It was a Sunday and Will Stanford’s day was already packed and planned. He was a very disciplined planner and stuck to routine. With how strictly he stuck to routine, he would have made a very fine soldier. He woke up at 9AM to freshen up. After making sure that he was fresh, clean, and ready for the day, he ordered pancakes from IHOP and had Uber Eats deliver it to his dorm at Dunster House. While eating, he studiously did his homework and studied for an upcoming quiz in his Microeconomics class. At around 11:00, he stopped what he was doing, took out his Bible, and tuned into Harvard Memorial Church’s online service. After an hour of service, Will got hungry again and felt his stomach grumble. He then decided to go down to Dunster Dining Hall for some brunch before proceeding with the rest of his day.
After a good meal, Will Stanford went back to his dorm room for some more studying and then a nap. Finally, at 3 PM, he decided it was time. He opened the package he had received last Tuesday and took it out of its packaging. It was a couple of seashell shaped chocolate molds for making fancy little chocolates. Luckily, it fit into an old used Ferrero Rocher box that Will had in his possession. He asked for the key to the kitchen and went down to the basement of Dunster House to start on his little personal project. It wasn’t just any ordinary Sunday for Will Stanford. It was the day before Valentine’s Day and he needed to do something special for his crush, a beautiful blonde girl named Mary McBride who lived in Winthrop House. They met as freshmen and Will fell in love with her from the first second he saw her. She was a lonely homesick girl from Oregon (her older sister Katherine moved to San Diego to study at UCSD, while their oldest sister Anne lived three hours away and was studying at NYU—she felt like she was all alone); he was a lonely homesick boy from Kansas, and he was instantly drawn to her and she to him. But it was a one-sided romance. Mary McBride was hesitant to let herself fall in love with William Stanford and vowed to accept nothing but friendship from him. Will, however, was a very stubborn man and was determined to win her heart whatever the cost. If he needed to wait for a thousand years to be with her, then by God, he would wait for a thousand years.
“Okay,” Will said out loud to himself. “How do we do this? Melt your white chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan with boiling water for two to three minutes, stirring constantly. Repeat the process with your milk or dark chocolate. Got it!”
Will Stanford followed the instructions, stirring constantly until all the chocolate melted and formed some sort of ganache or sauce. He removed the melted white chocolate from the hot saucepan, set it aside to cool, and began working on his milk chocolate, repeating the same process and stirring constantly.
When both sauces had cooled enough, Will mixed his white and milk chocolate in a squeeze bottle as the instructions said—alternating between white chocolate and milk chocolate.
“You want more of the white chocolate more than the milk chocolate,” Will said, reading the instructions out loud while pouring the melted chocolate into the bottle—white, milk, white, milk, white, milk, white, milk, white. “Because that’s going to be the predominant color in our shells.”
Next, he proceeded to squeeze the chocolate from the bottle into his seashell and starfish molds. The marbled effect looked magical. He couldn’t wait to give it to Mary. He was nervous and excited in equal measure.
“Pop your chocolate in the freezer for ten minutes to harden,” Will said, opening the refrigerator’s freezer door and carefully placing the molds with melted chocolate inside it.
While waiting for ten minutes, Will decided to make another batch. This time, it was white chocolate and pink-dyed white chocolate. He washed the squeeze bottle with dish soap and water, dried it with a towel, and reused it for the second batch of chocolates. He replicated the process he employed earlier, alternating between white and pink. The second batch looked even more magical than the first.
When ten minutes had passed, Will took the hardened chocolates out of the freezer and put them inside the old Ferrero box, setting those aside. He then popped the second batch into the freezer, waited for another ten minutes, then mixed the second batch in with the first inside the box. He put the finished product inside the fridge to keep them from melting and proceeded to wash the utensils he had used, specifically, the spatula, the saucepan, and the three bowls he used. When that was done, he checked to make sure that the stove was turned off, took the box of chocolates out of the fridge, put everything back in its proper place, turned the light off, and went back up to his dorm room, where he rummaged for a beautiful ribbon to wrap the box in. After minutes of searching, he finally found a glittery red ribbon, which he tied around the box in a beautiful bow.
Will Stanford paced his room, debating with himself whether to give Mary his gift now or tomorrow. In the end, he decided he had to give it to her that day.
“Hi,” Will texted Mary, his nervous shaking fingers flying all over the keypad. “Are you in your dorm room right now?”
“I am,” Mary replied. “Just chillin’ with my roommate Maggie. Why’d you ask?”
“I’m on my way to drop off the notes you asked for,” Will answered. “Is that alright with you?”
“Yeah, sure,” Mary texted back in an instant.
“Alright,” Will said. “On my way.”
