“You’re still here…and you’re making pancakes?” I mumbled sleepily.
“Are you stupid?” she asked, throwing a playful look over her shoulder. “I’m making flapjacks.”
I blinked. What’s the difference? I thought as I rubbed my eyes and yawned.
“Want one, Felix?” she teased.
I scrutinized her for a moment, still caught off guard. This wasn’t the same angry Amelia from last night, which both worried and confused me. She stood there in the same pink hoodie and jeans from the night before, her wild curly hair tied in a bun, her pretty blue eyes questioning me as she held up a plate full of pancakes–no, flapjacks.
“Uh, yeah. Sure.” I sat at the small table in the middle of the kitchen and poured myself a glass of orange juice as Amelia placed a flapjack in front of me.
“You know, Felix,” she chided. “You should at least rinse off your dishes if you’re just going to leave them in the sink.”
“What are you doing here?” I blurted when she turned back to the kitchen. I noticed her slight pause and immediately regretted my outburst, but then she kept walking to the sink and began rinsing and scrubbing dishes.
I tried to explain myself. “I-I just mean…you were so set on leaving last night. Your mind was made up, and I watched you get into your car, though you sat in my driveway for like twenty minutes. I was sure I heard your car finally speed away…” I trailed off, remembering how hard it was to stay on my porch as she sat in her car, hands white on the wheel, her eyes staring forward, refusing to acknowledge that I was still watching her. I remembered finally going inside, forcing myself to give up any opportunity to stop her, reluctantly accepting that this is what she wanted and I didn’t want to stand in the way of her happiness, even if that meant I couldn’t be a part of it.
The sudden creaks and bumps of my roommate getting out of bed prevented me from saying more, and it wasn’t long before he bounded down the stairs in boxers and a t-shirt, violently sniffing the air.
“Bro, it smells so good.” He stopped short in the kitchen doorway when he saw Amelia, his large body filling the door frame. He noticed me eating my flapjack and glanced between us a few times. I shook my head and shrugged slightly at his imploring gaze.
“Morning, Ray,” Amelia said. “Are you hungry?”
“Heck, yeah,” Ray laughed, grinning widely. “You made us hotcakes?”
Amelia whirled to Ray, then to me, her eyes wide. I smirked and looked down at the half-eaten pancake/flapjack/hotcake.
Amelia let loose an exasperated sigh. “It’s a flapjack, Ray.”
“Whatever you say, Sweetheart.” I hated when he called her that. Ray sat down next to me as Amelia placed a flapjack on the table. He clapped his hands, rubbed them together, and after licking his lips, quickly shoved two bites into his mouth. Amelia headed back to the sink.
“What’s the occasion, Amelia?” Ray said with a mouthful of flapjack.
“Oh, no occasion,” she said simply, but I noticed she kept her back to us.
Ray raised an eyebrow at me. We ate in silence as Amelia obsessively cleaned every inch of our kitchen, tossing sidelong glances at each other whenever her back was turned. She scrubbed this, rinsed that, put those in a cupboard. After I’d finished my second flapjack and Ray had finished his fourth, Amelia scooped up our plates, scrubbed, rinsed, and put them away as well. We watched her curiously.
When the kitchen was nearly spotless, Amelia scanned the table and counters desperately. Finding nothing to busy herself with, she huffed and finally looked up to see Ray and I staring at her. She walked over to us, folding and unfolding her hands.
“Hey, guys,” she said awkwardly.
Why was she so fidgety? Was something wrong?
“Hey, Sweetheart. Great hotcakes,” Ray added. He playfully winked at her, trying to lighten the mood, and she relaxed, but only slightly.
“So,” she began. “You guys want to know why I’m still here, huh? Why I didn’t leave even though I swore up and down last night that I was out of here, never to be seen again? Why I decided to make flapjacks at,” she checked the microwave clock behind her, “eight in the morning in someone else’s house?”
Ray and I nodded.
Abruptly, she smacked a hand on the table, spun, and began swiftly pacing the kitchen.
