Race to Date
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
“I want out of the deal.”
“What?” Ben asked. “Why?”
“I just don’t feel right about going to this wedding with ulterior motives.”
Ben rolled his light blue eyes and smiled.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked. “Harper, the whole point of weddings is for all the sad single people to hook up!”
I tugged at the hem of my pale pink dress and shifted in the passenger seat of Ben’s truck. The straps of my wire bra dug into my shoulders, and I was already counting the minutes until I could take it off. I was dreading the moment I had to get out of the car and walk in my heels. I missed my Vans.
“I don’t think that is the whole point of weddings,” I said. “It’s about celebrating two people coming together as one.”
“Tomato, potato,” he said and shrugged.
I couldn’t contain my laughter.
“What? That’s not the—”
“Whatever,” he said, cutting me off. “We should go in. It’ll be kind of be hard to find you a date if everyone thinks we came together.”
“Technically, we did come together.”
“Because it was convenient. Why do you always have to be so practical?”
From anyone else, this remark would have been hurtful. However, coming from Ben, I knew it was nothing more than a playful tease.
Ben got out and didn’t bother to wait for me. I stepped out of the truck and took a few quick strides to catch up with him.
“Thanks for waiting,” I said and lightly hit his bicep with the back of my hand.
He smiled and shrugged.
It was a short walk from the parking lot to the venue.
The setup was quaint and embodied every girl’s boho dream. The barn was rustic and a faded brown color. The barn doors were slid open on both sides. Strands of string lights hung from the roof to the courtyard where the reception would be held post-ceremony.
We were thirty minutes early, but a large majority of the seats were already filled.
When we were several yards out from the barn’s entrance, Ben stopped and looked at me.
“How do I look?” he asked. With both hands on his hips, he flashed his cheesiest smile and squinted his eyes shut.
His brown hair and beard were freshly cut and groomed. He wore straight khakis and a pale blue button-down under a light gray suit jacket.
“It looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me if I want to win this bet,” I said.
Ben opened his eyes wide and feigned hurt, but he quickly smiled, unable to help himself.
“Guess that’s good news for me,” he said. “I am going to crush you!”
I rolled my eyes.
“In your dreams.”
“Okay, so one more time, let’s go over the rules,” Ben said, suddenly very serious.
He was goofy, but he didn’t mess around when it came to winning bets. His competitive spirit was part of why he and I got along so well, and it was also a big reason we fought so often.
“I find a girl for you, and you find a guy for me,” I said. “They can’t be anyone that we already know, and drunks don’t count.”
“And the winner gets bragging rights from now until eternity,” Ben said. His smile returned.
“All right, let’s go! I’ve got a bet to win.”
He turned and started walking quickly toward the barn’s entrance. I followed behind but didn’t worry about catching up to him. It was game time.
When we entered the venue, I quickly lost track of Ben. He was on a mission, and I likely wouldn’t see him again until he’d found me a date. He had laser focus when it came to finishing a task, especially when there was competition involved.
Though, as competitive as he was, I had every intention of finding him a date first and winning the bet. The truth was that it’d be nice to get a date out of today. However, I didn’t care so much if I left this wedding with a date. I only wanted Ben to be happy.
I scanned the crowd of wedding guests, and my eyes landed on a group of three girls sitting toward the middle—two blondes and a brunette. I walked down the aisle and gave myself a quick pep talk before making my approach.
You got this, Harper. It’s not that weird to ask to sit with them. Just remember to smile!
When I reached the aisle where the three girls were sitting, I put on my brightest smile.
“Hi,” I said. Immediately, I cringed at how high pitched my voice had suddenly become. “Do you mind if I sit with y’all? I didn’t come with anyone.”
Geez, nice job sounding pathetic.
The girl with blonde curly hair smiled at me. She had kind brown eyes.
“Of course,” she said. She turned to the other two girls to her right and motioned for them to scoot down.
I muttered a quick thank you and took a seat.
“Are you all friends of the bride or groom?” I asked, forcing myself to make conversation.
“Bride,” they said in unison.
The girl immediately to the right of the blonde, curly-headed girl leaned forward to look at me.
“What about you?” she asked.
“Both, actually,” I said. “We all went to the same church for a while.”
“Oh, that’s sweet.”
I nodded, and the conversation lulled.
“I’m Harper, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Harper,” the blonde, curly-haired girl said. “I’m Lilly, and this is Taylor and Rachel.”
The two girls to Lilly’s right waved.
“Nice to meet y’all too,” I said. “Where are you from?”
“I’m originally from the Dallas area, but I moved up here to Edmond after college,” Lilly said.
“I’m from Norman,” Taylor said.
“Same,” Rachel said.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” I said. “What all do you do—”
My question was abruptly cut off by the start of music. Everyone shifted in their seats to look over their shoulders toward where the wedding party would come down the aisle.
Part of me was relieved that the wedding was commencing, so then I would have more time to come up with questions for the girls I’d just met.
Though, as soon as Emily stepped into view and I saw Caleb’s face, thoughts of everything else vanished. She was gorgeous, and Caleb practically melted when he laid eyes on her.
The ceremony was beautiful, and afterward, I felt silly for trying to make this day about anything else other than a celebration of Emily and Caleb’s love.
Following the ceremony’s conclusion, I stood up and turned to thank the girls for allowing me to sit with them.
They were sweet and said they were glad to have met me.
I walked up the aisle and out of the barn. I headed for the courtyard where the reception was to be held. Several other guests were ahead of me and already making their way through the snack bar line.
My stomach growled, and I remembered that I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast this morning. The cup of coffee I’d had for lunch didn’t carry me very far.
The snack table was filled with an assortment of fruits and vegetables and dips. I piled my plate with food and then made my way to a table toward the outskirts of the reception set up. I concentrated on not tripping in my heels or spilling my plate.
Once I made it to a table, I sat down in the wooden folding chair. I happily ate my food, and I watched as Caleb and Emily made their first grand entrance as husband and wife.
I was content with people watching until I saw Ben making his rounds.
All of a sudden, I felt queasy. Though, I wasn’t entirely sure why.
Ben looked so at ease, naturally making friends with everyone he talked to. He was so charismatic and relatable. I couldn’t help being slightly envious of his ability to talk to strangers with so little effort.
I don’t know how long I watched him before Emily came up beside me.
“Hey, you,” she said and smiled.
Her auburn hair fell in loose curls, cascading her slender shoulders and bare back. Her green eyes shone with pure joy.
I smiled back at her and immediately stood up to hug her.
“Hi!” I said excitedly. “Congratulations! I am so happy for you, Em.”
“Thanks, Harper. I’m so glad you could make it.”
She paused for a moment.
“How come you’re sitting out here by yourself?” she asked. “Where’s Ben?”
I shrugged and pointed to the group of guys Ben was standing with several tables away. Then, I proceeded to explain the bet to Emily.
“I’m sorry, Em,” I said. “I tried to back out of the deal, but Ben wouldn’t let me. I know today is your day. Are you upset with me?”
“Upset?” she said and laughed sharply. “Why on earth would I be upset? That’s part of the fun of weddings!”
I couldn’t help but laugh at her amusement.
“That’s what Ben said too.”
I stole another glance in his direction. He was gesturing emphatically with a giant grin—no doubt in the middle of a story. I smiled.
“Harper,” Emily said. Her voice reeled my attention back. Her expression was soft. “What are you doing over here? You clearly like Ben.”
“What? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She scrunched her thinly plucked eyebrows and rolled her eyes.
“Seriously? It’s so obvious.”
I knew she was right. Deep down, I had known about my feelings for Ben for a long time. I just refused to acknowledge them. We were friends, and I didn’t want to mess that up.
“He doesn’t think of me like that,” I said.
“Have you ever asked him?”
“No, I’m not. Sometimes the best things in life require you to take a leap of faith.”
“I don’t want to mess up our friendship. He’s my best friend.”
“I get it. But you’ll always be left wondering if you don’t say something.”
“Looks like your about to get the chance to,” Emily said in response to my silence.
I glanced back in Ben’s direction and saw him walking toward us. My heart hammered in my chest.
“No, I need to think about this before I—”
“Harper, for once in your life, just take the risk. Stop being so practical.”
Emily reached for my arm and gave it a light squeeze.
“Hey, Emily!” Ben shouted from a few yards away. “Congrats!”
“Thanks, Ben,” she said and then turned to me. She leaned close and whispered, “Good luck.”
“I’m going to go find Caleb and continue making the rounds,” Emily announced and walked away.
Once she was gone, Ben turned his focus to me. His blue eyes were bright with excitement.
“Hey, when I win this bet, will you name your first child after me?” he said and laughed. “I think I found several prospects.”
I bit my lip and hesitated before responding. I didn’t know what to say or how to express all that I was feeling. I felt giddy and nauseous all at once.
“Woah,” Ben said, noticing my expression. “What’s wrong? You’ve got your ‘big brain’ thinker face on.”
My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest, and I knew if I didn’t say something now, I would lose my nerve.
“I think I found someone for you,” I said finally.
“What? Who?” Ben asked, looking around at the sea of reception guests behind him.
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
He turned back, and his eyes locked on mine. At first, he was too stunned to say anything. Instantly, I regretted bringing this up.
“You don’t have to—” I started to say.
“Wait, are you serious?” he asked, cutting me off.
I stared at him, trying to gauge what he was thinking. After a little hesitation, I nodded.
Suddenly, his hands were on my waist and pulling me close. My body pressed against his, and his lips locked on mine.
It took me a moment to process what was happening.
When he pulled away, he smiled the biggest smile I’d ever seen.
“I didn’t think you thought of me like that,” he said.
“I didn’t think you thought of me like that either!”
“Well, aren’t we just a pair of idiots.”
I wrapped my arms around him. My body was finally responding.
“I guess we both sort of won the bet, huh?” I said.
NOTE: This is a short story that I wrote for my Theories of Professional Writing class in Fall 2020. It was written for young adult audiences and is a work of fiction. This work required me to apply all of my knowledge of writing and what I've learned in my PW degree.