Here’s your free story! Enjoy!

For the Love of Thyself

By Jasmine Evans

Amy sat at the restaurant table feeling slightly uncomfortable. Her tummy pushed at the edge of her jeans and created a definite bulge. She feared that if she ate anything, she wouldn’t be able to button her pants. Mark, her date, sat across from her and blabbed about his work. He was a journalist, and a pretty good one too.

But Amy didn’t hear Mark’s funny story about the office. All she could think about was what she was going to order. Do I get the salad with chicken? Oh, but it has cheese and croutons on it. Chicken parmesan sounds good. And it comes with pasta! Oh, no no no, no pasta. And the chicken is breaded. Salad it is.

The waiter came by and Mark paused in his story about his latest story on a local drug bust. He ordered a steak with broccoli while Amy sheepishly ordered the grilled chicken salad.

Mark continued talking and Amy nodded and smiled at him. They had been dating almost three months now–her second longest relationship ever. The longest had been with Bobby Gordoski in 11th grade. They were boyfriend and girlfriend for 7 awesome months. She wondered of her relationship with Mark would last as long, or longer. It was almost unimaginable. Men didn’t really stick around very long for Amy and she could not understand why.

Amy half paid attention to Mark and half day-dreamed about what their future would be like. Their food arrived pretty quickly, and Mark finally got around to asking Amy about her day.

“Oh, nothing much happened at the office today,” Amy picked around the cheese and croutons on her salad. She silently wished she had asked for a custom salad.

“Really?” Mark asked. “No lawyers acting like superdivas or interesting cases cross your desk?”

Amy laughed a little at the thought of her superiors and colleagues acting like “superdivas.” She was a Yale graduate and a junior partner at a prestigious law firm in the city.

“Sylvia did have a fit about red M&Ms being in her secretary’s candy bin again.” Mark swallowed a bite of his steak. “Sylvia is who again?”

“One of the partners. No one knows why she has this thing against red M&Ms. I think the secretary does it on purpose some days just to drive her boss crazy.”

Mark chuckled as he continued to munch on his steak. “Are you going to actually eat thesalad?”

Amy looked down at her plate. She had barely taken a full bite. “Yeah,” she paused and filled her fork. “Yeah, of course I’m going to eat it.” Taking the bite into her mouth, she realized how good it was and took another bite and another.

“Good, I’m glad you’re going to eat it. Is it good?”

Amy nodded in response.

Mark took the last bite of his steak and leaned forward a bit. “Amy, we need to talk.”

Amy froze. She knew how this went. Nice restaurant. Wait until after dinner to have a serious talk.

“I think you’re a great woman. You’ve accomplished a lot and you’re really sweet. I just don’t think we belong together anymore.”

And there it was. Rejection. Amy sat stunned unable to move. “Why not?” she mumbled–her mouth half full of salad she no longer wanted.

“A sweet woman is great. But I want–I need a confident woman. You’re almost too sweet, Amy.” Mark pulled out his wallet, left $80 on the table, rose and walked over to her side. He kissed her forehead. “Drive home safe, ok?”

And that was it. A tear dripped down Amy’s cheek and landed in the salad. A single tear. She sat for a moment and pondered what Mark had said. He wanted a confident woman. Yeah, that was definitely not her. She stood and walked with a slight slouch out to her car and went home.

The next day, Amy sat at her desk at work on her lunch break eating a tuna salad sandwich and sipping on diet ginger ale. She clicked around on OKCupid.com. Her law firm didn’t have site blockers on dating sites fortunately.

0 messages. That’s what it said in the upper right hand corner. Amy took that to mean: 0 interest.

Ah, well, she was a good lawyer at least, right? Although her last performance review said that she had “great potential” but was “shy” and needed to “speak her mind.”

“We want to hear what you think, Amy. That’s why we hired you,” the partners at the firm told her.

It wasn’t that Amy didn’t have thoughts or opinions to share. She had plenty. Deep down

though, she thought no one really cared to hear about them.

An alarm sounded on her phone and simultaneously on her Apple laptop. She had a meeting downtown in a half hour. She needed to leave immediately if she was going to make it there on time. She shoved a couple more bites of tuna in her mouth, grabbed her briefcase and the necessary papers and quickly shuffled out the door.

Downstairs she hopped in her car and began driving borderline recklessly on the road. She kept thinking that she needed to get to the meeting on time, if not early. Amy tapped her foot while waiting for a stop light at an intersection just 5 blocks away from her office. As soon as the light turned green, she floored the gas and sped forward. A car to her right flew through the red light and the two cars collided.