“I was going to leave; well, I did leave. I just didn’t get very far.” Once she started talking, she spilled her words quickly, throwing her hands in the air, making wild gestures to prove her point, her voice slowly getting louder and louder. “See, it took me so long to start the car, which I think was the first sign that I’d be back. I just couldn’t get myself to turn the key, and once I turned the key, I couldn’t get myself to switch gears–I just couldn’t get it into reverse to back out of the driveway! Okay, anyway, when I finally got out of the driveway, I hit the pedal, hard. I fled.” She stopped pacing and looked at me, her blue eyes wild. “I fled, Felix.” Back to pacing. “I wanted out of here and the more I wanted out, the faster I went. Well, that was probably the second sign, ‘cause when I started going, bone-clattering fear gripped my heart. Gripped my heart, Felix.”
I tried to understand what she was talking about and I could feel Ray’s eyes moving between me and Amelia as she yelled.
“That fear gripped me so tight, I felt like I was suffocating. I was driving so fast, too fast, but I wasn’t going fast enough. Then a thought popped into my head and I hated that thought. The thought was, ‘You’re running, Ames. Why are you running?’ And I hit the brakes so fast in that moment, I was sure I was going to fly through the windshield to my death, that horrible thought the last thing on my mind, the end of me. There goes Ames, dead.”
She rushed back to Ray and me, placing her hands on the table, staring intently at me.
“But I didn’t die, Felix!”
She smiled widely and let out a giggle, inviting me to join, but I couldn’t smile back. She spun away again and resumed her pacing. I sneaked a glance at Ray, who was smirking at me, which only added to my confusion.
What was wrong with Amelia?
“No, I didn’t die. Instead, I stopped in the middle of the road and I let that stupid thought consume my mind. I wallowed in it and I began to cry. And, oh, did I cry!”
She whirled to me again. “Do you remember that time I cried in front of you because my dad was sick and I didn’t know if he’d make it?”
I blinked, surprised. I remembered. It was my sophomore year of college. She had burst into my dorm room, tears streaming down her face. I remembered how upset she was, and even though she’d buried her face in my chest, asking me to hold her, I felt so powerless to comfort her. She’d cried so hard, her body shaking uncontrollably; I had choked back tears, thankful her face was covered so that I could hide mine.
“Yes, I remember,” I said quietly.
“Yeah, well this cry was way worse than that.” She picked up speed again, her sentences running together. “Thank God, my dad is okay, or else I’d feel bad admitting that. But this cry was worse. Man, it was awful! I had snot running down my nose, and the snot blended with my tears–I was a frickin’ mess. But I wasn’t even sure why I was crying, ya know? I was like ‘Ames, get your crap together! You’ve got an adventure to have.’ But I couldn’t stop and cars sped around me, honking and yelling out their windows, telling me to get my crap together, too.
“And then, the cops came. I don’t know if you guys know this, but cops of the back roads of Dayton, Tennessee, have no idea how to deal with a hysterical woman. I mean, they were so rude. They took out their flashlights and shined them in my face. I’m pretty sure they thought I had a gun or something, because they made me get out of my car and put my hands up like I was some criminal. Ray, do I look like a criminal to you?”
Ray laughed. “Nope. Not in that pink sweatshirt, and especially not if you were crying.”
Amelia threw her hands in the air again and kept going.
“Thank you! Exactly! Okay, so I told the cops that I wasn’t crazy, I was just crying. They got all nosy after that and started asking me why I was crying and where I was going. But the thing is, I didn’t know the answers to those questions. I had no idea where I was going. No idea why I was crying. And that stupid thought stayed in my head, ‘Why are you running, Ames?’ playing over and over and I couldn’t run from it. The cops finally let me go, giving a ticket for stopping to cry in the middle of the road, as if I can control that! And then they just left, leaving me in the dark to deal with whatever was happening to me.”
She suddenly sat down at the table, clasped her hands and stared at me. Her cheeks were flushed and she was breathless, but I could tell she was not done yelling. I held her gaze, trying to read her expression. She didn’t look angry or sad, she actually looked happy; there was a distinct glint in her wild eyes. I felt Ray’s eyes on me as well and I turned to him.
Both Ray and Amelia were staring at me, Ray unfazed by Amelia’s outbursts and Amelia unconcerned with Ray’s response. I felt self-conscious. Ray knew something I didn’t and part of me wanted to guess. I suppressed that part of me because I knew I’d feel so stupid if I was wrong.
