BY: Kelly Peterson
My breath catches. My heart begins to race. My body becomes numb. A mix of bliss and sadness rushes through my veins as I catch a glimpse of the handsome face, shrouded in black curly hair, of the man I have grown to love and to hate. Sam.
Three months. That’s how long it’s been. It’s been three agonizingly lonely months since I last locked my eyes on the man who I used to be able to call one of my best friends, before we began to drift apart.
Sam grins at a pretty blonde cashier in the next checkout lane over. He casually chit-chats, and what I can hear is rather flirtatious, but the girl cuts him off. It still manages to jab at my heart. How could I have not noticed that over-flirtatious tone with him before? Oh, I’m such a stupid fool.
My mind wanders to the last time I saw him, to the last time we met. I recall that day so clearly.
What began as a friendly game of tickling on my couch became something more when he accidentally poked my rib-cage. Quite an innocent start, really. But, then again, looking back on the incident, maybe he meant to and just let me believe otherwise. Anyway, silly and strange as it might have been, I kept his hand there on my rib. We both smiled, rather shyly, and the next thing we knew, with no outside encouragement, we were making out.
What a thrill we got caught up in as we explored one another’s touch. The line of our friendship blurred as we dove deep into the murky waters of lovers. And then, in a sudden tangle of confusion, we tried to fight against what we both wanted from one another. We tried so hard to pull ourselves back out of the pit of passion before we drowned in the acknowledgement that if we’d remained a pair, we would surely fall in love one day.
No, we couldn’t let that happen. We couldn’t stay there. We couldn’t ever be a couple. He and I were moving in different directions in our lives. He often travels with his job…and me? Well, I’m just plain old me. I’m here, staying in the same old town he and I grew up in, trying hard to better the lives of those in the community.
The moment we decided nothing further could happen between us, I sensed a high brick wall of emotional and physical separation begin to form in front of us. I tried to break down that wall, but I couldn’t. Our conversations were sparse. So unbearably painful and short. It was more Sam’s request than mine.
We tried hard to dart around any mention of relationships. I did have a few people interested in dating me, but truth be known, Sam was the only one I thought of. Sam could be counted upon though.
He slipped a few days ago while we were on the phone. He ended up telling of some girl he was interested in named Celeste. He described her mannerisms that were so unlike me. They were so dainty and quaint. He said the girl seemed genuinely interested in him and prospects looked positive with her.
For about half an hour after that conversation, I let the matter slide like water off of a duck’s back. Good. He’d found someone. But, then, I found myself dwelling on the image of us on the day we’d succumbed to passion, so happy together. My heart had wanted no other soul. Deep down, I knew it still did. It was more than passion. Sam wasn’t just some stranger to me and I wasn’t getting caught up in lust. He was my best friend. He was someone I’ve known a very long time. And, somewhere down the line when I wasn’t pay attention, I had fallen for him, head over heels as I tumbled and crashed. The hammer of jealousy of knowing someone else could very well end up having him cracked through the barrier of my icy heart as I realized he was slipping away. He didn’t want me. He wanted that stupid other woman I was glad I didn’t bother getting to know. I loved him, in both a romantic way and the way of friendship. I wanted Sam to be happy, even though it was ripping me apart.
I spent the next few hours sobbing into my pillow and wallowing in my misery. What had I done, really, besides wreck a perfectly good friendship by allowing my feelings to get in the way? Sam hadn’t. Or else he was putting on a good show for me to hide away his feelings. But, since we were only talking on the phone and online now, I had no way of reading his facial expressions and gauging how much he was telling me was just to make me jealous or what was really the truth.
Sam picked up on sensing something was wrong during our next conversation. He knew the source of my heartache was him. That, in turn, led to us arguing. He defended his position that he wouldn’t be a good boyfriend for me. Maybe I should listen to him. Other times I would have submitted and let him win, but I couldn’t do that this time. I had to let him know.
I stood my ground. I whipped bitter words at him in a flurry of texts. I’d been his biggest ally the past several years as he pursued his career. I helped fund some of his business trips he’d otherwise be left high and dry. I’d cheered him on every time I heard he got a promotion. And yet, I realized in the heat of the moment, he’d only been using me. I never got the credit. He never wanted to hang out with me. I’d say we should catch a movie and get blown off with flimsy excuses that he was busy, only to later discover he went anyway. On social media, I’d comment and never get a reply, but if anyone else did, he blatantly liked and commented and boasted about where he’d been with his other friends. (I realized with much anger we didn’t hang out unless he wanted a favor from me). And now, after getting what he physically had wanted from me, he was throwing me aside until he figured out what he wanted next.
