Best friend. It’s what a girl calls you when she doesn’t want to admit she likes you. It’s what nearly every girl I’ve ever liked has called me.

*

I’m not a particularly nice guy. I don’t say cute stuff. I don’t give girls a reason to think I’m this super great best friend. To be honest, I’m kind of an asshole. I tell her when she looks like shit, or when her boyfriend clearly has no reason to be with her. I ignore her texts unless it’s something worth answering. I’m late when we meet up for something. But these girls I’ve been friends with, these girls I’ve been legitimately interested in, they all have called me their best friend. They tell me their secrets. They tell me their thoughts. They tell me when they hate me, but they always come back.

I’m making it sound like I’ve been legitimately interested in a bunch of girls. Like I’ve had thousands of friend-girls that have liked me but refused to admit it. Really, it’s only been three. I met Claire and Tiffany in eighth grade. Both were funny and smart, and both had super hot bodies, especially for eighth graders. Claire was the first girl I ever actually liked. Before her, I had “dated” a few girls I thought I had liked, but when Claire and I started hanging out I knew I had been wrong. Claire and Tiffany were nearly inseparable, and when Claire stopped hanging out with me during our freshman year because of her new boyfriend, Tiffany took her place.

I had always thought Tiffany was hotter than Claire, but she had never shown any interest. When she had her chance, though, she took it. Tiffany gave me a lot of firsts, including what I thought was my first love. At that point in my life I hadn’t grasped the differences between love and lust. Tiffany made me feel things I had never felt before, but she always talked about not giving us a title. We weren’t anything, but if we were it was just good friends. Tiffany didn’t want a real relationship; we were too young for that. Every time she said that I wondered how we weren’t too young for the things we were doing, but I didn’t mention it. I liked those things too much to make her change her mind about them. Eventually she met some guy, too, and by the time we graduated I had become another best friend, had a decent amount of time full of black-out parties and one night stands, and had ignored the ache in my chest.

After Tiffany, I figured I was happy with my life style. If doing this stuff made me feel good then why complicate it by getting involved with one person for more than one night? I was satisfied and worry free. I convinced myself I was living the good life, and that college was going to be a fun filled walk in a park full of hot chicks with very few emotions to go along with it.

*

College. Freedom. Parties. The good life.

She’s the first person I meet. We are the only two people sitting at the undeclared table at the “Picnic with the Professors.” We don’t have a professor either. She sits across from me like the seat has her name on it.

“Thank Goodness I am not alone here. I’ve been talking to people and it seems like everyone already has their whole life planned. I’m here to figure out what I want to do, you know? It’s not like I have all these crazy, lofty ideas about my future. How am I supposed to know what it’s going to be like? They always say that God laughs at people who make plans, or whatever, so I try not to plan too far in advance. Gosh, this food looks so good. I am starving. I’m Natalie, by the way. What’s your name?”

Some introduction. She spoke a mile a minute and made eye contact the whole time. I am stunned. Don’t know how to respond. I feel like a fool, but comfortable at the same time. “Wow, well, I’m Davie. Technically David, but call me Davie or Dave.”

“Technicalities, eh? Well, I’m technically Natalie Marie Elizabeth, but we don’t want to get into that now do we? Natalie more than suffices. Davie’s a nice name. Where are you from?”

She takes a huge bite of hamburger and tomato juice runs down her chin. Somehow it looks sexy on her. “About two hours east of here. Small town called Kupnike. You?”

She takes another oversized bite. “What a co-ink-y-dink,” she purposefully separates each syllable. “I’m two hours west. Technically northwest I guess, but its mostly west. Also a small town. Called Jasperville.”

Her half teal bangs keep falling into her eyes so she pushes them up every few seconds. The rest of her black hair falls over her shoulder and is tied back in a loose ribbon. It goes to the middle of her ribs. The teal from her bangs runs down part of the rest of her hair too. “Never heard of it.”

“Not surprised. Most people haven’t. It’s not really worth hearing about. Everyone pretty much just goes fishing all the time.” She wipes her chin and picks up her gray purse from the ground and pulls out a camera. “See. Everyone’s, like, obsessed.” She turns the black Cannon on and turns the screen towards me- a small lake filled with fishing boats. The next shot shows several men on a dock with poles in the water. A third shows a young girl and boy splashing in the water close to the shore. “Everyone loves the water there. I think it’s pretty and all, but so not about to go in it or get something out of it.”

“You won’t go in the water?”

