Between the pelting rain and her tears, Lila could barely see her way along the narrow winding road. The illuminated fuel light warned her that she had no choice but to pull off the interstate for gas. How she got turned around she did not know, but now she was lost. If only she didn’t have to stop for gas: but again, it was not her choice.
That was the story of Lila’s life: no choices. Other than this trip, she could not remember the last time she had actually made a life decision that was not based on the needs, wants or expectations of others. She had habitually let her parents or kids make the decisions, just to keep the peace and make them happy. Whatever was expected is what Lila did. Even marrying her beloved Ben represented more of what was expected of her than anything else. Whether her choice or not, she figured God always worked things out and she and Ben had a great life.
While struggling to concentrate on where she was, Lila’s mind drifted back to when she had first seen Ben. She was attending a meet and greet dance when she noticed the newest student at Lincoln High. With his hands in the pockets of his gray gabardine slacks and his black jacket open to show a matching shirt, he idled in the comer next to the bandstand where he was moving his feet and body to the rhythm of every song. Multicolored lights from a disco ball intermittently shined on his five-foot-ten frame, highlighting a ruddy complexion and reflecting off large framed eyeglasses.
Lila and a group of other students couldn’t hold back outbursts of laughter as they watched awkward versions of the latest dances being performed by a couple of teachers. Still laughing, Lila’s attention drifted from the dancers to the young man standing alone near the bandstand. She started to walk toward him. He didn’t look unhappy, just a bit out of place.
A sense of guilt came over Lila; she couldn’t believe that none of the other students had taken the time to engage the newcomer in conversation. What the heck is wrong with these people? How hard could it be for someone to just speak to him? Well it’s up to me, I guess. Lila ran her hands down the front and sides of her skirt and strode directly up to him.
“Hi, I’m Delilah – Lila Carpenter,” she said.
“Ben Anderson,” he replied, as he stretched out his hand to give Lila a strong handshake.
“What are you doing over here in the corner?"
“Just listening to the music. There’s not much else to do.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you that this is a dance? Come on,” Lila said, pulling Ben toward the dance floor.
“Oh, no, I can’t,” he protested.
“Sure, you can. Just follow me. You’ve been listening and moving to the music for the past thirty minutes, so you can do the same thing with me on the dance floor.”
Sporting a big grin, Ben followed Lila to the dance floor. They danced to the next four songs before he suggested they take a break.
Finding two seats near the side exit, Ben and Lila shared their short life stories. Ben and his family had moved to the neighborhood the past summer from
Lila had lived in the same town all her life. Born to Isabel and Charles Carpenter, who were both in their late thirties at the time, she was also an only child. Lila and her parents lived a very reserved life that revolved around their family and church. Her mother never wore make up or fancy clothes and no jewelry other than her wedding band. There were hardly any visitors to her home and her parents rarely went out.
While in junior high, Lila dressed just like her mother—in plain, neat clothing with no frills. Just under five feet, Lila often found herself standing off to the side waiting for the taller and more confident students to rush by before she walked to her next class. A part-time job after school at the mall opened her eyes to fashion and accessories. By the end of junior high she was jumping right into the crowd, dressing in all the latest fashions and accessorized to the hilt. None of this made her forget what her parents had instilled in her; treat everyone as you want to be treated. Often disappointed that everyone did not follow this golden rule, Lila absolutely refused to break it. Sometime before her senior year, Lila had more friends than she could count and was invited and tried to attend every social event. She had a knack for making everyone feel special and she loved to see other people happy.
Lila introduced Ben to other students, who accepted him immediately. He came off like a real gentleman, and that night was the beginning of a very special friendship; a special bond grew between Lila Carpenter and Ben Anderson.
Over the next two years Ben treated Lila like a queen, flattering her in every possible way. He drove her to and from school, took her to see all the latest shows and never missed an opportunity to give her a gift. Lila liked Ben a lot and enjoyed all the fun times they spent together. His constant attention made her feel very special. The Ben and Lila saga was a sweet one that brought smiles and speculation to almost everyone in town. Even the most envious teens couldn’t help but speak kindly of the duo and wish them well. No one doubted that the two would someday be married--no one, that is, except Lila. As much as she enjoyed sharing time with Ben, she did not love him and certainly wasn’t going to marry him. Ben was her very good friend and that was that. Ben, on the other hand, had no clue that the girl he spent every free minute with didn’t love him as he loved her.
Along with most of the boys from Ben’s high school class, he was drafted into the military. Three months after graduation, Ben was saying goodbye to his friends and family from a platform at Union Station. Lila pulled Ben close and kissed him gently on the lips. Surprised by the kiss, Ben smiled and pulled her closer for a second, longer kiss. Prompted by the crowd to go for a third, Ben stepped back and mouthed the words “thank you” to Lila. She smiled and gave him one last hug before he boarded the train. It was at that moment she realized that Ben wanted more. She had never looked beyond the safety of their friendship. An intimate relationship was out of the question for her--with Ben or anyone else. Any thoughts she might have in that direction had long since been destroyed by Ray-Ray.