Amy swore in that moment that the car moved in slow motion. The red light offender slammed into the passenger side of Amy’s car. Amy wasn’t sure whether to put on her breaks or try to speed up out of it or to just let it happen. In a split second decision, she decided to let go of the wheel and let it happen. Her head slammed into the driver’s side door, but her panic level was too high to feel any pain. Because of the high speeds, both cars were certainly totaled.

Stunned. That’s what she was. She couldn’t move. Her right arm throbbed. She wasn’t even sure she was breathing. Blood dripped from a cut in her head but she didn’t even notice that.

The door on her side opened and two strong arms reached in and picked her up. With a soft grunt, Amy was pulled close to a chest and carried away from the damaged car. It took her a moment to realize not only that she was in the air but also that the owner of the arms was speaking to her.

“Hi,” unsure if she had heard, the deep voice repeated himself, “Hi. Can you hear me? My name is Dave. I’m a firefighter. I’m off duty right now but we needed to get you out of that car.”

He lifted her up and put her on a gurney that the paramedics, who had just arrived, brought out of an ambulance. The paramedics carefully put the gurney back into the ambulance after assessing that Amy did not have any serious neck or back injuries. All through the assessment, Dave held Amy’s hand. He didn’t say a word, and he didn’t have to. It was enough for Amy to have his strong comforting hand near by.

When Dave let go of Amy’s hand as they pushed the gurney into the ambulance, Amy burst into tears. Dave climbed in and gently stroked her arm. “If you want, I can follow the ambulance in my car and meet you at the hospital.” All Amy could do was nod.

Dave hopped out of the ambulance and after getting directions from the paramedics rushed over to his car. “What am I doing?” he muttered to himself. “I barely know this woman. But there’s something about her.” He shook his head and turned the ignition.

While Dave sped off to meet Amy at the hospital, Amy laid on the gurney pondering her day. She thought about the meeting she was missing and wondered briefly how much crap she would get from her boss. And then her thoughts turned to Dave. Maybe it was the savior complex kicking in, but she could really get lost in his eyes. His hand in hers had been her stability in a terrifying moment.

At the hospital, Dave sat with Amy while she received news that she had a broken arm and a concussion. All in all, she came out of the accident alright. The police informed her that the driver of the car who ran the red light sustained more serious injuries and was in surgery. All throughout this process, Dave held Amy’s hand.

“Do you have any family in the city?” Dave asked. Amy blushed. “Are you asking why no family or friends have come to check on me?”

Now it was Dave’s turn to blush. “No, no, I was just wondering if you had some loved ones you might want to let know.”

“I’m an only child and both my parents are dead so no family.” Amy shrugged. “Both of my close friends are in court at the moment. I’ll shoot them a text later.”

“No boyfriend?” Amy’s eyes misted briefly and then cleared. “I recently got out of a relationship.”

Dave nodded and did not push the issue. An awkward silence filled the room. He cleared his throat nervously, “So, uh, I know you just got out of something. But I’d really like to take you out to dinner sometime.”

Amy smiled sheepishly. “Sure, I’d like that.”

Dave’s grin got a little wider. “We could even stop somewhere after you get discharged. I know this great place over on–” He stopped himself and shook his head. “I’m sorry. You’ve had a very stressful day and probably just want to get home. Yeah, I bet you probably–”

“I probably just want to have dinner with a new friend,” Amy said sweetly. “After all, I do have to eat and I certainly don’t feel like cooking tonight.”

Dave met Amy’s gaze and gave his best boyish grin. They continued to talk about little things about life–Dave’s work as a firefighter, Amy’s work at the law firm, their favorite foods (Italian), and favorite animals (dogs). After about an hour, the nurses came and discharged Amy. The new couple went off to their first date at a hole in the wall Italian restaurant one of Dave’s coworkers recommended.

Amy sat across from Dave and only for a brief moment noticed the bulge of her tummy. After that moment, Dave had her engaged in fun conversation and delectable pasta. She didn’t worry about the number of calories in the noodles or the fat count of the sauce.

“You are so beautiful,” Dave spouted out.

Amy ducked her head a bit and smiled. “I don’t really feel beautiful,” she responded softly.

