Middle of the Night

He slid his hand to the small of her back, feeling the warmth of her bare skin. She ran her fingers through the hair on the back of his head. She was perfect. Their foreheads pressed together, he looked into her eyes, almost blurred together because they were so close. It was dark, so the color w as indistinguishable, but her eyes looked right back at his. She made him comfort-able even though he had no idea where he was. There were no words exchanged, but the silence said enough. He never saw her full face, but he was convinced that he knew her, that they had known each other for years.

Maverick woke up to the sound of his phone buzzing and the picture of his girlfriend flashing on the screen. Still in an intimate daze from his dream, he answered.

“Margo,” he said. “Why are you calling in the middle of the night?”

“I had a bad dream about you and want-ed to hear your voice,” said Margo.

“Well, I had a dream about you, too,” he said.

Margo’s voice instantly changed. “Re-ally? What was it about?”

“It was like the perfect date,” Maverick said.

He paused. He did not really know if the girl in his dream had really been Margo, but he could only assume so. Maverick had never been closer to any other girl. He didn’t like to lie to her, but she would never know the whole truth, so as long as it made her happy, Maverick was alright with it.

“It was perfect,” he said. “I’m not sure where we were or what exactly we were do-ing, but I felt so happy to be with you.”

“Aw Mav, that’s really cute that you were thinking of me,” Margo said with a tint of joy in her voice. “Can’t wait to see you tomorrow babe, goodnight!”

She hung up. Maverick lay awake, star-ing at his ceiling. There was nothing there for him to look at besides the indentations in the tile ceiling. He felt weird; something wasn’t right. Thoughts bounced around his head with no real direction, passing as quick-ly as they came. He moved around in his bed, adjusting the blankets, his pillow, trying to get comfortable again, but nothing was working because his mind kept racing. He wasn’t sure what exactly was bothering him. Finally sleep caught up to him and he passed out again.

At school, Maverick was on his way to his locker and spotted Margo standing there w aiting for him. She w as wearing her favorite navy leggings, his purple basketball sweatshirt, and her white headband. She smiled when she sa w him. Ma verick pre-tended not to see her, staring at the floor. He took a deep breath, in through his nose, and along with the air came a scent.

The scent entranced Maverick. He in-stinctually stood up straight and quickly looked behind him. Through the waves of people he saw the bounce of light brown hair, highlighted with subtle, natural blonde strands that glowed in the light of the hall, put up in a messy bun, weaving quickly in and out of the faces coming towards him. He turned around again.

Margo wrapped her arms around Maver-ick, snapping him out of his daydream. She looked up at him with a smile. “Hey, Mav.”

“Hi, Margo,” he said slowly.

He looked at Margo, and he felt some-thing deep in his gut. Not a bad feeling, not sickness; something just wasn’t right. He hugged her back softly, with only one arm. He looked down the hall over her shoulder. Faces passed by, all blurred as his eyes started to water. As Maverick and Margo separated to go to class, he wiped his eyes with his sleeve and watched her as she bounced down the hall, almost in a skip. Her baby blue backpack went up and down in rhythm with her steps. Maverick turned around towards the hall where the girl had passed him. She was gone now, but the short memory of her walking away stuck in his mind. He wished that he could have seen her face or bumped into her, anything to clue him into who she was.

Maverick sat on his bed, scrolling through his camera roll. Picture after picture of smiling faces, beautiful views, and sports. Maverick played varsity basketball, and his mother showed up to all his home games to take pictures. Maverick would load them onto the computer and save his favorites. His mother had set up several folders within the photo gallery, each focus-ing on a specific era or person in his life. One of his favorite folders to scroll through was titled ‘Mav’s Boys.’ The most recent picture to be added to the folder was at Maverick’s eighth grade graduation: Maver-ick and his best friend Theo, arms around each other, looking off into the distance like astronauts. Maverick laughed every time he saw the picture. Since high school began, he had not been able to spend as much time with Theo as in grade school, where they were practically brothers. Theo and Mav-erick lived only a block apart and would always play basketball in Theo’s driveway. They endured many scratches and bruises there, building a healthy rivalry that ledthem to be co-captains of the eighth gradeteam. The chemistry between the two on the court brought the Eaton High School varsity coach to many of their games. He spoke with the two after their last game, mentioning that there were spots available for them to practice with the varsity team over the sum-mer. Maverick’s mother took a picture of that conversation, and he could see the ex-citement in their eyes and remembered the moment vividly.

