This is an excerpt from my fictional short story, “Just Friends,” that also won a Silver Key at the Scholastic Art and Writing awards this year:
…We walked up the alleyway towards the doors of Red Robin, and I felt a frightening crack underneath my foot. Below me, I could see that the heel of my shoe had broken, and as I looked down I saw a jagged line through it. Lovely. I walked with a limp up the alley and hoped that Matthew didn’t see me struggling. Because for the first time in 19 years, I cared. Now he’s probably not going to want to ask me to be his girlfriend.
As the door opened, we ran inside to escape the taunting of the rain. “Table for two,” I told the waitress at the front. I turned around to wink at Matthew, but in a friendly way. I think. The waitress was leading us to our table and Matthew laughed as he offered his hand to me after seeing me limp behind her.
“I think it’s safe to say you need some help,” he said. I laughed on par with him, but when I was holding his strong hand, I felt nothing but safety and security.
I sat down, and immediately started to peruse the menu. My stomach was as empty as a flower vase in the desert. I ordered a Burning Love burger, and turned to face Matthew, who was beaming. His hands were folded in his lap, and I thought he was staring at me as the aroma of beef coated with spices was carried over to me. I sunk my teeth into my burger and immediately held a napkin up to my face.
“So, I wanted to talk to you about something.” His smile was like a rare seashell. Beautiful and one of a kind. He’s going to ask me to be his girlfriend. I can feel it.
“Sure, go ahead.” I casually looked down and took a sip of my water.
“You’ve seen Monica–the girl on Instagram, right?”
“Yeah. Are things not going well between you two?”
“Well, they are going fine, but I’m not in the place I want to be with her.”
“ Need any help? You know, it wouldn’t hurt to take a break if you feel like things aren’t going the way you want.”
“A break? That’s not what I want. I actually want to take things a step further. I’m really nervous to talk about it, so I want to go to someone I trust.”
“Okay, what do you want to talk about?”
“How should I propose to her? I really love her, and I want to take the next step in our relationship.” I felt a shiver down my spine, and my whole body froze. My heart was a blown-up balloon, that had just been popped by a single pin. Propose. The needle was sharp, and it stuck me where it hurt the most.
“Why don’t you take her to her favorite fancy restaurant, you know, a place that you guys always go, hide the ring in your pocket, and pop the question when she least expects it?”
“Do you think she’d be surprised?”
“Trust me, she won’t know what hit her.”
“That’s a great idea. Thanks Jackie!”
We paid our bills and started walking towards the door. I was aimlessly looking around, and I stopped right in front of the cushions. Staring. My green eyes were covered by a layer of helpless tears, and my feet lost the ability to move.
“Is everything okay?” Matthew asked. His blue eyes were looking directly into my green ones, and all I wanted was for him to put his arm around me call me his.
“Yeah, I think I’ve got something in my eye. You should probably start the car, and I’ll come.” He looked down at my broken heel and raised his eyebrows. “Don’t worry, I’ll manage.” I forced a laugh and turned right back around. The tears started flowing just as I was sure he closed the door behind him.
We are sitting in Red Robin and waiting for our names to be called. Final exams just finished and we are starving. I turn around to look at him, and he’ s looking straight ahead.
“Everything okay?” As I say this, he quickly whips his head around, like he forgot that I was sitting next to him.
“Well, we’re freshmen now, and all of my other friends go on and on about their first kisses, and I’ve never had mine. I just feel pressured to kiss someone.”
“Same here,” I say. “I just kinda stand there awkwardly, and pretend to relate.” The rest happens so fast. We look at each other, and all of a sudden, my lips are pressed against his, and we stop and stare straight ahead. It’s one little peck that means nothing, but I just had my first kiss.
“Ohmygosh. I’m not in love with you. I just needed a first kiss,” we say in unision. We force awkward laughs, get up from the square cushions with tan coverings, and go throughout
the day like nothing happened. As good of friends as we are, we’re certain that friends is as close as we will get.
I didn’t know the tears were still staining my face until I saw my reflection in the window. My eyes were puffy, and there was a sheen layer on my cheek. All I wanted was for him to kiss me on those couches again, but this time, I wanted it to mean something. I walked over and took a seat right where I sat ten years ago, and pulled out my phone. Covering the lock screen was a message from Matthew that was sent five minutes after I read his last one.
Is there something you aren’t telling me? At the time, this was meant to be playful. But now, as I read the message, my hands shook. I unlocked my phone with unstable fingers, and replied: