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Aaron is playing for me. I can see it in his eyes, read it in his body, and hear it in his honest, innocent words. It’s cute, really. The way the lights in the dark bar are illuminating him, just the way he wants. Sweat shines through his white t-shirt and glistens on his face, and his muscles pop out of his sleeves just enough. His dark hair is wet, too, and his transparent eyes stare out into the blinding lights and the black nothing.
The bar smells like beer and smoke and something else—that dirty sort of desire for something that leaves you willing to do anything, absolutely anything, for it. That’s the kind of desire that’s filling Aaron’s eyes to the brim. He’s sitting on that stool, singing in his crystal clear, but sort-of nasally voice, hunched over, his full lips brushing the microphone, blurring the spaces between the syllables of the lyrics. I’m perched at a table by myself, just a girl going to dutifully support her boyfriend in his musical ambitions. My drink—whiskey with something? Who knows…Aaron got it for me—sweats on the table, while my long, dark hair frizzes in the scorching room, burning with more than just the temperature. There’s something buzzing in this room—I know there is and I can feel it. All the lit cigarettes, like fireflies, and all the sad bodies slouched over liquids or people they think will drown their pain. Dust motes float through the air like little insects after the bartender runs a rag over the deep red mahogany, and it reminds me of summertime.
Acoustic guitar, plucking surely and strumming sweetly, fills the space between me and Aaron. The notes fall through the air like raindrops, liquid and translucent and beautiful. It should be leaving Seth and his keyboard out of the equation. Not quite though, not really.
That walk Seth and I took to Walgreens in the middle of the night last week was strange. When I woke up the next day, it felt like a dream, like it had happened but only deep inside my mind. It started with a desperate need for milk for Seth’s cereal midnight study snack, and my even more desperate need for some energy drinks to power me through the endless pages of Plato I had to read for an exam the next day. It was a few blocks from campus, and Aaron and most of the rest of the world were turning in for the night, and time alone with Seth was hard to come by. I didn’t refuse a late night stroll with my boyfriend’s best friend.
“So. How are your classes this semester, Lily?” His light brown hair frames his face in an ordinary, gorgeous way, and his lean runner’s body traipses down the barely-lit sidewalk. It feels a bit like we alone populate this desolate town, the city lights too far away for us to reach, for now. He’s quiet, but in a way that is backed up by sheer confidence—he needs himself and absolutely no one else in this world to be happy. It’s a rare disposition.
“They’re fine. Well, as good as they can be I guess, for me to need this late-night Walgreens run,” I say with a chuckle. I’ve known Seth for about a year and a half now. I knew him before I even met Aaron, but somehow the conversation is halting tonight. He’s thinking, and I can tell, and it makes my stomach do a flip, right beneath my heart.
The moon is full tonight, an ironic tribute to my strange, strange name. It’s gleaming its bright, pearly white, casting a glow over the odd pair that is me and Seth as we walk. The universe must know what’s up, know that something besides simply the air is shifting and swirling this evening. It’s windy, and trash and old newspapers flutter around the street, and the baggy legs of my sweatpants and my puffy, unwashed hair are blowing around my petite frame.
The obligatory but self-conscious small talk continues, the necessary supplies are purchased, and we head back in the opposite direction to the old, cramped dorm building. Then, as sudden as the gust of wind that speeds up my steps and almost lifts my glasses off my nose:
“Do you think you and Aaron will stay together long?”
“I mean, I like him fine…”
“That’s not really what I asked.” Honesty was always one of his best qualities.
“Uh. I don’t really know. It’s only been a few months, Seth. You know us both better than we know each other, I feel like. You’ve known us each for longer, I mean. What do you think?”
“Honestly? I think he puts more into your relationship that you do,” Seth says. “He adores you, Lily, and you just kind of let him.”
“Untrue! He’s great and I love being with him. I don’t know him well enough to be like ‘Yes, he is my Prince Charming and I will marry him’, but he’s a good guy. Don’t you think?” I say.
“One of your best friends? Really, bud?” I retort.
“I’m just saying that…I don’t want you to settle for anything less than awesome when it comes to guys. Because you deserve the best.”
Awwwww. What girl wouldn’t get little smears of crimson creeping across her cheeks at that remark? We’re friends, a bit more distant lately, but he’s still never said anything like that to me. I steal a glance at him beneath my long dark lashes, but he’s still staring straight ahead. I noticed how insanely precious he was from the moment I met him. I’m noticing again now, as the wind musses his hair and the moonlight swallows the street in its glow.
My lips curve upward and I smile a small sort of smile at him. He finally looks at me, but doesn’t return the smile. There is care in his eyes though, unadulterated care. Aaron isn’t in this world anymore, and I have to pull myself out of Seth’s gravitational pull.
“You’re the sweetest. You really are. And you deserve the best too. More than the best, even.”
He holds his gaze, and I can tell now that it took him all the courage he could gather to talk about Aaron to me. And this is where it’s led us: to two hands awkwardly brushing each other as we walk and a soft, sure kiss that I watched like a movie in my mind’s eye.
Now, Seth’s dark, milk chocolate eyes meet mine, while his large hands gently brush the piano keys. He looks, and I hold my gaze too, while our mouths turn upward into subtle smiles.
And that is that.
