That afternoon, when Penn left to go home, Rufus texted Ellowyne, asking her if she had time to chat. Ellowyne texted him back. “Better than that! Would you like to hang out today? We can watch a movie or something.”
Rufus still felt rough around the edges but he didn’t want to waste a chance to spend time with Ellowyne. He asked, “Do you mind coming over here?”
“Sure! I can bring some popcorn and ice cream! See you soon!
Ellowyne arrived at Rufus’ house about half an hour later. When she got to the door, she embraced him warmly. As he leaned in to kiss her, she put her finger on his lips and playfully asked, “Don’t you need some Chapstick after last night? I mean, you got kissed by almost everybody in our section.”
“Yeah, I didn’t expect that!” He leaned in to give her a kiss.
She pulled away from him and bit her bottom lip. “Was there any one kiss that was special or meaningful, different from the rest?”
“You know, there was one kiss that meant more to me than all of them.” His eye twinkled as he grinned and said, “The one from Penn!”
Ellowyne laughed and went to the kitchen to put the ice cream in the freezer. Rufus stood in the kitchen and embraced Ellowyne. Eventually they went to the couch but the TV was never turned on and the popcorn and ice cream went uneaten. In the end, they both needed Chapstick.
Ellowyne left close to midnight, and she texted Prudence as soon as she got home. “Prudence! Can we talk? Please?”
Pru had already gone to bed but she was intrigued. Usually, she and Ellowyne texted but something—perhaps her sixth sense–told her to FaceTime rather than just talk or text.
Ellowyne looked absolutely radiant, and her voice was rhapsodic. “Oh, Prudence! I just had the most amazing evening of my life!”
Pru was gobsmacked. Typically, Ellowyne was in the throes of an existential crisis, and she complained about feeling melancholic, lethargic, and bored most of the time. But now she sounded happy! And she looked happy! Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks were flushed. Pru asked, “Ellowyne, what’s going on?”
“Grandmother, Father, and Freddy were gone, so I asked Rufus if I could come over to watch a movie. We started to but then we got a little, um, distracted.”
Prudence cautiously asked, “What did you do?”
“It started out with one little kiss and then another and another. We made out on the couch. He’s such a great guy! He’s smart and funny and kind. And he kisses so well. At least I think so. I mean, he’s the first boy I’ve ever kissed. But I don’t want to know what it’s like to kiss someone else. I want to be with him. He has the most beautiful brown eyes, and his lips are soft, almost pillow-like. Oh, Prudence. I think I am falling in love with him! Do you think I should call him right now and tell him?”
“Let him get some sleep. Talk to him later,” Prudence suggested. “And I need to go to sleep, too. Goo–”
Ellowyne was caught up in her feelings and seemed not to notice that Pru was ready to go to bed. “Prudence, why had I never noticed what a wonderful guy Rufus is? How was I so blind, so stupid, to not realize that the perfect guy was right in front of me all this time? I was such an idiot and wrapped up in my ennui that I couldn’t see that love was always here. I hope I can make it up to him.”
“Ellowyne, I am so happy for you. But really, I need to sleep. Let’s talk later.” After Ellowyne left their conversation, Pru sighed and rolled her eyes. “Just like Ellowyne to fall in love at the start of a pandemic.”
Ellowyne came over to Rufus’ house on Monday and stayed until evening. His parents were still on vacation in Europe, so his house was empty. They played some word games, watched videos, and canoodled on the couch. For lunch, they feasted on some ramen noodles and the ice cream Ellowyne brought. Then they binged episodes of Game of Thrones and kissed a little more.
Tuesday was much like Monday and Ellowyne again came over to Rufus’ home. They played games, watched videos on YouTube, scrounged around the kitchen for something to eat, and, of course, necked on the couch. They just started to put some ramen in the microwave when Penn texted Rufus.
“Well, that was interesting,” Rufus said. “According to Penn, we’re supposed to shelter-in-place. And you and I have to quarantine. I’m sorry, Ellie. I mean, I might have gotten exposed at my birthday party but if I did, I’ve exposed you since we’ve been…”
Rufus blushed. “Yeah. That. Then again, we can quarantine together.”