I opened my mouth to ask what the heck was going on, when Ray quickly stood up.
“Thanks for the hotcakes, Sweetheart.”
Amelia kept her eyes on me. “Flapjacks,” she corrected.
“Yeah. Well, I’m gonna go put some pants on and get ready to meet Lily. We’re going to the zoo to celebrate our one year anniversary.”
He roughly slapped my back, gave me a knowing smile that I knew nothing about, and headed up the stairs, leaving me alone with this beautiful, hysterical woman. I guess I had something in common with the cops of Dayton’s back roads. Amelia didn’t say anything, she just stared at me, as if trying to get me to guess some big secret.
“Amelia, what is going on?” I finally asked.
She frowned. “You don’t get it?”
I shook my head slightly, still utterly confused. “Get what? Is everything okay?”
She huffed and slumped back in her chair, staring out the window above the sink. The sun shined on her face and her eyes sparkled, but she looked disappointed.
Did I do something wrong?
She took a deep breath, stood, and launched back into her rant.
“So I’m in the dark, right? I’m still kind of crying, tears I have no control over are flowing down my face and I look up for a moment. I look up at that dark sky, the stars barely visible through the gray clouds, and I ask God why I am running. I figured if anybody knew, it would be God. So I asked Him; I said, ‘God, why am I running?’ And you know what happened, Felix?”
“What happened, Amelia?” I asked quietly, trying to force my heart rate to slow down.
“Everything. Well, nothing. Nothing physically happened. I didn’t see lightning or hear thunder; the clouds didn’t form a Mufasa-shape telling me to remember who I am; the wind didn’t pick up, shoving me toward a specific direction; I didn’t hear a still, small voice whispering in the silence. Nothing physically happened. But inside, oh, boy! That thought that I hated, that thought that heaped a big pile of self-doubt and crippling fear into my lap as I tried to get out of here, it left me. Gone. Poof. Disappeared without a trace.”
She stopped and sat down again. She looked down at her hands.
“Felix, I realized that I was running,” she said softly. “I was running as far as I could from the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was scared. I still am scared.”
I saw a tear escape from her eye, and I rushed out of my seat and knelt on the kitchen floor before her, wiping her cheek and taking her hands.
Please don’t cry, Amelia, I thought. I can’t bear to see you cry.
“What are you scared of?” I whispered.
She laughed nervously. “You.”
“Yeah, you,” she sniffed and laughed again. “Felix, you are the greatest gift I’ve ever received from God and when I started to realize that, I got scared. I got scared of a lot of things. Of rejection, of ruining what we have, of making a mistake.”
I didn’t respond. Greatest gift?
“I think part of me knew how I felt and before all of me could figure it out, the other part of me tried to ruin it. So I hurt you and I hurt me and I tried to run. I was so cruel to you, Felix.”
I wanted to tell her it was okay, that I forgave her, that I…
She took a deep breath.
“Last night, when I questioned God, He filled my head with images of you. And me. Of us. He showed me all the times you were there for me, all the times you were strong when I just couldn’t be strong anymore. Like that time when my dad was sick, and you just started praying for his health and for peace aloud as you held me. And the time my car broke down in the middle of nowhere and you came to help and also brought me a cheeseburger. And even last night, when I yelled in your face and told you I wanted out of this stupid town and I wanted to see the world. You told me you thought there was something more I wanted than ‘out of this town,’ and instead of telling me what to do next, you said ‘I pray you find it.’ You always put me first. All these images flooded my head as I stood there in that street, just me and God and the memory of you.
“And I stopped running. I stopped running from you because that fear I felt was the fear that I’d never see you again. That I’d ruined any chance of happiness I had because I’d yelled at that happiness and tried to drive away from it. But the thing is, I realized that you are part of me and I can’t run away from part of me. I can’t run away from someone God has given me.”
We were both quiet for a moment, her hands still in mine.
“So, you came back,” I said to end the silence. “And decided to make flapjacks?”
She threw her head back in laughter and relief washed over me at the sound.
“Felix, I just basically confessed my love for you and my belief that God wants us to be together, and you just asked me about my flapjacks?”
Before I could respond, she kissed me. Butterflies shot through my stomach and I knew she was the greatest gift God had ever given me, too.