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Just One Step Behind

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“How do I look … but tell the truth?” Casey Tyler asked her best friend, Kylie Jameson, as she nervously tugged on her tight black, borrowed skirt. She never wore skirts. Casey didn’t really need to tell Kylie to be honest, though; she was always a little too honest anyway.
Casey and Kylie had been best friends since their mother’s were recovering from labor in the same hospital room, due to the insanely elevated rate of babies being born that day and to the terribly small town hospital. This meant Thanksgivings, Christmas’, birthdays, and vacations were spent together with their combined little family.
Kylie was there for Casey when her dad left them without notice, and in return, Casey was there for Kylie when her pet lizard, Sunshine, died. It’s not Kylie’s fault; some people just live charmed lives. But Casey can’t be blamed for being jealous, can she? Everyone has that one friend that they just can’t live up to. Ever since they were babies, Kylie’s done everything bigger and better. She learned to walk, talk, and read first, while Casey was just one step behind.
Once they reached the age of dating, boys were lined up to get a chance with The Kylie. Kylie was a classic beauty. She was different from all the other girls; classy. Like an Audrey Hepburn or a Marilyn Monroe…minus the ‘beauty mark’. If someone didn’t know the time period, it’d be believable that she was from the twenties. Most girls have to wear tight jeans with bedazzled butt pockets to get noticed. But none of that matters when it comes to Kylie. Her dirty blonde hair, waved down to the middle of her petite back and her green eyes had a certain spark in them. She had steady boyfriend after steady boyfriend, while Casey tailed behind with different boys every other week, while trying to find the right one. But despite their differences, as they approached their high school graduation, they’d never felt closer.
“Case, calm down. Like, breathe. You’re gonna be fine. I mean you’ve only been waiting for Emery to ask you out since he gave you his ham sandwich on the playground in…what was it, third grade?”
“…It was turkey. I dropped mine in the mud. I don’t know. I know I should be like really excited, but it just feels wrong. I mean, dating him doesn’t, but I just feel like tonight’s gonna be a disaster.” Casey sat down in Kylie’s lilac-colored alcove bed that she knew even better than she knew her own bed.
“You don’t even like turkey,” Kylie stated matter-of-factly with her signature, critical laugh and eye-roll. “The things you do to impress guys…”
“I liked his turkey, okay?” Casey said while trying to avoid Kylie’s judgmental looks.
“Okay, forget the turkey. All I’m saying is you need to calm down. You guys’ve always been close. It’s not like it’ll be awkward…well maybe it will be. I mean, let’s face it. You’re just awkward in general,” Kylie said, but immediately tried to fix it when she saw the look it caused on Casey’s face. “But he knows that. If he had a problem with it, he wouldn’t have asked you,” Kylie knew she couldn’t fix that one, so she made up an unbelievable excuse about going to the kitchen to get some water. If Casey had been listening she would’ve recognized it as an excuse, seeing how Kylie never drinks water and she’s also too lazy to walk all the way downstairs to get some. But she was too busy with her own thoughts to listen at all.
She stood up and walked over to Kylie’s enormous Victorian-style mirror and stared at herself a little too hard. Casey wasn’t ugly by any means. But she wasn’t even close to Kylie; then again, no one was. The difference between the two girls was that Casey had to try very hard to get noticed; she’d probably have an easier time getting noticed if she wore bedazzled-butt jeans. She had stick-straight brow hair that hit just below the shoulder blades of her back. In simple terms, she was just average. God, I hope I don’t look dumb in this outfit. Kylie always told me my body looked stubby in skirts, but she didn’t say anything about it tonight, and I doubt she’d let me go out on the most important night of my life looking all…stubby and I don’t know. And I really hope I’m not overdressed. “Well, this is as good as it’s gonna get”, she said out loud, quoting The Princess Diaries, a movie she and Kylie used to watch every day. In the back of her mind, she couldn’t help but worry that she’d misunderstood the situation, and that maybe he didn’t mean any of this as a date. It’s just too good to be true. With my luck at least.
The Friday before was when Emery had asked her to dinner.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………
“Hey Case?” she heard from behind her in the noisy, crowded hall. She recognized the voice as Emery’s and her heart automatically felt like it was going to fly straight up through her throat and out of her mouth. This always happened when she thought about Emery.
She turned around swiftly, “Oh, hey Em’, I thought you had English fourth period.
“I do... But it’s break.”
“Oh yeah, sorry. Wasn’t thinking,” she giggled nervously, feeling stupid for what she’d said. No matter how close they were, she would always be self conscious around him. Her thoughts automatically went to how she looked and if she sounded stupid.
He smiled his crooked toothed grin that she’d always found irresistible, “Anyway, I had two things to ask you. One, can I borrow your English notes on chapter four? I didn’t do it, and Mrs. Jenkins’s been a b**** the past couple days, so I figure she’ll check.”
“You always borrow my notes…like every day. I feel like asking is pointless anymore. You know I’m gonna say okay. But what’s your other question.”

