July 20th, 2008
A muggy, drizzly morning awaited Dakotah as he waited on the porch for Ely to pick him up. This was the week to go to Ely’s church; he had been alternating between her church and his grandmother’s for the past seven weeks.
Dakotah felt he was starting to know Ely better. In several ways, she was like him; quiet around people she didn’t know, polite, respectful of others, eager to help those in need. However, when she was on familiar ground, she was very charming and outgoing, things that were alien to him. “Maybe I have no home turf?” Dakotah thought.
Dakotah looked at his watch. She was usually a few minutes late, though her Sunday School class was informal enough not to start at a set time. Everything seemed informal at the church. The Baptist church Dakotah and his grandmother attended was regimental in its program schedule: two hymns, announcements, another hymn, meet and greet, prayer, offerings, two hymns, the sermon, a call to the altar while two more hymns were sung, a prayer, then dismissal. At New Hope, the 10:30 start time was more of a suggestion than set in stone; sometimes it was nearly 11:00 before Rev. Daniels made it to the pulpit. Two weeks ago, they were about to say the closing prayer, when Mama spoke up to alert the congregation that the offerings hadn’t been collected yet! As haphazard as the church was seemingly run to Dakotah, no one was complaining, or even grumbling. If this happened at 3rd Baptist, he was sure they would run the preacher out of town!
Although she remained flirty at times with him, Dakotah was still unsure whether or not if she actually liked him from a romantic standpoint. Oh, if he only knew what she was thinking! Even though he trusted her completely as a friend, he still was too timid to tell her how he felt. The risk of scaring her off was too much, he thought. Besides, he was in no position to ask her out; he had neither a job nor transportation, and the prospects for gaining either were more none than slim. Dakotah frowned.
At that moment, he heard a familiar horn beeping. It was Ely, announcing her arrival as she had done every time she picked him up. Frank complained he was roused every time she picked Dakotah up; although he liked that Frank was being inconvenienced, he’d rather not risk poking the bear too many times, at least not now.
He opened the door, and the sight of her robbed him of his ability to speak. First, she was wearing a robin’s egg blue cotton sundress. Second, in the past few months, she had grown her hair out, and now, had tied it up in a French braid. Third, and the most striking, was that the thick glasses were gone, replaced by….nothing.
“You like?” Ely said, smiling.
“W-w-wow.” Dakotah stammered. “You look awesome! Are you wearing contacts, I hope?”
“Yes, silly!” Ely laughed. “I don’t think I could make it here without some sort of help! I’m using some of my earnings to help pay for them! They take some getting used to, in wearing them, and in looking at myself in the mirror!”
Dakotah got in the car. “I don’t think I’ll ever have a problem looking at you!” he exclaimed. Realizing what he said, Dakotah looked down at his feet, blushing.
Ely noted his words, and sensed his sudden awkwardness. “Dak, I’d like to talk to you about some things after church, if you don’t have anything planned.” she said in a subdued tone.
“A-about some things?” Dakotah said nervously. “Great, I messed everything up. She probably hates me now.” he thought to himself.
“It’s okay. It’s nothing bad, or anything.” Ely said, putting her hand on his shoulder in reassurance.
Dakotah didn’t reply. He was numbing himself to what possible horrible things that lay ahead.
Sunday School was a blur to Dakotah; although he usually was by far the best in his class in general Bible knowledge, he barely raised his hand to answer anything, though he knew all the answers to the questions. Ely, who always sat beside Dakotah in class, looked at him with concern.
He tuned out the regular church service, too, going through the motions while singing the hymns. Mama had to poke him in the ribs so he could take the collection plate. “You all right, hon?” she asked with a worried look on her face.
“I’m OK, just lost in thought, I guess.” he said, putting the dollar his grandma gave him in the collection plate.
“Well, if you need anything, or need somebody to talk to, you just give Mama a holler, y’hear?”
“I promise, Mama.” Dakotah replied with little emotion.
Mama leaned over, looking past Dakotah to Ely, who was sitting on the other side, and whispered, ”Sweetie, you’d think that a fella that was sitting next to a pretty flower such as yourself wouldn’t be in such a funk.”
“I know, right?” Ely whispered back. “Do you have any suggestions?”