Ellowyne said, “Let’s go over to my house so I can grab my clothes and other stuff.” Which they did. Rufus was a little overwhelmed at the sheer volume of things Ellowyne insisted on taking. There were two bulging suitcases filled with clothes, a makeup case, her laptop and charger, a tote of fabrics, and a sewing machine. A sewing machine?
When they got everything into the house, Rufus complained that his back ached because of all the things he carried. Ellowyne was happy to oblige with a back rub, which, of course, turned into serious canoodling on the couch. But before they reached a point of no return, they awkwardly disentangled themselves and got ready to go to sleep. Rufus gave Ellowyne his parents’ room, while he retreated to his just down the hall. Their goodnight kiss was sweet but emotionally charged, and they retired to their respective bedrooms.
Since their schools were on spring break, they didn’t have to worry about classwork. So they were enjoying quarantine. Neither developed any symptoms of COVID, so they decided to have some fun during spring break. They played chess and word games. They tried to cook but were woefully inept, which they found hilarious. Fortunately, on Wednesday afternoon, Penn dropped off a care package that included ice cream, sourdough bread, frozen pizzas, craft beer, and ready-to-drink margarita mix. He also included something special for Rufus that made him blush deeply and not show to Ellowyne. At least not yet.
Rufus, who loved vintage movies, introduced Ellowyne to tearjerker romances. Late that afternoon they watched Somewhere in Time, which left Ellowyne ugly crying. Rufus embraced Ellowyne and let her weep on his shoulder. Between sniffles and sobs, she wailed, “Jane Seymour spent the rest of her life without the man she loved. And Christopher Reeve loved her so much he went back in time for her. And the ending! It was so beautiful but so-so-so sad.” As Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini played as the credits rolled, Ellowyne pulled herself from Rufus, and looked intensely into his vibrant brown eyes. She said, “These past few days while we’ve been quarantined have been amazing, and I think we’ve gotten to know each other in ways we never expected. You are an awesome man. You’re sweet and kind. You’re the smartest and funniest man I know. I love you. I really love you.”
At first, Rufus didn’t respond. Finally, his voice shaky, he said, “I have loved you from the first time we met, and I’ve wanted to hear those words from you. But I need to know. How do you mean it? Do you mean you love me as a friend? I remember you said that long ago, and you’ve told it to our friends. Or do you mean you love me in THAT way?” He tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a hot tear that threatened to trickle down his face.
She wiped his cheek with her finger. “I’m so sorry. I was an idiot to tell you—or any of our friends—that I loved you as a friend. At the time, I did. I guess I was too wrapped up in my stupid ennui that I wasn’t sensitive or receptive to your feelings. That was the dumbest and most selfish thing I’ve ever done. But what I feel now—no, you’re not just a friend. What I feel is far more than that. I do love you in THAT way. Please, let me show you.”
Wordlessly, she took his hand and led him to his bedroom.
The next morning, Rufus awakened to find Ellowyne gone from his bed. Did she go home? Did she regret what they did the previous night? He threw on his robe to look for her. But before he could do so, Ellowyne, dressed in his pajama top, sauntered into the bedroom with a tray. “Good morning! I made avocado toast.”
He raised an eyebrow when he looked at the breakfast she prepared. “Um, I think something’s not right here.”
Ellowyne looked at the tray and squealed. “OMG! I forgot to toast the bread!” She and Rufus dissolved into laughter until both of them were in tears and Ellowyne snorted like a pig. Rufus had never heard her laugh like that, and he thought it was adorable.
“We are so going to starve to death,” Rufus said. “I’ll put the avocado into the refrigerator and maybe later we can try making guacamole. Do you want anything that I won’t mess up?”
“Do we have some more ice cream?”
“We do! Penn made sure we had several pints, mostly chocolate. Oh, and that coffee ice cream Amber raves about. We finished one pint last night. Or this morning,” Rufus said, grinning. “We didn’t get much sleep, did we?”
Ellowyne scrunched her nose and smiled. “We don’t need food. We can live on love.”
“And avocado bread!” He ducked when Ellowyne playfully threw a pillow at him.
That evening, Rufus texted Penn. “Thank you.”
To be continued…