Authors: Elizabeth Norris
For Dan, it was worth the wait
Labor with what zeal we will
Something still remains undone
Something uncompleted still
Waits the rising of the sun
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
ome days are so perfect, they just don’t seem real.
They’re the days when you wake up and aren’t tired, when the sun is shining and the breeze kicks up from the ocean, keeping you from getting too hot or too cold, and everything you do goes right. Like you’re inside of a movie with your own soundtrack, where you’re so happy that you can’t help just spontaneously breaking into a smile. Some days are like magic.
But I haven’t had one of those days in a long time.
So long, it feels like maybe I never did. In fact, when I’ve been up for eighteen hours, letting Cecily boss me around in an old snack bar that she converted into a kitchen—one that might be a hundred degrees—it feels like maybe perfect days are a lie.
“What are you doing?” Cecily says, scolding me. “That’s never going to work.”
“My idea, not work? That’s shocking.” I make a big show of rolling my eyes. “Come up with a better idea and we’ll try it.” I almost add that we don’t need popcorn, but I keep my mouth shut. I can only push her so far. The wrath of Cecily when plans go awry is something I’m trying to avoid.
It’s movie night at Qualcomm.
About a month ago, Cecily decided that a movie night was just the thing Qualcomm needed. It would give people something to look forward to, and with the right equipment it was something we could actually get done. She made Kevin Collins and me spend a weekend going through the wreckage of every movie theater in San Diego, looking for the right projection equipment and an assortment of movies we could show.
So now we have a little more than thirteen hundred people seated on what used to be the Chargers football field—with more watching from the seats. Blankets are laid out, people are huddled together, and Cecily has
It’s a Wonderful Life
cued up on the projector. I had argued with her choice of that one—it’s not like much going on around here could be called wonderful—but my arguments had gone down in flames, and Kevin didn’t help matters since he had backed her up, hoping to win her over.
The only snag in her plan right now is the popcorn.
The generator let us use the microwave to pop over half of the bags we found when we scrounged around the city, but it started taking its toll on our power. Even Cee wasn’t going to argue that popcorn was more important than lights. So now I’m using a couple of old pans and a wood-burning stove.
Because I’m thinking of him, Kevin pushes through the door with a wide smile for Cecily. In a surprising and I’ll admit impressive move on his part, he got his GED and enlisted in the Marines a couple of months ago. “Lady J!” he shouts as a few of the guys in his unit come in behind him. “We’ve come for you to feed us.”
I’d like to say the whole enlisting thing made him grow up, but he’s the same as ever.
I ignore Kevin. I’m good at it.
Cecily, who has only her own agenda on her mind, beams at him. “Oh, you’re here, perfect,” she says, piling bags of popcorn into the guys’ arms before they have a chance to speak. “Start with the people in the back since they’re farthest from the screen. And make sure everyone takes a small handful and passes it down. We have about one bag for every fifteen or so people; no one gets their own.”
One of the guys rolls his eyes—he’s obviously here as a favor because poor Kevin has it bad for Cecily.
Kevin bows with a flourish. “Your wish shall be done.”
I have to force myself to keep from snorting at the ridiculousness that is happening right in front of me.
Before he leaves, Kevin looks at me. “Hurry up, woman. If we have to wait for you we’ll never get to see the movie.”
Unable to control her laughter, Cecily pushes Kevin out the door, and the universe finally rewards me, because the popcorn finally starts to pop.
“So this thing with Kevin . . .” I say once he’s gone. Every guy has a thing for Cee—even Alex had a huge crush on her. Alex, my best friend, the one who told me he wasn’t going to date anyone until college because he didn’t want to have to introduce a girl that he liked to his mother unless he knew she could handle it. Alex, who will never date anyone. Alex, who’s gone because of me.
I swallow those thoughts down, despite the tightness in my throat, and focus on Cecily. I want her to be happy.
She blushes but doesn’t say anything.
“He is pretty cute,” I add. He’s also immature and drives me a little out of my mind, but I can’t deny that he’s nice to look at.
Cecily laughs and shakes her head. “He is.” Then she pauses and adds, “And he’s funny, too, you know? Like super funny. Every time I see him, he makes me crack up about something. Plus, I can’t help being surprised at how thoughtful he is. He always does really nice little things for me.”
She says it like there’s a “but” coming.
“So, what’s the problem?” I laugh a little, but Cecily doesn’t join in.
“This is terrible. I mean, I kind of want to like him.” She sighs. “I just can’t. I don’t know. I guess he’s just not really my type.”
I know what she means. About wanting to like someone and just not being able to. Kevin’s tried to hook me up with half the guys in his unit, and then of course, there’s Nick. A date or even a little romance would be such a welcome distraction from everything going on, but all I see when I look at another guy is someone who’s not Ben Michaels.
Since the day he left, I’ve been looking everywhere for Ben. Remembering his dark brown eyes; the way his hair falls in his face; the way he reached out, touched my cheek, and pulled me into one last kiss; the way he took slow steps backward toward the portal, as if he didn’t really want to leave; the way he said my name and told me he loved me.
The way the portal swallowed him up and he disappeared.
But mostly I think about how he said,
I’ll come back for you
“Okay, don’t laugh,” Cecily says suddenly, doing me a favor and pulling me from thoughts I should be able to let go. “But I kind of have a thing for the bad boys, like from afar, but still. Give me a leather jacket, a devilish smile, a guy my parents wouldn’t approve of, and you know, someone who needs to be saved.”
Ben didn’t have the leather jacket or a devilish smile. But he was definitely the kind of guy my dad would’ve been wary of. And he did need to be saved.
Only I’d saved him, and now he was gone.
“It wouldn’t hurt either if he had nice eyes,” Cecily adds.
I smile, thinking of Ben’s dark, deep-set eyes and the intensity in them when he looked at me.
Every five or ten minutes, Cecily carts an armload of popcorn bags out to the field. When we finally have them all passed out, we pick through the crowd to find my brother, Jared, and Kevin and his friends. There’s one extra bag of popcorn, and because we’re feeling gluttonous, we keep it.
I barely watch the movie because I’m more interested in watching Jared, who can’t take his eyes off the screen.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve missed more than half of the movie. Or that it’s black-and-white and from 1946. It doesn’t matter that the popcorn is too buttery, that the wool blanket itches my skin every chance it gets, or even that I’m tired and sweaty from the stove.
With about fifteen minutes of the movie left, Struz finds us and sits next to Jared, whose eyes are a little watery.
And then Struz winks at me.
I glance at Cecily, who just smiles. It’s a smile I know well. The one that says,
I was right
, or any other
I told you so
type of phrase. I give her the finger, because there’s not much else to do.
She was right.
Popcorn and movie night were exactly what we needed.
Maybe this day was a little magical after all.
he next morning, the magic has worn off. That tends to happen to me when I have to get out of bed before the sun is up, especially on my day off. The reason I’m up is that Struz is sending Cee and me on a supply run up to Camp Pendleton. He chose us because we’re charming—or, more accurately, Cecily is charming.