“Give him some sugar. That’ll snap him out of it!”
“Sugar?” Ely said, confused. Dakotah didn’t know what Mama meant either, but he felt uneasy.
Mama beamed. “Give him a little smoochie!”
Dakotah’s heart skipped a beat, and he felt both pale and hot at the same time. Ely giggled. “You know best, Mama!”
Dakotah braced himself. “She’s not going to do it, is she?” He thought, both excited and mortified at the same time.
Ely leaned over near to Dakotah, and he swallowed hard, bracing himself. However, there was no kiss. “Dak, I care about you too much to create a spectacle in front of everyone. No worries.” Ely whispered in his ear.
Dakotah exhaled, and slumped in the pew. He was relieved, yet somehow, he was disappointed, too.
Dakotah had largely ignored Rev. Daniels’ sermon, thinking of the earlier conversation instead. “Does she really want to kiss me? Do I mean that much to her?” he thought. “Is this what she wants to talk about after church?”
The congregation arose to leave, some of them lining up to pay their respects to the preacher, others talking together in little groups. Ely and Dakotah got in line, leaving Mama to gab with parishioners. Soon, they were facing Rev. Daniels.
Ely hugged her father. “It’s hard to believe you’re my little girl.” He said, with a hint of sadness. “You look so mature now!”
“Thank you, Daddy.” Ely replied, smiling. ”I’m still me!”
The Rev. turned to Dakotah. “Take care of my daughter, okay?”
“You always say that, but she’s the one that’s driving.” Dakotah replied, sheepishly. “All I do is sit in the passenger’s seat.”
“I know, but I feel better knowing you’re with her.” Dakotah felt warm inside.
“Well, sir, I’ll do my best to take care of her!” Dakotah exclaimed, grinning.
“You don’t have to call me Sir. Alan’s fine with me.” Rev. Daniels said.
“I’ll try, er, Alan.” Dakotah replied. He was uneasy about calling elders by their first name, as he was always taught to say “sir” and “ma’am”.
Ely grabbed Dakotah’s arm. “Let’s go!” she said forcefully, pulling him along. “Bye, dad!”
Exiting the church, Ely looked about, making sure no one could hear her. “So, you’re going to take care of me?” she said, pointing her finger at Dakotah.
“Aa-aahhhhh….” Dakotah stammered, caught by surprise. “I guess, maybe? I don’t know.”
“Let’s get this straight, Dakotah.” Ely said, her blue eyes riveted on his. “I need no one to take care of me.”
“I’m sorry; I was just going along with your father. I don’t think I could do much, considering that I have neither a job, nor a car.”
“I’m sorry, too, Dak. I didn’t mean to snap at you like that, but sometimes Dad irks me, because I consider myself to be pretty independent. Heck, he raised me that way.”
“I think that even if you’re 18, or any age, your dad’s going to worry, because he’s your dad.” Dakotah thought on that for a second, and wondered if his real dad ever thought of him, much less worried about him.
“I suppose you’re right, Dak.” Ely said. “Come on, let’s get in the car, and turn the A/C on. It’s hot out here on the parking lot, and I don’t want to get all sweaty.”
As they pulled out of the church parking lot, Ely turned right, instead of left, as they normally do when she took him home.
“Where are we going?” Dakotah asked.
“Nowhere in particular.” Ely replied simply.
The car became silent; neither Ely nor Dakotah offered to start a conversation, and it unnerved Dakotah. As they made it out of town, and into the countryside, Dakotah began to stare out the window, unable to speak. “I need to say something, but what?” he thought.
The clouds started to break up a little, and the sun began to peep out. Soon, they came up on one of the county parks, and Ely pulled into the driveway, parking the car under a shady spot in the parking lot. “There are not a lot of amenities, so not many people come here.” Ely said. “I like to come here to think sometimes.” Dakotah said nary a word, too nervous to speak.
Ely took a deep breath. “Dakotah, if I ask you something, will you tell me the truth?”
“S-sure.” Dakotah stammered, unsure of where the conversation was going.
“Promise?” Ely said, with a hint of sadness.
“Yeah. I promise.” Dakotah replied uneasily. He had the feeling he was going to be put in a very uncomfortable situation.
She reached out, and held his hand. How do you feel about me?”
