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Ethan

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“Do you wanna pretend to go out?”

“What? Why?”

I open my mouth, then close it again. If I tell him why, I’ll sound ridiculous. But then again, he’s now my best friend. You’ve gotta trust someone.

“It seems like we’re the only two singles left.”

“So?”

We’re silent again.

“Sorry. That didn’t come out right. I just don’t understand why you want to do this now.”

“It’s gotten to me. Like, the fact that everyone’s in a relationship. At dances, I always feel so left out. All my friends have dates. And when they put the slow music on, I’m just standing in a corner all by myself. The people I thought would never get asked out end up getting asked out. People make fun of me all the time. It’s getting on my nerves.”

He’s not looking at me. One of his legs is moving up and down, making the bus stop bench vibrate.

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry. I guess you think I’m using you.”

“No, I meant: okay, I’ll go out with you.”

“Pretend to.”

“Sure.”

“Thanks.”

***

We always sit next to each other on the bus anyway. Instead of our usual chit-chat, we arrange our first date. I send a text to Lucy, the first one in ages.

***

“You’re gonna put your arm over my shoulder after half an hour, okay?”

“Mhm.”

I’m kinda worried about Ethan. I don’t know how he’s taking this.

But I’m glad he agreed.

He opens the door and holds it open for me. I grin. He’s good at this.

“Maya!”

Lucy’s waving at me, holding hands with her boyfriend. I don’t even know his name. I’d stopped caring after a while.

Ethan bends down to whisper,

“Should we be holding hands?”

I pause for a moment, then nod. I had completely forgotten about that. His fingers reach for mine, and, despite myself, my grip tightens.

Lucy’s frowning at me as she asks,

“You didn’t get anything?”

“No, I hate popcorn.”

Shouldn’t you know that, Lucy? We’ve been friends since middle school.

***

I keep checking my watch. I don’t like this movie, but beggars can’t be choosers. Finally, it’s 7:30. I elbow Ethan, and he stares at me for a few seconds before he remembers. I can feel Lucy watching us.

“Perfect,” I mouth.

***

After I update my Facebook status, word gets out that we’re together. When people ask me for verification, I reply as casually as I can, as if I do this kind of thing all the time. Nobody’s really surprised. I’m glad.

***

Date number two is arranged a week after the movies. We double-date with Lucy and Mark (whose name I recalled after a brief check on Facebook) again, this time at an ice-cream parlour. Ethan and I agree not to share straws.

“Did you know that the guy who invented straws also invented paper cigarette holders?”

“That’s cool.”

Bells chime as Lucy and Mark
enter. Ethan shuts up.
We talk amongst ourselves for a bit, or rather, Lucy, Ethan and I talk, while Mark puts his arm around Lucy’s shoulders and sneers at Ethan, taunting him to step up his game. We order three ice cream sundaes. Mark takes advantage of the momentary silence to slip in a kiss. Ethan raises an eyebrow at me.

I put my hand on his cheek and lean in slowly. His eyes widen slightly, but somehow, I keep going. I put my thumb on his lips, then kiss my own thumb. Turns out my theater arts class paid off.

***

I love our conversations, because I get tired of hearing nothing but gossip about crushes (OMG, today Josh and I were lab partners! And when he passed me the scalpel, our hands touched for like, ten seconds!). And I’m tired of listening to stuff that never happens to me.

***

“What do you think?”

“I didn’t know a girl as dumb as you could write so good.”

“So well.”

“What?”

“Could write so well.”

“I’m thinking of withdrawing my compliment.”

“You only liked it ‘cause it’s about you. I’m posting it on tumblr whether you like it or not.”

He grins and runs his fingers through my hair, laughing good-naturedly.

Pause.

Ethan and I are pretending to go out, a.k.a, we don’t actually like each other. Why the he** did he do that?

Well, we are on the bus, and a few other kids from school are here too. But they can barely see us.

That’s why nobody suspected that we were going out before we “actually” were.

I push that thought aside. Even if Ethan won’t admit it, he’s tired of being single too. He’s got friends too, who are all going out. How else would he wind up with me?

