The Lines in Between

His eyes are gentle green and she loves those eyes most about him. They are his best feature and right now those eyes are lit up focused on the tall pile of colorfully wrapped Christmas gifts that have been placed before him. She watches him select the first one, a delighted boyish grin on his handsome face.

It is a week after Christmas, but yet they are having a late Christmas party for him.

They are the six of his closest friends seated in the wide circular booth sprawled vastly along the dark burgundy wall of Benji's Cafe all here for the same reason: treating him to a proper Christmas, since his was spent on an operation table, knocked out, with doctors sticking him with needles.

She sits four seats away from him, and he seems hardly to notice her as he goes on laughing and joking in that relaxed, laid back manner he always seems to forever posess with those seated closest to him. It's hard to get your best friend's attention when he's lost in a crowd of his other friends and so she's quiet. She doesn't complain. She simply waits, watching quietly as he begins to unwrap the first gift placed before him. Her gift, wrapped in bright colored paper and taped neatly, waits in her hands, because she wants to personally hand it to him. She wants to explain the gift when she gives it to him, because it's special.

More special than any other gift he's going to get tonight.

Or so she'd like to think anyway.

She hopes he'll think the same too.

She runs a hand through her frizzy honey blonde hair and adjusts her glasses, surveying those seated around the booth. There are six people, not counting her, and so that means there are six gifts to be opened before hers. Butterflies dance in her stomach. When he opens the first gift, his eyes light up in obvious pleasure and her heart sinks into her stomach amidst a party of butterflies. The first gift is from his ex girlfriend Kinsey that has managed to stick around him even after a messy break up. Her gift is an expensive dark cashmere Neiman Marcus sweater with a matching corduroy blazer that will bring out his eyes beautifully.

He grins like a five year old boy and gives her a friendly peck on the cheek for old time sake. Kinsey loves the attention and takes her time keeping it. She knows how to play her cards right and when whistles and catcalls go round the table, she is happy.

On the other hand, happy is the last word you could use to describe her, the neglected best friend, watching from the corner. Her heart somersaults and breaks as she watches this exchange, but she hides it behind a small smile. A small glimmer of hope still shines in her eyes despite her fears. He still has yet to open her gift.

She still has a fighting chance.

The next gift is from his buddy McGuire, hastily wrapped, and haphazardly taped all over. A knowing smile tells everyone that he already knows who the gift is from. He opens the gift and a slow smile spreads from ear to ear. His trademark smile. It's a bluish gray hooded sweatshirt with a bunch of signatures from his basketball team mates scrawled all over it. Obviously, the cheap gift means a great deal to him and he stands to give McGuire a 'man hug' clapping him on the back.

The hand that holds her heart squeezes it tightly and she feels a twinge of jealousy. But she doesn't understand why. She bites her lower lip softly and notes that there are only four more gifts to be opened before hers.

His cousin, Amy, hands him the third gift before he can reach it. He laughs at her eagerness and tears open the deep rich red wrapping paper. Wrapped in the folds of the paper is a bottle of cologne with a stylish black silk ribbon tied around the neck of the bottle. It's obvious that it must have cost a fortune. He runs a hand through his soft wavy brown hair and smiles thank you, reaching over to give her a half hug.

Three more gifts to go.

When he sits back in his chair and opens the fourth gift, a dark blush blooms in his cheeks briefly. It is a pair of bright neon pink boxers courtesy of his best friend Jared. He tosses the boxers aside and in that easy going way of his good naturedly socks Jared in the arm. Once more whistles and laughter go round the table and Jared, much like Kinsey, basks in the limelight, winking a good deal more than necessary. He looks like he an eyelash stuck in his eyes with the way he keeps winking.

She watches with faint amusement as all this transpires and the next gift is brought out. This one is from his older brother Aaron, an Italian sports watch. Seemingly relieved to see a normal gift after the last one, he gives a nod to his older brother who in turn nods back with a smile akin to his own.

Now her heart pounds almost as if it will break out of its ribcage and she wills herself to calm down. There is one more gift until hers.

