Matthew walked along the side wall of the school at recess, kicking the slushy snow on the ground dragging his feet a little. With the small spike of the late January temperatures into the forties, the teachers decided to take the fourth and fifth graders out for their short break. He looked across a group of boys swapping baseball cards a few feet ahead of him to see Melissa Bancroft and a couple of other girls talking to one another.
Since speaking with her older sister Diane in his father’s store a couple of weeks prior, he hadn’t had a good enough reason to engage her in a conversation. He had tried a couple of times, once in the lunch line and then once on the bus going home, but she always seemed aloof and indifferent to his efforts.
She’s pretty and all, Matthew thought to himself, but I don’t even know what else I could say to her to try to talk to her and to be honest, the whole, “chase me” thing is getting under my skin.
Matthew integrated himself with the boys looking at the trading cards but he casually looked past them at Melissa.
Melissa smiled a little as her friend Carrie Hoag tugged on her arm a little. “See! He did it again Melissa.” Carrie said as she let Melissa’s arm go and took off her hat and tucked the brown strands back up. “He stands there and tries to look busy doing something else but it’s always in a direct line to see you. I told you he likes you.”
Melissa smiled slightly, moving a falling piece of her black hair away from her dark brown eyes. “He’s friendly. We’ve talked a little. He lives in the neighborhood. Well, over on the far south side of it anyway. My half-sister works for his father.”
“Oh my God have you seen his father?” Alecia Parker squealed. “He’s almost as cute at Matthew.”
“I know,” Melissa responded almost embarrassed and giggling softly. “I think Diane has a crush on him.”
“On her boss? That’s totally…” Carrie began before she was cut off by Alecia.
“RAD!” Alecia said excitedly. “Come on! He’s gorgeous!”
“Matthew or his Dad?” Melissa asked giggling.
“Well they both are. Obviously Matthew is too young for Diane,” Alecia replied turning her head to look a little more carefully at Matthew. .
Partly being funny and partly to make a point, Melissa responded. “Well technically speaking he’s not. I mean my sister is twenty four and when I asked Matthew when he would be twelve he said “May” so that’s basically twelve years’ difference.” Melissa strolled forward slightly and her friends followed. “My sister said Mr. Sanford…”
“Mark. She calls him Mark all the time,” Alecia said with a big smile.
“Right…” Melissa continued. “Diane said that Mr. Sanford’s birthday was coming up in February. She had overheard Matthew talking about it to him at the store. So it’s a twelve year difference there too. My step father is ten years older than my mother. It’s almost the same.”
“That would mean that when Marrrky was in fifth or sixth grade your sister was just born,” Carrie said in a playful and teasing tone as she too turned her more of her attention towards Matthew.
“I don’t mind a little playful talk,” Melissa said in a quieter tone, “but I think Mr. Sanford deserves a little respect. I mean we can crush in him all day,” she said as her smiled widened, “but he only gave Diane permission to call him “Mark”.
Carrie let out a little squeal and pushed lightly into the other two girls as if she was swooning.
Melissa looked over at Matthew too. She lifted her hand slightly to wave to him and he just waived lightly back at her. He waved back to me without looking around. At least he has some confidence, she thought to herself. She opened her mouth slightly as he stepped away from the group he was with and began walking over towards the three of them.
“He’s coming this way,” Carrie said directly to Alecia, grabbing her playfully at the shoulders.
“Oh my God, Missy, what are you going to say?” Alecia asked.
“How can I know? He hasn’t said a word to me yet today. I didn’t sit near him on the bus,” Melissa said as she tried to steady herself, feeling her heart rate climb a little, something she never experienced with a boy before and it bothered her a little. Easy, she thought to herself. Since when are you nervous talking to people? She liked the idea that she was strong and in her own mind, as self-supporting and confident as she could be for her age. She didn’t want to fall into the same trap her mother did and the recent relationship that failed with her older sister. Seeing all of that around the house made her tough, but meeting Matthew had softened her thoughts in ways that surprised her and the way she was suddenly feeling caught her off guard.
“Hi Melissa, Carrie, Alecia,” Matthew said as he walked up. “Melissa, I was wondering if you were busy after school.”
The girls giggled as Melissa turned away from them. “Well I have a lot of homework.”
“Me too. I was thinking we might work on the Social Studies review together if that would interest you.” Matthew said plainly.
Melissa smiled at the thought of being asked and he had done it very directly. He didn’t seem nervous like the other boys that talked to her. At the same time, she suddenly realized she was far less nervous about talking to him than she was the past few days getting to know him better. “Well, I like the idea, but I’m not allowed out with boys. Even for school work,” Melissa said as she frowned. “That’s my dad’s rule.”
