A Heart Choice
By Elias Orrego
Edgar was wading in the shallow end of the lake, as his friends swam out to the dock.
The sinking feeling that filled his entire chest came back as he kick-splashed the water, and paced, thinking of yesterday’s swim. It made his shoulders tingle, and his breath fall heavier.
“The white whale splashes!”
“The fat one.”
Did they think it impressed the girls to make fun of him? “The fat one,” he supposed.
The girls giggled uncomfortably, but none of them spoke up. This was summer Bible camp after all, and the golden rule was: look good.
He stomped his feet on the ground, uncomfortably aware of the jiggling around his body. He wiped a tear from his eye and stopped the flow on a dime, because he thought he heard an angel, a voice close behind him.
“Eddy, is it?”
He turned around. It was an angel. A senior camper he’d had eyes on, since orientation.
Was she really talking to him? There was no one else around. He tried not to be creepy when he nodded and smiled. “Addy?” He asked, although he knew her name. He had seen her at breakfast. He had seen her helping, at the rope course. He watched her as she led the campfire songs, and he loved hearing her comments in the evening devotional. If she had been in eyesight that week, she was in his sights. If she was in earshot, his ears were perked.
“Eddy, haha. I thought that was your name.”
“Well, it’s Edgar, but sometimes people call me Eddy.”
“I like Eddy, but maybe that’s just because it sounds like my name.” Then, that smile.
Edgar felt his heart melt and drip all over inside his chest like honey.
The sun on her brown, perfect hair. Her green and brown bathing suit (and her obvious maturity). She was seventeen, Edgar was fourteen. She was not fat. He was, apparently, and yet she was talking to him.
“So,” she asked, “what are you doing all alone, here?
“Just trying… to connect...” he began. He thought about saying, “with God.”
That earnest smile. Concerned, caring green eyes. He couldn’t lie to her.
He looked over at the boys and girls splashing and laughing by the dock. “Friends being jerks,” he mumbled. He kind of chuckled as he said it, too. That surprised him, but it was just so darn ironic to be complaining about body image and jerky friends in one breath, and in the next, to be talking to her.
“Boys are jerks,” she responded with a little frustration and a lot of compassion. Not an ounce of her verbal dig was directed at him. “Not all boys,” she added, quickly.
He let out a grin. “So how’s being a junior counselor?” Stupid. Stupid. Is that all he could think of? But, then again, she was talking to him.
“It’s cool. I was just going to go for a swim. Do you wanna come?”
“Do I want to—me? Umm...yeah? Ahem. Yeah.” Why was his voice getting higher?
Edgar looked over at the other senior campers on the beach. Aaron, whom she had been arm-in-arm with earlier in the week, didn’t seem to notice. He was lost in immature laughter with his buddies. Then, he looked at the dock; his heart sank.
She was still waiting for him. Patiently silent, still kind of smiling. Those perfectly pampered eyebrows raised on the angle between slightly confused and a little concerned. “Not to the dock,” she said, grinning wider and happier, “just around here.” She took off her cover-up, and placed it down with her towel. Edgar shifted his weight back and forth between his legs, swishing the water around his ankles. “You going to take off your shirt?” She asked.
Whoop. There it was. This was an invitation and a test—there’s no way she could be that unconscious of his self-consciousness.
“Okay,” he said, hesitantly sliding up his shirt over his hips. He met those eyes of hers, squinting in the sun; he looked at those sweet lips, pursed in a cheeky little grin. And then, he didn’t think. He took off his shirt and swung it around three times, as if he were David, in front of the giant—and then let it go. It flew across the water, onto the sandy shore, by his sandals and towel. She was un-phased, but in a good way. Still patiently waiting.
They ran in together, splashing and smiling as they went. Then, they dove.
“Whoo!” she said, as their heads poked out of the water. “This is so refreshing!”
He saw her again that night, at the campfire. She was sitting alone, close to the fire. Aaron was leading a capture-the-flag game in the field. Edgar pulled up a stump next to her, and poked his marshmallow above the flames.
“What did you think about the devotional?” He asked.
“Oh, hey, Eddie,” she said, with a welcoming smile. “Yeah, I always love hearing the story of David. I guess I have a thing for the underdog.”
“Seems like God does!” he said, quickly, before he said anything silly about being like David.
“I really like that scripture they read, when the prophet was choosing King David, ‘The Lord looketh on the heart’. So true. We just see the outside, but if we could see what He sees…”
“That’s really cool,” Edgar remarked, blowing out the flames on his marshmallow, “whoops, hehe…God is awesome.”
