Hopeless Romantic

I’m at the hospital hours after my shift has ended
still dressed in my candy-striper uniform
still waiting for my father to finish in surgery
and give me a ride home.

I turn the page, read the next sentence theatrically
just loud enough for Mrs. Hartford to hear.

In vain have I struggled. It will not do.
My feelings will not be repressed.
You must allow me to tell you how ardently
I admire and love you.

I clutch the paperback to my chest
and exhale a longing sigh.

“That Mr. Darcy,” I whisper to my patient.
“He gets me every time. How about you?”

Her only response
the softest of snores.


Love at First Sip

“The usual, Lorelei?” Ross,
my favorite barista, asks
when I plop my bag
on his counter after school
the following day.
“Mmm hmm,” I say.
“And a chocolate chip cookie.”

He places a cookie on a plate
and slides it across the counter.
He plucks a red mug from the shelf
with a little dancer’s flourish
and sashays to the espresso machine.

Soon a hot vanilla latte
topped with a swirling white heart
appears before me.


Phone Booth

I carry my cup and plate
to my very own
phone booth office.

(No one ever uses
the payphone anymore.)

Just past the hallway
that leads to the kitchen
in a little side nook

I drop my bag
on the wooden bench
and curl up like a bug.

I balance my Mac on my lap
and press my sneakers
to the graffitied wall
my toes pointing to a heart
Brandon + Molly TLA.

This is where I write
or get lost in a paperback
remember my mother
and her red hair
(before it fell out)
and forget
that my father
doesn’t have time for me.


Doctor

My father spends his days
mending other people’s hearts.

He cuts them open,
sees the secrets they keep deep
down in their hearts.

It’s delicate work, he tells me.
Holding someone’s heart
in your hands.

I smile and nod, knowing it’s true.
But wondering deep down inside
how can he stitch them up
when his own heart is broken.


Gone

If only it was
my mother’s heart
that had stopped working.
Dad could have saved her.

But it was cancer.
And he couldn’t.


Footsteps

I want to be a doctor, too.
All I need to do is focus on
every step
every grade
everything.

Someday I will follow
in my father’s footsteps
after college
after med school
afterwards.

So I volunteer at the hospital
two afternoons a week
taking patients places
taking flowers to rooms
taking it all in.

But sometimes I get so overwhelmed
I just need to
forget about my GPA
forget extracurricular activities
forget it all.

So here in my phone booth office
in the corner of the coffee shop
I dream of life in poetry
dream of falling in love
daydream.


Love at First Book

I sip my latte and let my eyes drift over
the mismatched wooden tables
the old church pews
and public school-issue chairs
that give my coffee shop that lived-in feel
that Starbucks is missing.

I take in the paintings on the gallery wall:
spaceships with octopus tentacles
Martians with gecko fingers
and a blue cheese moon.

I look over at the free bookshelf—
tell myself, No. No more books.
And, No. No need to straighten them.

That’s when I see him—
a boy about my age
with a book
in his low-slung
back pocket.


Details

The book is vintage
the corner of the cover torn
the pages dog-eared
and yellowed.

The pocket is denim
faded and worn
stitched with a Levi’s V
and red tabbed.

The boy is tall
his arms unadorned
well muscled
and brown.

The heat is slow
crawling warm
up my cheeks
until I look away.


Courage

The blush on my cheeks cools
and I dare to look his direction           again
secretly hoping
to catch another stanza
of heart-stopping description.

But when I look up
all I see is a blur
of heather gray and denim
step out the double doors,

leaving me with                                          déjà vu.


The Book

Didn’t I just tell myself I didn’t need another book?
Didn’t I just say I did not need to organize them?

But when I spy the worn-covered, dog-eared title
lying on its side in a previously empty space

I put down my coffee cup, my Mac, and my cookie
leap up from my office and sprint across the room.

Heart pounding, I reach for the memento from the boy
close my fingers and prepare to be sorely disappointed.

Because the boys I know—private-school jock wannabes—
don’t read anything an English teacher hasn’t assigned.

And this book—this remnant of my minute-long blush crush—
is probably Homer or Hawthorne, or something read in school.

I turn it over. Read the title. To Kill a Mockingbird.
An English teacher favorite. Be still my sinking heart.