“Thanks. I swear, after this week, I’m turnin’ over a new leaf.”

Casey couldn’t help but stupidly grin at that statement, seeing how every day he claimed that he was ‘turning over a new leaf’.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I’m thinkin’, next Saturday do you wanna go to that new restaurant on Fourth Avenue… uhh Ce-least, or something?”

“The fancy French one? Are you sure you don’t wanna get a hamburger?” she said with a giggle. “I mean, you can’t even pronounce it. It’s Céleste. I heard some girl say it.”

“No. I really wanna go there. I need to ask you something, but I wanna give ya’ a nice dinner so I can bribe ya’ and be absolutely positive you’ll say yes.”He flashed her a smile and put his hands together in a begging fashion. “Oh, and make sure you wear something like a skirt or a dress. Ya’ know, whatever girls that aren’t you wear. I don’t wanna look dumb and outta place. So you wanna go, right?”

He’s finally gonna ask me to be his girlfriend!

“No, wait, yeah. Sorry I was thinking too fast for my brain to process. Of course I wanna go.”, She tried not to sound too excited.

“Alright, cool. So it’s a date.” He turned to walk away, but stopped abruptly. “Oh yeah, lemme’ get that homework.”
…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………...

After thinking about it, she felt much better. That was way too romantic not to be a date, she thought with relief, even though it didn’t sound very romantic at all.

Kylie walked back in the room, without her glass of water, of course. “Hey, Em’s out front, I think,” she said like it was no big deal. But it was enough to draw Casey out of her semi-nervous trance.

“Oh God, okay. One last time, how do I look?” Casey said, becoming nervous all over again.

“You look like you always do”, Kylie replied, not realizing how terrible that sounded. “Oh Case, like one word of advice. Just tryyyyyy not to be all awkward. Like try not to do that nervous laugh thing you do when you’re around him. It’s kinda creepy. Plus, he’s been with a lot of girls. So guys like him can just smell fear, ya’ know?” She was always great at putting her foot in her mouth.

Deciding that it was too much effort to get offended by that, Casey just replied with, “That’s more than one word. But you don’t know how many girls he’s been with. Think about it? Have you ever actually seen him with a girl. No,” she turned and started toward the door before looking back quickly. “I’ll be back later. I hope you have to wait up for me, if ya’ know what I mean?” she said with a wink, trying way too hard to sound confident in front of her overly-confident friend.

Casey walked out of the expensively decorated home. It was way too big for just three people in Casey’s opinion. She spotted Emery’s ’67 Chevy Impala and gingerly tip-toed from stepping stone to stepping stone. Since they had a ‘landscaping person’, along with a ‘person’ for just about everything around their home, the already chic and modern walkway was lined with those, what Casey thought were on the verge of tacky, spiral-shaped shrubs.

As she neared the car, she heard the automatic locks click. A car that old wouldn’t have automatic locks. Nor would the automatic locks be accompanied with other modern things, like retractable seat-belts, heated seats, and a jack to plug his new iPhone into. But, Emery thought of the car as his baby, in a literal sense, so he decided that his baby deserved nothing but the best.

She opened the heavy, black car door and was greeted with Emery’s crooked grin. “Hey Case,” he paused, and took a better look at her. “Wow. You look like a girl, that’s a new one. Never thought that’d happened,” he followed the statement with his very loud, low pitched laugh, and she could tell that he thought he’d just told the world’s funniest joke. “So anyway, did you want me to pay or…”

“Oh, I don’t care. Whatever is fine. My mom gave me some money,” she lied. The only money she has was a wrinkled twenty dollar bill, that her mom had given her years ago for emergencies.

“Nahhh, I’ll pay. I forgot. I’m butterin’ ya’ up for the question I need to ask you. I just really want you to say yes.”

She was positive he was going to ask her to be his girlfriend. It was so obvious.

She uttered her nervous laugh that Kylie had warned her about, but caught herself fairly quickly. “Okay, okay. Whatever ya’d like.”

He reached down with his left hand, while he kept his eyes glued to the road, and successfully plugged his phone in, after a few tries. He cranked up his folky music so loud that they couldn’t even talk. He didn’t like rap like all the other guys in school, the ones that thought they were way cooler than they really were. She liked that he was the similar to all the other guys, but just unique enough in all the right ways. She had hoped to talk on the way to the restaurant, but didn’t mind all too much. This isn’t a bad sign. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to talk at our romantic dinner.

