2; In Which A Toast Is Made.
Standing in my tiny bathroom, the air around me still warm and moist from the shower I took a few hours earlier, I wonder how he can deal with this so well. I had spent nights worrying about what might happen if he ever got wind of my liking him.
The worst case scenario included him shaking his head at me and saying, "I'm sorry, but we can't be friends anymore."
He could give me a thousand reasons and each one would be justified. My jaw tightens as I realise the danger of my situation. This is what I've been afraid of all along. Do I still have his trust and respect? How can I face him without immediately becoming uncomfortable? How can I meet his eyes at all anymore?
I put down the lid of the toilet seat and sit on it, my fingers running over my bandaged wound, brushing back and forth, pressing down the tape of the bandaid for no good reason I can think of besides that it's keeping me occupied, giving me a rhythm to my thoughts.
I replay the last two hours in my head, everything from the look on his face when he heard me say those damning words, to the look on his face when I cut my finger and then again when he saw I was crying. I consider everything he said, and the fact that he wouldn't look at me. Slowly it dawns on me that if anything, he is just as afraid as I am that our friendship will crumble now.
It might sound arrogant or wishful, but I do feel like I can say honestly that I am Luka's closest and best friend in the world. I know him better that any girl would, and better than any of his guy friends because obviously he only does guy things with them. Admittedly, me being a girl and him being a guy makes for some misunderstandings and frustration both ways, every so often, but that's only logical. And we know each other so well that we usually also know why we get frustrated when we do.
So when I make myself breathe deeply and stare at myself in the mirror for a few minutes, I know I'm doing the right thing by letting him be alone in the kitchen for a little while.
Let him gather his thoughts and set himself up with the front he wants to show.
Let me calm down.
I take a tai chi stance and force myself to do a few breathing exercises. It makes me feel better almost immediately. He doesn't want to lose me, anymore than I want to lose him. He was behaving shyly and embarrassedly right now; he was working hard, even, to try and keep me from becoming uncomfortable. I feel a painful tug in my gut.
"Save us so much trouble if you'd just like me back, asshole," I mutter.
I'm going to get over this. I can't betray his trust by becoming petty or distant. I tell myself this fervently, as I eye my bleary self in the mirror some more. I wash my face with hot water, then with cold, and then dry it with a towel. When I glance in the mirror a last time, my poor face is as red as my eyes. I can't help but laugh when I think I'll scare Luka if I go back looking like this.
Then I hear him knock on the door. "Shoe?"
Funny how the sound of his knuckles on the door is so simple and confident, rap-rap-rap, but his voice is so hesitant.
"Yeah?" I call back.
"Sorry. I just... are you okay?"
I smile and look at my thumb. The bandaid is soaking wet because I just splashed water all over. I frown at myself in the mirror and pat it with the same towel. It looks like it'll fall off within a minute, but I leave it. I hear his clothing rustle outside the door.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'll be right there. Is dinner ready already?"
"Just about. Sorry."
"No, it's fine." I protest immediately.
He and I were both raised to remain polite to the extent of apologizing to your murderer for getting your blood on his shirt, I think to myself, and another smile touches my face.
I consider that aside from the shock, embarrassment and horror of Luka finding out I like him, I can feel relief springing up in a small part of me. No matter what happens, he knows the truth now, and no matter what, maybe this will be the signal for me to move on.
I am overcome with a giddy kind of nervous energy as I open the bathroom door, like I'll be meeting him for the first in a long time, like we might look different than just before.
But we'll look at each other differently, I ponder. I know suddenly that tonight, my sleep will be lost in a toil of stress, afraid of the next day, every day and every day after that and after that, that I will have to see him and face him and keep my head high and keep an incriminating blush from my cheeks.
"Here goes nothing," I murmur, and open the bathroom door.
"Finished then?" he says, glancing briefly over at me, before he walks around the corner, to my living room.