***

He surprises me with cake. The occasion? It’s been five weeks and our cover hasn’t been blown. We eat it at the bus-stop, half for me and half for him. As he divides the dessert, I notice how muscular his arms are. I hadn’t really paid attention to that before. Tiny blonde hairs coat them, thrown into relief by the spring’s sunlight.

“Your hair looks nice today.”

So does yours. But I just smile. Somehow, my gaze falls to his lips. They’re thin and smooth, mulberry pink. Before I know it, we’re leaning in, the cake discarded beside us on the bench. I place my hands on his shoulders, those broad, sculpted shoulders, and tilt my head. I feel him put his hands on the base of my neck. As our lips make contact ever so gently, I inhale. He smells like cinnamon, music and mornings. He draws back. Breathe. Suddenly, he plants another kiss on my mouth, and fire erupts in my stomach. Release. Relief. Resurfacing. Then our lips meet again. He runs his tongue gently along my mouth, and I shiver. I open my lips slowly. Kiss. Pull away. Kiss. Pull away. He tastes like clementines, sweeter than sour. Finally, we break apart, and I lean on his shoulder, his neck warm against my cheek. One of his arms strokes my back while the other remains on my waist. I don’t know how long we stay like that, but the silence is comfortable.

There isn’t anyone else at the bus-stop.

***

I love him. Not because of the kiss. But it did make me wonder why I hadn’t noticed him before. I know that I love him. But I don’t know if I should tell him.

I forget who started it, but I have a feeling it was me. I was the one who looked at his lips, and I probably leaned in first. I think he did it just to please me, just so that I could tell my friends that we kissed. Just so that I could tell them that he was a good kisser. Just so that he could tell his friends that we kissed.

Ouch.

He’ll think I’m silly. He’ll think I’m too chicken to tell him that I love him (because if I were brave enough, I would’ve told him upfront, before this whole pretending started). He won’t want anything to do with me.

Who would?

***

I hate losing. Maybe that’s why I get along with Ethan. He’s not a sore loser, so I don’t feel bad after I rub my victory in his face.
But that’s not the only reason he’s my friend.

He’s sarcastic.

He’s smart (only because of his memory though).

He’s friendly, unlike lots of other guys who are either: a) too shy; b) too snobby; c) constantly suffering from strep throat.

He takes my mind off my troubles.

He’s my fan. Probably the only one.

When he makes fun of me, I know he doesn’t really mean it.

He’ll hear me out when I talk about my troubles.

He doesn’t say “whatever”.

I’m happy when I’m with him.

***

Week six.

Feels like year six.

I’m nervous. I feel too big for my skin. I’m aware of the pimples on my forehead, my mascara inexpertly applied, probably smudged by now, my muffin top, even though it’s under my shirt, my thighs testing the stitching of my skinny jeans (skinny because I can’t fit into super skinny), the hair on my arms, the hair beneath my nose, the hair on my head. Does it smell good? Probably not, since I’ve been sweating a lot. Is it shiny, at least? Probably not, since I’ve been sweating a lot. Straight? Yes. Hands trembling? Yes. Hands moist? Yes, unfortunately.

“What’s up, Maya?”

Oh god, what’s up? I’ve discovered that I love you. And that I don’t stand a chance, because I’m probably not your type. Because you’re the first guy I’ve gone out with. And we’re not really going out. I realized how beautiful you are, inside and out. I also realize how stupid my thoughts sound. The voice in my head is beginning to sound like my friends’.

Ethan’s concerned face wakes me up.

“Hello? Anyone there?”

Yes, but she doesn’t want to come out.

“Sorry, I was distracted.”

That’s all I manage. I’m beyond distracted.

“How was your day?”

