“Want to get some coffee sometime? Just us?” I asked her as we were sitting there in her car at the Metro bus stop she drove me to after a long day of hanging out with friends. The car was still running. It was dark, but I’m pretty sure we were parked on a red line. She had a look that wasn’t entirely thrilled by my question.
“No, I have work that day.”
“Oh.” I tried to hide my look of defeat, and I probably failed miserably.
“How about Friday?”
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. “Uh, oh, y-yes, sure, that’s great!”
“Now get out of my car.”
“Hah, right. Thanks for the ride!”
“No problem. See you then!”
I got out of the car and watched as her tail lights faded into a flood of red. I then turned around, looking for any sign of my bus approaching. I had a feeling of triumph, like nothing I’d ever felt before, like my dreams were finally coming true.
And that’s when I woke up.
I have a good feeling about today, I thought as I got up out of bed. It was nearing the end of the fall semester, tenth grade. Today’s the day. I’m going to tell Nina how I feel. I know exactly how I’m going to do it, too. I’ve planned it all out, I’ve dreamed about it. We’re such great friends, this is definitely going to work out.
After I had some breakfast, I put on my favorite outfit, made sure my hair was all in place, looked at myself in the mirror. She likes you, man, you’ve got nothing to worry about, I said as I tried reassuring my reflection. When I got onto the school bus, I put on The Ataris, listening to the cheesiest pop-punk love songs, feeling no shame about it.
In class, I could hardly focus on my work. I was anticipating the lunch bell. That’s when I was going to tell her. The minutes passed like hours. And then,
She has blond hair, blue eyes. Her voice projects so that it echoes in any room she’s in. She has a cute smile, a cute laugh. We talk to each other about teachers we had together, about shows we both watched. It’s been just a few weeks since I last saw her, but before then it had been six months. Recently I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about her. I didn’t feel this way back in high school, three years ago. I was excited to see all of our old friends from high school again, Mandy with her adorable awkwardness, Ellen with her outrageous obsessions, Yolanda with her funny laugh, George with his charming sarcasm, but mostly I was excited to see her.
One thing I learned from watching How I Met Your Mother the last couple of years is that you never start out with the words “I love you.” I wasn’t going to tell Terra that I liked her, not just yet. I was older now, had more experience. I was going to ask her if she wanted to hang out with me, just the two of us. That’s not weird at all, is it? We’re friends, we’ve known each other for almost seven years. There’s no way she’d say no.
The plan was that we’d meet at the park at around two. The thing was, I had a Friday class that semester, so I wasn’t going to be able to make it until about five. It was a potluck, though, so I had it so that when I got off the bus, before I went to class, I met up with Terra briefly and gave her the food I brought so that they’d have it. I almost wanted to burst out then and there, ask her if she’d go out with me, but I didn’t. I had a plan.
It was the first class meeting of the semester, so it was pretty important that I paid attention. I couldn’t. I can’t tell you how many times I looked back up at that clock. My professor must’ve hated me already. It wasn’t that she was boring, no, she was interesting, my head was just elsewhere. All I could think about was how I was going to ask out Terra and how we were going to hang out, just us, and it was going to be awesome.
When class finally ended, it ended early because all the professor really had for us were an explanation of the syllabus and some icebreakers. I made a twenty-minute trek to the park, and when I got there, I looked around to see if I could find my friends. I couldn’t. The park was empty.
Nina is one of the cutest girls I’ve ever met. She’s soft spoken, like me, but has a good head on her shoulders, and a great sense of humor. She has black hair and brown eyes, like me, and a smile that could kill. When I saw her during lunch that day, I could hardly get these words out of my mouth, my heart was racing past the finish line and I hadn’t even started yet.
“Hey, Nina, can I talk to you for a sec? …Alone?”
She had a worried look on her face. Oh no, I thought, what have I done? “Sure,” she replied. “Where do you want to go?”
“There’s this place behind the H building, overlooking the baseball field. Usually no one’s there, so…”
“Okay, let’s go.”
When we got there, all the confidence I had that morning was replaced by nerves, but I knew that if I didn’t tell her today, I would never forgive myself. We sat down with our backs on the lockers. There wasn’t anyone around. We could hear some students playing sports in the field.
“So what is it that you wanted to talk about?” she asked.
I almost wanted to run away and leave her there, I was such a mess, but I didn’t. I brought up every ounce of courage I could, which wasn’t very much, really, but it was enough.
“Nina, I wanted to tell you something. I like you– more than as a friend…”
I wasn’t really worried. I figured they must be at Yolanda’s house or something, since she did live across the street from the park. I called Terra to make sure, and sure enough, they were there. Food was already on the table when I arrived, including the stuff I gave Terra earlier. We sat down and ate, talking about our lives and about our other friends that couldn’t make it and about some of the most random things.
We had our last batch of Secret Santa gifts to exchange. It took us three get-togethers to finally get it done. It was the middle of January, but that didn’t matter. It was our tradition since high school, we weren’t going to give it up, even if it was getting harder and harder to have all of us in one place at any time.