She took the time to look Emery over. He always wears the best clothes. He was wearing black slim-straight pants, and a plaid shirt that was rolled up loosely, right below his elbows. It looked as though he hadn’t shaved in a few days, and she really liked that. She always complimented him when he had a little stubble on his face. Maybe he didn’t shave just for me, she thought, overly excited at the thought that he might be doing something to impress her.

Fourth Avenue wasn’t exactly the closest location to Casey’s house. The ride took about fifteen minutes. But since she passed her time staring almost creepily at Emery, it passed all too fast. They pulled up to the tiny, café-looking restaurant. There was a line out the door of people trying to achieve the unachievable: a walk-in table.
Emery saw the worried look on her face and laughed softly to himself. “No worries, I got reservations, like the day I asked you out…I mean, ya’ know, asked you to dinner.” She smiled and grabbed his hand. She’d touched his hands a billion times, as friends, but this time, she knew it was different. His hands were always rough for some reason, but she liked the way they felt.
“C’mon, let’s go eat”, she suggested, because he hadn’t moved since she grabbed his hand. “I’m starrrving.”
“Yeah, okay.”
They walked into the little building. The décor wasn’t surprising at all. It looked like all the fancy European themed restaurants that you see on TV. The walls were a deep red/maroon color, and there were fancier versions of your every day Christmas lights, hung all over the walls. There weren’t any chairs at the restaurant; there were only booths, the same color of the wine-colored walls. Along the booths, there were green and purple plastic grapes. Each place at each table was adorned with a crystal wine glass. Oh God, it’s gonna be so embarrassing when they take our wine glasses away ‘cause we’re too young. I really hope Em’ won’t get embarrassed…He was already afraid we were gonna look out of place. Okay, Case. Just calm. You’re finally with Emery. On a date. In a fancy restaurant. This is your night.
“Uh yeah, I have reservations for two. Under Cole,” Emery snapped her out of her thoughts as he spoke, unsure to the host. The host had a nametag that read Ty. Not Tyler, just Ty. His hair was formed into a sort of warped mohawk. It looked like one of those slanted roofs that they put on houses to make them look all modern and futuristic. On his mouth, sat a multi-colored, beaded piercing that circled around his plump, glossy lip. He definitely has a life-partner waiting for him at home, Casey thought with a laugh, and she could tell that Emery was thinking it, too.
There was a harsh, judging look prevalent in the host’s face. Casey couldn’t exactly tell why. She thought maybe he was judging them because he thought they were too young to be eating at Celeste. But maybe he was just judging them because he could tell that they were judging him. Despite this, he formed a false, forced smile on his plump, beaded lips and replied, “Ooookay, Cole, party of two. Right this way,” like they needed him to repeat it.
They trailed behind the eccentric host, as he walked a little too fast for them to follow at a comfortable pace. As they neared their table, which was located in the corner of the small restaurant, under dim light, the host subtly took away the wine glasses and walked back to his podium. Casey was glad he didn’t say anything about them being too young to drink wine. Casey slid awkwardly into the smooth leather booth, feeling the unfamiliar cold on her thighs, and smiled at Emery, who was already sitting across from her. “Sooo…”, he blurted, like he always did when there was silence. “I’m really glad you came. It was sorta important to me, ya’ know?”
He’s sooo romantic. “Yeah, it was kinda important to me too. I was actually kinda surprised you asked me at all,” was all she could think to say. She didn’t want to sound too enthusiastic. Like it meant the world to her that he’d asked her, even though it did. But she didn’t want to sound like it meant nothing.
“Really?!” he looked down at the woven placemat with a grin. “I mean, I figured you would’ve been expecting this for like…ever. I thought everyone expected it.”
Oh my god. Oh my god, Oh my god. She did her nervous laugh and didn’t even try to hide it this time. Like Kylie had said, he wouldn’t have asked her if he had a problem with it. “I—”
Right as Casey was about to speak, an overly-tan, short waitress in the restaurant’s hunter green uniform waltzed over. She was holding two glasses of water, that she sat in front of them when he arrived at the table. “Hi guys! My name’s Megan and I’ll be serving you today. Here’s your drinks.” Megan had shoulder length, light brown hair. She looked like the kind of girl that would call herself ‘curvy’, when she was really just sort of chubby. Besides her skin, that looked like it had spent all twenty some years of it’s poor life in a tanning bed, and her smoky eye shadow that extended almost past her overly pointed and plucked eyebrows, Casey couldn’t find anything special about the girl. She only saw that the girl tried way too hard, and thought she was the hottest thing alive.
Casey glared back and forth between the water and the peppy little waitress. Girls like Megan annoyed her, especially when they intercepted the most important conversation of her life. But like Kylie, Casey almost never drank water. “Uh, excuse me…Megan. We didn’t order any water.”
Casey could tell that this statement annoyed the life out of the impatient well-cooked girl. But like the host, she pasted on an obviously fake, and somewhat catty smile. “Yeah. See, we only serve wine and water here. Like they do in France, I think. But anyway, since you all clearly aren’t old enough to have wine, I brought you some waters. Unless you don’t want a drink?”
She had to mention the wine. Just had to. Right away, she felt stupid and looked down shamefully at her menu. She felt Emery’s rugged black converses, that’s he’d had for at least four years, kick her shin under the table. When she glanced up, she could tell Emery was furious, and there was also a hint of embarrassment. The lines between his thick eyebrows merged with the deep scar on the inner side of his left eyebrow, like they always did when he was angry.
Megan broke the silence eventually. “So”, she said in her annoying, high-pitched voice, that sounded like she was trying to talk in a sort of baby/sassy hybrid. “Do you know what you all are having tonight, or do you need a little more time?”
When Emery looked up at the waitress, he forced his face to soften. “Uhm, yeah. We’re gonna need a little time, Megan. Thanks,” he flashed her his signature grin, and she pranced away, swinging her hips so hard Casey thought they would fly off her pelvic bone.
Geez, nice try at the fierce walk. Needs a little practice, Tyra. And his smile’s s’posed to be mine tonight.
He looked across at Casey, who had been staring at him patiently. “She’s pretty.”
Casey figured Emery thought Megan was hot. Most guys would, because they don’t generally see beauty. Just boobs. Casey looked at him and simply said, “She’s burnt. Oh, and her eyebrows look like little waxed Indian teepees.”
Emery rolled his eyes. “Tan’s good. And I like how she looked in corduroy. Makes her curves look good.”
…Curves. Of course. “Em’ come on, stop hitting on our server.”
He paused for a moment and a sly grin became painted on his face, “Trust me. I’m not interested in her,” he said abruptly.
Because he likes me!
She giggled softly and he went on to talking about his car. She wasn’t really listening, but she knew the gist of it. She knew he was talking about what else he was going to add to his baby when he got the money. She decided to try a tip that Kylie had given her. She remembered Kylie telling her a couple hours before she left for the date.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
“So when he’s talking to you, try to act like your listening. Even if you’re not. Just squint your eyes, and smize at him,” Kylie said confidently, while she was applying Casey’s make-up on the tan carpet of her bedroom.
“…Smize?”
Kylie rolled her eyes so far in the back of her head, Casey was sure they would stick. “Yeahhh, smize. You know, smile with your eyes. Squint. You just gotta look intense. Oh and when you can tell he’s about to ask you out, just be all cute and kiss him before he can ask. Act like you didn’t expect him to ask at all.”
Casey thought it over for a minute. “Are you sure that’ll work. I mean, for me?”
Kylie just smiled and said, “Who knows everyyyything about guys?”
Casey sighed and said, “You.”
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Casey heard something that wasn’t about a car, so she started listening.