Every once in a while he would select a few pictures to post on his Instagram page. His account was all basketball, vacations, and school dances, most of which recently had been with Margo. The same pose in ev-ery picture with her; only the dress and tie colors changed.

Bringing Margo and Ma verick together had been rather simple. They had met fresh-man year in dance class that counted for a PE credit. Maverick really wanted to take the regular PE class, but the head basketball coach refused to let his players mess around playing random sports with people of vary- ing self-control: the risk of injury was toogreat, especially after his star shooting guard twisted his ankle so bad that he was out all of his senior year a few years earlier. In thedance class, the first unit was swing danc-ing. Margo and Maverick were paired up bychance as the teacher counted the class offby gender. They immediately clicked, danc-ing well together and enjoying each other’s company in class. They didn’t speak much, but their bodies worked well together when the music came on. Margo’s friends would comment to Maverick after class that they were so cute together. Ma verick, subliminal-

ly noting these comments, thought Margo was cute, but he was awkward. He told one of his friends that he liked Margo but didn’t know what to say to her. His friend told one of Margo’s friends and she told Margo, who felt the same way about him. Their friends suggested that Maverick ask her out, so he did, and here they were now, just beginning their sophomore year together with almosta year of so-called “dating” under their belts.

Margo and Maverick went on their firstdate to the movies with some friends. They sat together, on the end of the line of seatsthe small group filled. Their mothers had dropped them off, and they barely spoke aword until their mothers picked them up again. The boys talked to the boys and the girls to the girls. They were awkward fresh- men, hanging out for the first time. Manymore group dates followed, but never alone together.

Margo and Maverick lived on opposite sides of town, making it hard to see each other without their parents driving them. School was their meeting place. In the halls,Maverick felt weird showing affection to-wards Margo in front of everyone else. Mar-go was exactly the opposite, always wanting to hold his hand, hug him, be with him every second. It wasn’t until summer that Maver-ick felt that he could feel relaxed, out of the view of Margo’s friends, but he could also take a break from Margo since they barely saw each other outside of school. Sure he liked her, but he also wanted to spend time with his friends, his teammates.

He didn’t really like her friends. They were always talking about how lucky Margo and Maverick were to have each other. They always made them pose for quick pictures where Margo would kiss his cheek or jump on his back. Maverick rarely saw these pic-tures. He saw them only when Margo would post a slideshow of them on her social me-dia. He never really asked for her to send the pictures with him. He felt obligated to com-ment something about how pretty she was, even if he didn’t like the pictures.

Margo went out of town during the sum-mer, a family vacation to their timeshare on the South Carolina coast. Margo kept say-ing that he should have gone with her, but Maverick politely declined. He said that he couldn’t go because of basketball practices. While she was gone, Maverick could go out with the friends he hadn’t spent much time with since his relationship began, especially Theo, whom he still considered his bestfriend. On the first day of break, he played one-on-one against Theo in his driveway. It was their first game since the beginning offreshman year. He missed these friends and was glad to spend all of his free time with them because he had to turn them down so much during the school year, despite their living only blocks away. He felt free and re-laxed, not worried about keeping Margo con-stantly updated on his whereabouts.

Ma verick continued scrolling, remem-bering each picture and the memory that went along with it. He reached his middle school years. So much had changed since then: his clothing choices, his physi-cality, and most of all, who was in the pic-tures. One picture in particular caught his attention. He saw her, the girl from the hall. She was standing in the background of a mixer picture, laughing with her friends. Her smile was so beautiful, even when she was younger. Maverick wanted to see that smile now. He wanted to hear her laugh.

He texted the picture to Theo, whoidentified the girl as Nadia from his mathand history classes. Maverick pulled out his freshman yearbook and found her. Her hair had darkened since the time that the picture was taken, the natural blonde tint slowly fad-ing away to a lighter brown. Her facial struc-ture had matured, and she no longer wore

braces. He looked for her on Instagram; he was already following her, but she rarely posted, so her pictures were all new to Mav-erick, who rarely checked. Her pictures were of her friends, her family, the common mo-ments in her life, not just the special occa-sions. She wasn’t dressed up in every picture. They weren’t all posed, but natural, showing her true self. It wasn’t her smile that caught his eye, because she wasn’t smiling in every picture. It was her eyes that drew him in.