The sixth gift is from one of his many girl friends Sara. She's not a best friend, but she's more than close enough. Her gift is a brand new canvas stand with a bunch of art supplies. His eyes sparkle and he smiles at her. Sara smiles back adoringly and she feels a strong sense of jealousy and dislike towards Sara creep over her all of a sudden. Sara has no right to smile at her best friend like that. He shouldn't have smiled at Sara like that. He was her best friend not Sara's.

She can feel her world crashing all around her and she hates feeling like the seventh wheel. So lost in her thoughts is she that she doesn't hear him calling her name. Large hands wave in front of her eyes and someone jabs her sharply in the side, dragging her back to reality.

All eyes are focused on her, expectantly, waiting. She blushes darkly and timidly meets his eyes. There is a silent question in his eyes that only she can read and she knows that he's ready to take the attention away from her if she forgot her gift. He understands that her family is not as well off as most of his other friends and he doesn't want her to feel embarrassed. Her friendships is the best gift she could offer. Not even clothes or sports watches could top that. But before he can open his mouth, Kinsey speaks up, wanting to know where her gift is not because she cares, but because she wants to make her feel inferior, second rate.

The same question is in everyone's eyes and slowly, awkwardly she stands to her feet and hands him the gift hastily, forgetting to explain its significance as planned.

He smiles at her with those gentle green eyes and takes the gift from her, saying as he slowly begins to tear away the paper that he knows he'll love it. She can almost feel Kinsey blowing steam her way, but she ignores this and watches as he slowly tears one layer of wrapping paper off. There's another layer underneath. He tears this one off as well, surprised to find another. Pulling away the third layer, he's even more baffled to find yet another layer. He begins to tear the paper away faster, a confused smile on his girlish lips. There is another layer of wrapping paper.

He stops tearing the wrapping paper off and his eyes meet hers warmly. "Were you planning on me actually opening this?"

She smiles shyly, loving the way the words roll of his tongue smoothly.

"When the heck did you have time to put so much frickin' wrapping paper all over it?" McGuire wants to know.

She laughs as an answer and adjusts her glasses on her nose.

Kinsey snorts softly.

Finally, all the wrapping paper is removed only to reveal an old brown wooden box with a golden lock on the front. There are no whistles, no catcalls, and no nods of agreement. Nothing. The table is silent. Shame creeps slowly into her cheeks and she hopes he will at least say something. He doesn't.

Jared is the first to break the silence. "It's an old brown box."

She blushes profusely. "It's not just a box. There's something in it."

He fingers the lock tenderly for a second, and then slowly runs his hand over the box. "I remember this box."

"It's our memory box," she tells him shyly.

She prays he will like it, but she can't tell him from his face. His eyes are darker, more thoughtful, and he opens the box and pulls out the first item, an old baseball glove from his sixteenth birthday. He runs his hand lovingly over the fabric and looks up to meet her eyes, but she isn't looking at him. She is staring at her small, calloused hands, fidgeting openly and avoiding his gaze. So he continues to take things out of the box one by one, pausing to relive each memory for a moment or two. There is an old birthday card, a key chain, an old diary, her good luck charm bracelet, a cowry necklace he made for her the day before their first homecoming, a hand drawn picture of his eyes, a bunch of sticky notes they'd exchanged notes on during AP History in sophomore year, and so much more.

No one has said a single word all this time and she wants to leave; she wants to run away, but she wills her timid eyes to look up at him. He is staring at the last item in the box, a small frayed photograph he'd taken of her three years ago. She hasn't changed much from the girl in the picture. Her smile radiates through the photograph and her soft gray eyes are alive and shining with mirth. Her short frizzy blonde curls frame her heart shaped face romantically and the sun highlights her pale skin.

She is beautiful. . .

He looks up at her and catches her eyes, his gentle green eyes warm and tender. "I'm definitely keeping this one."

Those few words break the silence and loud laughter and cheers follow.

She glows on the inside. He smiles at her and stands, drawing her out of her corner. Bashfully, she stands and moves into his open arms for a quick hug.

A hug that says he understands. A hug that says he's read the lines in between.

And he loves her too.