“Case. Case!” he whisper yelled.

“Huh, what?” Case said confused. She knew she’d missed something, but she didn’t know what.
“Do you feel alright? I mean,” he laughed to himself in the palm of his hand, “What are you doing with your face? You look constipated.”
Oh my god. I should’ve known I couldn’t smize, she thought. She could feel her face turning the beet red color, a color very similar to the maroon color of the restaurant booths.
She didn’t want to say anything. She wanted to hide in the hole Alice in Wonderland came out of. Actually, any hole would’ve been fine at this point. But she knew she had to say something, quick. “Uh, yeah.” She paused, and then smacked her hand on her forehead, realizing what she’d just said. “I mean, no! I’m completely fine. Completely. I just, I don’t know. I was really interested in…” She racked her brain trying to think of what he’d said. “…the transmitter thing…that you were talking about. I like cars, a lot.”
“Transmission.”
“Huh?” Casey grew more confused with every sentence. She felt like Kylie, digging herself in deeper and deeper.
“I was talking about the transmission. For my car. But whatever, I like that you listen. You’re a really good person, Case. Which is why I wanted to ask you…” he said. He seemed a little nervous, and Casey knew he was about to ask her to be his girlfriend.
Finally, finally, finally, finally. I hope you’re right Kylie. Who am I kidding, you’re always right.
Casey took in a breath of boldness and leaned over the table, being sure not to knock over the glasses of unwanted water. Nothing was going to ruin her moment. Before she had a second to think, she could feel his wet, soft lips on hers. They were much softer than his hands. It was the most perfect moment. More perfect than anything she had seen in any of her movies. And more perfect than any of the meaningless kisses that’d she’d received from the trashy, bad-intentioned guys in the past. This one meant something, and it seemed to last forever.
Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. I hope this never ends.