“Do you think there’ll be marshmallows in heaven?” She asked.
“Sure hope so,” he said, stuffing it in his mouth.
“Me too,” she agreed, “give me that roaster. You want another one? I’ll show you how it’s done.” Their hands connected as she yanked it from him, playfully. It was brief, but electric.
Edgar tapped her on the shoulder as she got up, “Ok!”
She skipped a little as she went, and his heart went along for the ride.
“So, is…was Aaron your boyfriend? You guys taking a break?” He asked nervously, as the two of them walked alone on a mountain trail.
“Nothing official. He was my grad date. Yeah, we go to church together. We’ve been friends for a long time. He can be a lot of fun, he’s just insensitive at times. Just got some growing up to do.”
“What do you mean, insensitive?” He asked, as they neared the peak.
“I don’t want to talk bad about him. He really is a good guy. Sometimes a bit judgmental, maybe. He helps a lot of people. He wants to be a pastor.… Sometimes I wonder though, if he really sees me…or if I just fit the mould in his mind of ‘the Pastor’s wife’.”
“I see you,” Eddy said, panting. The hike was steep. They had reached the top.
“Thanks, Eddy. I feel it.” She put her arm around him like a big sister and gave him a brief side hug. “Look at that view!”
“Aaron doesn’t know what he’s missing,” he said, catching up to her, on their way down, “if he can’t see how precious…and unique…and beautiful you are—inside and out!”
“Oh, Eddy,” she sighed, smiling. They had stopped walking. She opened her water bottle and held it to her mouth as she spoke, closing her eyes, “you’ve got a bright future ahead.” She took a drink. “God’s got someone special for you. Don’t you settle for anyone who doesn’t see you for who you are.”
“The Lord…” he began.
“…looketh on the heart,” they both said together, smiling.
“You’re such a great kid,” she whispered softly in his ear as they hugged, on the last day of camp.
He smelled the giant daisy in her hair. Daisies never smelled good. That one did.
“It’s been great getting to know you,” she said, stepping back, meeting his starry eyes with her sincere, glistening gaze. “God has so much in store for you.”
Edgar blushed. It wasn’t corny camp-talk she would wing off to just anybody, but it wasn’t exactly ‘walking down the aisle’, either.
“Keep the faith, my friend.” She patted him on the back.
Edgar guessed she had made up with Aaron, because the last he saw of the two of them, they were arm-in-arm.
He only saw her from behind, at first.
Exhausted and hungry from an all-night cramming session, Edgar and his friends stood and waited by the counter for their breakfast.
The woman was on the heavy side, but moved with ease on her feet as she cooked. She was humming. She did not have that naïve, high-strung university-student look that he was used to seeing. She seemed pretty cheery, cooking sausages, bacon and eggs for a bunch of young-adults in their prime—probably flashing their bright futures in her face, without realizing it. They chatted about finals and grad school and law school. Edgar couldn’t see her face.
Her hair was dyed black and cut short. Not the most flattering cut. She had an indistinguishable green tattoo on her right arm that made her brown arm hairs visible from a distance. Although her shirt was black, Edgar could still notice the sweat stains. Her black jeans looked like they used to fit her better, years ago (straining at some of the seams).
She turned around, briefly, and put the food on the counter, but Edgar still didn’t really catch her face. She came around the corner to say something to the cashier while the boys were picking up their plates. Edgar caught a good look at her.
That smile as she spoke, strong eyebrows—those eyes. Green, with a twinkle. There was something oddly intriguing (and weirdly familiar) about her. Had he seen her before? He was tired.
Edgar almost dropped his plate as he shuffled over to the table. The reflex-save snapped him out of his stupor. “Wait, just a minute,” he said aloud as he put his plate on the table, sitting down. He turned around to glance at the counter to see if she was still visible. She wasn’t. “Never mind,” he said, chuckling in disbelief.
“What?” Asked one of his friends.
“I think I know that girl,” he mumbled.
“Dude, she’s cute. Can you introduce me?”
Edgar’s head was spinning. Could it be her? “Not her,” he said.
“Oh, the fat one?” Another friend asked, laughing.
“Don’t say that,” he mumbled.
“The fat one?” Another friend asked, quietly.
He stood up and his thighs bumped the table, sliding it on an angle. It caused a loud, abrupt screechscreech, as it slid across the tile. It echoed, among silent stares.