I sigh and tell myself it was never meant to be.
Boys like that don’t fall for bookworms like me.

But as I put the book among the Ls where it belongs
I notice a piece of lined paper poking up like a bookmark.

I free it from among the pages, unfold it in slow motion
and read the scrawly boy writing.


My Angel

She’d come to me from among my dreams,
her voice just this side of an angel’s song.

Sometimes I’d think she was a mere figment
or fiber of my imagination—too perfect to be
a living-breathing girl, her hair too bright,
and her skin too pale, and her voice so sweet—
as she read me tales from not so long ago.

She’d sit among my machines (my heartbeat
like mountains and plains over her shoulder)
her pink-striped uniform just this side of 1950.

Sometimes I’d watch her lips as she read, as if
they were proof that I was still among the living—
because no dead man in heaven could imagine
kissing those lips more longingly, lustfully, lovingly.

She’d read me novels, not from beginning to end, but
from where she left off in the room across from mine.

Sometimes leaving me to fill in big gaps between
chapters with my own imagination—my stories
outlandish, my plots as twisted as my bed sheets,
all because of her angelic voice, her pink stripes,
and hundreds, no thousands, of imagined kisses.


Dumbstruck

I stare at the letters
the loops, lines and curls
not quite believing

the words
they formed
the images
they conjured
the story
they told.

Because their story
about a boy in a hospital bed
and the girl at his side

is one
I know
as well.

I bury my face
in the paper
inhale the scent

of old books
ballpoint pen
and hope.


After-Shift Secret

Okay.
So no one is supposed
to know about that.
Not the head nurses, not my father.
(No one important anyway.)

But sometimes
the patients look so lonely.
And no one is around
even though it’s visiting hours.
So I read to them—

from the book
I happen to be reading.

Not that they listen
not exactly.
They’re asleep
or drifting in and out.
But it doesn’t matter.

Not to me
lost in a book
in time and space
with a soul beside me
keeping away

my loneliness.


My Mind Whirrs

back to last semester
Ms. Stein’s Bildungsroman class:
David Copperfield and Jane Eyre
J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee.

back to the hospital and its maze of rooms
the patients without visitors:
wisp-thin elderly ladies
mere wrinkles under their blankets.

rotund middle-aged men
sturdy-looking fellows
with too many chins and too-weak hearts.

and an out-of-place teenager
too old for the brightly-painted children’s room
too young to be needing my father’s care.

back to him, the teenager without a visitor:
heart-shaped, widow’s-peaked face,
curly, bi-racial hair, ditto eyelashes.


My Heart Flutters

as I remember him lying
in that hospital bed, his breathing
making the blanket rise and fall.

His name would have been on his wrist,
his chart, on cards and flowers,
but I can’t remember it.

Just that it was something boring
four letters and typically male—
like Dave, or Matt, or Mike?

But this Dave or Matt or Mike
is obviously not boring or typical—
not if he wrote a poem.

A poem!

A poem about a bright-haired,
pale-skinned girl so careless
she left out huge chunks of plot?

This Dave or Matt or Mike
is obviously not just any boy—
not if he wrote a poem about kissing me.

I pluck his copy of Mockingbird from the shelf
slide his poem back between the pages
and hold both over my hummingbird heart.


Boys

don’t come with GPS attached
nor are they on Google Earth
and I know better than to bother looking up
Dave or Matt or Mike on Facebook.

And this boy
he traveled on foot
so I can’t report a suspicious Honda
or a classic VW Bug to the authorities.

“911,” a woman would answer,
“What is your emergency?”

“A robbery,” I’d tell her,
“He stole my heart.”

There’s no way he goes to my school.
Because I know everyone there—and there
are no Mockingbird-reading poets to speak of—
so I draw a mental map around my coffee shop.

The only high schools within two miles
are mine and Central High.

So I make a note
to stalk him there.


Stalker

Stalking is harder than it looks
because, according to the website,

Central lets out 13 minutes
before my school.

And, according to Google Maps,
is 1.3 miles away.

So by the time I set foot on campus,
only a few students linger in the quad.

And none of them are a poet
named Dave or Matt or Mike.

So on my next free afternoon,
I try riding the city bus.

But it loops around the block
slower than a dog on a walk.

