Dinner

By Garrett Neff

I asked her out in March last year, after what felt like an eternity of chasing after her. I’d been nervous, and never knew if she liked me back, until I got her reaction that night I’d built up enough courage to ask her. I could tell her excitement was genuine.

Fast-forward twelve months, and now I’m scanning the table I’d set up for our anniversary date night. It’s been the greatest year I could’ve asked for. There haven’t been hiccups in the relationship; if anything we’ve grown closer. I’m already excited as I look at the table, the room lit only by the flickering light of several candles.

She’s going to love it.

I force down a smile as I pull out my phone. The name Em fills up my recents. She hates the name Emily. All she ever told me about it was that it was her grandmother’s name. She only told me a couple months ago that she loves her grandmother, but she wanted to have her own name. So she chose Em, and that’s what she is in m contacts.

I click on the top call, the most recent, and hold the phone to my ear. Phone calls have always made me anxious, but they’re getting easier as I call Em every day. She answers on the fourth ring.

Hi, Tyler!” She says, and it sounds more rushed than excited; I can hear a lot of busy noise on her end.

Hey, Em. I wanted to know if you’re still coming down here tonight-,”

Yeah, I am – sorry, I’m going to be a little late. Procrastinated too much.” I hear a nervous laugh, and I laugh too, because I don’t believe her. She’s always early.

Yeah, no, don’t worry about it. Come when you can. When do you think you’ll be here?”

Um, twenty minutes?” Somehow I can tell the phone’s squeezed between her head and shoulder.

Alright, that sounds great. I’ll have everything ready for you.”

I hear a smile on the other end when she says, “Awesome! Thanks for doing all this for me, Tyler. I appreciate it.”

No problem. Love you.”

Love you, too.”

I hang up and sigh, looking down at the phone for another moment. She knows exactly what’s coming; I’ve done this for her on several occasions. Most of them were me wanting to do something for her on a whim. But not this time. I worked especially hard to make it great for her on our anniversary.

I go back into the kitchen and walk around, blowing out the candles. I’d lit them early, expecting her to be here sooner, but I don’t mind blowing them out. I understand where she’s coming from.

I sit down on the couch, setting a timer on my phone for ten minutes, and power on the television. There’s nothing good on, so I open my Netflix account and start playing Friends. I only turn it on for background noise; I’ve seen it enough times to have it memorized. While it’s playing, I find myself checking the bathroom mirror to see if I look okay. I straighten the furniture. I try to spray some air freshener around the house, and finally I convince myself that it’s okay. She doesn’t care, her house is the same way. She has a messy home.

When my alarm goes off, I’m in the kitchen grabbing a mint, and my phone’s sitting in the living room. I rush over to it and shut it off; I hate the noise, I don’t know why, but I’ve always hated the sound of my alarm. It reminds me of early mornings and stressful days. I need to change it.

I go into the kitchen and relight the candles. The room looks as good as I’d left it. I straighten my shoulders, tell myself I know she’ll love it, and go to porch to sit and wait.

And I’m right. I’m only sitting there for a couple minutes when her red car pulls into my driveway. I check my watch. She’s almost five minutes early.

I go down to let her out of her car, but she handles it herself, and meets me halfway up the walk. I laugh and take her hand in mine. We kiss in greeting, and I say, “You’re five minutes early, Em.”

Yeah, well, that means I didn’t get to finish my makeup.” She says, and if I hadn’t been able to see her, I would’ve thought she was actually irritated. There’s a hint of a smile on her face, though.

I hold the door open for her, and let her step in. She pauses for a moment, and says, “Wow, it smells nice in here.” And though it sounds real, a voice in the back of my head says, It actually smells terrible in here. This is her way of acknowledging it. Way to go, you did spray too much air freshener. I push the thought away and say, “Thanks.”

