Their relationship had started on the wrong foot. Mikka was one day shy of sixteen the day Carlton approached her in the hall between classes. His friends gave him the extra shove he needed, reminding him if he didn’t ask her, someone else would. Carlton was surprised at her shyness. He thought that a girl as beautiful and popular as her would be unapproachable.
“I need to ask you something, Mikka.” He could feel the sweat wetting his armpits, and he hoped his nervousness did not show outwardly. She smelled sweet, like fresh rain on a spring day. Her smile melted his heart while unconsciously, he took a step backward.
“And you are…?” She didn’t know him! She hadn’t even recognized him in History class. Fighting the urge to run and hide, he took a small step towards her, filling in the two-foot gap between them. Suddenly, she remembered. “Wait, you’re the one who challenges Mr. Cooper on his understanding of past events.” True. In class, Carlton’s confidence soared.
“Would you like to accompany me to the dance on Saturday?” He said, fighting the urge to add, that's okay if you don’t want to.
Her smile calmed his nerves, and she said yes. “Meet me at the willow tree behind the school at five o’clock on Saturday,” she said, pulling his hand to herself and writing her number on the back.
“And if I’m not there, text me but don’t call.”
Carlton sat beneath the willow, having arrived thirty-five minutes early, and practiced what he would say when she came. Confidence, he whispered. He knew he must remember to believe in himself. At five minutes after five, Carlton texted her. Where are you? There was no response. The flower he had brought to give to Mikka was wilting in the heat. I am here, where are you? He texted—still, nothing. Every inch of confidence that Carlton had gained from Mikka’s acceptance to go to the dance with him had dissolved into despair. He stomped on the wilted yellow carnation before charging up the hill to leave.
Sitting outside the school, he watched couples exiting cars and going into the dance. Sadly, he watched as Mikka and a star football player walked together inside. The willow tree showed bright over the hill as the sun set upon it. Soon the tree faded into the darkness of night, and Carlton went home to nurse his wounds.
Monday morning came with an apology from Mikka. Carlton did not need an explanation. He was honored Mikka had given him another chance. “Meet me at the willow tomorrow at three,” she said, smiling sweetly. A picnic lunch would be in order.
Carlton brought ham and swiss sandwiches, chips, cupcakes, and cold tea. He spread a blanket onto the ground and waited. Soon, he was eating alone. Once again, his confidence was seared.
“I am so very sorry,” said Mikka the next day. Mikka invited Carlton to be at the willow tree the following Thursday at nine with no explanation or excuse for why she had failed to show before. Carlton declined the invitation, re-instating all lost confidence. Mikka grunted and turned on her heel to walk away.
You deserve better, Carlton whispered to himself.
The following day the willow served as an umbrella of sadness for a broken-hearted Mikka when her football star said he was dating another. She texted Carlton, “Meet me at the willow. I promise this time to show.”
Carlton showed too, with Emily, Mikka’s former best friend.