “What for? They have beauty and money, what do I have?”
Sonya squeezed her arms. “You are very pretty. I would die for your hair, and your eyes ae marvelous when you aren’t hiding them behind your glasses.”
“I’m not hiding behind them. I need them at work to read. When I’m not working, I’m studying.”
Sonya giggled. “That’s the problem. You wouldn’t know if a guy was interested in you if he mowed you down.”
“Not true.” Julie was quick to deny. “The past several weeks I’ve been very aware of my surroundings.”
It was true. Since the notes kept showing up, she began to watch for anyone that may be paying her special attention, but no one out of the ordinary stood out. There had been a few times when she’d felt as if someone were watching her, but never spotted anyone then either.
“Are you going to go?” her friend pressed.
Julie picked up the card again and studied it. “I’m not sure. College guys can be cruel. Like the parties where the see who can convince the most undesirable girl to go with him.”
“This isn’t a party.” Sonya said, going through Julie’s clothes. “And I repeat ‘a lot of money for a joke.’” She pulled out the blue dress Julie had brought but not worn. “You should wear this.”
Just shaking her head, Julie had gone to take a shower. Over the next three days Sonya had pestered and needled her until she agreed.
Now she stood outside the door in the blue dress with a v neck that showed off the pearl choker her grandmother had left her as well as her cleavage. Sonya had helped with her make up, leaving the glasses off, and they left her hair hanging around her shoulders since she usually wore it in a bun or ponytail.
Putting steel into her suddenly weak spine, she opened the door and entered. The entryway was lit up by a crystal chandelier and behind a mahogany desk stood a hostess.
The raven-haired lady greeted her with a smile. “Welcome to Bella’s. How may I help you?”
“I hope so.” Julie replied, with her warmest smile. “I’m Julie Parker.”
The hostess seemed to give her a second look before saying, “Of course, your party is waiting. Follow me.”
The dining room was quite large with round tables spread across the room, allowing room for some privacy. There was another chandelier, this one seemed to produce a dimmer light, allowing the candles to sparkle on the table next to the violet filled centerpieces. The greenery hiding the walls and between the tables made it appear as if they were out in nature instead of inside a building.
When they stepped around one of the walls of greenery, Julie stopped in her tracks, but her heart started racing. Rising from his seat was, Ryan, one of the star football players. His blond hair was feathered away from his face and his blue eyes seemed to shine in the dim light.
The hostess smiled, winningly. “The waitress will be here in a moment.”
She watched the slender woman leave before looking back at her date. She noticed he was just standing there starring at her, as if she wasn’t who he expected. His lips parted as if he were about to say something, but no words came out. Was this some sort of prank on both of them?
He finally moved to hold her chair for her to be seated, so she sat and waited for him to take his seat. When he continued to just stare silently, she spoke up. “What’s the matter? Not who you were expecting?”
He seemed to snap out of his daze then. “No. I mean, yes, you’re who I was expecting. I’ve just never seen you without your glasses. Your eyes are beautiful.”
She felt herself blush. “With work and studying it’s just more convenant to leave them on, but thank you.”
“I’m glad that you came. Honestly, I half expected to be stood up.”
“I considered it.” she spoke the truth. “I’m still not sure it’s not some kind of joke.”
“Because you don’t seem to be the kind of guy that would need to play secret admirer to get a girl interested. I’m sure any girl would be delighted to go out with you.”
“I didn’t want to go out with them.” He poured her a glass of merlot from the bottle he’d already ordered. “I wanted to get to know you but knew that you may not be receptive considering....”
“That you’re friends with the soroity snobs who believe they’re better than me because they don’t have to work for anything.” Julie finished for him.
He smiled but finished, “They would only go out with me because I’m on the football team and the fraternity. I’m only in the frat because my father was a legacy and it meant a lot to him. If not, I would be an indie. If it weren’t for my football skills I wouldn’t be here. My grades and SAT scores would have left me going to a junior college.”
The waitress arrived to take their order and Julie considered what he’d told her and it made sense. Those girls were only worried about how they looked to other people. Julie learned as a child the only opinion that mattered is how you see yourself.
When the waitress left, she asked him. “Why me?”
“You’re intelligent, hard worker, and beautiful to me.” he told her. Before she could object, he continued. “The first time I saw you, I knew that I had to get to know you. The way you handle yourself speaks of more class than I’ve seen in any of those other girls. It still took me months to build the courage to ask you out.”
“So, you were afraid of rejection.” She replied and he nodded. “Then you owe my roommate because if it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have come.”
“I know.” he told her. “I spoke with her when I dropped off the card. She told me that I better not do anything to hurt you and we talked. Don’t be angry at her, I asked her not to tell you.”
Julie couldn’t hold back her grin. “That explains why Sonya wouldn’t stop pressing me. Usually, she asked once or twice if I want to join her, but she’s never been like this.”
“I’m glad she was.”
They were silent as they waitress brought their salads. Then she asked, “What about your friends? What do they think? Or do they know?”
“The guys know, the girls aren’t really friends. A team is like a family. We may give each other a hard time, but when it comes down to it, we have each other’s backs. That includes accepting anyone that makes them happy.” Then he gave her a teasing smile, “I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t tell you there were some naughty librarian jokes.”
She shared his amusement. “They wouldn’t be guys if they didn’t.”
“Can I tell them you were a sexy librarian, at least? It’s the truth.”
She felt herself blush again. “As long as you feel it’s the truth. What about the girls?”
“If they dare show any disapproval or respect they will find themselves on the outs as far as any of the team is concerned.”
She stopped with her fork halfway to her mouth and felt her eyes widen, “You’re serious.”
“Of course.” he replied. “If a team mate is unhappy or stressed their head is no longer in the game and we start losing.”
She just shook her head and continued eating. He went on to tell her about his family and his hometown. Some of the stories made her giggle, some were tender, but all of them told of who he was.
“What about your family?” he asked.
This is when she turned unsure again. “My mother died of cancer when I was three and I was put I foster care. I bounced around a lot but I knew I wanted to attend college, so I kept myself on the honor roll.”
His looked at her with sympathy shining in his eyes, but there was more than that. There was respect there as well. “That’s amazing.”
As they finished their meal, they talked about music, books and current events. They had more in common than she had ever thought imaginable, and she found herself really liking him. Soon, he was paying the bill and they headed out.
They were standing in front of the resterant when he turned to her. “Can I give you a ride home or do you have a car?”
She didn’t even hesitate to tell him, “I could use a ride.”
He led her to a small Ford truck that looked a little beat up. He opened the door for her to get in and she grinned, playfully at him. “Did you borrow this to impress me?”.
He just chuckled and went to get in the driver’s seat. “It’s a hand-me-down from my dad. Although he’s given us a good life, he believes you learn by working hard and earning things for yourself.”
“Like he did?” she guessed.
Almost too soon they were pulling in front of her dorm and he was walking her to the door, holding her hand. Her heart fluttered when he faced her and his blue eyes met hers.
She was so happy that he’d turned out to be the same guy who’d written to her. She wanted him to kiss her good night more than anything.
As if reading her mind, his hands cupped her face and drew her closer as he leaned down to meet her. His lips were soft as they moved against hers in a gentle, lingering kiss that made her toes curl in her shoes.
Julie didn’t know it then but he would be the last man she kissed. She and Ryan would continue dating through graduation, when he proposed and went on to give her the family she’d never had.