What Comes Around

The morning is bitter cold, but the sky is remarkably clear and the sun gets to show its face today, dappling the sidewalk with alternating shafts of light and shadow and making the frost-hardened ground sparkle. A beautiful morning, the young man with the dark hair on his way to his morning physics class decides. The kind of morning that makes one grateful to be alive. He takes in a deep, contented breath of the crisp air, buries his hands deeper into his coat pockets, and walks on.

He reaches the door of the building and pulls it open. As he does so, he notices an older professor hurrying down the hallway, looking a little frantic, struggling to stuff some papers into her bag as she walks.

Normally the young man is not the kind to stop on his way to help someone out – not because he isn’t a kind person, but just because the thought rarely crosses his mind – but today, since it is such a nice morning, he lingers in the entryway, propping the door open for the harried-looking woman.

She smiles at him as she walks through, the smile deepening the laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. “Thank you,” she tells him gratefully. “I’m running late for my next class!”

He nods in response. “You’re welcome. Have a good day!” With that, he heads down the hallway, his mind already turning towards the physics homework they will go over in class. 

The professor, too, continues on her way. The early morning staff meeting ran overtime, and her freshman English class starts soon. They are a bright class, but also young and energetic. She doesn’t like to be late.

So wrapped up in her thoughts is she that she doesn’t see the other professor until she bumps right him. The collision sends his stack of books flying.

“Oh my goodness, I am so sorry!” she exclaims as the younger professor she recognizes vaguely from the agriculture departments stoops to collect his scattered books and papers.

“Oh, no worries, my fault entirely,” he says, smiling easily up at her.

The old professor, about to dash off to tend to her young class, is stopped by the smile. Something about it reminds her of the young man who had been so kind to hold the door open for her just a few moments before, and so instead of hurrying on, she joins him in collecting the fallen books from the pavement.

The wind blows a couple of papers in the path of a weary looking student heading for the nearby bus stop. “Excuse me,” the old professor says as she bends to retrieve them before the girl can step on them.

The girl veers out of the way, her thoughts on the long day ahead. It may be her day off from school, but that means an all-day shift at work instead. She boards the bus and takes one of the last available seats, a spot near the front. While she waits for the bus to finish loading, she glances out the window. The two professors have gathered up the stack of books and papers, and the old one hands the young one the last piece of paper she recovered from under the girl’s foot. A small smile tugs at the corner of the girl’s mouth despite her gloomy mood.

A small commotion on the bus makes her look around, and she sees a fellow student, one in a cast and on crutches, slowly and laboriously climbing the stairs and making his way down the aisle. He is one of the last to board, and will have to stand.

The girl feels a wave of sympathy for him. She glances out the window one more time, in time to see the two professors part with a cheery wave. Then she turns her attention back to the bus’s interior and gets to her feet.

“Here,” she says to the injured boy. “You can have my seat.”

He looks surprised. “No, it’s ok, I’m fine – ”

The girl smiles. “Just take it.”

Looking relieved, the injured boy takes her vacated seat. “Thank you,” he says sincerely. She gives him a parting smile and files toward the back of the bus.

Moments later, the bus lurches into motion. It is several stops later when the injured boy gets to his feet with a little difficulty. The crutches are fairly new, and he is unused to managing them. It’s especially rough because he’s always been very sure of his physical capabilities, always been very able-bodied, until the accident last week on the football field.  A member of the opposing team had rammed into him in a fit of anger, sending his leg in the wrong direction and tearing his ACL. It had been accident, but it is hard not to feel resentful about it when the result is sitting the rest of the season out.

He hobbles off the bus and uses his crutches to propel him along the sidewalk to a local café. His sister is waiting for him at the door, his sister who lives several cities over and has come just to check in on him and see how he is coping as a temporary cripple.

“Hey! How are you? How are you doing?” She gives him a careful hug and holds the café door open for him. They get in the short line that has formed in front of the shop’s counter.

“I’m doing fine,” he says, a little too forcefully. She raises her eyebrows at him and he catches himself. “Really, I’m fine,” he says, softening his voice with a smile.

His sister accepts that, and does not press further. Instead, they chatter about lighter subjects while they wait for their turn to order.

As they draw near the front and his sister steps up to order, the injured boy grows aware of the elderly couple in line behind him. The woman is wrinkled and frail and seated in a wheelchair. Her husband is no younger, but he pushes her chair ahead of him with fragile confidence, like he’s been doing it for a long time now. As the boy glances back at them, the old woman reaches up to affectionately pat her husband’s hand, resting on the handles of her chair. He smiles down at her.  A voice brings the injured boy back to the present.

“Are you ready to order?”

Distracted, the injured boy looks back to the waitress waiting behind the counter. For some reason, he finds himself remembering the girl who gave up her seat for him on the bus. An idea crosses his mind.

“Uh…yeah, I am.” He orders the first thing  in the glass display that catches his eye, a blueberry muffin, and then leans in over the counter, lowering his voice. “And listen…I’d like to pay for the couple behind me. Bill it to my card when they order, will you? Thanks.”

The waitress smiles, looking pleasantly surprised. “I’ll do that.” She pulls the last muffin of its rack and hands it to him in a small paper bag.

The boy and his sister take their food to go. As they walk back out the door, she looks at him with surprise in her eyes. “What was that all about?” she asks.

He shrugs. “I guess it was just to remind myself that there’s still some kindness in world.” He smiles at the sky, the clear and beautiful sky. Already, his crutches feel a little bit easier to manage.