I can hear him drop a hot pad on the table, and am relieved to find that neither of us are looking strangely at the other, though maybe it's because we are barely looking at all, and what'll it be like in ten minutes or in an hour? And in that evaporation of my relief I completely forget to respond. I realize this and blurt out a sort of hummy "myah" and feel like I'll start sweating any minute now.
As he turns to walk into the kitchen he says, "I'll carry out the pan since it's way too heavy for you, so you get the rest out."
I scoff at him and he snickers. I walk into the kitchen and see the pan. It actually does look rather heavy, filled to the brim with our brilliant, classic Fried Rice.
We settle at the low table, Luka holding the pan in oven mitts, me carrying plates, silverware and glasses.
"Are you sure you won't have some wine?" I ask. And immediately want to take it back again.
He makes a face as he puts down the pan on the hotpad in the middle of the table. Then, to my surprise, he says, "what the hell, pour me some. Can't have you drinking alone."
I laugh at this and pour wine for both of us.
That's when we hit break point.
It happens like this: I sort of pause, and he does too, and we glance at each other and then avoid each other's eyes. I know he registered the stricken expression on my face.
"See, this is why I didn't want you to know." I say, thumping the wine bottle down on the table harder than I meant to.
"Sorry," he says, serving my plate, then his. "I see what you mean."
He takes his glass of wine and swills it around for a bit. "Let's toast to you getting over me," he suggests bluntly.
I snort. "That's mean," I say, fighting the tug in my belly with a grin.
"It's valid, no?" he says, a teasing smile tossed at me. Somehow I am touched, if not very sad, that he doesn't seem able to meet my eyes for longer than a second.
He raises his glass. "Here's to returning Shoe to friendship," he says.
"That sentence doesn't mean anything," I say, but raise my glass as well. We chink our glasses together and then drink. I finish off more than half the wine in mine in a gulp.
Luka stares at me for a moment. I blush.
"Now I know what to get you for your birthday," he says.
"More of this wine?" I suggest, pressing a hand to my face.
"A car ride to the local AA," he says snidely, digging into the food.
"You're horrible!" I exclaim. "I'll get over you in no time if you keep saying things like that!"
He shrugs. "It's just a crush. You have to get out of it and then we'll be back to normal, laughing that you ever thought of me that way."
"Mmm" I offer, pouring myself more wine. "I'll do my best."
"Me too," he says.
"How can you help?"
"I'll help you find nice guys to date, to get over me."
"Finally! You'll introduce me to all your hot friends?" I joke.
"Shut up," says Luka. "Stop drinking all the wine, start eating the food I made you."
"Yessir," I say. I know he doesn't see I'm still shaking a little. My heart is beating fast, still, too. "But wouldn't you mind if I dated one of your friends?"
He leans back and thinks. "Of course not. Depends a little on who, and how seriously, though."
I consider and the first person I think of is Jeremy. Jeremy is a boy from Luka's basketball team, who has asked me out twice before. I had said no up until now under the pretence that I wasn't looking for a relationship.
"How about Jeremy?" I ask, only half-serious.
"Over my cold dead body," Luka says flatly, and pours me more wine.
Luka and I became friends despite his nickname for me.
And despite the fact that he was really a horrible little boy who, whenever I wore a dress, would squat right behind me and bite me in the calves.
We each made the other cry on many of our birthdays.
On his ninth birthday I made him cry simply by owning the newest Gameboy (which he didn't have yet) and five of the coolest, newest games (though they were in Japanese). I didn't let him even touch it. First he asked nicely. Next he begged, offering me candy. After that he tried blackmail, and finally, he threatened physical violence. And in front of Luka's furious, tearstreaked face, I let his little brother Sasha play on it for twenty minutes, just to spite him.
His revenge on my ninth birthday was to tell me I would die by my tenth birthday, because I hadn't lost any of my baby teeth yet. When I went to bed that night I cried myself to sleep with my fingers in my mouth, jiggling all my teeth desperately, tears running saltily into my open mouth. I woke up the next morning with a swollen, dried out tongue and no loose teeth. I was inconsolable and wouldn't meet Luka for a week. My parents were absolutely baffled.