“Don’t! Say that,” he shot out. Then, he turned and started back toward the counter.
He could hear whispers behind him.
“Dude, shut up.”
“What’s going on?”
“I think he used to be fat.”
Oh, shoot. Was he really walking over to her? He couldn’t bear the thought, but he couldn’t bear not knowing. He couldn’t stop. His stomach was in his head. He couldn’t believe it.
“Addy? Is it…?” he called out, only halfway to the counter.
There was a confused look on the face of the girl at the counter. “You know Addy?” She turned her body and called to the back, “Addy? Someone here for you.”
He made it to the counter at the same time she reached the other end. They looked into each other's eyes. She wiped sweat off her forehead with her sleeve. She raised an eyebrow and squinted, noticeably confused at the unfamiliar, handsome young man that stood before her.
“We met at a...at a camp—“
He wished he could go back to being unnoticed. She recognized him. Her lips pursed in a smile, accentuating her double chin. Edgar didn’t know what to think. Or feel.
“How are you?” She cut in, “you first...uh, me,” her plump cheeks blushed and she slowly pulled a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Her green eyes widened. “Me, I’m, oh ya know, living my best life.”
“Oh that…yeah, that lasted a year. No, then I went to another Christian school. I was in a band, we travelled around. Kind of a bust but it’s been good. Yeah, I’m back in Vic, working here, now. It’s been...long story.” She waved her hand, apologetically, “um, your friends,” she gestured to the table of boys watching them.
Edgar looked. They looked away and started chatting to each other.
“Of course, and I work!” she crossed her hands, comfortably over her apron.
“Oh, chhh.” She waved a hand and shrugged. “We were engaged for like two weeks, but no, he was a—”
“A jerk!” He cut in. They both laughed.
“Yes. Yeah. No. He’s a good guy, just for someone else…Well, we should, um...you’re in school?”
“Yeah. Yup. UVic,” he nodded and looked down. Then back into her longing, twinkling eyes. He looked down at her round tummy, behind the apron. He noticed the apron, covered in grease, and tiny egg chunks. He looked away. Pointing to his friends, he said, “I should uh...it was nice...”
“It was good to see you, too, Eddy...” she trailed off. A hopeful grin faded.
Eddy nodded, automatically, as he turned, and started back toward his friends. He turned back again to watch her from behind, as she walked from his vision. Just before she disappeared behind the counter, he realized his smile was sincere. He cried out, on a whim, “Hey, let’s catch up, sometime!”
She turned back around in an instant, with surprised eyes. “You know where to find me,” she laughed, bashfully. “Here all week, ‘till three.” She held her hands out, awkwardly.
Edgar got home and crashed. When he finally woke up, in the late afternoon, the morning at the cafe felt like a strange dream. He had his exam in a couple of hours and that was all he felt he could think about, until it was over. He would defer trying to determine how he felt about it all until after his exam.
He double checked the multiple choice, made sure his name and student number had been filled in correctly on the bubble sheet, then, he flipped over his test, and walked out.
He still had two more exams to prepare for. On his walk home, in the setting sun, Edgar decided he would wait until after he had done all his exams, before deciding whether or not to go back to the cafe.
“She was my dream girl,” Edgar said to his roommate, as he clicked a puzzle piece into place.
His roommate was thumbing through their pile of cloud and sky pieces. “So you crushed on your camp leader?”
“Senior camper. She led some of the activities…” Edgar corrected.
“Ok, then you don’t see her forever—she gets married?”
“Engaged, but that didn’t last long, apparently. But I didn’t know that cuz I deleted her from social media.”
“But not from your mind.”
“No, Steve, not from my mind.”
“You gotta talk to her.”
His words hung in the air, as Edgar tried to sleep that night. And they rang him awake at two AM.
“I know,” he said to himself, sitting up out of bed.
Exams had been over for over twenty-four hours. There could be no more messing around. There were no more excuses that Edgar could think of. Sure, she didn’t look the part of his fantasy Addy, or dream wife, but she was real. Did he want real? It was worth seeing her again.
“Tomorrow.” He had been saying that for days. “Today,” he said to himself, walking right into her cafe. He had just come from the gym—he probably didn’t smell the best, but he knew if he didn’t “just do it” he might never. He knew he would regret not doing it (whatever “it” meant). He was sweating again and his hands and heart felt shaky. He couldn’t see her behind the counter, so he turned to leave.
“Eddy?” A voice said, with a mouthful of food. He turned. Oh. She was on her break.