Once we were finished eating and exchanging our gifts, we decided to walk it off, so we went into the park for a few minutes, chatting as we wandered around. Then we all went into Terra’s car, and she drove us to our house so that we’d pick up some board games for later. That was the first time I’ve been there. We stayed for a while, petting her cats and just chilling and chatting. Somehow we went onto the topic of how I got my dog. I guess we were talking about our pets and it came up.
It was when I was in ninth grade. I woke up to the sound of barking. A dog was stuck in our back yard! I’d seen snakes and hawks, rabbits and lizards, all in my back yard, but never a dog. I wasn’t used to the sound at the time. It was so loud. And it didn’t stop. I almost got a headache that morning, getting ready for school. I asked my mother what we were going to do about it, and she didn’t have a clue. We didn’t know what kind of dog it was, whether it was wild or domesticated, a stray or one that just got lost from its owner.
She drove me to my bus stop, leaving the dog behind, no doubt barking its lungs out, waking all our neighbors up. When we got there, of course, my mother turned the car around, and I knew what she was going home to. The entire time I was at school, I wondered how she would handle the situation. When I got home, I later found out that my mother let the dog out and it ran away.
About a week later, it was Lunar New Year, which we held at my house. All of my cousins, aunts and uncles came dressed up in their suits and their dresses, some of the more daring ones wearing ao dai. We also had a couple of uninvited guests. Not one, but two dogs showed up on our driveway, looking exactly like the one that was stuck in our yard just a few days ago. We assumed that they were brother and sister because they look almost exactly the same, and they’re about the same age. Neither of them were barking this time; in fact, it seemed like they were seeking our attention.
They didn’t have tags on them, so we didn’t know who to contact. My uncle put word out that we’d had two dogs who seemed like they were lost, but we never got any replies. After a few weeks, we decided to keep the dogs, but my parents figured two would be too much work, so my uncle came to pick one up. We kept the girl, up here in L.A., while my cousins keep the boy, all the way down in San Diego.
Over the past few years, whenever we would have a family get-together at either of our houses, we’d almost always bring our dog with us, so that the siblings would be reunited, and every time they’d be excited to see each other. They’d play and play and play as if they’d never spent a day apart. And whenever we separated them again, it always hurt to see how sad they were, but sure enough, a few months later they’d be back at it again, playing with each other as siblings would.
After about an hour, we finally decided to head out, with Terra’s board games in hand, back to Yolanda’s place. We spent the rest of the night playing a game of Life in Yolanda’s room, bringing the food and drinks in from the kitchen. We had Pandora on playing old 90’s pop music, the good stuff like Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, N*Sync. In between our games we’d watch random YouTube videos, laughing hysterically over Harry Potter Puppet Pals old and new. We were having a lot of fun, but I think, being around Terra, I’d have been having a good time no matter what we were doing.
When it came close to time to catch the last bus home, I asked Terra if she could drive me to the bus stop. This was how I was going to get to be with her alone. This was my chance. I was going to go for it and nothing would stop me.
There was a silence. I figured I should give her a moment to process what I’d just said to her, but I couldn’t wait for her reply. What was only seconds seemed like minutes. Finally, she spoke.
“It all makes sense now. Thanks for telling me. I really like you as a friend, but the thing is, I don’t really see you as anything more than that. I’m sorry.”
My heart sank into the ground. “Oh, I see. That’s fine,” I told her. “We can just be friends.” But the thing is, nothing was fine. From that point forward, we began to drift further and further apart from each other, until I would no longer see her or even seek her out during lunch, and I stopped going to the club meetings that she went to and I stopped talking to her online, and I wrote poems about how I felt a wall grow in between us, and eventually I just stopped caring. What I wanted so much, I couldn’t have. And life sucked for the next long months, but, as it does, life went on.
I sat on that bus listening to Sufjan Stevens. I find that these days, I don’t really listen to lyrics anymore, I just listen for the music, and I just happen to like the sounds he makes. They’re calm and peaceful, some would even put you to sleep, in the best way.
I didn’t ask Terra to meet up with me separately. But strangely, I wasn’t sad about it. Something happened that night that made me realize that I didn’t want to change anything between us. We’re great as friends, I enjoyed her company, how even though we don’t meet often, we enjoy being together like time never came between us, and I wanted to keep it that way. Maybe I made a conscious decision not to tell her. Or maybe that’s all a smokescreen to hide my insecurities and my low self-esteem. Even now I can’t really tell.
I wrote a poem a long time ago, back in ninth grade or something, I can’t remember. It was about this guy, Jeff, and this girl, Sarah, who had feelings for each other but never acted upon them, until one day, Jeff took Sarah to see the sunset at the park one autumn evening. It was a beautiful sight, the colors of the leaves matching the sky. He told her that he loved her, and she told him that she felt the same way, and they kissed, and it was very touching and very romantic. I don’t really like that poem anymore.