“Heck no. So dirty. And dark. Who knows what’s down there? Besides, I don’t want those yucky fish to suck on my toes. Creeps me out. Does your town have a lake?” She finishes off her burger and starts on the noodle casserole on her plate.

I’ve hardly taken a bite since she sat. The way she’s so open about everything has me too interested to eat. I focus all my attention on her. “Nope. We have a city pool, but it’s pretty small. I love going on speedboats and stuff, but I don’t get to unless we visit my cousins in Maine. I drove once. Didn’t even hit anything either.”

She laughs. “You seem proud. Boats freak me out. They could totally just flip over at any second. But that’s cool that you like them.”

A guy with light brown hair, square glasses, and a flannel shirt walks over. “Hey Nat. Who’s your friend?” He sits down next to her and puts his arm around her shoulders, far too close to her chest area. He’s trying to look nonchalant, but I can see how pissed he is that she sat across from me.

“This is Davie. He, too, has no clue what he wants in life. We were bonding over boats. We’re probably going to be best friends.” She laughs.

“You hate boats though.”

“Exactly. Davie, this is Evan, my boyfriend. He is also from Jasperville.”

I try to smile at the guy. His face makes me want to hit it and I don’t even know him. “Nice to meet you, Evan.” I force out his name. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

He just nods in response.

*

“So, do you… party?” I didn’t want to say drink, get drunk. It seemed too crude. She’s better than those words.

She squints her eyes. Reading for hours made her lose her focusing abilities. When we study together I can’t focus on anything but her. “My life is a party, boy. But no, I do not drink or whatever else you could be talking about. Don’t see the point. If you can’t do something while you’re sober you shouldn’t intoxicate yourself just to have the courage to do it. Not that you can’t drink or whatever. I don’t care, but yeah. I just don’t see the point.”

I know she’s telling the truth, but her eyes say something else too. “Makes sense. I just think it’s fun, drinking that is. I don’t do anything else.” I’m scared I sound like I’m defending myself. “Have you ever been drunk?”

She’s still squinting. “Yeah. It sucked.” She smiles. “So yeah, never again. Do you party a lot?”

“Kind of. I went out last weekend.”

She hadn’t responded to any of my texts that night. I woke up in some blond girl’s room the next morning.

“Maybe you saw Evan? He’s rushing or whatever. Some frat. I guess they partied pretty hard that night.”

Maybe those texts never went through. Probably for the best. “No, I don’t think so.”

Actually, I saw him outside a house. Some girl was rubbing his arm and laughing. He wasn’t stopping her. Not my place to say anything though. Technically nothing was happening. She wouldn’t believe me even if I told her. Why would she?

“Oh. Well, campus is pretty big.” Her hands go up to her hair and begin to braid.

“Indeed. So, do you understand this assignment at all?”

She looks down at her book. “Well, yes.” She looks at me. “Are you going out this weekend, too?”

Not if you want to do something instead. “I haven’t decided yet. What are you doing?”

She looks at the tips of her hair. “No idea. Evan’s all tied up with the frat I guess, and my roommate is going home this weekend.”

Just ask me and I will stay in with you. I don’t need to be drunk if I get to be with you. In your room, where there’s a bed. Alone. “I see. Well, we could hang out if you want.” I didn’t want to initiate it, but I can tell she’s scared. If Evan asks, it was all my fault.

She glances up at me then back down. “Only if you didn’t want to go out.”

I’d much rather be doing other things with you. “Nah, I heard most of the frats were doing initiation stuff anyway. No outsiders allowed.”

She looks up and grins. “Cool. Movie night?”

*

We sit on the futon in her room. She turns on the TV and we watch some cheesy, girly movie about love. I can’t focus. Her hair smells so good, and her leg is centimeters from mine. I could twitch and we’d be touching. Her shorts have pulled up over her thigh, and damn I cannot focus. She keeps twisting the ends of her long black hair between her fingers. She’s partially watching the movie, but mostly listening. Her eyes move back and forth between her hair and the screen, and I swear she occasionally glances my way.

It’s so hot I’m sweating. I can see beads of sweat by her hairline and on her chest. I was trying not to look there, but I can’t help it. I’m too attracted. There’s no way I can keep this up.

I stretch my arms and put them behind the couch. What I want to do is put my arms around her, pull her towards me, kiss her like that douche Evan has never kissed her before, but I know she’d shrug off my arm, push me off, kick me out of her room. She’s too good a person to accept something like that. She shifts in her seat and her shorts pull up even higher. It is so hot in this room I might die.