Dave’s smile faded a bit. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Men–usually–are attracted to confident women. Low self-esteem isn’t cute.” He leaned forward a bit and took her good hand in his. “And you have plenty to be confident about. You’re an accomplished professional woman with gorgeous eyes, long pretty hair, a fabulous shape. Plus you’re sweet as can be!” He leaned forward just a little bit more. “Do you believe me?”

Dave was so close at this point his nose was almost touching hers. Amy thought about this for a moment. It had been a long time since someone had paid her such compliments. She wasn’t sure about the “fabulous shape” comment but other than that?

“Yes,” she said softly. And then a little louder, “Yes, I believe you.” She paused for a moment. “Do you really think I have a fabulous shape?”

Dave leaned in the rest of the way and planted a firm kiss on her lips. The kiss caught Amy by surprise but she soon responded with passion.

When they parted, Dave’s boyish grin had returned to his face. “What do you think?” he said as he returned to his seat and picked up a piece of garlic bread.

Amy blushed. “I think you’re right. I do have a pretty good shape.” She leaned forward and batted her eyes a bit. “So do you.”

The next three months were a whirlwind for Amy. She spent her days at work and her nights with Dave. She loved the fact that he consistently told her how beautiful she was inside and out. They went to museums, concerts, art shows, poetry readings. They tried all kinds of restaurants and, with him, Amy ate with abandon. She also began running with Dave early in the morning in a nearby park. She stopped weighing herself every day and even added a little lipstick and eye shadow to her morning routine.

Her time with Dave was making her able to concentrate more at work and to speak up more. Her boss was paying her compliments as well for her engagement in meetings and comments on legal briefs. Amy found herself smiling more and even humming to herself. For the first time, ever, she was in love.

“I’m going to tell him tonight, Sarah,” Amy chatted on the phone with her friend during her lunch break.

“That’s a big step! Dropping the L word is not something to be taken lightly.”

“I know, I know. But it’s been 3 months and I’ve never felt like this before. I think it’s time.”

“You do what feels right, honey.”

She hung up the phone and turned to finish her lunch. A few moments later her phone rang again. She looked and it was a number she didn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Amy?”

“Yes, this is she.”

“Hi,” the voice on the other end was deep and clearly male. “This is Chief Johnson over at the fire station.”

Amy’s heart skipped a beat. “I understand you’ve been in a serious relationship with David for a few months now?” “Yes, sir. Three months.”

“Well, I’m calling you because David does not have any blood relatives. We’re his family here. And we wanted you to know that there was a serious fire uptown today. All of my men and women were called in to help out. One of the apartment complexes was burning and became unstable. David went in to save some people who were trapped. He didn’t make it out.”

Amy’s throat tied in a knot. She couldn’t breathe let alone speak. The Chief waited patiently. This wasn’t the first time he had to break this kind of news.

“So, Dave is–dead?”

The Chief paused for a moment searching for an easier way to answer the question. At a loss for words, he sighed. “Yes, ma’am, he’s dead.”

Tears began to stream down Amy’s cheeks but she didn’t even notice them. She said a few polite words to the Chief and hung up. The tears continued but she felt nothing. Numbness seemed to overshadow every emotion.

That night, Amy sat on her couch with her head in the lap of her friend, Sarah, who petted her hair. Her other friend, Brittany, stroked her back as Amy sobbed.

“I was going to tell him I love him tonight. I was going to tell him I love him,” she repeated over and over.

After nearly three hours of tears, Amy sat up. “No,” she said firmly.

Sarah and Brittany looked at each other. “No, what?” Sarah asked in a soft voice.

“Enough of this. Dave was a firefighter. He knew what he was getting into and he died a hero. He would not want me blubbering on the couch. He would want me to be stronger than that.”

“Sweetie, tears don’t make you weak.”

“No, I know that. And I’m sure I will shed many more tears, especially at the funeral. But laying here sobbing and bemoaning all the things I’ll never get to say or do with him. That’s not what he would want for me.”

“What would he want?”

“He would want me to remember that I’m beautiful and strong and confident. He made me feel so alive and so wonderful and so free. I want to hold on to that feeling. Dave didn’t just get me to fall in love with him. He got me to fall in love with myself.”

Sarah and Brittany looked at each other once more. Brittany shrugged, “So what would you like to do now?”

“I say we eat ice cream and watch a movie. Let’s watch something funny. I loved the sound of Dave’s laugh.”

At first, Sarah thought Amy was just pretending. She worried her friend was putting up a false bravado and would eventually come crashing down. But when they put in a movie, she knew Amy would be just fine when she laughed a laugh that reached her eyes.

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