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That one -amazing- friend.
Is it possible to be in love at age 15? I pondered this thought as I listened to the faint sound of coffee dripping at a steady tempo, into the tiny coffee pot that rested on the back counter. Plink. Plink. Plink. Plink. This coffee shop has been brewing coffee for customers for over 40 years, and is still going just as strong today, as it was opening day. Even though it is quite small, they make their money the same way as the busiest restaurant in down-town Chicago: customer by customer. Antoinette and I always meet up in the third booth from the back wall. Antoinette is my best friend, and I am hers; it has been this way for so many years, I don't even remember what it is like to not be friends. We are usually the only two here, with the exception of the occasional business man looking for a quiet place to get a lot of work done. Antoinette was wearing her purple jacket that announced to the world it was autumn. Her long, blond hair had been straightened and pulled up into a purple scrunchie. As for me, I was in my blue fleece jacket that covered my black t-shirt. My favorite pair of blue jeans were washed this morning and now smelled like flowers. I was tired of my mom trying out different laundry detergents; they all smelled gross. Antoinette seemed as disturbed by the silence as I was. With my finger, I circled the coffee-stain ring that had been on that table for years. Traffic was slow, which provided very little interest out the windows.
“I just wish wasn't invisible. Like.... like he felt the way I feel. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever loved someone and they don‘t know, but you can't tell them because it would destroy the friendship? You can never get that friendship back! Do you know what that is like?” Antoinette asked me about her latest crush. Was her story exaggerated? Yes. But I connected to every word of it.
“You have no idea." I said as I looked out the window. I couldn't look into her gorgeous eyes, and the window was a good distraction. I could picture a mini-me sitting on my shoulder who has no further job than to constantly remind me not to tell her my true feelings. “I love you!" My heart was telling me to go for it and tell her, but I listened to the little guy on my shoulder; he hasn't failed me yet.
Instead, I watched a little taxi pull to a stop as the yellow light blinked red on the only stoplight in our little town.
“Ugh! You know what it's like, then‘? To love somebody in secrecy?” she asked with wide eyes as she placed her hand on top of mine to be sure I was really listening. In comparison, her hand was a lot smaller than mine, but neither of us cared. I couldn't bring myself to answer her question. What was I going to say? I couldn't exactly answer yes because then she would ask who. I couldn't answer no because that was a lie. I didn't answer her. I looked down at our touching hands, and at her perfectly manicured fingernails. How could she be so clueless to my feelings? My hand was hot, and I felt like it was burning. I wanted her to move her hand; move it fast. When it occurred to me it was not moving, I removed my own to grab my water glass. The ice clunked together and sweat rolled down the cup. Such a simple gesture between friends made me feel so lovesick. It was gross. Guys don‘t get lovesick like this! Love sickness is for girls, and only girls. This new feeling was as girly and gross as the scent of my jeans. I glanced again outside; the light had turned green a little while ago and the taxi was nowhere to be found.
When I didn't answer her question, she continued on her topic about her current crush. “Oh! I wish he knew! I wish he knew how I dream of his brown hair and those deep, dark brown eyes that always look my way but never see me. I wish he knew my name. He will never notice me if I don't make myself noticed. And still, I continue to sit quietly.” She continued to go on and on and on about this boy. What was so great about him anyway‘?
I listened. I listened to her all while she talked, not because I cared what she said, but because I heard the content of what she was saying. I had been doing the same thing for years. Perhaps that is why I spent years at her side, watching her toss her heart to jerks who simply dodged it and kept walking. Or maybe it is because I love the sound of her voice. Oh how I love her voice!
I could have died a little inside every time she cried. I could have owned the world every time she laughed. I could have held her in my arms and told her how much I loved her. I could have explained the long, sorry story about how loyal I always had been to her. I could have, but I never had.
I didn't because then she would look at me differently. Right now “boyfriend” was a word for the person who wants to hurt her feelings, leave her in the dust. For her to find out her one true friend secretly wanted to be her boyfriend would be detrimental. Her best friend had been hiding his true feelings under a blanket. She would no longer look at me with trust, but with new-found fear. Antoinette knew no different. Perhaps she would feel betrayed. I couldn't do that to her!
So I kept quiet. I listened to the lonesome train whistle blow as it roamed through the rain-soaked town, tracing the tear-filled railroad tracks. Only the lonesome train knew how I felt, for we both spent our days roaming uselessly. Alone.
Both of us chasing something that isn't there.
I thought of the countless nights I spent trying to drown out the fighting, screaming, and cussing by blaring my music. Even from my bed, I could still hear the neighbors yelling at each other. Neither the man, nor his wife, were happy with the companionship of the other person. I spent many hours wondering why they were even married. I finally decided that not everyone is lucky enough to find his or her true love. I assumed they were just two examples of the unlucky ones.
But then I realized that is not entirely true. In my head, I reviewed the countless stories I had been told by the man. One specifically stood out to me. I recited the whole story back to myself silently, as if playing it back from a voice recorder. . . ..
“I saw love once," the man had said. “But I couldn't tell her; I couldn't forfeit being her friend for a relationship that was at high risk of falling into the fire, and burning, from what used to be a blossoming tiger lily, into a pile of limp, black ashes, that promised to do nothing except for fall apart at the gentlest touch." (He was always using large metaphors.) The man had paused and I could picture the horror in the neighbor's eyes. “I never told the girl I loved her.” he continued after a staggering breath. “I watched the cancer take over, very slowly. She passed away, and I was not her boyfriend, or the guy she dreamed about at night. But I was her friend, and the person that held her hand when the dreams turned to nightmares. Sometimes I wonder if I could have been both. I never stopped wondering, Chris.” His wife came in with the groceries, and right off the bat started griping at the man. “Never.” He said lastly as he got up to help her out.
I jumped back to present time. Antoinette was jumping in every puddle we came to, not caring that she was ruining her new baby-doll flats. We were two blocks from the coffee shop now. The trance that had previously been on my face had been switched to a grin as I ran to grab her hand, not thinking twice of this as a sign of anything more than friends, for even though we were just friends, we often held hands like this. We jumped in puddles together; some puddles were so big, they could have been mistaken for a small lake. I was smiling and laughing but I couldn't stop wondering. "Never." The word echoed in my head, so loud, I felt like my eardrum may burst.
We were now approaching Antoinette's small, blue house. We stood protected on her porch; the paint was chipping away, and it flaked off as we ran up the steps soaking wet. I grabbed her by the shoulders. “Why would anyone spend their whole life wondering?” I asked her with a sudden urgency.
Antoinette looked at me, and then at my hands that were gently holding her tiny frame. She was blindly unaware of my crazy state of mind. “I'm not sure.” she said as if I had asked her why the sky is blue.
“Why do you spend all of your time dreaming of guys who are so far away, when you have one right in front of you? Why do you beg for a guy who will love you, while one sits right beside you? The guy you always talk about wanting, has been the one listening to you all along.” My eyes were piercing and my grip was gentle, yet firm at the same time. This time it was her tum to look away. “Are you done?” she asked, fully embarrassed after I had pointed out how blind she had been.
“No,” I said flatly. I grabbed her head and pushed my lips on hers. She melted in my arms and for once I was able to hold her... the way I had always wanted too.