On his tenth birthday, he reminded me I would die soon. I argued that I had already lost four teeth now, but he pointed out that that was after my ninth birthday so it was really too late. I punched him in the nose, told him he wasn't invited to my tenth birthday party, and went home crying.
He came anyways, with a gift even, but couldn't resist throwing me a whispered death prediction. When he actually started chanting a count down I threw the gift at him without having unwrapped it, and took great pleasure in the cracking sound it made as it smacked him upside the head. The gift turned out to be a hardcover book. He grabbed it up and threw it back at me, fuming, and we tore a few laps through the living room, screaming bloody murder and using curse words that justified our mothers smacking us both upside the head, once they had been able to grab us.
The book was an illustrated collection of Grimm's fairy tales. I read one story from it and it scared me so badly that I had to hand it over to my mother and beg her to hide it in a place where I'd never find it. I found it again when I was packing for the move to Japan, years later. I read the same story I had read once and got scared all over again. Currently, the book is in Japan, hidden again by my mother. When I told Luka all this last year he thought it was hilarious. Being the European he is, he had known Grimm's fairy tales are horrible and scary and cruel and bloody.
"It's your own fault for growing up with the Disney version of life," he had smirked. As if he hadn't been sitting beside me, year in year out, watching those same Disney movies!
Hah. As if we ever went a day without seeing one another.
Somehow we managed to stay in the same class throughout elementary school. We were Luka and Shoe, or Shoe and Luka, or Shlooka, for the jokers. We played outside together and played video games together and did our homework together. I even have a photo of us in bath together.
When boys from school came over to play with him I might linger outside his house before flouncing off in disgust, only to come back after they had left. If my girlfriends came, Barbie-and-nail-polish-toting, for a slumber party, he wouldn't talk to me for at least two hours after they had all gone home again. And then he'd come into my room and say it smelled so sweet it was gross.
We started junior high together.
I grew much taller than him at first (and was devastated when I started developing hips and a chest, not that he noticed) and he was pimply. Most of the boys in the class were pimply, and most of the girls were uncomfortably gangly. Some kids managed to be both gangly and pimply, which must have sucked.
Then, the boys hit their growth spurts and shot into the air. Suddenly Luka was not only skinny and pimply, but impossibly tall. We went swimming once and I told him I could count his ribs, partly because he was so skinny and partly because I only came up to his chest. He pushed me into the water and said I looked like a hippo.
But before Luka could turn fourteen, my family moved back to Japan.
Suddenly the one person who was there with me/near me/for me/against me/biting my calves, would stay here, and I would be on the other side of the globe. I was furious, and also furiously guilty for being excited about going back to Japan. I wanted to live there again, just like when I had been little.
"Come visit me in Tokyo," I prompted him on the last day, not looking his way. He looked annoyed but wouldn't face me, either. The garden fence stood between us and I felt sentimental thinking back to his first, admittedly cruel, words to me.
"I dunno yet," he shrugged. "I don't think my parents would let me come alone."
"They can come too. My parents can invite your parents."
"All the way to Tokyo?"
"Sure. We're friends."
"Here," he said, and held out a plastic bag I hadn't noticed he had been holding.
It contained a comic book, a book of crossword puzzles, a roll of lifesavers, a pack of gum and an envelope that had been licked shut.
"So you don't get bored on the plane. And the gum is so your ears don't pop."
I took out the envelope and started to open it. He snatched it from my hand and stuffed it back in the bag.
"Don't open it while I'm still here," he said, sounding pissy.
"Why not?" I asked, though somewhere in my sensitive pubescent self I felt I had a notion as to why not.
"Because it's a goodbye card. You're not supposed to open it until you get to Japan."
I smiled and felt really, really sad. "Okay."