And I arrive at Central High
when it’s graveyard quiet.


Thursday

I see Nora, a fellow candy striper
balancing three potted plants
and a flock of It’s a Boy! balloons.

I run over and catch the balloons
before they take flight.
“Thanks, Lorelei,” she says.

As she smiles, it occurs to me
that I could ask the other candy stripers
if they remember my mystery poet.

But even in my head
the question sounds out of place
among our usual conversations

Do you need a hand?
Are you done with that cart?
May I borrow this wheelchair?

Do you know that guy our age?
The one who had a heart procedure?

Instead, I follow Nora to the parking lot
hand the balloons to the new parents
and admire their sweet-faced son.

On our way back inside, Nora asks,
“Have you met the new volunteers?”
I shake my head no

and wish I knew her better—
or at least well enough—
to inquire about Dave or Matt or Mike.


I Try Bribery

I start by adding a few titles
to the free book shelf.

(Each carefully selected
and purchased from
the Friends of the Library
ongoing book sale.)

Each with my name
and e-mail
carefully printed
inside.


Expert Advice

Every time I visit Ross for a latte, I check the shelf,
but my books are still meticulously alphabetized.

“Looking for something?” Ross asks, waltzing by with a mop.
“The books are in order. I dusted them myself.”

I sigh.
“Why didn’t Harper Lee write a trilogy?”

“Lorelei,” Ross says.
“Is something wrong?”

I shake my head.
“Just a boy.”

“Oh,” Ross says dramatically.
“Honey, there is never just a boy.”

I grin. Dave or Matt or Mike isn’t just any boy.
“Got a minute?” I ask.

Ross leans his dance partner against the wall.

I pull Dave or Matt or Mike’s poem from my bag.
I hand it to Ross and wait in the coffee-scented silence

for him to read it
and tell me I’m crazy.


Ross Looks Up

“Hundreds, no thousands, of imagined kisses?”
He waggles a finger at me.
“You don’t want a boy like this one, Lorelei.”

“Um, yeah. I do.”

“Nuh uh.” Ross hands the poem back.
“Two words. Chapped. Lips.”

And goes back to mopping.


My Face Heats

“Not the point,” I say.
(Even though it is the point.)
“Have you seen him?”

“I see lots of moody, broody boys.
This is a coffee shop.”

I stomp my foot like a spoiled child.

He spins around the mop
like it’s a lamppost
and he’s Gene Kelly.
“What does he look like?”

My heart lightswitches on.
I beam as I describe
my very own
poet-in-residence.


Five Days Later

I slump on Ross’s counter,
my shoulder aching from
the weight of my homework.

Ross reports, “I saw him.”

I feel instantly lighter.
“What’s his name?”

“Didn’t get it.”

I deflate. “Didn’t say you needed it for his order?”

“A cuppa drip?”

“You did not just say what I think you said.”

I lean on the counter for moral support.
Dave or Matt or Mike
didn’t even order
one of Ross’s masterpieces?
“A cup of drip? How mundane.”

“Not with all that cream and sugar, honey.”

“A coffee newbie?”
I bang my forehead on the Formica.

Ross nods sadly,
because he understands
that my crush’s coffee habits
could very well
make or break
our relationship.


Then, to Cheer Me Up

Ross says,
“You didn’t say he was that cute.”

“Did too.”

“Did not, Lorelei.
He has the most amazing
storm-clouds-in-August eyes.”

“No fair!”

I’ve never seen his eyes—
he had always been asleep
when I read to him.

Even though
now I know

he wasn’t.


Poster Child

I had seen the girl’s picture
on the New Volunteers poster
in every nurse’s station.

I even know her name. Alexis.

So when my boss asks me
to bring a box of books
to the children’s playroom

I shouldn’t have been surprised

to find a dark-haired girl
reading Harry Potter out loud
to a small circle of listeners.

She glances up. Smiles.

I try to return the gesture
but my cheeks only twitch
as my eyes grow wide.

Her hair.

It’s different than her picture.
Dark, straight, and shoulder length
but now with a wide, brilliant blue streak.

In my mind, I recite:

a living-breathing girl, her hair too bright,
and her skin too pale, and her voice so sweet—
as she read me tales from not so long ago.

and feel incredibly stupid.