“Man it’s hot.”

She looks at me for real this time. Relieved I said something about the heat first. “Yeah, it kind of is. Want me to open the window or something?”

I nod. While she pulls open the blinds and unlocks the window I stare at her so hard. If only I could have her.

*

Three other students have become undeclared since this semester started. No more fifty minutes to have Natalie all by myself. Five of us share them now. “How to Figure Out Who You Want to Be.” As if this helps. The five of us sit in a room and talk about how we don’t know where we’re going in life. Three guys and two girls. Two pretty hot girls, one girl I could be in love with. The other guys are all right. Justin makes too many jokes, and Zach’s right eye twitches a lot, but they’re worth talking to, unlike a lot of people at this school.

Sometimes I can’t focus on what our professor suggests because in front of me is a bleach blond head of hair that’s always engulfed by a giant pink bandanna. Magdalene’s face and body are pretty nice to look at, but her hair pisses me off. It’s huge and always in my way.

She turns to me. “Are you doing anything this weekend?”

I look at Natalie. She’s talking to the teacher about our “assignment.” She glances at me and her hands go to her hair. “Yeah. I have plans.”

Magdalene huffs and turns back to the paper in front of her.

“Bro,” Zach leans over and whispers while his eye twitches. “You should hit that!”

I shake my head. “I have higher goals than that, bro.”

He looks over at Natalie.

I’m not that obvious am I?

*

Freshmen Function Fridays. The event board thinks they’re clever. Lots of alliteration makes things catchy, right? More like annoying.

“Should we go? Dr. Garitie said we should. He said it could give us an opportunity to meet people with good ideas.”

“What? Do we not have good ideas?”

She rolls her eyes. “Apparently not. We’re still undeclared and have no direction in life.”

I cross my arms over my chest. “Well, we’re not alone anymore. Maybe we have the right idea.”

She laughs. I love making her laugh. “Or maybe they’re just as dopey as we are.”

“I kind of like everyone in there.”

“Really?”

“Don’t get me wrong, it was badass with just the two of us, but since we’re stuck with other people I don’t mind it being them.”

She looks to the side. “Yeah, Zach and Justin are pretty cool.”

Does she want me to say something about Magdalene? Is she jealous of something? “Yeah.”

“So should we go or what?” Her hands braid small sections her hair.

“I think I’m gonna go out with my roommate tonight.”

*

I used to be a fun drunk. Now all I do is think of her. Johnnie wants to have fun. “Roomie, we need to not be so down right now.”

Johnnie doesn’t worry about other guys’ girlfriends. If he wants her he takes her. I want her. But I can’t just take her. She wouldn’t have me if I do that.

“Come on, bro. We have some hotness to attain.”

The frats are dirty. Full of ugly drunk chicks. Fully of horny guys. Full of booze on the floor, permeating the air.

“That girl keeps looking at you, bro.”

I can’t see this girl’s face. Maybe I should have stopped a few drinks ago. I thought that if I drank enough I’d forget she wasn’t mine. It hasn’t worked yet.

“She wants you so bad, bro. Go over there.” Johnnie pushes me towards someone. I bump into her boobs.

She giggles. “That wasn’t very nice, David.” No one calls me David. How does this blur know my name?

I think I mumble something.

She giggles again. “Let’s dance.”

The room spins. The blur grinds up against me. Johnnie hands me another drink. I usually have fun doing this.

When I wake up and see who’s next to me I feel sick. She’s trying to cuddle. She’s smiling in her sleep. How did I not know who this was last night? How did I get that incoherent?

I slip my arm away from her. Find my clothes on the floor, next to a pink bandana. Walk out as quietly as possible.

Never again.

*

She’s been acting weird since my sister visited. I haven’t done anything wrong. She says she needs to spend more time with Evan, but I feel like she just doesn’t want to be around me.

Maybe it’s because my sister.

“Oh, you’re Natalie? I’ve heard so much about you! I’m Kaycee.”

Am I not supposed to talk about my friends to my sister? She’s my best friend away from school. I tell her everything. I mean, obviously I told her some things that Natalie doesn’t technically know about, but my sister wasn’t that obvious. At least I didn’t think so.

“Hi, Kaycee. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands and then Natalie’s fingers grabbed at her hair.

“This is Everett.” Everett nodded. He’s a good guy. Good for my sister.

“So what are we going to do today?” Kaycee asked.

