"You want a refill on that Coke?" The waitress asked, smacking her chewing gum.
"Uh, yes please," John replied. The waitress took his glass back to fill it up.
Ebony shook her head in disbelieve and grinned.
"What?" John asked.
"It's nothing," she said. He stared at her questioningly, and she finally broke into a small laugh. "It's just that I've never seen a 15 year old boy be so polite before."
John blushed and pushed a fry around on his plate. "My family thinks it's really important. Especially my grandparents." He began to recall a memory that made him smile. He turned his gaze back to Ebony. "This one time," he began, "When I was about 8, I remember, we were at this big charity event. I had gotten some punch, and had forgotten to say thank you to the man serving it. Gamma told me to march back over there and thank the server. So, I turned around, and ran right into my older brother! I spilled punch all over his white shirt!"
Both of them started laughing. The waitress came back and set John's coke on the table, along with the tab. After a few minutes of laughing, they regained their composure.
"Well at least you learned something," Ebony said.
"Yes I did," John replied. "I learned to say please and thank you. And I also learned never to spill anything on my brother, because when we got home he beat me up!"
Ebony chuckled, then her face changed to one of confusion. "Wait, I thought you said it was just you and your sister? You have an older brother, too?"
John's smile quickly fell, and a lump formed in his throat. He cast his eyes back down to his plate, as he felt them begin to water. "Uh, had a brother," he said in a choked voice. He cleared his throat a few times, and looked back up at Ebony. "He died when I was 10. Leukemia."
Ebony's face was full of sorrow. Full of pity, full of compassion. He hated getting that look from people when he told them about Bobby. It made him feel the sorrow all over again, and made him forget anything good that was happening. John felt the tears begin to trickle slowly down his face, and he sniffed, trying to hold them back.
"Excuse me," he said quickly, darting off toward the bathroom before Ebony could say anything. He ran in through the door, and locked it behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught his reflection in the mirror. There he stood, in a full suit, crying like a child. The pathetic site only made him cry more. For several minutes, he just cried.
Finally, he composed himself and turned on the cold water. He splashed some onto his face, and dried it with a paper towel. His sorrow turned to humility as he thought of what Ebony must think of him. He angrily threw the paper towel into the trash can. Why did he have to be so sensitive? Why couldn't he be more like Chase, always calm and collected around girls, and impervious to reminders of the tragic Carter family? John just wanted to go home, and crawl into bed, and cry himself to sleep, and hate himself for having to cry. He took a deep breath, then went back into the restaurant.
Ebony was still sitting at the table, which surprised him somewhat. He figured she would have left by now, called a cab and gone home. Yet she was still there, waiting for him.
Without a word to Ebony, John took the bill up to the counter. The waitress rang him up, all the time giving him a strange look. Probably just waiting for him to start crying again. John took his change, and left a tip on the table. He muttered to Ebony, "Let's go." Without a word, she got up.
Alger was still waiting outside in the limousine. John opened the back door and let Ebony in, then got in himself. He slammed the door behind him, and Alger took off. Then he and Ebony sat in uncomfortable silence for a while.
Finally, Ebony said, "John, I'm sorry."
"It's Ok, it's not your fault," he replied, in a more tender tone. "I'm just too sensitive."
"No you're not, you're perfectly normal. In fact, you're more than that. You're wonderful."
It took a moment for John to process what she was saying. "I guess I just haven't gotten it out of my system yet."
"It's Ok to feel grief," Ebony said.
"But..." John said. "I don't want to dwell on it all the time. I don't want to turn into my mother, and run away all my life. And I don't want to turn into my father and be stuck consoling people all the time. And I don't want to turn into my sister and alienate everyone close to me. But I'm tired of having no one to talk to." Ebony said nothing, and John realized he had been babbling. "I'm sorry. You don't need to hear all this. Here I am going on and on about all my problems, it must make you pretty depressed."
"You know," Ebony said, "I have no idea what being in your situation is like, but I know that when something bad happens to me, I try to find the good in it."
John thought about that for a minute. How could anything good possibly come from the mess that was his family? Then it dawned on him, "It did make me want to become a doctor," he said.
"A doctor?" Ebony echoed. She paused for a moment, then smiled. "You know, I can see that. I think you'd make a really good doctor."
For the first time since they'd stepped into the limo, John looked at Ebony. "Really?" he asked. "Because my family really wants me to take over the business."
"No, you'd make an excellent doctor. You're extremely smart, and you also have compassion for people."
John smiled honestly. "Thanks," He said. Then he asked, "What about you? What do you want to be?"
Ebony bit her lip and blushed a little. "Well, actually," she said, "I want to breed horses."
John grinned, "Oh, so that's why you were so interested in my horse."
"Yeah, I really would like to see her some time. And I'd love to come to one of your shows."
"Of course," John said. He was so exuberant now. For once, he didn't feel like a loser. "It's a date," he said, before realizing what he was saying. As soon as it was out, he wanted to take it back. He could feel that familiar heat coming back into his cheeks. "I mean, um..." he looked at his shoes.
Ebony put a hand under his chin, and turned his gaze back to her. "Of course it's a date," she said. Then she smiled softly.
John could feel his heart beating out of his chest. Ebony seemed to him to be radiant. She was so beautiful, so full of spirit, and so understanding. Yet he was so incredibly scared and full of apprehension. Then, in a rare moment of bravery, he slid his right hand up towards Ebony's cheek. He closed his eyes, and leaned in toward her, and she leaned in toward him. And for a moment, they kissed softly on the lips. The moment was only a few brief seconds long, but it seemed to last forever.
When the kiss ended, John was smiling the biggest smile of his life. Ebony smiled back.
The car rolled to a stop, and they both realized they were in front of Ebony's house. John got out, and held the door for Ebony as she slid out after him. He took her by the hand, and walked her slowly toward her front door. He suddenly did not want the night to end. It had somehow gone from apprehension to embarrassment to excitement to sorrow to exhilaration. John felt like he was floating.
The front door opened, and Mrs. Morris was standing there. "Did you two have a good time?" she asked.
"We had a great time," Ebony said. She stepped inside, and her mother scurried away. Ebony then turned back to John. "So when is your next show?"
"It's next Saturday at 2 o'clock," he replied. "I can pick you up at noon, and we can go get something to eat."
"That sounds wonderful," Ebony said. She smirked, then added playfully, "Now get out of here, Carter, you're letting the cold air in."
"Goodnight," John said, as the door closed. He grinned from ear to ear. He was in a state of bliss, and for the first time in a long time, all seemed right in the world.