Nineteen

“What do you think about Katie?” I asked Matt as we were ordering our food in one of the food courts on campus.  Matt was ordering meat lasagna, and I had already gotten some sushi.  I had a craving for pho, but the Galleria is too far away and we had class in half an hour.

“She’s nice.  Really …bubbly.  But she’s always flaky.  I don’t know, man, it’s like she keeps making excuses to not be around me.  I’m not sure what to think.  And it’s just fucking annoying that she never puts in the effort to meet up.”  His order was ready, so we went to pay for our food.  Another line to wait in.

“Cassandra?”

“Pft, yeah right.  Way out of my league.  I’m happy enough just being her friend.”

“But she’s not stuck up or anything.  I don’t think she’s aware of how perfect everyone thinks she is, or if she is aware of it, she doesn’t let it affect her.  She’s really humble, as far as I can tell.  You can try to get closer to her.”

“I feel like there’s this disconnect between us.  She’s awesome and it’s always fun to be around her, but she never tells me anything about herself.”  It was our turn to pay for our food, so we stopped talking for a minute as we handled our money.

While Joe was paying for his sushi, I stood behind him in line and looked out the window.  It seemed like the leaves were growing back onto the trees.  There weren’t very many clouds out.  It was a lot warmer this week than it was in the weeks before, almost like it was already Summer, even.  I wish it was still Winter, I feel like I’m out of my comfort zone.

“Hm.  How about Tasha?”

“I don’t find her very attractive.  And her voice is deeper than mine is.  It’s weird.”

“You’re weird.”

“Shut up.”

When we got upstairs, he pointed at a small table with two empty seats.  I nodded.  We sat down and started to eat.

Joe and I have been friends since 10th grade back in high school.  We’re sophomores in college now.  I’m an English major and he’s a Math major, but we’re both Asian American Studies double-majors.  Even though our primary majors are complete opposites, we’ve had a few classes together and we hang out all the time, so we know a lot of the same people.  He’s one of the only people from high school I still keep in touch with regularly.  He’s my best friend, even though I’m sure he has friends he considers closer to him than I am.  Just having him here is good enough for me.

“How did we get onto this subject again anyway?”

“I made note of how devastatingly single you’ve always been your entire life.”

“Oh, right.”

“Akemi?”

“She doesn’t eat meat.”

“Seriously?”  I looked at Joe’s expression of disbelief.

“I know why she doesn’t, because of animal cruelty and stuff, and I respect her for that, but in a relationship?  I don’t think I can deal with that.”

“Whatever, man.”

Matt’s a good guy.  A little too nice.  He’s not too attractive, a little chubby.  When he isn’t smiling, his face looks like he’s pissed off, even when he isn’t.  I think girls only see the surface and don’t realize how good he is.  It’s gotten to him.  I still see the guy he was four years ago, but that’s clouded by someone who’s a bit colder, more judgemental of others.  He’s more social than he was in high school, has more friends, joins more clubs, but I don’t think he really lets anyone in.

“Maria?”

“We don’t have anything in common.  We don’t like any of the same movies, shows, or bands, and she doesn’t even watch Anime or play games.”

“Yeah, but she’s nice and quiet like you are.  I’m sure if you talked more you could find something you do have in common.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think it’s worth the time.”

“Not worth the time?  Am I hearing you out right?  That’s ridiculous.  I’ve known you long enough to know what you’re doing.  I have to tell you, man, it’s not going to work.  You’re going to hold out for the right one, but she’s not going to come.  Everyone has their flaws, you aren’t going to find anyone without something that you won’t like.  Be realistic.  If you find someone attractive and you think something might happen, go for it.  Don’t just sit there staying single all your life.  Stop being such a little bitch.”

As I was saying this, I could tell that I’ve upset him.  He looks scary when he’s angry, but I know he wouldn’t do anything.  It’s just his face.  I wonder how many people he’s scared away just because of how he looks.

It’s kind of annoying how we’re so close that he can say that kind of shit to me.  But then again, it’s kind of cool to have a friend who’s that close.  When your friends tell you what they think you need to improve on, it shows that they actually care enough to say anything and they’re people you can actually depend on.  That’s not going to make me let him get away with it, though.

“Dude, chill, I know what I’m doing.  We’re only nineteen, remember?  Not even twenty-one yet.  I can afford to be idealistic.  I have my whole life ahead of me.  People change, too, you know.  If I’m thirty and without a girlfriend, then yeah, maybe I’ll admit that I’ve been doing something wrong, maybe I’ll change and settle down, settle for someone whose flaws I’ll learn to tolerate, and we can start a family and try to be happy.  But for now, as far as I can tell, the one is out there, and I’m not going to go making myself unavailable for when she comes by.”