Maverick continued to text Theo, ask-ing about her, whether he was friends with her or not. Eaton was a small enough town for everyone to know each other’s names, but Nadia and Maverick had never spoken. Theo liked talking to the girls in his class-es, but Nadia never joined the conversa-tions. He noted that she would talk quietly amongst her friends, never bothering other people. When she wasn’t talking with her friends, she drew. Theo didn’t know what she was drawing, but she gave her full attention to whatever she was working on. She smiledas she worked, looking satisfied in her cre-ative world. Theo didn’t say anything bad about her, but there really wasn’t much else for him to say. He barely knew her, and Mav-erick knew even less.

Umm hey Nadia, I was wondering if you were going to the football game to-night,” said Maverick, standing behind Na-dia in the lunch line.

She slid her tray along the metal railings“towards the desserts and said, “I’m not sure yet. I might not have my dad’s car to drive tonight.”

“Oh, oh, uh, okay, I was just wondering,”said Maverick.

“Well, maybe I’ll see you there,” said Nadia with a smile.

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” said Maverick. Maverick watched her walk away, across the cafeteria to sit with her friends. She had a certain confidence, walking tall and proud.She stopped. Her eyes scanned the cafete-ria and locked with Maverick’s from across the cafeteria. Nadia smiled. Ma verick’s heart pumped a little faster, forcing some blood to his cheeks, and he took a few quick breaths before he picked up his own tray from the serving counter. Nadia’s friends smiled as she sat down next to them. She knew the look that they were giving her. The raised eye-brows, eyes darting between Maverick and her, a few giggling.

“Ha ha, grow up,” Nadia said sarcasti-cally, letting out laughter of her own. “You’re such a bunch of little girls.”

Maverick tried not to stare as he walked to the other corner of the cafeteria, finding

Theo and the rest of his friends at their usual table.

“Guys, we should all go to the game to-night,” said Maverick still standing, out of breath.

“Mav, it’s not even gonna be close out there,” said Theo.

“I don’t care, we gotta go.”
“Why? Is Margo making you go?”
“No, actually, she’s not, she will be out of town visiting some family.”

“Well then, why do you want to go?” “Don’t worry about it. You all can come over to my house before the game and my mom can take us. Deal?”

“Fine. Deal.”

Maverick sat in the bleachers, constantly glancing at the entrance gate. Peo-ple in purple and gold slowly filed in, but not her. The first quarter ended, Cincin-nati Christian Academy 21, Eaton 3. Mav-erick felt his phone buzz in his pocket: his mother, asking what time to pick him up. The Eaton parents started yelling, making Maverick look up before typing a response. The Eaton student section barely filled the first two rows of bleachers, but the parents in the next section over began to stand, cheering on their sons as the team ran down to the opposite end of the field. The Eaton running back broke free of the defense and had a clear path to the endzone. Maverick scanned the field and its surroundings, fol-lowing the runner with his eyes. Nadia was standing on the opposite side on the track on her way to the concession stand, cheer-ing in her purple Eaton jacket. Everyone else sat back down after the play ended, but Maverick made his way towards the stairs to the track. Theo followed him.

“Hey, where are you going?” asked Theo. “Just want a snack. You want anything?” “Nah, I’m good,” said Theo as he spun

around and bolted up the steps back to the rest of the guys.

Maverick made his way over to the con-cession stand, walking with purpose, trying to catch up to Nadia. There was nobody else walking near him, so he didn’t want to ap-pear in a rush, but he had to get to the con-cession stand before she was gone. She was at the end of the short line, her hair braided tonight, hanging over her left shoulder. She looked pretty without even trying. He stood behind her in line.

“Hey Nadia, happy you made it,” he said.

“Oh hey, Mav!” said Nadia. “Good to see you too.”

Maverick’s phone buzzed again in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw the picture of his mother on the screen. mom. Hold my spot in line?” he asked. “Yeah, of course,” she said.

