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“What’s up, moron,” Sam says, bumping into my shoulder.
I smile, resisting the urge to push him back.
“Hey,” I say politely. He leans against the side of my locker, grinning at me. Right before I go to grab my last textbook, he slides his arms in front of me and slams the door shut.
“Really?” I say, glaring at him.
“Really, really,” he responds. He raises an eyebrow playfully.
I try. I do. But not even the sudden apocalypse of planet earth can stop the widening of my lips, the flutter in my stomach. I have to curl my hand into a fist to stop from reach forward and pulling him to me.
[RULE #3: DO NOT KISS HIM.]
“Jerk,” I mutter, spinning the lock of my combo. When I finally get it open, I quickly jam my hand inside and grab my textbook before he can sneak another move in. I look at him smugly.
“Oh, shut up,” he murmurs, rolling him eyes and pushing me gently again. I shove him back before mentally cursing myself.
[RULE #5: LIMIT PHYSICAL CONTACT.]
“So... how was your weekend?” He asks brightly, easily falling into step beside me. He walks close to me, hand almost brushing against mine a couple of times. It’s literally physical pain to step a few inches away from him; as little as it is, I can’t stop thinking about the ravine between us that must be a thousand miles wide.
“Fine. You?” I say airily, trying to keep the chatter light and not meaningful.
His face falls a little, eyebrows furrowed, before his smile wipes the confusion off his face. “Good. Great, even. My uncle came to town; his names Randy. Anyways, you should hear about him - he’s insane. Like, he skydived in...”
He rattles on, and I laugh and smile like usual at the sound of his voice. A few feet away from my class, I find my hand brush against his again, and stiffen, stepping away from him. I glance at his face to see if he noticed, but he’s still talking animatedly, his dimples deepening as his smile widens.
“Well, I’ll see you after class,” I say, jumping in while he inhales for a breath to supply his story.
He glances up, noticing that I’m standing at he door of my chemistry room. “Oh. Right.” He shoves me one last time. “See you later, moron.”
“Bye,” I say, smiling at him as he walks away. I stare after him, watching the way he strides down the hallway with an air of confidence and yet with an aura of grace. How one hand is thrown casually in his pocket and the other wraps around a strap of his backpack. How one strand of reddish-brown hair sticks straight up on his head.
Right before he disappears around the corner, he looks back. Our eyes meet. He waves, mouthing the word “bye”, before vanishing.
[RULE #4: DO NOT MISS HIM.]
When Ava walks out of that classroom, I know I’m going to do it. I’m just going to walk up and do it without thinking, without analyzing the situation like I always do.
[RULE #3: KISS HER.]
“Hey,” she says, seeing me walk over.
I stop inches away from her, heart pounding.
“Hi.” My voice sounds strangled. Like a mix between a dying cat and a barking seal. I clear my throat. “Moron.”
She rolls her eyes. “Whatever.”
She walks away, and something inside me walks away with her. Even when I catch up and fall into place beside her, there is something between us that I can’t replace.
I missed my chance. Again. I mentally curse myself, surprised at the vast array of vocabulary I’m able to think up.
“How was... astronomy again?” She asks, smiling a little.
I groan, trying to move closer to her.
[RULE #5: TOUCH HER.]
For some reason, she’s walking farther away from me than I’m used to.
“Uneventful. Like, I’d-rather-eat-Brussels-sprouts boring.”
She laughs, the sound like trickling water. I shiver.
“Hey... you look really nice today,” I say, sneaking a glance at her. But instead of smiling at me, instead of throwing her arms around my neck (yeah, I know, that one’s far-fetched), she looks straight ahead, frowning.
“What’s wrong?” I ask softly, stopping her against the wall. We’re in a secluded hallway, so nobody can overhear us.
[RULE #4: BE THERE FOR HER.]
I look up at him, wanting to tell him, wanting to let him know.
“Nothing,” I mumble, looking away.
[RULE #2: NEVER LET HIM KNOW YOUR FEELINGS.]
“You sure?” He asks quietly, stepping closer to me. Heat radiates off his body, and it takes everything I have not to move towards him. Instead, I press against the wall behind me.
Why is this so difficult?
“Positive.” I look back at him, right into his eyes.
They’re so... open. A perfectly tranquil blue sea, and yet there’s a storm raging in them so intensely I’m surprised we’re both still standing here, alive.
We stare each other for a long time. I can actually hear my breathing getting shallower, my heart beating faster, rocks dropping one by one in my stomach.
No, no, no...
[RULE#1: DO NOT FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR BEST FRIEND.]
She’s lying to me.
I can’t tell if she’s scared of me; but watching her flatten herself against the wall, my heart plummets.
[RULE #2: LET HER KNOW YOUR FEELINGS.]
“I-I-” I swallow, trying to regain my composure and managing to fail yet again. “Ava, I-”
“Please don’t,” she says, her voice pained.
That’s when I know.
She doesn’t return them, my feelings for her. It’s not mutual.
She doesn’t love me back.
I step away from her, and for the first time, it’s painful to follow my rules.
[RULE #1: BE HAPPY FOR HER.]
When he steps away from me, the cool air of the school replaces the warmth so suddenly it’s like a slap in the face.
His eyes are blank now, guarded.
“Please don’t,” he says softly.
“Ava. Stop. Please.” He looks down at me, the shadow of a smile crossing over his face. “No, this is right, it should be like this. It was stupid of me to fall in love with my best friend.”
I stare at him. “Wait. What?”
His eyebrows crease. “I’m... in love with you?” He says it like a question, but I have no answer. I just stand there, gaping.
“You’re freaking me out a little, Ava,” he says, worry seeping into his tone.
“I thought- I just-” I take a deep breath. “I thought that you didn’t love me. I thought you were going to shoot me down. Because, you know, I AM your best friend.”
He stares at me. “Um. Come again?”
“Look, moron,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I love you. Like, a lot.”
I stare at her, wondering if this is some type of joke. But nobody’s laughing. I’m definitely not.
Instead, in that one single moment proceeding after her words, I follow every single one of my rules perfectly.
It’s almost too easy.
I see the shock register in his eyes after I say those three words, the way his mouth falls open in perfect “o”. Then, everything in his eyes meld into a single emotion.
And then I break every single one of my rules perfectly.