“Hi.” He walked over to her, slowly. He felt very cheesy and sheepish. And he had no idea what he was doing. Or why (other than the fact that he knew he’d regret doing nothing). “How’s it going?”
“Mm—” she covered her mouth, still chewing, still smiling with her eyes and cheeks. “Have a seat,” she said, swallowing and putting her hand out. “What do you want?” She asked, in a care-free tone.
Then, she cupped her hand to the side of her mouth and playfully whispered, “I’ll get you my employee discount.”
Edgar could breathe again. “Ha ha, not today, Ah-Addy.” It felt weird to be saying her name again, after so many years. He smiled and pulled up a chair. He was talking to Addy. “How was life?” He asked casually, “you know, so far, he, he.”
She wiped her face with a napkin, swallowed again and sat up straight. “Well…I went to Cincinnati. Was there for like a year. Got engaged, briefly. I broke up with Aaron. I got really into the Christian music scene. You know (or maybe you don’t), but I’ve always loved to sing. Kind of went with it for a while.”
“That’s cool!” Edgar didn’t know what to say, but he did think it was cool. “I remember hearing you sing at the campfire! You have an angel voice!” He blushed, not being able to restrain himself, thinking about that girl then. Then, he saw her in the present. Plump from her hips to her lips. Did he look like that, that first day at the lake?
“Yeah, so we ended up going—three of us in the band—to Australia.”
“Australia? Oh, wow. Random. Must’ve been cool.” He was going to say “hot”, but he wasn’t sure enough of his own feelings to use the word “hot” so soon, and to risk sounding flirty.
“Yeah, I had heard about it before, but there’s this really good music program. We were really into it all.”
“Wow, that’s really incredible! Past tense?”
“Well I still love it, it’s just…had to grow up, you know? Financially, it just wasn’t working. I had to come home.”
“Shoot. That’s rough.”
“Kicking and screaming at first, but I’m pretty content now. Still get to play worship for church!” With a big smile, she said, in a subtle radio voice, “seven-thirty worship most Sunday nights—you’re welcome to come check it out.” She sighed, “But I’m…working here and figuring out a different career. I might want to go into social work or counseling or something.”
“Camp counselling?” He teased.
“Maybe, haha.” She winked.
“You’d be great!” He smiled.
She smiled back.
“Career change. Phew! So, I wanted to be a doctor forever. But, first-year pre-med? Plthhh.” He pointed his thumb down. “Now, I say I want to be a lawyer…” He was making fun of himself. It was such a release.
“Ooo. Bet the ladies love that.”
“I’ve had several proposals on the spot...No engagement lasted more than two weeks, though.” He winked. “Too soon?”
“Not too soon,” she laughed. “That is OLD news. So no girlfriend, eh?” She looked up at him from across the table.
“Naw, nothing serious for a while.” He blushed, and then realized something. She was flirting. And he was, too. This for real (whatever that meant). Did he want it to be? He wasn’t sure. But, he didn’t care—this was fun! “How about you? You dating some hot, Aussie drummer-boy you brought home?” It felt light to talk so freely. They were both adults, now. “Pa rum-pum pum pum? No?”
“Haha. No, sadly…I guess we’re both single, Eddy.”
“And we’ve both grown...” He paused, thinking of how she was not as skinny as she was at seventeen. “Up!” He finished. The flirty tone had left the table.
He knew that the next step would be to ask her on a date or something. He thought of his friends. He looked at her body. Suddenly he couldn’t escape a feeling of embarrassment, picturing himself arm-in-arm with her. The kids, laughing. He never imagined dating someone like that. He never dreamed it would be her.
“And I’m the fat one, now,” she said, with no hint of humour.
“No, no—” he said, quickly.
“Relax. I don’t care,” she cut in.
He swallowed. “You do look different, sure, but I see you,” he blurted, in desperation. It felt more like an intervention than a confession. Right words, wrong feeling. Poor timing. She wasn’t blinking. Edgar cleared his throat.
“Thanks,” she said, lowering her head, as if giving in to his act. Her smile was short and obviously forced. “Nice to catch up.” She collected her dishes. Edgar shut his eyes.
“I don’t care that you’re a little bigger than you were before. You’re Addy,” he said, over and over again. He was talking to himself, walking home. He thought if he kept saying it, he could make it feel true. Most of all, he wanted to escape the awful feeling he felt sink in at that table. It was obvious. Their little back-and-forth tennis match was over, and he wasn’t interested in serving up any more love—at least that’s what he told her with his silence. He thought of the Pharisees in the Bible. He felt like a hypocrite.