The four of us just hung out all day. Sat around. Went to the food courts to eat. Just the four of us. I couldn’t help but wonder if we looked like a double date. Probably not. Natalie tried to stay as far away from me as possible.

When Kaycee was leaving she took me to the side. “She’s a nice girl, you know. I didn’t meet her boyfriend or anything, but you’re probably better than him.” She winked. God, I hoped Natalie didn’t hear.

She and Everett left my room. It was just Natalie and me. Her hands were braiding her hair and she absently stared at the blank TV.

“We could watch something.”

She looked up. “What? Oh, sure. I guess. I might have a thing later, though. Evan said he’d text me.”

She had mentioned it about ten times earlier. She and Evan were supposed to go out. We settled in to watch a movie. Johnnie brought a love seat, so we were basically touching. Her phone never went off once.

*

I haven’t seen Natalie outside of class in weeks. She’s ignoring me. I told her about the mistakes I’ve been making. Now she won’t talk to me. I told her not to judge. I reminded her she had no reason to be pissed. She asked the question, so I told her what happened after I get drunk. I didn’t want to tell her. I knew what she’d think. I knew it would kill my chances. But I can’t just lie to her. The look on her face when I told her, it made me want to die. Maybe I should have lied.

I guess we didn’t hang out for a bit before that either. I bet Evan won’t let her. He’s such a bag of suck.

In class we hardly talk, but I feel eyes in the back of my head sometimes. She’s the only one behind me.

“Hey, do you want to study together tomorrow?”

She’s packing her bag. She pushes her bangs out of her face. She doesn’t look up. “Sure.”

*

She’s absently braiding part of her hair while reading. Her phone vibrates and she ignores it. I’m supposed to be reading too, but her shirt is cut too low and too much of her skin is exposed.

“Where’s Evan?” I didn’t mean to ask it. But the last few days I haven’t seen them together as much. Maybe that’s why she finally said yes to hanging out.

“Um? Studying? He has a test or something tomorrow. He doesn’t like when I read in the same room as him, says it’s distracting.”

I don’t have a second thing to say.

Her foot taps the ground. “Where’s Magdalene?”

I’m confused. “Huh? Why would I have any idea where that whore is?”

“You would know. But I thought you guys were hanging out more. That’s what she’s been telling everyone lately. Plus she’s always all over you when the group hangs out. Always all, ‘Oh Davie, you’re so funny!’” she imitates Magdalene’s high pitched, whiny voice.

“I would know? You should know I’m not doing that anymore.” Since I told her about everything that’s happened I’ve stopped. Maybe it was mostly one specific night, but every time I consider getting drunk I think of that look she gave me. Johnnie thinks I’m getting boring.

“Yeah? Well good for you. Glad your terrible decision helped to make you change your life around. Glad I had nothing to do with it.”

“You’re mad that I didn’t stop drinking for you? You told me you didn’t care! Why would it matter to you why I quit!” Besides, it was for you. But I can’t tell you that.

She shakes her head. “Never mind. I have some reading to get done so I’m gonna head back to my room. Have a nice night.” She slams her book into her bag and rushes out of the lobby. I didn’t want to piss her off. Didn’t even want to talk about that. I wanted to talk about how I should be the one in her bed every night, not that prick Evan. But we argued before the conversation got close.

*

“He ditched me again. Can I come over?” She sounds like she just got done crying.

I look at Johnnie sleeping on his bed. He’s been sleeping all day. “Yeah. Call when you’re at the door.”

“Actually, could we just stay on the phone? It’s kinda creepy out tonight.” She sounds like a frightened little kid.

Like there’s some scary monster out there. “Of course.”

All I hear is her breathing, some wind.

“Why didn’t he show?”

They had a date planned. Their first real date in months. He was going to drive. She probably stood by his car for forty-five minutes before she knew for sure. She always waits.

“Probably a frat thing. He hasn’t answered yet.”

I want to go find him and hit him. He made her stand outside in the creepy cold while he hit on some drunk girl. “Are you going to talk to him about it?”

She sniffles. “I mean, yeah. But it’s not that big a deal. He forgets stuff a lot.”

But it is in no way okay. She knows that. He doesn’t deserve her. I probably don’t either, but I would never leave her out in the cold.

“Come get me.”

When I open the hall door I see where her mascara smeared. Where she tried to wipe away all her makeup. Where her hair got messed up when she changed out of the skimpy dress she had on for their date. I wish I got to see that dress. I open my arms and she falls into them. I want to kiss the top of her head. “Wanna watch a movie?”

