Stella passed her latest anatomy test, but just barely.
“What is wrong with me?! Why am I not getting this?! I studied for hours, why did I not remember anything?!” She berated herself over and over again. “I am just going to have to study twice as hard for the next one.”
The next test was still two weeks out, but as soon as her last class was over Stella made her way to the library to study. It was almost 2am when she finally pulled her head out of her notebook. The words on the page were all starting to run together, and Stella decided it was finally time to go home.
Stella didn’t remember anything after she left the library, but somehow she made it home. She woke up on her bed still wearing the same clothes she had on the day before. Brandon wasn’t home when she got up, but he did leave a note on the fridge. It contained six simple, and to the point, words:
“Got a job. Be home later”
Stella wanted to be happy for Brandon, but deep down she was sad because she knew that a new job meant that soon he would be moving out. It won’t take long for Brandon to earn enough money to get a place of his own. As much as she didn’t want to admit it to herself, Stella knew that she was going to miss him. But why? Is it the pancake breakfasts that she is going to miss? Or is she going to miss seeing his smiling face every morning? Or was it both? Neither? Stella was a jumble of emotions, and running on only a few hours of sleep was not helping. She made her way over to the couch where Brandon slept as she tried to sort out her emotions.
Stella hadn’t realized how soft and comfortable her couch was until this very moment. She closed her eyes as she breathed in the smell of Brandon’s after shave which still lingered on the cushions. She let out a big yawn and looked back at the clock on the microwave to see that she still had some time until she had to start getting ready for school.
“Just a five minute power nap.” Stella promised herself before she passed out.
Stella woke up again to the sounds of Brandon unlocking the front door.
“He is home early,” Stella thought, but then realized, “Ohmygawd, I slept in the whole day!”
“Holy shit, what time it is?” Stella jumped off the couch, but got tangled up in the rug and crashed to the floor. “I can’t believe I slept in the whole day!” Stella scrambled into her bedroom to change clothes.
“I am so stupid. I am so stupid!” she kept reprimanding herself over and over again.
there was no time to shower, or even comb her hair. Stella quickly put on the first sweater that she grabbed from her dresser. It was a purple turtleneck that Aunt May bought her last Snowflake Day. It is usually one of her favorite sweaters, but today it became a maze as she lost herself when she tried to put her head though one of the arm holes and her arm through the hole for her head. She lost hope for finding a matching pair of socks and tired to put her left shoe on her right foot. Finally, she gave up, threw both shoes at the wall, and broke down crying on the floor.
Brandon entered Stella’s room to find her hysterically crying. It broke his heart seeing her this upset. He knew the boundaries, and that Stella wanted to be “just friends”. But at this moment he didn’t care. Brandon saw that the love of his life was in pain, and he needed to do something about it. Brandon picked up Stella in his arms and sat with her on her bed.
“Everything will be okay,” Brandon comforted Stella as he held her in his arms. “Just let it all out.”
So she did. Stella let all of her frustration and fears leave her body in the form of tears. Her whole body shook as she sobbed on Brandon’s shoulder. After Stella ran out of tears Brandon suggested, “Why don’t we take a walk?”
The cool night air felt refreshing and Stella began to feel better as they walked. By the time they made it to the beach Stella was starting to feel like her old self again. She was so caught up in missing her classes that she almost forgot to ask Brandon about his new job. Although she could tell by his uniform what kind of a job he got.
“I joined the military.” Brandon announced anyway.
“I am really proud of you,” Stella meant it. “It takes a special kind if person to join the military. It’s takes someone who is strong, proud, and brave.”
From that first walk to the beach a new routine was born. Stella had suffered the consequences of over studying, so now whenever she felt overwhelmed she and Brandon would take a walk. Soon those walks became less about relieving stress and more about wanting to spend time together.
Stella enjoyed listening to Brandon talk about his training and the guys in his squad. When he talked about his duties, he never complained. Brandon took pride in everything he was doing, from his 20 mile hikes to the endless mountain of potatoes he pealed.
Those walks even allowed Stella the confidence to be able to give herself a day off and enjoy the Fall Festival with Brandon and her aunts. It was at the festival, bobbing for apples next to Brandon, that Stella had an epiphany. She realized how much she really wanted Brandon in her life. And she couldn’t bare the thought of him leaving again.
That night Stella had a hard time falling asleep. Her mind was at a tug of war about her feelings. Stella had trust issues, it was an affect of being abandoned by her parents. No matter how much she wanted to, Stella was unable to fully open up to anyone. She loved her aunts more than anything, but there were things that she couldn’t talk to them about.
Although she understood the reasons behind it, Stella still saw Cindy and Ryan as the parents who gave her up, and she had a hard time opening up to them as well.
Stella only had one friend when she was a teenager (and we all know how that turned out), which puts Brandon in that same category.
Despite her growing love for him, Stella couldn’t let her guard down. Her heart was saying, “tell him how you feel”, while her head was shouting, “he will only betray your trust again!”.
Stella wasn’t the only one having a hard time falling asleep that night.
As soon as Brandon had earned enough money the first thing he did was buy a bed and move into the spare bedroom. Not that the couch wasn’t comfortable, but he did like having his own room again. A place for him to think.
As Brandon laid in his bed he replayed the events of the Fall Festival over and over in his mind. His military training has gotten intense, so the break came at the prefect time for him. And he felt honored that Stella invited him to spend the day with her and her aunts.
There were several moments that he kept hitting the repeat button on. Like playing Frisbee with June, or watching May take home first prize for her peach cobbler. Brandon’s face lit up like a jack-o-lantern as he thought about how his heart skipped a beat when Stella grabbed his arm and hung on for dear life as they walked through the haunted house together.
But the part that he loved the most was, after the haunted house, when Brandon and Stella shared some apple cider. She was excited about the end of her semester fast approaching, because the next semester is when she starts learning in the hospital with real patients.
Brandon also liked how Stella seemed to enjoy listening to him talk about his training. He joked about how he was not looking forward to hiking for 20 miles in the snow. Maybe it was the cider, but Brandon’s silly joke make Stella crack up laughing. It was dark, but Stella’s beautiful smile lit up the entire night. Seeing that smile made him fall in love with her even more. Plus, knowing that he was the cause of her smile, made Brandon want to make sure that he would be the only one making her smile.