When my mom called me from the back door to say we were leaving, I knew this was it. The goodbye had sat like rising dough in my belly, getting heavier by the hour.
We didn't reach out and hug or kiss or even shake hands.
I said, "I'll email you," because that was around when email was getting hip and everyone was starting to use chat software, "and maybe we can chat sometimes, you know, if the time difference lets us."
"Yeah," he said, annoyed again.
I said bye, and walked back to my emptied house, inside, felt my throat close as I took a last look around, scooped up my crazy pink tote bag and went out the front door. Luka didn't come upstairs to wave goodbye, and I didn't see him again. I didn't forgive him for that, for all four years I was in Japan.
I also couldn't forgive, until later, that he did not come to visit me until the summer before I would be starting university.
"How was the blonde?" I ask impertinently.
He eyes me, a (very justified) mix of incredulity, suspicion and irritation in his expression.
"That bad?" I ask, again impertinent.
"Her name," Luka says stiffly, "is Nicole. And she's not blonde."
He leans forward to put down his cappuchino on the low little table so that he can collect the paperwork he has fanned out beside him on the sofa, so that I can sit there instead. I sit, leaving my bag at my feet, and sip innocently at my own latte while he straightens his papers.
"She's not? Last time I saw her she was."
"She died it purple last week."
I widen my eyes at him. He glances at me and then glances away darkly, shoving papers into cases into folders. Folders go into his brown leather bag (please don't think he is the epitome of fashionability, just because he has a gorgeous, tasteful bag; I made him buy it, you see), the bag is leaned against the side of the sofa.
"Why did she dye it? I liked her blonde."
He shrugs, non-plussed. "The purple hair looks good too. I think she did it because someone called her a prep."
I nod thoughtfully. "What kind of purple? Plum? Amethyst? Lavender?"
He makes an I'm-a-boy-don't-bother-asking-me-those-kinds-of-things face.
"Light dark reddish blueish?" I try.
"Ah... light, and reddish, I guess."
I try to imagine her with reddish purple hair; after a moment I decide it would look surprisingly good. Lucky girl. The farthest I can get dyeing my hair is bleaching it from black-brown to chestnut brown with honey highlights.
I sigh to myself and look around. We are at the Monkies In Bed; the local lounge café. It is well-visited by all the students at UU, in part due to the comfy, stylish interior, in part due to the inexpensive but delicious coffee, but perhaps mostly due to the World's Most Beautiful Chocolate Cake©.
Luka and I are here so often the waitresses sometimes accidentally wipe us down along with the rest of the furniture. Luka says this actually happens on such a regular basis that his water bill could have gone down substantially if only his flatmate Kevin hadn't fallen in love and started taking showers.
"So how was it with Nicole? Did you take her home? Did she get to see your Playboy bedspread? Did she get to get weirded out by Kevin? Did you feed each other ice cream and cookies in bed?"
"...we had dinner..." he starts slowly.
"Stop, slow down, don't try to tell me so much at once, the words are coming out all garbled," I joke blandly.
He narrows his eyes at me.
(In this light, with the blue sweater he's wearing, his eyes also seem mostly blue. For the past years I've never been able to decide what color they definitely were; sometimes they look light green-grey, sometimes blue, sometimes the same color as mine. Out of laziness I wanted to call them gray-green-blue, but pronouncing that and then dealing with people's looks made that term self-defeatist. When I once told him of this dilemma, and then asked him what color he called his eyes himself, he had frowned.
Then, "They're not black," he had supplied helpfully.
Oh good. Because, you know, with all the green and gray and blue going on, I couldn't be sure a nice bit of black hadn't, you know, crept in there somewhere. Peebrain.)
"After we had dinner she wanted to go home. So instead I seduced Kevin, and we fed ice cream and cookies to each other in bed." He says, his voice vapid, his perhaps-blue eyes still narrowed at me.
My eyebrows raise. "I didn't know you were that happy he had started taking showers. You've just been awaiting your chance all along, 'aven't you?"
