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“Refried Dreams” by Cristie Cowles Charles

Refried Dreams


After that sophomore breakup—the one with the mess and goodbyes before he stepped into the MTC—she vowed to spend the summer alone, re-meeting herself as a member of the BYU Grounds Crew. She walked to work cursing herself for lowering her standards when that Breakup Boy had asked her out.


As she grabbed a bucket for weeds, she thought about how she’d followed redheads around campus. It started when her genetics teacher told the class, “Redheads with blue eyes are the rarest combination.” Maybe it was curiosity at first, but soon she’d found herself trekking up three flights of stairs just for a glimpse of orange. A guy with ginger curls would pull her out of her parabolic path towards calculus class and lead her in loops for a bit. She never got the nerve to talk to one; she just followed them like hope.


Then strawberry blond Breakup Boy had pursued her. He’d convinced her that his watered-down version of red made a decent approximation. “I should have known,” she thought as she stretched her fingers into the rough, BYU-issue work gloves. “Well, good riddance. This is exactly what I need now: sunshine, the smell of cut grass, and time to myself.” She spent early mornings yanking weeds, scraping the metal rotating edger along white cement, and cultivating dry ground with a yellow rake that she gave back at 5pm.


“At least this is better than flipping square meat at Wendy’s,” she told herself. Only the thirst and the glare made it sometimes unbearable. That and if she ever got stuck weeding next to someone else—like that girl who always chattered about her True Blue Missionary or that ever-swearing blond guy who was a backup benchwarmer on the basketball team. Didn’t they understand the whole point of weeding was to be left alone?


***


That day as the New Guy smiled through the chain-link fence at the base shed, her first thought was, “Finally, a cute guy on Grounds Crew!” But that olive skin and chocolatey brown hair shoved her back to her priorities. No hint of red streaked those locks, not even in the sun.


Still, that first day as she trained New Guy on tree root cultivation, he surprised her with his first question: “Have you ever heard of autosomal recessive disorders?” Did he speak genetics, too? They spent the next three hours talking karyotypes and polymerase chain reactions. She didn’t yet dare bring up blue-eyed redheads, but she looked for him the second day and the third. Without trying, she always knew where he was, whether riding the lawnmower (that the dumb, balding boss only let the boys drive) or blowing leaves into neat circles. She contemplated the shape of his back as he swung the weed whipper around tree trunks.


When they worked at different stations, they developed a familiar sign language: cupped hand-to-mouth meant “water break,” and once an hour or so, breaks with him became much more refreshing than water. Her roommates said they could always tell when she’d weeded next to New Guy just by the look on her face.


They went on dates to fireworks. Dates with fireworks. At a Mexican restaurant, she told the waiter it was New Guy’s birthday just to see what he’d do when the whole room sang “¡Feliz Cumpleaños!” And watching him grin back at her over rice and beans, she suddenly saw her life spread wide before her with one decision to make: give up her redheaded dream or break her heart. So she shattered her dream.


***


Under a full moon, she lay in a hallway of women moaning in unison, each waiting for a room in the jam-packed delivery wing. The dry wind outside must have raised up a call like a coyote that suddenly made every baby due at once.


Tenth on the list of her doctor’s priorities, she would wean herself off ice chips every 20 minutes, but each time the promised doctor failed to emerge. Her pierced spinal cord finally gave relief, but hours of pressure merged with extreme hunger, and she declared, “All I want is a burger! Or maybe just some rice and beans. Promise me at the end of this are some rice and beans!” New Guy nodded, and she held those prizes in her mind like a finish line.


One doctor and a pair of forceps later a cry finally echoed wide; she felt the weight of a warm, wriggly lump placed on her chest. Her mind couldn’t yet see outside her pain, so all she did was stare.


New Guy cut through the rubbery cord and turned to follow the nurses as they weighed and

measured. She watched the sweat drop from his chocolatey hair. His back muscles pulled as he washed, tucked, and swaddled. Then turning to place the bundle back into her arms, he whispered, “Honey, he has curly, red hair.” This piece was published in 2023 as part of the 12th Annual Mormon Lit Blitz by the Mormon Lit Lab. Sign up for our newsletter for future updates.

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