Right as that thought made it to the front of her mind, she felt Emery’s lips open.

Oh my god, open mouth? At dinner? Oh my god, he’s into it. Kylie was right.

Then the unexpected came along. She felt his lips move on hers, forming a word. More than one word. She could hear his muffled voice say the last thing she wanted to hear tonight, or ever really. “Uh, Case? What the hell are you doing?”

Casey immediately backed away and slowly returned her uncomfortably skirted butt to the booth. “I was kissing you. I mean…I knew you were about to ask me out, so I thought it’d be…cute. I understand if you don’t wanna kiss right now. PDA’s not really all that much of my thing either. Or if you’re mad that I interrupted your ‘moment’. I mean I figured you could go back to it, but whatever it is…” She cut herself off. She knew she was rambling too much. Kylie had warned her about that. She stared at Emery, and she didn’t understand the confused, slightly sad look in his cerulean blue eyes.

After almost a minute, he spoke. “Case. I didn’t… Uh lemme’ figure out how to say this nicely.” He paused some more, and then said what he’d come up with. “I don’t like you. You’re like…my friend.”

Casey could feel her stomach, heart, other organs completely disintegrate, like they’d been blasted by an atomic bomb. She was devastated and could feel every muscle in her body tensing. She was using every bit of the little bit of strength she had not to cry. She didn’t know what to say. “Then why. Why did you take me on a date if you didn’t—”

Emery broke in and sounded surprisingly insensitive, “This isn’t a date.”

Casey’s organs began to shift into a different emotion; she began to get angry, and her fists were now clenched so tight that her knuckles began to turn white, to restrain from punching Emery in his perfect face. “You said it was a date! You said ‘It’s a date’! What do you mean it’s not a date?!”
“Oh come on, Case. Everyone says ‘it’s a date’. It’s a phrase. I told you I took you here to bribe you. Who bribes someone on a freaking date? Come. On. Are you dumb?”
At this point, Casey was too confused to feel any emotion. Or maybe the mad and sad emotions just cancelled each other out. “Em’…Then what? What the hell did you want to ask me? You bring me here. I wore a skirt. And make-up. I got all dressed up. Do you think I normally do this when I go out with a guy? ‘Cause I don’t.”
“I mean, I told you to look like a girl so…I thought you were just looking like a girl. I don’t know. Case…I brought ya’ here to ask you for your help!”
“On what Emery? What?” Casey replied, becoming angrier by the moment.
“I- I. Case, I’m gay.”
He’s gay?! This was what he wanted to tell me?? It took a few moments for Casey to fully comprehend what he was saying. For a second she didn’t even believe him, until she saw the seriousness on his face as his brows wrinkled in.
“I can’t believe you. I really can’t. You led me on, and I know you’re not that dense. You knew I liked you, Emery,” Casey stared straight into Emery’s eyes, seeing his shocked face. “I mean what was the bribe then? What did you even need?” Casey continued.
Emery looked down at the table and, after a moment, sighed. “I wanted to come out. To my dad. I just thought…since you were my friend that you could—”
Emery didn’t have time to finish before Casey broke in. “I can’t do this right now. I can’t.”
Emery looked up and nervously took a drink of his untouched water, she took the opportunity to slide out of the booth and walk toward the door. Emery stood as well, and calmly said “Come on, Case. Don’t make a big deal outta this. I just…I wanted your help,” Casey was getting closer and closer to the door, so he tried one last time. “Case, please!”
Emery sat back in his booth, and immediately the waitress walked back over. It had been literally forever, and if they hadn’t been so intent on their lovely conversation, they probably would have left due to the terrible service anyway. Emery couldn’t help but think that the waitress had purposely forgotten them.
“I’m soooo sorry it took soo long. We’re short on waitresses tonight. So what’d you want to eat?”
“I think the dinner’s over. So I’ll just leave. Sorry for wasting your time or whatever.” Emery arose and headed for the door.
“Uhm, actually. You have to pay for just having reservations here…and for the water. It’s not just free.” The waitress said.
Emery pulled out his tan leather wallet. At least he didn’t have to pay for dinner.





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