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She peeks at him from across the classroom.
They’re supposed to be taking notes on the lecture or something; watching Seth instead has two benefits. First, she gets to look at him, try to memorize the planes of his face, his brown eyes, feathery lashes and dark ruffled hair. Second, she gets to ask him for the notes later.
She sighs. Junior prom is coming up. If only he would ask her… But he doesn’t know how she feels. How could he? The pretense of being best friends prevents that. If she confessed and he declined and it became awkward between them…oh gosh. She wouldn’t be able to stand losing Seth, wouldn’t be able to stand him avoiding her. So she stares at him, steals peeks and fleeting touches, brushes his arm every now and then, and hopes, prays that Seth will ask her to the dance, that somehow there could be a chance of him liking her back.
He peeks at her from across the courtyard. His friend is saying something, something inconsequential in comparison to her. Seth wishes she was his. He wants them to be together. He wants to feel her small fingers in his hair, to be able to wrap his arms around her. Every time she brushes by him accidentally, his whole body goes hypersensitive, every nerve ending electrified by her touch. He wants to grab her hand when she brushes against his arm and never let go. But there are limits between them, limits he has to follow because they’re only friends. What if he asks her out and Reyna doesn’t like him back?
“Reyna, wanna go with me to the prom?” Another hopeful guy approaches her, striding down the hall confidently. He’s cute; tall, tight t-shirt over lean muscle, soft blond hair falling dazzlingly across his forehead. His name is Chase something, something that starts with a T perhaps. An editor for the school newspaper, president of some club or another. He’s cute.
But he’s not Seth.
It seems as if a curtain falls over her face. “Sorry,” she whispers, hiding behind her hair. Then Reyna turns on her heel and flees.
“Dude, you should totally ask Reyna to prom,” Kevin whispers.
Seth sighs, drops his face into his hands with a groan. “Didn’t you hear? She turned Chase down. If she doesn’t want a handsome, all-around-good guy like that, why would she want someone like me?”
Kevin shrugs, picking up his backpack. “I’m just saying, dude. You guys would make beautiful babies.”
Seth shoves Kevin away, and Kevin, laughing, goes to talk to his girlfriend.
Seth wishes Reyna was his girlfriend, not just his girl-who’s-a-friend.
Junior prom is tomorrow, and Seth hasn’t asked Reyna. Chase is persistent as ever, and in a moment of weakness, Reyna takes a deep breath, and gives in. Seth finds out from Kevin in a matter of minutes.
Seth, distracted, knocks over a girl as he’s walking out of his classroom. She has long shiny brown hair, and big auburn eyes. She’s on Principal’s Honor Roll, and she plays guitar in some band. Her name is Bridgette something, something that starts with a K perhaps. She’s cute.
But she’s not Reyna.
“Go with me to prom,” Seth says desperately. “Please.”
“Seth,” she says slowly, “you realize that it’s really last minute, right? The dance is tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry, really I am, but I really like Reyna and if she’s there and I’m not and anything happens between her and Chase I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself,” he says, all in a rush. It’s funny how he can pour his thoughts out to this stranger, but not to Reyna, the only person to which these thoughts would matter.
Bridgette looks at him sympathetically. “You should just tell her, you know. I’ll go with you only if you tell her.”
He swallows and nods. “Okay.”
The night is a vague blur to Seth. He watches Reyna as she dances awkwardly with Chase, and he can’t help thinking, That could be me. I would dance with her better. He’s too tall for her, but I’m the perfect height and we’d go together perfectly.
Finally, he gets up, crumples the plastic cup emptied of its punch or whatever, and walks over to her.
Whispers in her ear, I need to talk to you. Come with me to the gazebo.
They sit in the empty gazebo outside. Inch nearer to each other. A foot away. Six inches. Three. Reyna bites her lip awkwardly.
Seth clears his throat, gulps. “You look—beautiful tonight.”
A smile plays around her lips. “But not always?”
Seth, startled, begins to try and backtrack, but Reyna just laughs. “So, why’d you want to talk to me here?” She waits, a tiny bud of hope opening in her heart. She can feel the tension in the air, the uncertainty. Will he say what she wants him to?
“I—” he begins. “You—” He stops. Feels the tension in the air. Feels Reyna waiting on this moment; waiting for what, he isn’t sure. Is rejection worth the risk?
“Who do you like?” She blurts. She doesn’t mean to cut him off. She just needs to know how he feels. Now.
“I like—” He halts abruptly. I like you, he wants to say. I’ve liked you for so long, for years now. I like your hair when it’s falling over your face and you’re hiding, I like the way you say my name, I like the way you brush by me subtly, your thin fingers, that laugh you hide behind your hand. “I like…your best friend, Malia.” He chokes on the words, shocked that they escaped from his lips. They’re not the words he wanted to say, they’re not the words he’d planned to say. In his dreams, he was supposed to tell her he loved her, and she would love him back. And then they’d kiss, and he would sweep her off her feet, and they’d live happily ever after.
But life is not a fairytale.
He feels the moment shatter. “We’re still… friends, right?” He can’t bear to lose Reyna.
Her heart drops. Her stomach twists. And her mind is reeling; this isn’t what he’s supposed to say, why isn’t he saying what he’s supposed to say? He’s supposed to say he loves me. He’s supposed to say that we should be more than friends. That I’m like no one he’s ever met, that all he thinks about is me. Why is he talking about my best friend? Why is he saying he likes her? But she swallows, sucks it up.
“Of course,” she says after an excruciating minute. And then, “I’ll help you go out with…her.”
Because she’d do anything to make him happy, even if it means giving up her own happiness, even if it means she has to give him away.
And him: What the eff have I just done?
Seth kisses Reyna on the cheek then, awkwardly. One might call it a friendly kiss, or maybe not even a kiss at all. His lips brush her cheek for a second or two, and that’s it, really. But in that kiss are all the words he should have said, all the things he wishes he could. It’s his fears and frustrations, all his self-hatred and cowardliness. And her heart jumps, like maybe he could actually care for her, but then she remembers he just said he liked her best friend and her heart dies a little again.
He leaves then, stiffly, uncomfortably, unable to face her, or himself. She curls up on the gazebo bench and cries.
Now she watches as he walks down the hall with Malia. She fakes a smile, tries to act happy. Pretends to be the best friend of them both, nothing more.
Now he walks down the hall with Malia. He goes through the motions, pretends to be happy. Pretends to want to be going out with Malia when all he wants is to be walking down this hallway with Reyna.
If only they could open each other’s minds like books, flip through the pages of each other’s thoughts, discover the truth buried there.
If only they knew their fears were unfounded, their love requited.
If only they knew they were living parallel lines, each wanting the other to confess first.