A Fool For Love
Stella Judson knew it was coming: the April Fool’s prank of all pranks. She climbed the stairs to her apartment, pausing every so often, looking for it. She opened her door slowly certain something would jump out. When she flipped on her lights and saw nothing, she laughed. Tension uncoiled from her shoulders. Why did she even think they, they being Greg, Dylan and Morgan from the Single’s group at church, could set up a prank in her apartment? She had escaped their mischief.
She’d suffered through enough failed attempts in her classroom to make up for it. Fortunately, the fourth-graders at Damascus Christian Day School were as inept at planning good pranks as they were at math. For the first part of the day, their lame pranks had provided her a little entertainment. By the end of the day, she was no longer amused.
She closed the door and dropped her bag and purse right where she stood. Another day…This had been her day ever since she’d moved from Northern Virginia to the sleepy suburb of Lancaster, PA. Leaving home and coming to the small Christian college attached to the day school hadn’t exactly been her plan. It also didn’t involve staying on as a teacher after she received her degree in Early Childhood Education, either. This was not the life she imagined she’d have.
“No regrets,” she mumbled as she headed into the kitchen. If she could just believe her words. She’d told herself that things would get better. That her situation was only temporary. She’d first told herself that four years ago and she was still coming home on a Friday night to any empty apartment.
Her students made her life exciting, April Fool’s pranks included. She couldn’t complain about working her dream job. She’d also connected with several singles at her church and they provided companionship when she needed it. As nice as it was, she wanted more.
She pushed away her gloomy thoughts and began preparing a simple dinner of baked chicken, roasted potatoes and salad. The single’s group loved her because she was one of the few who could actually cook. They loved her for her, but they also loved her for her cooking, especially Dylan.
She sighed. Dylan. He’d already played the biggest prank on her. He’d stolen her heart when she met him three years ago, but then quickly put her in the friend category. Dylan stood almost a foot taller than her, not hard since she wasn’t much taller than her students. His blue eyes always held a bright boyish sparkle and his smile only turned up the wattage. She’d come to love how his joy radiated from him in all he did.
He was a dedicated Christian, worked in advertisement, which allowed him to travel the world. She could even see how he would fit so perfectly into her family with his love of sports, which would make her father happy. His gentle ways and his ability to make a woman feel special would be a big hit with her mother and her two little sister. He was the all around greatest guy she knew…except when he was planning pranks with his two friends.
They had pulled off some substantial pranks. One year, when April Fool’s day fell on their normal meeting night, they snuck in the room the night before and turned all the furniture upside. The group had spent the whole session righting everything. Another year, they “accidentally” left their list of the planned pranks at the church. It included everyone in the Singles group as a victim. Everyone had counter-planned pranks based off the list. Unfortunately, the list was the prank. Stella herself had waited up most of the night waiting to spoil their prank, but the boys never showed up.
One year, Dylan had managed to convince the Singles pastor, Jeff, that his car had been stolen by Amish teenagers longing for a joyride. He had the man driving around the area, looking for the imaginary thieves. Thankfully, when the prank was over, Jeff had laughed about it, but from that point, no one took any of the three seriously.
Besides the pranks, Dylan had been a great friend, helping her transition to the area. Several girls were convinced that he was interested in her but she wrote off their suspicions. After four years, he would have made a move by now. He’d kept their relationship neutral, even though he called once a week to check on her and occasionally came over for cooking classes. Nothing to warrant her thinking that he was interested. He was just being nice and she had gone through great care to make sure he didn’t know how she felt.
Stella glanced at the clock as she removed her chicken and potatoes from the oven. Already 7:35. The boys must have decided to pick on someone else. Besides, Dylan had been traveling internationally last week. Maybe his schedule hadn’t allowed him time to plan anything. His life had been pretty hectic before he’d left. He’d only had time for short conversations with her that week.
She finished her dinner in the quiet, grading papers. As soon as she rose to carry the dishes to the sink, the doorbell rang. She paused, left her plate on the table and crept to the door. She checked the peephole and groaned.
She hadn’t escaped.
She put on her brightest smile, fortified herself and opened the door. “Hi, Dylan. You’re back.” And whatever prank you’re planning, I’m ready for you.
“I came here straight from the airport.” Dylan smiled. It did a little to lighten the exhaustion she saw on his face. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”
She motioned him inside. “Nope. Just finishing my dinner and grading papers.”
He stepped inside, but instead of sitting, he stood in the middle of her floor. She eyed him. “You hungry?”
He wrung his hands. “Not really.”
Yup. You’re up to something. “Did you enjoy your trip?”
“No.” His words were out of his mouth before she could finish asking. He still hadn’t moved from his spot in the middle of the floor. “Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He shifted, his eyes settling on hers.
She looked away, her cheeks warming. If she could only get over this silly crush. “Why don’t we sit?”
Dylan stared at the couch like it hadn’t been there a minute ago. “Oh, right.” He waited for her to sit first, and then took a spot next to her…a little too close. Her pulse ticked up and she swallowed.