Maverick’s mother told him to text when the fourth quarter was about to start so she could be there to pick him up by the end of the game. Maverick went back to the line.

“What did she say,” Nadia asked.

“She wanted me to text her when I was ready to be picked up,” Maverick said.

“I can drive you home, if that’s alright,” she said.

“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah where do you live?”
“Over on Willow, do you know where that is?”

“Of course, my house is just on Maple!” Ma verick rode home from school on

Maple every day.
“Alright I’ll text my mom. Thank you!” The game ended Cincinnati Christian

Academy 42, Eaton 10. Theo called his moth-er to pick him and the rest of the guys up. He winked at Maverick as he walked towards the exit gate. Maverick and Nadia stayed seated in the stands, though. Nadia slowly turned as their conversation went on until she wascompletely angled away from the field anddirectly at him. Her body language was fully attentive to him, and their eyes were lockedthe entire time they talked. He finally got tosee her eyes up close. There were a million things running through his mind. He would never do anything outside of his relationship with Margo, but he liked to have Nadia close and he didn’t turn away. His phone buzzed on the bleacher between them. A text from Margo. He didn’t even care what it said.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” Mav-erick asked.

“I don’t know. What are you up to?”

“I was gonna go get lunch if you want to join.”

“Yeah, I’d like that. Text me when you know for sure.”

She picked up his phone off the bleach-ers. The text from Margo was still there. Na-dia paused with the phone in her hand. Her head tilted and her eyes squinted slightly upon seeing Margo’s name appear on screen.

“Are you sure it’s okay? I know she’s your girlfriend and all.”

“Yeah, it’ll be fine.”

Maverick didn’t know what to do. He wanted to continue to get to know Nadia. Nadia showed Ma verick pictures on her phone of her drawings. They were recre-ations of her dreams, drawn directly from memory. He was fascinated by her creativ-ity and attracted to her, but he couldn’t hurt Margo, especially by cheating.

“Hey Ma v, how w as the game?” Ma ver-ick’s mother asked, barging into his room without knocking.

“It was alright. We lost,” he said, lying in his bed with his arms crossed over his stom-ach.

“Is something wrong? Is it Margo?”

“No, Mom. Nothing’s wrong with Mar-go,” Maverick said.

Because there wasn’t. There wasn’t any-thing really bad about Margo, and Maverick appreciated their friendship, but meeting Nadia brought a range of new emotions into him that he had never experienced with Margo. Nadia felt real to him.

He had to call Margo. He had to tell her what was going on because there was no go-ing behind her back, there was no lying to her. He respected her, and to do anything less than to tell the truth would hurt him inside. Maverick picked up his phone and called Margo.

“Hey, Margo,” he said. His voice was slow, serious and sad. “We need to talk.”

“What’s going on, Mav?” Margo asked. “You sound awful.”

“Okay, here it is. I don’t really know how to say it, but I think that it’s time to end ourrelationship. Recently, I haven’t really feltlike we have been real; it doesn’t seem to me like a real relationship. We only hang out in groups, and I really enjoy that, but I don’t feel like we are boyfriend and girlfriend.”

“Alright. Fine.”

Margo hung up. Maverick set his phone on his nightstand, exhaled a heavy breath, and continued staring at his ceiling. He let his eyes fall closed and fell asleep.

In the morning he picked up his phone and there was a text from Margo time-stamped 3:52 A.M. “I honestly can’t believe you. I was so good to you, but you obviously decided it meant nothing. Have fun without me. I know I’ll be happy either way. Bye Ma verick.”

Maverick read the text a couple of times and breathed deeply. There was nothing for him to be sad about and he was happy that he had faced Margo with how he felt. He then went out of the conversation to start a new text message, smiling as he typed. “Hey Nadia, it’s Maverick, I was going to walk up to Dale’s Diner around one if you want to meet me there.”

Before he pressed send, he looked up and followed the streaks of light shining through his bedroom window. His eyes tracked some of the wrinkled orange leaves that had fallen early as they blew down the street outside his window. He heard his mother’s favorite song coming from downstairs, the song she always played when she planned to clean the house: “...Change is coming ‘round real soon, make us woman and man. Oh yeah, life goes on...”

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