Without a pause, Matthew continued. “Is he home after school? Maybe if I came over and asked him? That way he knows it was an honest interest in homework.” Matthew smiled a little. “And maybe to listen to a little music.”
Melissa was grinning ear to ear. No one ever asked her to sit and listen to music together. The smile quickly washed away. “My step dad works until eleven so he’s not even home to ask.”
“Could I ask your mom? Is she home? I don’t mind staying there at your house.” Matthew said as he continued his efforts to get Melissa to agree to the time.
“She works until seven. I am sure she’d have a conniption if I had a boy over. I am supposed to call her when I get in now that Diane is working for your dad and I am home by myself until then,” Melissa said waving her friends off as they giggled at the two of them. She stepped away and tugged Matthew lightly by the arm to follow her. Melissa smiled, continuing to hold on to his arm for a moment after the tug to move him along.
“How about you ask her if you can come to the store to study with me?” Matthew said earnestly looking down at Melissa’s hands still on his arm. “It’s better than you sitting there at home alone. Your sister is there. My Dad is there. She can pick the two of you up at seven.”
Melissa quickly let her hands go. “I thought your Dad closed the store at six?” Melissa asked turning away from Matthew as the cold wind picked up and blew her loose strands of hair around.
“He does, that’s right.” Matthew said visibly embarrassed. “I was thinking of the time your mother comes home and not when my Dad closes the store.
“I guess you really wanted to spend time with me if you forgot when your dad closes the store.” Melissa said quietly trying to make it sincere sounding.
“Would you like to check with your mom and ask?” Matthew responded somewhat withdrawn and slightly defensive. “I could get off at your bus stop and walk with you to the house and wait for you to call her at work. If she says yes we could walk together to the store.”
“I’d like that,” Melissa said smiling.
“Okay, that’s great Melissa,” Matthew said a little louder and with some confidence. “I’ll see you on the bus.”
“Matthew?” Melissa called out as she turned to walk back to her friends.
“Yes?” he answered before he fully turned around to walk away.
“Do you have a nick name or does everyone call you “Matthew” all the time?”
“It’s just Matthew,” he said slightly withdrawn. “I favor it that way because… well I just do.”
“It’s a nice name. My friends call me Missy,” she said as her smile returned.
“Diane called you that as well. I wasn’t sure if it was something you liked or if it is something done slightly to tease. Like when my friends are goofing and call me “Matty” or “Sandman.” I was trying to figure that out. Your nickname, it’s pretty. Like you.”
Carrie and Alecia completely lost themselves on the “pretty” comment and screamed and laughed. Melissa looked over at Matthew who was visibly shaken for having said what he said and watching the reactions of the girls. Melissa looked over at the two of them with scorn and walked over to him.
“You’re the nicest boy I’ve ever met,” she said whispering in his ear and kissing him on the cheek. She didn’t want to see his reaction so she turned and ran from him and her friends. “I’ll see you on the bus.”
“Yeah,” Matthew said aloud as they disappeared up and over the small, snowy hill on the playground. “See you on the bus,” he said as Carrie and Alecia tried to catch up with her.
Matthew took a couple of steps to the side watching Melissa and then turned to walk and smacked right into another girl that was coming his way. She slipped in the snow and fell. Matthew quickly reached down to help her up. “I’m so sorry, that was clumsy of me. I wasn’t paying attention.”
The fair skinned girl with the red hair smiled as she extended her hand to be helped up. “It’s okay. Accidents and all,” she said as she stood and brushed the snow off.
“The snow got you wet; I’m sorry about that,” Matthew said rather embarrassed. He wanted to brush the snow off her but hesitated on touching her. The girl looked at him wondering if he’d follow through and smiled when he finally did.
“Recess is almost over. I’ll be okay. Well I suppose now that we’ve bumped into one another we could say “hi”. My name is Elizabeth. My friends call me Liz.”
“Matthew,” he said smiling at her. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Well I suppose knocking me over had a benefit,” she said as she laughed and brushed more snow off her pants.
“Oh?” Matthew said as he turned to walk with her. “Such as?”
“Well for one thing I finally got to meet you. You’re new here and I can’t get your attention from the back of the classroom. That and when you make a mistake you have only positive improvement from there, for the most part,” she said smiling at him.
“Well, when you put it like that, I suppose you’re right,” Matthew said as he smiled and looked at her as they both walked back toward the school building with recess ending.