The waitress at the counter watches the pair as they leave, the boy on crutches and his sister, before turning her attention back to the elderly couple. The old man is digging around in his wallet, looking for a few bills to extract to pay for their drinks.

“There’s no need for that,” she tells him. “The boy who was in front of you already paid for your order.”

The old woman in the chair turns to look at her husband, surprise and delight spreading across her face, and touches a quivering hand to her open mouth.

“Well, isn’t that nice,” he says gruffly, but the waitress can see that he is visibly touched.

“Yes, it is,” she agrees, handing their coffee orders over.

The rest of her shift passes rather uneventfully. It is nearing three in the afternoon when the waitress hangs up her apron and signs out.

“Grab a bag of pastries when you leave,” one of the managers calls as she heads for the door. “They’re stacking up again.”

“Alright,” the waitress says, snagging a bag off the back counter where they keep yesterday’s unsold treats. “See you tomorrow.”

When she gets home, she adds the sweets to the growing pile on her counter and sighs. As good as the pastries are, there is no way she can go through them all before they go bad.  She nibbles on a blueberry muffin and considers her collection.

It’s surprising that there was even a blueberry muffin left over yesterday. They tend to go pretty quickly. This morning, she had sold them all before eleven, the last one going to the boy on crutches, the one who had paid for the elderly couple. The memory still brings a soft smile to her face.

Suddenly, an idea sparks in her mind. Excitedly, she arranges the pastries on a paper plate and wraps it in neatly plastic with a note. “Happy Friday!” it says. Then she bundles herself back up in her coat and sneaks quickly and quietly to the apartment a few doors down. She leaves the plate on the doorstep, rings the bell, and darts around the corner before the new girl who lives there can answer the door.

The doorbell is loud and sounds somewhat obnoxious to the new girl. She heaves an impatient sigh when it rings and gets up slowly from her chair at the kitchen table where she’s been studying for the past hour. She’s not in the mood for visitors. She doesn’t even know who would visit her, brand new and shy as she is. She hasn’t made any friends here yet.

When she finally opens the door, no one is there. She’s about to slam it shut in annoyance when a splash of color at her feet catches her eye. She bends over and picks up a plate of goodies. “Happy Friday!” the brightly colored note on top says. The new girl peers curiously around at her surroundings before retreating back into the apartment, but the only sign of life visible is a couple of crows squabbling over a fast food wrapper and a small, gray car pulling out of the parking lot. She shrugs and shuts the door behind her, heart feeling a little less heavy.

Outside, the driver of the little car witnesses the whole thing: the waitress leaving the plate of goodies on the step, her door-bell ditch, the bafflement of the girl in the apartment as she unsuccessfully scans the parking lot for her kind prankster. Some people are just so good, he thinks to himself. He really ought to be better at those kinds of things. He pulls out of the parking lot and turns in the direction of the local grocery store.

It hasn’t been that long since his last shopping trip, but he’s out of milk, something that is necessary for his daily bowl of cereal which he eats every evening right before bed. He also grabs a box of blueberry pop-tarts on a whim, followed quickly by a bag of carrots to balance sugar splurge.

It’s late afternoon, so the grocery store is not busy as he quickly purchases his few items. He wishes the cashier a good day and heads for the door, depositing his cart in the cart return on his say. As he does so, he passes a blonde who is struggling to collect her multiple bags of groceries from her cart.

He looks down at his single bag swinging from his hand. Here is his chance to follow the example of the doorbell ditcher. He makes a quick decision and alters his course towards her.

“Can I help you with those?”

The blonde looks up in surprise. “Oh, um, it’s ok…” she says uncertainly.

“Let me help,” he says, taking the last couple bags from her cart before pushing it into place.

“Well…thank you!” The blonde looks relieved. “My car isn’t far.”

She leads him to her car, an old, faded blue one. They set the groceries in the trunk.

“Thanks again!” she says sincerely.

He just waves and calls over his shoulder as he walks away. “Don’t mention it!”

She waves back and gets in her car, checking the time when she turns it on. Four forty. The lateness of the hour sends her into a small panic. Her calculus class is in twenty minutes. She needs to hurry home.

As she reverses from her parking spot, she thinks she spots the man who helped her with her groceries. That had been a huge help. She wishes she could somehow pay him back. She’ll be watching for an opportunity to spread the love around. Satisfied with that promise to herself, she turns her mind to the numbers and equations that await her.

The young man with the dark hair trudges down the long corridor, head down, hands deep in his coat pockets. Calculus is one of his tougher classes. It’s been a rough day, and the contented feelings he had felt earlier that bright and beautiful morning could not be farther away.

And he feels lonely. Some company would be good, but he will go home to an empty apartment tonight. Two of his roommates went home for the weekend, and the other will be working late. He sighs deeply, burying his hands even deeper into his pockets, shoulders slumping forward.

All at once, he becomes aware that the girl who has been walking just ahead of him since class is waiting at the end of the hallway, patiently holding the door open for him. He recognizes her long blonde hair from the calculus class he’s just left. He quickens his pace so that he doesn’t keep her waiting for too long.

“Hey, thanks!” he says when he reaches the door.

She smiles prettily at him. “No problem.” She follows him out the door into the cool twilight. “I’m just repaying a favor. I’m Lauren, by the way.”

“Britton,” he responds.

The two fall into step together. The young man smiles at the clear sky, purple with the fast-approaching night. It has been a beautiful day, he decides. The kind of day that makes one grateful to be alive.

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