It’s not like in that moment we were thinking of anything other than the little fraction of the moment we shared before the show. It was odd. I like Seth, a startling amount actually—I realized that a few days after our late night walk—and yet I don’t want to ever be around him. He makes this strange whirring happen in my brain that I cannot shake no matter what I do. Every phrase I say comes out jumbled in his presence, like I know what I want to say and how to say it, but forget as soon as his ears are ready to listen. He’s incredible, but this feeling he’s giving me is frustrating.
Aaron was up at the stage, plugging in random chords and wires into the guitar and keyboard. These two had been playing together ever since they met, and the sounds they make are breathtaking. It’s not the music you would expect from Aaron’s blunt intensity and Seth’s more restrained fire; it’s this carefully crafted melody that’s their two personalities, blended seamlessly. Seth’s precision is in the calculated and mathematical repetition of the notes, but also the way they still convey some bigger feeling that Aaron’s lyrics cannot say. The poetry Aaron writes is gorgeous, filled to the very brim with a rare sort of passion. It’s the embodiment of both personalities, in music. The combination of these two elements is original and surprising at first, but has grown on me, especially when I learned a lot of the lyrics are about me. When Aaron does something, he does it one hundred percent, nothing less. When our relationship started to materialize a few months ago, there was a shift in the subject matter from the mysteries and confusions of this big, bad life to a reassurance he found in a girl—Lily Moon. It’s an artsy name to fit into a song, and he’s alluded to it a couple times.
While my current boyfriend is up at the stage maneuvering the technical aspect of music, my ideal one is standing at the high table where I’m sitting with my mystery drink. I’m facing the stage, anticipating the show, and Seth is facing me. No one can see his face except me and possibly the bartender, and Aaron is so lost in his task that he doesn’t notice that his other half is talking to his girlfriend.
“You look beautiful, Lily,” Seth hums. I straightened my hair and brushed some makeup over my face, but I didn’t do anything particularly special for this little concert. My green eyes probably are glowing though, when paired with the olive-green blouse I’m wearing.
“Thank you,” I squeak. There he goes again, stealing my eloquence with words straight away from me. Thisshouldnotbehappening thisshouldnotbehappening thisshouldnotbehappening. Aaron is right there. Why can I not just focus on the great guy who so obviously cares about me? All I want is that quiet reassurance, that inner confidence, and it’s standing right in front of me. The tensions in my mind and in this room are so tangible that they are almost visible, like black lace creeping out of every corner. He smells that intoxicating smell of boy. I’m a little lightheaded.
“Just know,” Seth says, “That I mean every single word he’s singing. Every one.”
He needs to stop saying things like that. They make me just want to run away with him to somewhere romantic, like that field with the lit up gazebos back home, with the distinct grassy smell and the biggest full moon I’ve ever seen, where Aaron isn’t around. This isn’t something I should wish for, I know. But I do, and feels a little bad, but mostly just exciting.
I am without words, and I feel my face on fire. Aaron has never made fire burn beneath my skin before, no matter how many surprise kisses he’s impressed me with or how many whispers have stolen their way into my ear on quiet and blue nights. I have nothing to say to that, because I know we’re on the same page now. And so I just stare, confusion tinting all my features, I’m sure. He rests his hand on mine for a few second and stares right back, and all of a sudden I get one of those familiar but foreign urges to just take all of someone in your arms and kiss them with everything you have, because that’s the only way you can think of to let them know how much they mean to you. I lean forward, and so does he, and I can feel the embodiment of my want in the pit of my stomach, but then Aaron needs Seth to help get the stage ready for the performance, and so Seth pats my hand one last time, gives me a look, and walks away.
And it’s that little snippet of time that we’re both thinking of as we meet eyes while Aaron plays a love song about me, and the burden in the room multiplies.
Like that, I know I have to tell Aaron. Not that I’m having an emotional affair with his best friend, I can conveniently leave that detail out, but that we shouldn’t be together anymore. My heart is in a different location entirely, and it’s not fair to lead a good guy on like I’m doing.
We’re walking up the spiral stairs of the dorm back to my room after dinner when Aaron tries to kiss me a temporary goodnight, the goodnight that suffices until we actually go to sleep, and I just slide away. I can’t kiss him when I’ve imagined kissing Seth so many times in the past week.
“What’s wrong Lil?”Aaron asks.
“It’s just…I think…I don’t think we should stay together.”
“You…I mean…I don’t really think we’re good together. You know?”
Confusion paints his eyes, his mouth, his face with a dim sort of sadness, like he’s lost something so, so important to him. I want to stop, because this is giving me a strange pain in my heart too, but I’m already here—to the point of no return.
“I think we’re great together, darlin’. What made you think we wouldn’t be?”
What did make me think we wouldn’t be? Aaron pursued me endlessly until I gave in to his warm spirit and enthusiasm. He has cared for me these past few months, this is true. His warm blonde hair and friendly light eyes have been my source of comfort for awhile now, and he knows all the good and bad that I’ve done and gone through. He has been my protector, never letting the bad guys get to me. Or the good ones—like Seth—for that matter.
Speaking of that one, here he comes, down the stairs. God, I just want to hold him. This must be visible in my eyes, because Aaron looks at his friend heading towards us, then at me, and he knows.
I have complicated a friendship, ended a relationship, and discovered who I really love.