A jolt passed through Dakotah. He felt both elation and terror. Out of reflex, he initially looked down, but taking a deep breath, forced himself to look into her eyes.
“You’re v-very special to me, Ely.” Dakotah said, his voice trailing off. “Lame.” he thought.
“Special?” Ely replied, curious.
“Y-yeah. Well, more than that. You mean a lot to me. I don’t know how I would’ve made it past the last couple of months without you.”
“Do you like me?” Ely said quietly.
Dakotah stared into her eyes. “Of course I do. How could a person not like you?”
“Not as in friend-like. As in kissing-like.”
Dakotah froze mentally. His face became red, and he felt himself begin to sweat. He tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. “Y-y-yeah.” he said, looking down, embarrassed.
Ely reached out, put her fingers under his chin, and raised his head, so that their eyes met. He noticed those big, beautiful blue eyes were beginning to moisten.
“Thank you.” she said. “Thank you for being so honest. But I knew you would be. That’s what I love about you most.”
“Love? She loves me?” Dakotah thought, his mind and his heart racing.
Ely withdrew her hands and swallowed hard. Her countenance changed to one of sadness. “I’m sorry. I know you’re going to hate me. But I have to be as honest with you as you are with me.”
“What? Why is she saying this?” he thought, suddenly unable to breathe.
“Bear with me, Dakotah. What I have to say is the one of the hardest things ever. First of all, I love you. You are everything a girl could ever want in a guy. You are funny, smart, kind, and truthful. I feel like we’ve been friends for years. I trust you with my life.”
Dakotah was bewildered. “But-“
Ely cut him off, holding her hand up. “Please, let me finish.” Tears started rolling down her cheeks. “What I’m about to say has only been told to Andre. Will you promise to keep it a secret?”
“Y-yeah.” Dakotah replied, stunned, not knowing what was coming next.
“I don’t mean to put you down by saying this, but I was alone in the world, too, at least relationship-wise. Who would want to ask out a geeky preacher’s daughter, anyway?” Dakotah began to raise his hand, but Ely stopped him. “Besides you, I mean?”
“Back in February, dad let me go to a comic-con in Pontiac. Have you ever been to one?” Dakotah shook his head. ”You have to go to one someday. They are so cool! Anyway, there was this girl there wearing Clannad cosplay, She was very self- assured, and strong. I so wished I could be like her, you know? Anyway, she saw me, stopped in her tracks, walked over to me, and said I looked like Nagisa, only with blue eyes!
“I don’t know who she is.” Dakotah said, almost inaudibly. “She must be cute.”
Ely managed a weak smile. “She’s way cuter than me, thank you for saying so. Needless to say, I was flattered, and embarrassed. I wondered at first if she was mocking me, but after talking to her a little bit, I realized her feelings were genuine.”
“So, this girl has a brother, I assume?” Dakotah mumbled, downtrodden.
“Why do you say that?” Ely said, slightly irritated.
“Because you have a boyfriend, I guess, and through her is how you met him?” Dakotah snapped back, feeling betrayed now.
Ely shook her head, frowning. “You know, Dakotah, you can be such an idiot sometimes. For the record, Hannah doesn’t have a brother.”
Dakotah was taken aback from Ely’s vitriol. “Your friend Hannah?” he said, looking down, dejected.
Ely took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Dakotah. You’re not making this any easier. Can you bear with me, and listen, without interrupting?” Dakotah was completely confused, but nodded without saying a word.
Ely continued. “Hannah and I started talking at the comic-con, and found out we both had the same interests. We exchanged phone numbers, and began calling each other almost every day. She’s a student at Michigan, and sometimes, they have screenings of full length anime features at one of the performing arts halls on campus. One day, she asked me if I wanted to go see The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Of course, I was excited! I was going to hang out with someone, not because I was the preacher’s daughter, but because of whom I was.”
“It was probably the most fun day of my life. Being around all those college students made me feel mature, and I felt like I belonged. I felt free! Hannah was amazing, too! She’s so funny, smart, and hip; just her asking me to go to the movie flattered me!”
“After the movie, we went to her dorm room. She has anime posters in Japanese all over the walls, so cool! She made some herbal tea, and we talked for a while, about everything. She asked about what I thought of same sex relationships; I told her about Andre, and that I supported what consenting people did privately, as long as it didn’t harm anyone, was okay.”