The Nerve

Who does she think she is?
Hijacking my poet
by reading to him.

Doesn’t she know?
That reading to patients
is my thing.

What is she thinking?
That blue stripe in her hair
looks absolutely ridiculous.

What was he thinking?
Dave or Matt or Mike can’t possibly
want to kiss her instead of me.

Can he?


Hurt

Turning my back on Alexis
and the circle of children
I focus on the library corner.

I separate the fiction titles
from the nonfiction ones
then alphabetize them by author
or subject as needed.

But even books cannot quell
the feeling of hope
extinguished in my heart.

I squeeze my eyes shut
breathe in through my nose
willing myself not to cry
over a poem
a boy
and what would never be.

I pull the new books
from the box
linger over the colored covers
the smell of ink and paper
before shelving them
and my desires

away.


Dinner Conversation

My father and I sag into plastic chairs.
Too tired for take-out
we eat in the cafeteria.

He asks about my day
my homework and
my shift.

I ask him about his.
How many stents?
How many pacemakers?

I want to ask about Alexis
and if he ever saw her
read to a boy.

But I know my father
can’t talk to me
about patients.

My father’s pager vibrates
and he apologizes
like he always does.

I tell him not to worry
that I can do homework
at the coffee shop.

He kisses my forehead
and leaves me with two
half-eaten spaghetti specials.


Math

I shoulder my bag
take our tray to the conveyor belt
scowl at a New Volunteer poster.

Seeking solitude,
I weave my way into the belly
of the hospital.

The tunnels connect buildings
cross under streets
a secret refuge from rush hour traffic.

I think of Alexis’s picture
the new bright blue streak in her hair
wonder when she dyed it.

A month ago? Two?

Then
like a bubble of carbonation
light, sweet, and popping

I realize
that Dave or Matt or Mike was in the hospital
months before Alexis volunteered.

She couldn’t have read him Harry Potter
with her bright blue hair
falling over his view of her lips.

The poem—
his poem—
could still be

about me.


Rush

I take the nearest exit
race up a flight of stairs
burst onto the sidewalk

the setting sun
splashes me with pink yellow orange
as if to welcome me back

to a world
filled with warmth, light
and possibility.


Blue

I had not seen Ross
at the coffee shop last night
so I didn’t get an update
on if Dave or Matt or Mike came in
for a cream-and-sugar-laden cuppa drip.

So today after Key Club
I stop for a latte.

Ross must have seen me coming
because he meets me at the door—
more blocking my way
than holding it open.

“Is something wrong?”

Ross bites his lip
waves one hand like a fan
as if he needs to cool his face.
“He’s here.”

“He’s here?”

Suddenly breathless
I brush past him
into the caffeinated hum.

And sure enough
under the blue cheese moon
sits a boy in a sky-colored button down
and a girl with a blue streak in her hair.


Hide

I run to my office
yank the door shut
before

my boy
Alexis
Ross

anyone

can see

me
blinking
back

tears.


Spy

I sneak a peek
I can’t help myself.

Backlit from the window
his profile is all curves
the curls of his hair
the shape of his forehead
the arc of his nose
the swell of his lips
the dimple in his chin
the bump of his Adam’s apple
the hill of his bicep.

I stare
I can’t help myself.

Alexis is all angles
brow
nose
cheekbones
tight ponytail
thin arms
shake of her head

even her name.


Phone Booth Office Haiku

I open my Mac
pour my soul, my broken heart
onto the blank screen.


Farewell

I take his copy of
To Kill a Mockingbird
from my bag

pull his poem
from between the pages
and read it one last time

slowly, carefully
as if to savor
each bittersweet word

as I say goodbye
to him and me
and the us

that will never be.


Book Return

With the poem
secured deep within
the yellowed pages
of Harper Lee’s
only novel

I stand
muster up
my remaining confidence
and steel
my heart.

Lip gloss on
shoulders back
chin up
I march
across the room.

Not looking left
or right
I place the book
back on the shelf
where I found it

lying on its side
forlorn and

unalphabetized.


Chemistry

Half an hour later
Ross knocks on my glass door
“Latte?” he asks
holding up a red mug.

I nod
slide the door open
take the hot cup from his hands.