She squeaks a reply.

If I could kill Evan I think I would.

*

Study, study, study. That’s all I’ve done for two weeks. I probably should’ve learned this stuff the first time around. Finals. Then it’s Christmas break and I’m free of all educational obligations. Free of my tiny dorm room. Free of thinking about things I shouldn’t think about.

Kaycee called yesterday. Said she’s dating a new guy.

“What about Everett?” He was a decent guy. Good to my sister.

“Oh, well… he’s just too nice. Deril is so… hot. Plus he has a great sense of humor and this awesome car.” She rambled about him for half an hour.

“When did this happen?” Everett loved her. I could tell. I thought she loved him, too.

“A bit after I visited you I guess. But anyway-” I didn’t want to listen anymore.

“Hey I have some more studying to do. Have a nice night. Stay happy.”

She chuckled. “Of course I’m happy.”

How could she be after ditching Everett so quickly?

I don’t want to call her, but concentrating isn’t working anymore. “Hey, just wondering if you wanted to come over and help me study. I think my brain is broken.”

She laughs quietly. “Sure. But I have to help Evan with something first. It should be quick.”

An hour later she’s finally over. “Hey.”

I don’t want to seem pissed. I am though. I hate that she’s with him when I want her to be with me. When she should be with me.

“Hey. Sorry that took longer than I thought.”

I can only imagine what they were doing. It makes me sick.

We go over terms, dates, people’s names. My brain retains nothing. She looks so good. Hair up, at the back of her head. Bangs brushed to the side. Flushed cheeks. V-neck shirt that’s just low enough. Skinny jeans. She looks so good.

“Hello?”

I forgot to answer her question.

“I can’t concentrate anymore. Break?”

She looks at her phone. “Okay.” She looks back up. “So how was your day?”

I get us both water bottles from Johnnie’s small fridge where he hides his booze. I hand her one. “Fine. My sister called.”

She takes a drink. Redoes her hair. “Oh. How is she?”

She doesn’t like to talk about my sister for some reason. “Supposedly good. She’s dating some new guy. Says she’s in love.”

“What? A new guy? She was just here a few weeks ago! What about that Everett guy? He was nice.”

“That’s what I said. She said Everett was too nice.”

She shakes her head. “Nice would be nice.”

Evan isn’t nice? “That’s what I thought.”

She’s looking down. Playing with her hair. She doesn’t say anything back.

*

“Are you going to that dance after break?” Her room is still like a sauna. Even in the middle of winter she wears those short shorts and tank tops in here. I can only imagine what it feels like on her bed.

“And who exactly would I go with? Not as if there’s many girls pining over a date with me.” I need to stop staring, but I can’t help it as she leans over her suitcase and pulls something out of a drawer.

“Please, there are plenty of girls who would go with you. You could always ask Magdalene. She’d probably die of happiness.”

Why did she bring her up again? “Yeah, well- not going to happen. She’s not my type. Besides, I’m interested in someone else.” I didn’t need to give her a reason. Such a bad idea to bring it up. But I need to. I need to know what she thinks.

She looks over at me. “Oh really? Who is this new lucky girl? You gonna ask her?”

How to answer. “She’s not new, first of all, and secondly, no. She… has reasons to be ignoring my advances.”

“Not new? Ignoring your advances? You’ve liked this girl before?”

“More like… still, I suppose. Very low key of course. Like I said, she ignores my advances.”

“Well, how do you know she’s ignoring them? Maybe she doesn’t know they’re there.”

“She knows.” She definitely knows.

“How do you know?” She’s no longer packing for winter break. Her long legs are sprawled on the floor and as she looks at me her hands move to her hair and start braiding.

“I can just tell.”

“Well, why is she ignoring you then? Huh, Mr. Hotshot?” Twisting fingers, bouncing legs. She’s uncomfortable. She knows.

“Simply put she already has a boyfriend. But I know something she refuses to admit.”

“And what’s that?” Her eyes dart to the floor if I look at her too long. I can’t help but stare.

“She wants to date me more than her boyfriend.”

She’s looking down again. “Did she tell you that?”

“No.”

She makes a face. “Then how would you know?”

“There are some things you can just tell.”

“How? You’re not in her head.”

Her hands are picking at the ends of her hair. I sit on the edge of her bed. He’s been in here before. They’ve been in here together. I could kill him.

“Some people aren’t very good at keeping things just in their heads.”

Her hands drop. “You think so?”

She knows.

 

*****

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