“I was the fat one!” He vented to Steve as they sat on the couch and munched Kraft Dinner. Suits was playing on their TV screen. (Donna was ripping into Harvey—about some boundary he had crossed again, no doubt).
“And she saw past that, but you can’t?” Steve asked.
“Ugh, I’m so awful.” Edgar covered his face with his hands.
“If you’re awful, that’s every guy. But, yup. You’re definitely a Farsey, man.”
“Pharisee,” Edgar auto-corrected, tangled in his own web of thoughts.
“That’s what I said.”
“Well, not really…” Edgar reasoned out loud, “now, did she really see past it? I mean, she didn’t date me—”
“You were fourteen.”
“—maybe she was just being nice. Yeah, you’re right…” he sighed.
“Whatever helps you sleep at night, dude.” Steve was scraping his fork on the porcelain bowl, getting the last bits of KD. Edgar didn’t have the energy to get annoyed.
Edgar went to bed feeling like a jerk.
“But I don’t want to be like ‘pity’ going on a date with her, you know? I can’t pretend with her, anyway,” he told Steve the next morning.
Steve was lost in his bowl of Fruit Loops. “How did they taste so good every time?” Edgar thought, watching Steve’s pleasure. Edgar couldn’t even really taste his Fruit Loops that morning.
“No, no—” Steve said, with a mouthful. He slurped some runaway milk in the corner of his mouth, and kept chewing, “No, you don’t want to do that—go on a date, out of pity.” He swallowed and shovelled in more. “That’s worse,” he kept munching. “That’s even more dishonest…You like her personality, though, right?”
“Yes!” He felt sincere, for a moment. “But, then…” he pulled back, looking up at his roommate who stopped chewing for a moment. “Well, I don’t know…” Edgar shrugged. He poked at his cereal. It made a small sloshing noise. “I think I do. But then what if I don’t? I mean, it’s been so long.” He thought about taking another bite, but kept twirling his spoon. Steve held his head at an angle for half of a second. Then resumed his devouring. Edgar continued, “or what if I just can’t get past the way she looks?—shallow I know.”
Steve was drinking from his bowl. He placed it down, with a sigh. “No, I get it, dude,” he said, using his finger to clean his mouth. “You can’t date just anyone. And you’re not a jerk if you don’t. It’s serious. Especially in your church community, right? You guys are all pairing off so young. Multiplying like bunnies.”
“Well, actually that goes back to the garden…”
“Yeah, yeah. I don’t care. JK. Your beliefs are great. But do you know what I mean? Like you’re gonna regret it, dude, if you just force yourself to ignore certain things that really actually bug you—pretty sure that’s what my parents did—it won’t last long. I know ‘love everyone’ Jesus says, but it doesn’t mean go and date some girl you’re not attracted to in every way. Sex is a big part of a successful relationship. Says my cheating dad.”
“No, I’m not thinking about sex.”
“I’m not worried about that. That’ll come when the time is right.”
“After marriage,” Steve teased, waving a finger.
“Right. You got it.” Edgar patted him on the shoulder, jokingly. “You know more than a lot of Christians.”
“I wonder why…” Steve said, sarcastically.
Edgar giggled. Then, cleared his throat and put his spoon down. “Ok, so maybe I’ll show up at her church and watch her sing, this Sunday?”
“He was a skater boy…” Steve sang.
“You got it,” Edgar agreed. “I don’t want to miss my skater girl.”
“Ow-ow! Go get her, tiger. Arrrr!” Steve advanced his pretend tiger-claw hands toward Edgar.
“Shut up,” Edgar laughed, pushing him away. “But thank you,” he said, quietly, taking both of their empty bowls to the sink.
“You’re the man, Eddy. I’m with you all the way.”
“You wanna come to church, too?”
“Don’t push it.”
That Sunday evening Edgar showed up early and sat near the front. He could see Addy from behind. She cleaned up very nicely. There were a lot of nice-looking girls. Younger, skinnier. Ones with longer hair, ones who dressed in ways more tailored to the feminine figure—even heavy ones.
But there was one Addy.
She got on stage and sang like a punk-rockin’ angel. Halfway through the first worship song, she caught his gaze, and they both stared—too long and too longingly to dismiss.
“I see you,” he whispered, as they embraced, at the end of the service.
Her eyes twinkled. “I know,” she said, softly.
“Come on,” he said, tugging her arm, “I hear there’s cookies.”