"Obviously," Luka deadpans, and reaches for his coffee.
"OkaythatwasfunnynowtellmehowitwentwithNicole," I ask him in a breath. I'm so good at this banter. I promised him I'd get over him and go back to normal.
He is still looking at me, but now his face is sincere and softer. "You don't have to force this, Shoe."
Shit. I had not expected him to say that. I avert my eyes embarrassedly, but I don't stop smiling.
"You're the one who wants things to go back to normal, I remind him, nervous now. My hands feel a little sweaty on the mug of coffee.
"Would it be realistic of me to expect things to change this fast? We only talked about this two days ago," he argues logically.
I'm about to ask him to pretend it never happened, so he wouldn't have to worry about being realistic, but then I realize I don't want him to pretend that. I don't want to have to pretend that myself. I don't want to seem so embarrassed for a feeling that isn't supposed to be bad at all. What's happened has happened. We deal.
"Thanks for thinking about me," I say. "But I promise I won't ask you things I don't want to hear the answer to."
He nods. "Fair enough." Then he shifts. I notice he is a little pale; there is a tiny hint of bags under his eyes. Not enough to say he looks sick, or even tired, but it's not a healthy sex glow like the one he ought to have had after a date.
Suddenly, I can read in his body language what must have happened last night.
"Ah, there isn't really anything to tell, I don't think she likes me, is all." He says easily, shifts again and the story in his body language is gone.
But he doesn't seem sad and I don't feel like hearing the story, suddenly. Maybe he'll tell me some day when I won't be as sensitive as I am now.
"Okay," I say. "No great loss. Even though she was blonde. And then purple."
Luka closes his eyes, relaxing into the sofa. "Gentlemen prefer blondes. And purples."
"But diamonds are a girl's best friend. No matter her hair color," I counter.
"Dogs are man's best friend." He contemplates, eyes still closed.
"Animal lover." I sip my coffee.
"Even though all you need is love," he sighs.
"No you see, diamonds are forever," I bleat.
"But my heart will go on..." he protests.
"Redrum... redrum" he creaks, and bends his index finger up and down at me. I am nearly in tears and he grins proudly, straightening.
By the time I have regained my breath he has gone to get us more coffee. I follow his figure, moving gracefully to the counter. My eyes lift away from him to take in the blue sky visible from the high window.
A/N: haha. On the off-chance anyone was actually waiting for this Sunday evening, I'm sorry I was late.
And now for the Thank you's!
Girl Brushed Blue: Thanks for being the very first reviewer! I had a lot of fun reading your work! I've sort of had enough of high school stories too.. but 99 of the girls writing in Fictionpress is still in high school so I guess it makes sense. Cheers!
secretly your favorite: ben je toch ook een teringwijf he jezus. Kan je geeneens wissen :)
Bailey: Thanks! I worry that this story might seem dark, so it means a lot that its theme could be called cute!
bgw92: Bless you! Rhyme is one of the simplest funny things in the world, I get happy as a clam when I rhyme accidentally. I might be juvenile... I hope you read and like this chapter too!
Same story as last time; the first reviewer, if there are any reviewers, gets a cameo in the next chapter. It's because I like the challenge of creating a random character to give depth to the story...
If you've left a signed review I'll be able to contact you, probably. If you leave an anonymous review you'll have to email me, because otherwise I will use your (quite possibly very silly) nickname to my whim.
And I'd appreciate anyone's real opinion. I'm writing this largely because I want to write it, but it makes me feel good to know I've got an audience that enjoys it too. So I try to keep touch, when writing, with what I'd like to read if I'd be the reader and not the writer... so I want to know how far off I am. What is bad? What is good? Also, because my computer isn't originally English, I think it does text weird- I lose data sometimes when I upload, and then I have to fix it online. So if you see a sentence somewhere that doesn't make sense, please let me know?
Thanks, anyways, if you go to the trouble to respond!