By this point, we’d both stopped eating.  I hoped the conversation on this topic would end there, but of course it didn’t.  Dumb Joe never knows when to fucking drop it.  Like always, he takes it too far, and things get out of hand.  He’s usually such a great guy to hang out with, until this kind of shit happens.

“Oh, sure, that’s what you’re doing.  You’re keeping yourself available.   Bullshit.  I know why you aren’t putting yourself out there.  You’re afraid.  Of rejection.  Of getting hurt again.  Well boo-fucking-hoo, you had five girls turn you down, then you had feelings for five more but never told them.  So what?  You’ve never been in a relationship before, you don’t know about anything, about the pain of not being able to work it out, the pain of breaking up.  You’re so naive.”

At this point I wanted to round-house kick Joe in the face, but that would involve getting out of my seat.  So I retaliated with words instead.

“And you’re the expert, right?  You, who’ve been in ten different relationships with ten different people in the last four years.  You’re the math major, Joe, what’s that average out to, five months per relationship?  You can’t hold anything together, and you’re telling me what to do?  Grow the fuck up, man, learn how to make a commitment, or at the very least figure out what you’re doing wrong to cause every girl you meet to flee before even half a year goes past.”

Where the hell did that come from?  I try to help him and he bites my face off.  Inconsiderate asshole.  He forgets to think about others and put himself in their shoes every once in a while, and the stuff he does because of it is preposterous.  At the same time, though, I was relieved.  The guy has some fight in him.  Good to know he can stick up for himself when the need to do so arises.  Alright, time to set him straight.

“Hey, shut the fuck up, this isn’t about me, this is about you, alright?  I’m just trying to help you out here.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you alone.  Don’t for one second think I never noticed how you looked at me whenever we hung out and I was with a girlfriend.  I saw it in your eyes, you wanted it.  You still want it.  Deny it all you want, but I know.  And besides, I know how screwed up I am with this kind of shit, and I love you, man, but you’re the last person who should be telling me that.”

“You’re right.  Sorry, I guess I kind of got carried away.”

“Kind of?”

“Hah, yeah.”  We continued eating again.  The conversation got so intense for a minute there that I forgot I had food in front of me.  Even though I was wrong, I was relieved that we were able to resolve our little argument without having it break us apart.  It would suck if Joe and I stopped talking, especially since we have so many classes together.  Honestly, though, I feel like I never really let him know how much I appreciate having him around.  “Hey Joe?”

“Huh?”

“Thanks for caring.”

“What, are we going to hug it out now?  Best friends forever and all that shit?”

“Ugh, no.”

I was glad that I won the argument, but something Matt said made me wonder.  What does it mean to be nineteen?  Even with all our responsibilities as college students with part-time jobs and drivers licenses and bank accounts, we’re still technically teenagers.  Maybe he was right that we don’t have to rush into things.  Still, it would be nice to see Matt with a girlfriend for a change, instead of me always being the one, because I know for sure I’m not ready for another one just yet.

“So are you going to make a move on anyone anytime soon, or was this whole talk all for nothing?”

I saw Matt’s eyes look up, away from mine.  I looked over my shoulder to see My Linh walk into the room.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.”  I turned back to Matt and he was definitely staring.  But not in the way that he would stare at some random chick’s big tits–I could tell this was different.  It was a kind of combination of awe and longing.  Could it be?  Is Matt into My Linh?

Maybe.

When I walked into the food court, I noticed Matt looking at me.  I pretended not to notice, avoiding eye contact until I was somewhat near the table where he and Joe were sitting.  “Oh hey, guys, didn’t see you there!”  I went over and hugged each of them, my usual greeting.  I wanted to hug Joe a little longer, though, but it would’ve been awkward.

“Hey My Linh, how’s it going?” Joe asked, with seaweed stuck on his lips.  So cute.

“Good, good.  What are you guys up to?”

“Just hanging out,” said Matt.  “We have class in about a half an hour.  Hey, want to sit with us?”  Matt looked a little nervous, which was pretty weird.  He’s usually a pretty calm guy, from what I can tell.  I don’t really notice him a lot.

“Aw, I would, but I’m actually meeting up with Akemi right now.”  I waved at Akemi, who was a few tables away.  She looked at me with one eye-brow raised, as if in disapproval of me talking to the guys.  I wonder what’s up?  Just then, I saw the guys glance back at Akemi, and then at each other, and then back at Akemi.  Then they waved, with awkward smiles on their faces.  Hmm.

“Bye guys, I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”

“Yup,” Matt said with a mouthful of pasta.  Gross.  I can’t understand how anyone can have feelings for him.

“See you later!” said Joe, enthusiastically.  Or was I imagining it?  I could only hope.

I joined Akemi at her table.  Looking at her, I could tell there was something bothering her, but I didn’t want to address it just yet.  Whispering so that the guys couldn’t hear, I asked her, “So, stalking Matt again, I see?  How was that working out for you?”

She frowned and looked down on her salad.

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