Dakotah felt a knot growing in his stomach. He didn’t know where this was going, but he didn’t like it at all.
“Hannah then asked me if I would be offended if she kissed me. I didn’t know what to say, or what to feel. I was shocked, embarrassed, and my head was spinning. I told her I didn’t know, so she took my hands, leaned over, and kissed me.”
Dakotah was dumbfounded. Trying to speak, his mouth opened, but nothing came out. There were no words he could think of to say.
Ely began to cry. ”When she kissed me, I felt warm inside. I didn’t feel like someone was trying to take advantage of me. What I felt was real. What I felt was love.” She took his hands in hers. “Dakotah, I’m so sorry. I have been giving you the idea that I was interested in you romantically. I flirted with you to test you, to see if you were genuine, to see if you could be trusted. I knew you come from a conservative upbringing, and I was afraid that you would hate me for my relationship with Hannah. I realized that you are as I was, just a few months ago. Alone, and looking for someone to care about you, and to care for.”
Dakotah began to cry. Still, no words came out. Suddenly, he felt more alone that he could ever remember.
“I know you must hate me, and you have every right to, Dakotah.” Ely sobbed, looking directly into his eyes. ”You didn’t deserve to be misled like that. I was trying not to be hurt, and instead, hurt you much worse. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I need to ask for it, anyway. You are very special to me, closer to me than anyone besides Hannah. I need you as a friend, Dak. Please forgive me?”
Dakotah’s mind was still spinning. He looked into her eyes; all he wanted to do was to hold her, to comfort her, to kiss her as Hannah had done. Surely she would know his feelings were no less real, his love for her was no less strong? He quickly gathered his senses, however, and he knew in his heart that she was not going to reciprocate his love.
Dakotah coughed, cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. Exhaling, and wiping away tears, he looked into her eyes. “Ely……Ely, I-I thought you were the one for me.” He said in a very low voice. Ely began to speak, but Dakotah held his hand up, silencing her. “Pl-Please, let me finish, this time.” He continued. “I-I love you. When I’m with you, I’m the happiest person in the world. You don’t care that I’m a geek. You don’t care that I’m a loser.”
“You’re not a-“ Ely tried to interrupt, but was interrupted herself.
“I AM!!!” Dakotah shouted. “Or maybe, at least, I was. Until the day you picked up and handed me my binder. Then on the saddest day of my life, you picked me up, took me to Detroit, and gave me hope. Hope that maybe I am somebody.”
“You are somebody, a very important somebody to me.” Ely said, gripping Dakotah’s hands tightly. “I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you in my life.”
“You glow.” Dakotah said.
“I what?” Ely said, confused.
“You glow. Whenever I see you, you have a glow that comes from inside, like it’s from your soul, or something. When I’m near, I feel it. Not only from you, but I feel it from inside me as well, but only when you’re near me.”
“I think what you’re feeling is what you ate.” Ely said laughing, slightly embarrassed.
“I mean it!” Dakotah said forcefully. He then softened his tone considerably, and squeezed Ely’s hands tighter. “You know, how can I hate you? How can I not forgive you? I don’t trust people much either, so I can kind of understand why you did what you did. All I know, all I want is to be near you, to be part of your life, for you to be part of my life, and if that means as just friends, so be it. I have to be near…..that…..glow!” Dakotah relaxed his grip. “I love you.”
It was Ely’s turn to start crying. “I love you, too! Oh my gosh, I thought you were going to be angry, and walk away! I was so scared I was going to lose you! You are so awesome!”
“Kinda hard to walk away when you’re 20 miles from home.” Dakotah said, laughing.
Ely gave Dakotah a puzzled look. “You mean if we had this discussion while parked in front of your house, you’d walk out on me?” She said, unsure.
Dakotah shook his head, smiling. “You mean I gotcha? Yes! Finally!”
“Yeah, you got me.” Ely said, now smiling broadly, as she wiped away a tear. I’m only ahead of you 50 to 1 now!”
Ely leaned over, and pulling him to her, hugged him securely. “I’ll never forsake you again, Dakotah.” She whispered in his ear. “I promise with all my heart.” With that, she kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, Dak.”
