Ben was her cousin. But not by blood – he had reminded her of this fact carefully and consistently over the past six months. Their only family connection was maze-like, through Great Aunt Agatha.
As childhood neighbors, Sally and Ben played outdoor games during the summers and chased and bottled lightening bugs at night. Ben caught, and Sally released, because even at 6, she knew that a living being should never be stuck in a jar.
But after high school the two “cousins” never saw each other, although thanks to Great Aunt Agatha they reconnected years later via a pen-pal relationship; once a month, they wrote “real” letters to each other: snail mail. Ben heard all about Sally’s romantic failures, her degree in philosophy, her acceptance as an associate professor at Tufts University, which brought her to the same coast as Ben.
And Sally read all about Ben’s broken back when he was a college quarterback, his struggle with pain-killers afterwards, his love of a woman who broke off their engagement, and his success as a financial consultant for Summit Partners in Boston.
So, it only made sense that Ben invited Sally for dinner at a Back Bay restaurant in late September once Sally was settled at Tufts. It only made sense that when they made eye contact at Casa Romero, they recognized each other immediately despite a 19-year lapse. It only made sense that Sally’s heart lurched, and that Ben’s smile lit up the cozy Mexican restaurant. It only made sense that after a pitcher of margaritas and a dinner of enchiladas, Ben leaned over and kissed Sally as if his life depended on it.
But Sally escaped as if her life depended on it. She was a lightening bug, and she had vowed years ago she’d never get bottled up in a relationship. She ignored Ben’s entreaties to Zoom or at least e-mail.
He then began to send her a postcard every week:
Sally hated these trite quotes and vehemently threw away each card. Then, Great Aunt Agatha’s birthday party occurred, and for some reason, she hadn’t considered the fact that Ben would be there. His presence took her breath away. It only made sense for her to stay as far away from this man as possible, which wasn’t too difficult with mask on, in the back yard, in a circle where chairs sat six-feet apart.
But then, Great Aunt Agatha approached Sally and whispered in her ear. “He’s right for you,” while handing Sally a note written on vellum stationary:
“Please. Don’t say no. Call me.”
So now, finally, five days later, Sally pressed the send button on her phone, knowing exactly what she needed to say, but wondering if instead she’d say what she wanted.