“They’re gone.”

I sigh.

“I’m sorry,” he offers.

“It’s okay,” I say.
“It’s just that I had just convinced myself
that Alexis wasn’t the girl in the poem.”

“I thought the poem was about you.”

“So did I. But then I saw her…”
I point to the spot on my head
where her blue streak began.

“If it helps,” Ross says.
“They were studying chemistry.”


Going Up

Mid-shift Tuesday afternoon
I’m balancing a bouquet of roses
and two plastic pots of daffodils
trying to press the twelve
while trying not to get
potting soil on my uniform
when someone steps onto the elevator.

“Twelve please,” I plead, too busy
juggling floral arrangements to look up.

The person must have pressed eight,
my father’s floor, and twelve, mine,
because the lights illuminate, and
halos glow around the numbers.

“Thanks,” I say and peer out
of my personal garden
into a pair of gray ocean eyes.

I’m so lost in their depths,
the rest of his face doesn’t register
until his lips whisper my name

“Lorelei?”


My Boy

I forget all about Alexis
and soak him in like sunshine
on the first day of spring

starting with his lips—
full and sweet and
saying my name

moving to his eyes—
soft and gray and
wool-sweater warm

around his face—
surprised, smiling
and waiting for me

to say something.


Elevator Haiku

“How’s your heart?” I ask.
“Beating like crazy,” he says.
“Mine, too,” I whisper.


Chivalry

He gestures at my flowers
and I remember I am holding them.

“Do you need help?” he asks.

I know he means with the flowers
but I need help standing.

Especially when his fingers
brush my arm as he reaches
for the daffodils.

My blood puddles in my toes
like it’s lost the battle with gravity
leaving me lightheaded.

“Thanks, I probably should have
used a cart—standard procedure—
but the elevator’s usually so crowded—”
I rein in the tumble of words.

“Yeah,” he says,
even though

we’re alone.


Chance

Then I remember
last week at the coffee shop.
“How’s Alexis?” I ask.

“Alexis?” he echoes
like he has forgotten
that they are friends.

“Yeah, I saw you
like, hanging out.”

He swallows half a laugh
looks down at the daffodils.
“No. Not hanging out.
She’s tutoring me.
I’m behind in school,
you know, from the surgery.”

“You’re not… um?” I ask
the pause implying everything.

He shakes his head.
“She’s the most popular girl in school.
I don’t have a chance.”

Meaning

I do?


Urge

Right
then,
like
a
white hot
flash
of
lightning,
I absolutely

need

to know
what it
feels
like to
kiss
a boy.


So I Do

Roses still in hand
I stand on my tiptoes
wrap my arms
around his neck
and press my lips
to his.

It takes him
a minute to
catch up.

But when
he kisses me back
it feels like
every lonely moment
in my pitiful life
has been
instantly erased.


Karma

We’re so busy kissing
absorbed only in each other
in lips and tongues and warmth
that Dave or Matt or Mike and I
don’t realize that the elevator
has other plans for us.

Like stopping on the eighth floor
and opening its doors for all to see.

Or, specifically,
for my father
to observe
our escapade
into the valley
of amazing.

I may have missed
the ding and swish
of the doors
but I did not miss
my father
clearing his throat.

“Lorelei?” he asks. “Will?”

Who’s Will?


Excuses

“Dr. Carmichael?” my boy asks
his lips still damp from kissing.

“Dad, I can explain.”

My father’s eyebrows arch up.

“I, we, um… I mean, it’s not what… It is, but it isn’t…”

The boy who must be Will rescues me.
“I was going to ask Lorelei out for coffee
but, well, we got a little ahead of ourselves.”

I smile my sweetest I-love-you-Daddy smile.

“I see,” my father says and tries to suppress a grin.

“Dad!” I scold, because he looks almost happy
about finding his teenage daughter kissing a stranger.

“We’ll talk about this later,” he says to me
then to Will, “It’s a good thing we patched up that heart of yours.”

“Real good,” Will agrees, handing me my daffodils.
“See you later, Lorelei?”

I nod.

And soon I am rising skyward
the elevator barely keeping up

with my soaring heart.


With thanks to Jane Austen for the use of text from Pride and Prejudice in the poem “Hopeless Romantic.”