I don’t know. All I could think of was you. I didn’t pay any attention to what the teachers were saying. I doodled stick people, holding hands. You and me. I played mash by myself, and scowled when I had to cross your name out. I was thinking of your face, your stubble barely visible, only noticeable when the light hits it right, resembling my own hair, turning red brown in the sun. I smiled when I recalled the tingles I felt when you stroked my neck, my arms, my cheek, my lips. I regretted that we didn’t talk. I imagined what it would be like if I told you that I loved you, and your feelings were reciprocal. If your feelings were as predictable as math. You’d bring me to the park near your house, and we’d lie down in the meadow, masked by the weeds and wildflowers. We’d look at the clouds and find one that looked like a dog, then a truck, then our science teacher, than a heart. Then, you’d roll over on your side and kiss me, softly, right on the lips.

“You okay? You aren’t acting normal today.”

Am I okay? I’m sick. In my heart and my mind.

I used to tell people to shut up when they said stuff like that. I feel like such a hypocrite.

Am I okay? If only I could tell you how I feel. Then I’d be okay.

“I’m fine.”

No I’m not. I’m blushing. I feel repulsive. Fat. Covered in acne.
And you aren’t really my boyfriend.

“You sure?”

He’s offering me a second chance. To tell him. Does he really want to know what’s bugging me? I’m not sure he’ll understand me. He is, after all, a guy. But on the other hand, he understood everything else I told him. Maybe it’s because of his photographic memory.

I nod.

He doesn’t look like he believes me.

“You’re lying.”

I open my mouth indignantly.

“You’re all red, that’s how I can tell.”

But I can’t tell him. I’ll be so embarrassed. He’ll be embarrassed too. If I lose him as a boyfriend, it’s okay. But I can’t afford to lose him as a friend. I’ve got no one else.

***

Today should be our anniversary.
The day seven weeks after we started pretending to date.
Maya’s been avoiding me. She’s really not herself.

I think that it’s because of the kiss. I saw the sun set her dark hair on fire, making her skin seem even paler. Then I leaned towards her, without thinking of course.
I keep that image of her stored in my head. I’ve looked at it a lot the past few days.

She’d lost her tan during the winter. I wonder what she’d think if she knew that I’d noticed that, that I’d noticed when she changed her perfume, that I’d wished her a happy half-birthday (in my head), that I use lip balm just for her . She’d probably think I’m a stalker and get suspicious. Or she’d think that I’m soft.

Many people think that I’m soft. She’s probably heard about those stupid rumours, and most likely believes them too. And if I tell her I love her, that’ll reinforce those stupid rumours, and she’ll make fun of me. Just like everyone else.

***

It’s been exactly fifty-two days since we started playing this role that was never meant for me. We haven’t gone out on a date for a long time. I feel this whole thing slipping apart. I stay at school an extra hour, pretending I have a meeting with student council, or a debate tournament to prep for. We barely talk now. I keep telling myself that Ethan will never be mine, but I’m having difficulty accepting it. So I go cold turkey. But it doesn’t work. It makes me miss him even more.

Today, I’m at the bus stop at my usual time. Ethan’s there and he waves at me. I want to slip into his lap and wrap his arms around me. But all I do is smile an empty smile. I sit a good foot apart from him.

His expression falls a bit.

“I’m so sorry,” I blurt out, then cover my mouth in shock.

Oh cr**, now I’ll have to explain myself. Somehow - it must be a surge of hormones combined with stress and too much caffeine - I begin to cry.

Immediately, I feel his cinnamon and his warmth surround me. My shoulders sag. His presence alone is enough to prod my guilt once more.

“I’m sorry…f-f-for…ignor..ing you. I j-j-j…”

And my voice trails off.

“Shh, it’s okay. I love you.”

Is it just me?

“No you don’t.”

As soon as those words come out, I
want to hang myself.

“No, th-th-that’s not what I mean! I just…just…I love you too.”

***

When people ask me how long we’ve been together, I still say nine weeks. But in reality, it’s only been one.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Regia said...
Mar. 15, 2012 at 11:27 am:
Wow! What a fantastic story this was! Pure and utter genius from beginning to end! I am totally blown away! Please, continue writing - you are doing a splendid job!!! :)
 
Kaffeine replied...
Apr. 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm :
Thank you for reading!
 
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