Didn’t he realize I was going to rip out the foundation of his support system if he wanted to throw salt in my wounds by treating me like a mere stepping stone? I realize now, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have used his need for wanting me for favors as a way of showing I loved him. I shouldn’t have said it was okay when it so clearly seems one-sided now. I should have just told him I loved him and, if the feelings weren’t reciprocated, I should have walked away and let that friendship die and never looked back. Well, maybe our friendship is near death now and I have nothing more to worry about.
The truth is, we had tried and failed to pretend our rendezvous never happened. We said we’d never speak of it again. But, sadly, my heart has ached for him since that fateful day. Despite the way he drives me crazy with the bad points of his friendship, the warmth of his sweet lips still caress my skin. His touch lingers with me. I can never go back to being just friends if I continue to talk to him. He will crush me…I guess that’s why they call it “a crush”.
And, now, there he is, standing in the next check-out aisle with his back towards me, completely oblivious to my existence. I need to get out of here. Full shopping cart or not, I can grocery shop some other time. But, it’s too late. Before I can leave my buggy and flee the store before I find myself in tears, I clumsily crash it into the aisle, sending a box of cinnamon buns crashing into Sam’s shoulder. He startles.
“What the heck?!” Sam bends down and picks up the box, studying it closely as if it was a dangerous weapon.
For some odd reason, I can’t move. I can only watch him. A part of me wants to laugh because poor Sam is so comical. That’s one of the traits I admire about him.
As Sam is still laughing at something the cashier says about the rogue box, he turns my way to put the box back on the shelf. His eyes change when he realizes who I am. They soften from the wild, mischievous look I’ve seen him get before. I shake my head, disgusted, as I believe it’s just remnants from trying to charm the cashier. He’s no longer interested in her. Is it just me, or is it that when I am around him in the physical realm around him, I smote any competition for his affection?
No. I shake my head. It doesn’t matter. My eyes burn as my heart breaks. I can’t bear to be around him any longer. I bolt for the door, leaving the food and Sam behind.
“Ava, wait! Please!”
Sam’s actually running after me. My short legs can’t compete with Sam’s wide strides. I make it to the front of the store. I never made it to the parking lot. I feel Sam’s arms wrap tightly around my shoulders. I know I can break free. I want to fight him. But, at the same time, I can’t. I want the one who has wounded me so deeply to be the one to fix this. He’s the only one who can.
“Let me go!”
I squeeze his hands on my shoulders. His hands fold over mine.
Hot tears flood my eyes. Two people walk past us, regarding us nothing but a couple of weirdos on the sidewalk. My vision blurs as the tears spill out.
“Ava. Please forgive me,” Sam chokes. I realize he’s hurting just as much as I am.
He kisses the nape of my neck, ever-so-lightly.
“Why? Why me? Why not some other girl…no…I can’t make this right.”
“I’ve been so stupid, Ava. I thought…I-I never thought we’d take it that far. I thought if I kept your attention…”
I had the inkling of what he was trying to say to me, but the part of me that still hated him roared to life.
“You’d what? Use me and then ignore me until you could think of something else for me to do for you?”
I broke free of his embrace and wheeled around to face him. I wanted him to see me, as ugly as my red, tear-streaked face looked now, thanks to him. It was all his fault. He’d made such a mess of things.
“I wasn’t leading you on. I thought if I kept coming up with excuses to keep you in my life—“
“No! That’s not it at all! You knew how I felt about you! You KNEW!”
I was aware I was yelling. I didn’t care. And if we were making a scene, I surely didn’t care if I was going to be arrested. I let loose.
“You took every advantage of my kindness, time and time again! I let it go because I was too blind to see you as what you are! I cared for you! You meant more to me than I ever meant to you! You ignore me and… Why, Sam?” I screamed, nearly screeching as my anguish broke loose from the bottom of my heart, “Why didn’t you ask the girl you want to date to pay for your trips? Why didn’t you just screw her instead of me? She wouldn’t have cared and you wouldn’t have either!” My voice was on edge and so raw that I could barely whisper now.
“Because there is no other woman! I lied! I wanted to make you stay in my life! I want us to be together. I do.”
“Sam, you said there was no way!”
“Ava, I love you. I’ll do anything to make this work.”
Sam bravely kissed my forehead. I fought the urge to slap the snot out of him. I didn’t have it in me.
Then, he pulled me tight against him. I looked up into his hazel eyes. We kissed, not caring who was watching our strange drama as it unfolded for the public and for ourselves.
Somehow, we found ourselves drowning again in the sea of love. But, we realize we’re swimming together, and we can either be an anchor or a lifesaver for each other.
No, things are far from perfect. At this moment we still have the kinks to work out. But, somehow, I think we’ll make it work if love is really our goal.