We drove around this town in my dad’s car for hours that night. Just talking and listening to the radio and wondering what we were doing there. In that car, with each other, not talking about what we were both thinking. We did this all the time. Just drove with no destination but to be with each other. Sometimes there was a bunch of us, sometimes just me and her. Tonight we were alone and the air was thick with unspoken tension, but only in my mind.
Friends is what we were. Just friends. That was our label. Nothing more, never anything but. Guys love being “just friends” with girls. Especially girls we’re pretty sure we’re in love with. But love was a big word for a couple of kids in high school.
As we passed the same street corner for the fourth time, I pulled over, turned to her and asked. “What is this? Us. What’s happening?” She just rolled her eyes and laughed. “Nothing’s ‘happening’. We’re just friends.” She turned her whole body to face me so she knew I could see her face. Her beautiful face. She smiled and touched my hand, which was at rest beside her. The touch ignited my skin, like the flares from a sparkler were exploding up and down my arm. “Just keep driving,” she said as she looked ahead once again.
I kept looking at her for a moment. I hadn’t looked at her like this before. I had been good, up until right this very minute, at being “just friends”. She had had boyfriends and I welcomed them into our fold. She’d been heartbroken and I’d comforted her without an agenda. She’d called off guys for good and I’d talked her down from that ledge, assured her that we’re not all bad. As I pulled away from the curb, I realized we can’t keep being “just friends”.
We’d been on this journey together forever. Our mothers have been best friends since college and, while they’d denied it every time we asked, they planned having us as close in age as possible. Fifteen days. That’s how much older I am than her. Two weeks and one day. Those two weeks are the only two weeks in my 17 years that she hasn’t been a part of my life.
We drove for a little while longer, gossiping about our friends, complaining about the terrible music on the radio, making plans to go camping this summer, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything but my realization. This might be the last drive we go on. The last turn around the block. The last time she sits in my dad’s car. Because we can’t keep being “just friends” and her laugh made it clear she wasn’t ready.
I pulled the car into her driveway and turned the key. Looking down at my hands in my lap, I sighed loudly, involuntarily.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“We can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep doing this. With you. I don’t want to be your friend.”
“You’re joking, right? What did I do? I thought you were kidding back there.”
“You didn’t do anything. You’re just you and that’s what I mean. Being friends with you is the biggest waste of my time, and I mean that in the best way possible. We shouldn’t be friends, we should be together and anything else before you realize this is a waste of time that we could be spending together.”
She looked away from me and down to her lap, matching my position. We were a sad looking pair, from the outside looking in, and we were ever sadder in here.
“I don’t know what to say. What do you want me to say? Of course we should be together. We are together. Just…not like that. What happens if we break up? Then what? We go back to being just friends? Does that ever work? Because I’m not willing to lose completely what we have right now. You’re my best friend and that’s what works for us. We don’t know about anything else. It could end badly and then what?”
My heart, my mind, my gut screamed at me to tell her that we need to at least try. That we need to see how we’d work as a couple. That being afraid of what bad could happen was a lousy reason to hide from the good, too. I ached to just shake her and tell her to just feel for once in her life and don’t think so much.
But I couldn’t because she was right. What would happen if We didn’t work? What would become of the Us that we’d spent a lifetime cultivating? I’d lived this long without Us being Us, but I couldn’t risk being without her altogether.
“Ok? What do you mean, ok?”
“Ok. You’re right. Forget I said anything. ‘Just friends’ is alright with me.”
She turned again, like she had when we were driving, and moved her head into my line of sight. Her eyes were smiling and her lips were curled at the edges.
“Jesus Christ, you weren’t even going to fight for me?”
And she grabbed my face and kissed me.
“nothing is so awesomely unfamiliar as the familiar that discloses itself at the end of a journey.” – cynthia ozick