She scooted away from him under the pretense of turning to face him. “So…”
Dylan blinked, eyes not leaving from her face. “So?”
“You wanted to talk about the trip?”
He shook his head. “Yeah, it was horrible.”
She reached out and placed her hand on top of his before she thought about it. “I’m sorry.”
Dylan jolted like she’d stuck a live wire to him. “Don’t be.” He glanced down at her hand. “The fact that it was horrible was good in a way.”
Stella laughed. “How so?”
Dylan scooted closer. “It gave me perspective.”
Stella’s stomach fluttered at his closeness. She mentally gave herself a shake. Don’t fall for this. It’s a prank. “On what?”
Dylan looked down at her hand again. With the slightest of motions, turned his palm up so that her hand slipped into his. He laced his fingers in hers. “My life. What I want out of it.”
Stella fought to breathe. “What do you want?” Her voice came out in a strangled squeak.
He brought his gaze back up to hers. “The whole trip I kept thinking about you.” He rubbed his thumb against the palm of her hand in circular soft motions. “All I wanted to do is come home to you.” He tightened his grip, and tugged her closer to him. “I know we have be nothing but good friends, but I think I fell in love with you the minute you showed up at the single’s group.”
Stella gasped. “You did?”
He nodded. “But you were so independent and you seemed so settled with being single, I didn’t know if you’d even been interested in a relationship with me.”
Happiness flooded her. “I…”
Before she could answer, his phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket and read the ID. He groaned. “Sorry. I have to take this.” He reluctantly released her hand and answered the call.
Stella sat there staring at him in joyous disbelief. Dylan had fallen in love with her. He loved her. All his visits and phone calls had been motivated by love.
“Yeah, I’m here.” Dylan’s words pulled her from her thoughts. “Greg, dude, I’ll call you back.”
Stella froze. Greg. He was talking to Greg. Greg his fellow prankster. Horror quickly replaced the joy she’d felt. This was a prank. It had to be.
Dylan ended the call, but before he could put the phone back in his pocket, she sprang from the couch, tears burning her eyes. “How could you?”
Dylan stared at her. “Are you all right?”
She swiped the tears from her cheeks. “This is a new low, Dylan. Lower than I ever expected you to go.”
He rose from the chair, reaching for her. “What are you talking about?”
She maneuvered around his grasp and swatted at his hand. “How could you toy with someone’s emotions? How could you be this mean?”
He held his hands up. “Whoa, Stella. I have—“
She pointed at his phone. “Was Greg laughing? I’m sure he and Morgan are having the time of their lives with this one.” She stomped over to the door and snatched up open. “Get out!”
Dylan moved towards her, eyes full of caution, but not out of the door. “Stella, I’m not really sure what just happened but I’m not leaving.”
Her tears increased. “Leave now.”
“Wait, I think there’s been some sort of misunderstanding—“
She folded her arms. “I understand completely. Your innocent act isn’t fooling anyone. To think I actually loved you.”
Surprise colored Dylan’s expression. He reached for her, paused, and then returned his arms to his side. “You love me?” His phone rang again. He glanced at it and then back at her.
“Go ahead and answer it. Tell Greg and Morgan how well your April Fool’s prank went.”
Dylan frowned. “April Fool’s?”
She yanked his arm and dragged him toward the door. “I thought you were a better man.”
Dylan tumbled forward but stopped just as he reached the door. He grabbed her by the shoulders. “Today is April 1st? You think this is an April Fool’s joke?”
“You know exactly what day it is.”
“I don’t know what day it is. I’ve been travelling out of the country. I’m not even sure I know what time it is.”
She struggled to wiggle out of his grasp. “Please, just go.”
He leaned down to her eye level. “What do I have to do to show you I’m serious?”
She shook her head. He wasn’t serious. “Please, go.”
He studied her for a moment. He reached up, cupped her face, and tipped it up. “Will this convince you?”
He lowered his lips to hers in a soft but firm kiss. He slid his fingers into her hair, pulling her closer. As if instinct, she kissed him back, her heart twisting and soaring. Was he really serious? Now that she found herself in a lip lock with him, her mind cleared. Dylan was a prankster, but telling her he loved her was a bit much. And this kiss, sweet and tender. Kissing a girl just for the sake of a prank would undo everything she knew to be true about his character as a Christian.
She pulled away and looked into his eyes. Wasn’t hard to see how his eyes sparkled with more than just mischievousness. There was love there.
“I’m not playing a prank, Stella. I love you. Will you marry me?”
Her tears returned but she grinned. “Yes.”
He pulled her into his arms and his phone rang again. He let out a huff before looking at it. “It’s Greg again. I told him that I planned to propose to you tonight. He probably wants to know how it’s going.”
Stella let out a happy sigh. “Go ahead and tell him.”
Dylan answered the phone, leaving his arm dangling around her waist. “Hey, Greg.” Dylan lowered his voice. He added so much sadness to his tone that the goofy grin on his face made Stella giggle. “Yeah. I asked her.” He bit back a laugh. “She said no.”