Instinctively, he turned his head toward her, and their lips nearly touched. Ely quickly pushed herself away. “Easy, just friend.” She said, smiling slightly. “I don’t want any accidents to complicate things! I’m already taken, remember?”
“I was just going to kiss you on the cheek, but you moved your head back, just friend.” Dakotah replied, also smiling. ”I’m not going to say I wouldn’t minded an accident, though!”
“I know, but for the sake of our friendship, you have to not go there. I love you, but just as my friend. Hannah is the one that I’m in love with.”
The words stung Dakotah. “I know. You’re my best friend, my only friend, and I have to protect that at all costs. I don’t want to be alone again.”
Ely looked at herself in the rear view mirror. “Oh my gosh! I’m such a mess!”
“I don’t think you look bad.” Dakotah said, encouragingly.
“And you’re biased. Trust me, I need to re-do my makeup! I’m supposed to meet Hannah this evening, and she hasn’t seen me without my contacts yet!”
Dakotah thought for a few seconds while Ely went to work on her face. “So, where are you going tonight? Movie?”
“Close. Hannah and I are going to one of her friends from the anime club at UM. He’s supposed to just received a copy of season one of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya on DVD. It’s supposed to be one of the best anime series ever!”
“Better than Dragonball Z?”
“Are you kidding me? Way, way better! That stuff is for junior high weenies!”
“Thanks.” Dakotah deadpanned, rolling his eyes.
“You know I’m just kidding!” Ely laughed.
“I was thinking.” Dakotah said, looking upward. “Maybe I could tag along, and watch it with you guys, seeing how awesome it is, and everything?”
Ely frowned. “I’m afraid that’s a no-go. First, I’m going on a date with my girlfriend. Second, Hannah isn’t too thrilled with me having you as a friend.”
“She thinks I’m competition?” Dakotah said, smiling internally.
“More of a threat. To be honest, she doesn’t like you. She thinks you’re this conservative Bible thumper that hates gay people.”
“What gave her that idea? What did you tell her about me, anyway?”
“That you’re this geeky conservative Christian that knows the Bible from back to front. I tried to explain to her that you’re cool with the concept of gay people going to Heaven, but she’s not convinced. She also thinks that you’re after me, too.”
“Well, you yourself didn’t truly trust me until today, so what chance do I have with someone I’ve never met?” Dakotah said, slightly frustrated.
“I know. Let me work on that, Dak. I’m sure in time you and Hannah will be best buds!” Ely closed up her makeup bag. “There! Do I look better now?”
“Beautiful, as always.” Dakotah said with a slight smile.
Ely took Dakotah back to town, dropping him off at the park at his request. Dakotah needed some time away from family to mentally digest what had transpired earlier, and to figure out what to tell them about his relationship with Ely. His grandmother had been hinting about financing an official date between Ely and himself; now, that scenario was never going to happen.
He decided that he would tell them that Ely was looking for just a friend, that he didn’t meet what she was looking for in a relationship, which was as close to the real truth as he could get. Her secret relationship with Hannah would be safe with him; he didn’t know how to deal with the people at New Hope, though, as they believed he and Ely was an item, too.
He stopped by his grandmother’s for supper; smelling her cooking, he realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, and he was famished. She was disappointed at the news that he and Ely would be only friends, but she encouraged him not to give up, that he was still young!
The folks at home were pretty blasé about it all. Frank, who after fussing about Ely waking him up honking her horn again, stated that Dakotah needed to chase fat, ugly girls, that they didn’t care who was interested in them, as long as they were fed. His mother, though she gave him a hug, and told him there were actually other pretty girls who would be interested in him, seemed distracted. Work at her job had slowed sown, and overtime was no more.
Mentally exhausted, he showered, and made his way to bed. Hoping to take his mind off things, Dakotah turned on the radio. The news was on, proclaiming that the economic downturn could be the worst since the Great Depression. Dakotah sighed, wondering if he would ever get a job.
Finally, music began to play. Originally not paying attention to the melody, Dakotah realized what the song was. Angrily, he reached over, and shut the radio off.
The song was I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry.
“Damn.” Dakotah swore, as he began sobbing silently.