She takes her shoes off and leaves them by the door; she’s done this enough times to be confident with the rules of my house. Well, my parents’ house. They’re on vacation right now. It hits me that they may have planned it this way – them out of the house on the day of me and Em’s anniversary.

Even though she knows what’s going on, Emily lets me lead the way to the dining room, and gasps as she sees it. “Oh my god, Tyler!” She starts, but I stop her by wrapping my arm around her shoulders and saying, “Em, you knew what was coming. You don’t have to act surprised anymore.” She smiles up at me and says, “Oh, I know, but it’s beautiful. I can’t believe you’ve done this.”

I pull out a chair for her and let her sit down. She takes her phone out of her pocket and says, “Sorry, I have to text my mom – tell her I got here okay and everything. You know how she is.”

Of course, yeah, I understand.” I tell her, and then I say, “Well, I’m going to get the food out. It’s still warm – if you’re ready to eat,” I add.

Yeah, I am.” She says, already typing away at her phone. I watch her for another moment, enjoying her presence. And then I step back behind the kitchen counter and start loading food onto a tray.

The tray’s plenty heavy by the time I bring it out to her, and she acts surprised once again. This time I don’t mention it. I tell myself she means what she says. It’s nice to have somebody appreciating my efforts, so I accept her compliments.

I’m about to sit down, and we’re ready to get into the dinner when I hear my phone start to ring from my pocket. I say, “Oh, sorry about that. I forgot to turn off my phone. I’m gonna take this, I’ll be right back.” She nods and says okay, and I step into the back room, closing the door halfway for privacy.

When I pull out my phone, I see that the call’s coming from Betty. Em’s mom. She only calls me if Em forgot to text. That’s… odd.

I take a step into the dining room and look at her. “Hey, Em.” I say. She turns and looks at me, eyebrows raised. “Yeah?”

You did text your mom, right? Tell her you got here okay?” I look into her eyes, and I’m sure I see something flit through them when I ask her. It’s gone in an instant, though, and she says, “Yeah, of course I did. Why?”

I look down at my phone; it’s still ringing. I’m going to tell her, but when I open my mouth, all that comes out is, “No reason.” I don’t know why I chose not to tell her.

I step back into the back room, close the door again, and hit “Accept,” on what must have been the call’s last ring.

Tyler?” Betty says, and I hear worry in her voice; she’s sniffling, like she’s been crying.

Yeah, it’s me. What’s up?”

She pauses, and in the pause I can hear hurried voices speaking in the background, a man and a woman that I don’t recognize.

I know something’s wrong before she says anything.

Tyler, I don’t know what happened, but you have to… you have to come to the hospital, now, please. She – she was on the way to your house and then I got a call from the hospital and they said there was an accident. She’s on her way to the emergency room now, but I don’t… I don’t know if she’s going to make it.” She sniffs again; it might just be me, but I think I can hear a rhythmic beeping in the background.

I don’t know what’s going on, and anxiety starts rising in my throat. “Hey, whoa, Betty, slow down. What happened? Who’s hurt?”

It’s Emily, Tyler!” I’ve never heard Betty call her daughter Emily before; she usually respects Em’s dislike of her name. “She was in a car crash and she’s hurt and she’s on her way to the emergency room but she’s… she’s dying, Tyler! Emily is dying!” She finishes in a wave of sobs, and my heart drops.

What?” I say, but I’m speaking so quietly there’s no way even Betty could hear me. “No, there’s something wrong – that’s impossible – Em’s right…” I lower the phone and raise my head as I hear the door start to creak open.

There she is, my Em, standing in the doorway, a knife in her hand.

 

Garrett Neff loves writing more than anything, but this is his first time being published – though it will hopefully spark many more publishings to come. He is fourteen years old and lives in rural Jamestown with his mother, father, brother, and four awesome dogs and cats. Here he goes to Western Boone Jr.-Sr. High School, where he’s one of a two-man team on his middle school track team, thanks to his passion for running. He hopes to someday become a book editor and successful freelance writer.

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