He grabbed his notes and the box of seashell shaped chocolates, put his boots on, and made his way over to Winthrop House, braving the chilly February afternoon air. When he reached Mary’s dorm room, Will knocked on the door. From inside, he could hear the faint twanging of guitar strings and Mary McBride’s angelic voice. She was singing a cover of Where Everybody Knows Your Name, the theme song from the sitcom Cheers. Suddenly, the music stopped.
“Hi,” Mary’s roommate Maggie greeted as she opened the door.
“Hi, Madge,” Will said. “Is Mary there?”
“It’s Maggie, not Madge,” Maggie corrected him. “And yes, she’s here. Mary? Will’s here!”
“Hi,” Mary said with a smile when she came to the door. Will couldn’t help but notice the color spreading on her cool alabaster cheeks and he felt himself blushing as well. He suddenly felt hot, like winter had somehow turned into summer in an instant.
“I brought you the notes you requested,” Will said. “From American Lit class… Oh! And these are for you, by the way. I was going to give it to you tomorrow but I was too excited. And nervous. The suspense would’ve killed me.”
“Thank you,” Mary said, nervously tucking a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “Um… Can we…talk?”
“Sure,” Will said with a look of concern. “Where do you wanna talk?”
“The Beren Rooftop Room is usually quiet,” Mary said. “I could sneak you up there.”
“Lead the way,” Will said, motioning with his hand.
Mary led the way to the top floor, Will at her tail. When they reached the Beren Rooftop Room, Will’s eyes grew wide and he whistled.
“This place is gorgeous,” he said in awe. “We shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. Nice. John Winthrop.”
“It’s quiet, too,” Mary said. “Sometimes, anyway.”
“So? What did you wanna talk about?” Will asked.
“Can we sit?” Mary asked, pointing to a couple of chairs.
“Yeah, sure,” Will said, taking a seat. “Why? What’s wrong? Mary? You’re scaring me.”
“Good,” Mary said. “Listen… It’s a bad idea for you to love me. Let alone date me. I’ll only end up hurting you and you’ll hate me for it.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Will asked. “I could never hate you.”
“Maybe you should,” Mary said, a sob escaping her breaking voice. “Before it’s too late.”
“Just…tell me what happened,” Will said.
“If you must know,” Mary said with a sigh. “In high school, I had a boyfriend. His name was Will too. Will Kelly. I loved him, he loved me. Things were going great between us. We thought we’d marry each other someday. Until the middle of junior year.”
“What happened?” Will asked.
“What happened was a jock named Harv King,” Mary answered. “I knew it was wrong, but I fell for his charms. He knew just what to say and do. So I left Will for him. Harv had a girlfriend at that time and she knew about it. But we didn’t care. We were in love. Or in lust, at least. And then his roving eye met my sister Anne and he cast me aside. And he cast his girlfriend aside. For her. My sister wasn’t the kind to break up a relationship—ever. But she fell for his charms too.”
“What a jackass,” Will said, nearly spitting in disgust and anger.
“Will and I had a long talk and he forgave me,” Mary said with a sob. “Took me back. Loved me again. Which he shouldn’t have.”
“And then what happened?” Will urged.
“But it was…short-lived,” Mary said with a sigh. “He…”
“Just let it all out,” Will said comfortingly, rubbing Mary’s back as she sobbed uncontrollably. “It’s alright. Just let it out.”
“We were just starting to date again, trying to reestablish our broken relationship,” Mary said with a sniffle. “When he…he…he contracted COVID.”
“Oh, God,” Will said. “I’m so sorry.”
“He died a few weeks after his diagnosis,” Mary said. “So there you have it. Reasons why you can’t love me. Or date me.”
“You think I care about that?” Will said. “I don’t! Mary, you’re worth more than your past. You’re worth more than that one stupid mistake. Nothing you ever do can push me or scare me away.”
“Promise?” Mary said, looking Will straight in the eye.
“I promise,” Will said, wiping Mary’s tears gently. “You’re a beautiful woman, inside and out, Mary McBride. And I’ll never leave you.”
“I don’t deserve all this,” Mary protested.
“No! Don’t you dare,” Will said. “None of that! You deserve everything good in life. End of story.”
“Alright, alright,” Mary said. “Fine. I don’t know if I can say I love you yet, though. I’m gonna need some time for that.”
“That’s alright,” Will said. “We have all the time in the world. I can wait for you.”
“But I will say I like you, though,” Mary said with a chuckle.
“That’s a start, at least,” Will said with a smile.
“Now, about that chocolate,” Mary said. “I’ll eat it. On one condition.”
“What’s that?” Will said with a raised eyebrow.
“You’ll eat it with me?” Mary pleaded.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Will agreed with a laugh.