"I’m so glad it’s the weekend.”
You glance over at Janet as you pull some textbooks out of your locker for the trip home. “Yeah. It’s also a miracle that I don’t have a ton of homework to do.”
She grins at you. “Uh huh. That has nothing to do with you blowing me off on Tuesday to work on homework instead?”
"I... really wanted to get that English paper done.”
She laughs and punches your arm as you lock your locker. “Aw, c’mon Chris. I’m just kidding.”
The two of you walk down the hallway together, toward the parking lot, and she looks at you, curiously. “So, uh... I’m assuming not because you always tell me everything, right? But there isn’t a girl you’re asking to prom, right?”
As much as you’d been expecting that question, you still feel a momentary bit of panic, swallowing hard and hoping she hadn’t noticed. No, but...
“No,” you answer truthfully, trying to avoid eye contact with her.
She stops walking, and stares at you until you turn back toward her. “Don’t tell me you’re not going to prom. Again.”
“Like I told you last year... I don’t dance.”
She sweeps her hand out and kind of turns in place. “Well, you don’t have to dance. There’s food. And people. And me.”
“Oh, then I’m definitely not going.”
She shakes her head and mimes wiping her eyes. “I see how it is. Meanie.”
You turn back around and continue heading to your car, and hear her run to catch up. “I just don’t... see the point.”
She hooks her arm around yours and laughs. “Well, maybe there isn’t one. But does there have to be? It’s your last chance, and it’d be nice to have you there. I kind of missed you last year, even though Kevin was a pretty great date.” She looks over at you. “C’mon. Best friends don’t let their best friends go to prom on their own.”
You sigh and pull your arm away from hers. “Fine. I guess I could go.”
Janet makes a squealing noise and you cringe. “Yes!”
“...to at least check out the food.”
“You know what? I’ll take it. We’ll pig out on brownies and cookies together and people watch. You can point out all the hot girls and I can judge their fashion choices.”
“That sounds...” ...like I really should tell you something... “...great.”
You close your locker and almost fall backward from surprise when the closing door reveals Janet’s grinning face.
She laughs. “Sorry to scare you. But I got prom tickets!” She holds up a weird faux-leather booklet that seems to contain two bright purple tickets. “Also, I have great news!”
“Prom is cancelled and instead they’re giving us bookstore gift cards.”
“Ha ha, no. Ms. Hernandez is having a pre-prom party at her house and invited us. Well, me. But us.”
You feel a strange sense of dread. “That sounds like the opposite of good news.”
“Oh, hush. I know your parents would give you a hard time about it if you told them you were going to prom with me, since I think they’ve been wanting us to go out basically since Kevin and I broke up.”
You remember back to how distraught she was over that, at the beginning of the year. “I’m... sorry.”
She laughs, misinterpreting your apology. “Don’t be sorry. I’m glad we’re best friends. But uh, no, this works out great. You can tell them you’re going to a pre-party with some people, and we can go separately, and then just hang out.”
You stop and think for a second. “Except then she’s going to ask why I’m going to prom at all.”
Janet waves her hand. “Oh, psh. Whatever. It’s your senior year, you wanted to at least go to one, yadda yadda yadda. You know your mom will eat that up. And ask you to come home with pictures so she can remember you in a tux forever.”
“Actually that... does sound like my mom.”
“Exactly. So... sounds like a plan?”
“I... guess so.”
She frowns and looks at you for a bit. “Chris, seriously. If you really don’t want me to drag you to prom, you don’t have to go. I think it’ll be nice, and get you out of your shell a little, but I really don’t want to make you miserable. Despite evidence to the contrary, sometimes.”
“...you know you never make me miserable, right?”
She smiles at you. “Okay, mister serious. But really though. Do you not want to go to prom?”
You shake your head, a million thoughts going through your head. It’s been a while since you’ve really hung out with more than a couple of people, and ever since you’d come to terms with your sexuality, you’ve been petrified of larger groups, worried that you’d accidentally do or say something that would out you to everyone. You’d never been particularly good at lying.
Also the more guys, the more likely there are to be attractive ones. In particular...
“No, I... I’ll go. I may not be particularly excited about it, or even interested in it, but you’re right. It’s something I should experience, at least.”
She nods, seemingly satisfied with that answer. “Good. I’ll send you the information for the party. And you had better go find a tux.”
“And ask my parents if I can go.”
“Yeah, like that’ll be a problem.” She stares at you for a second, before suddenly growing serious. “Also, whenever you’re ready to talk, you know I’m always here.”
You can feel your head starting to spin and a sense of panic starts to set in. She knows. “Wha... what?”
She shrugs. “We’ve known each other for years. I can tell when something’s bothering you, and I know how hard it is sometimes for you to talk about things. So just... whenever you’re ready. Let’s talk.” She smiles at you and pats your arm as the warning bell sounds. “Also I really should get to Spanish. See you after school?”
You nod, still feeling like your mind is in a fog, watching her walk off.
I can’t tell her. Can I?
“I’m don’t know what I’m going to do next year without you.”
You force yourself to keep your eyes on the road. “I’ll miss you too, but this isn’t news at this point.”
“Yeah, well, I’m still sad I didn’t even apply to your school. Still not sure why I didn’t, really. But I got my last admissions letter last night, so I’ll probably have to make a decision soon.”
“It’s not too late for me to pick a different one, where we can attend together.”
“Yeah, because that’s totally how early admission works.” She slaps your arm. “Besides, I know how excited you are about this place. It’ll be great for you.”
“Well, I wasn’t exactly expecting to get in when I applied.”
“Aw, you don’t sell yourself short, Chris. You are amazing. I knew you’d get it.”
She’s silent for a bit, staring out the window at the traffic.
“So, uh... Erika is going to that pre-prom party, too. With Kyle, I think,
so you’ll know some other people there.
And Lauren’s going too.”
You look over your shoulder, trying to find an opening to merge. “That’s good.”
“...I think she’s taking Jon.”
“Uh huh.” You check your mirrors again before changing lanes.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?”
In your distraction, it takes you a second to realize what you’ve just said, and realize Janet is staring at you. Your hands shaking and head suddenly spinning, you almost lose control of the car, and it takes a scream from Janet and an angry honk from the car to your left for you to pull back into your lane.
“OH MY GOD CHRIS PULL OVER!”
You don’t need to be told twice, swerving over to the shoulder to further honking from behind you and coming to a sudden stop, before slamming your head into the steering wheel in horror.
There’s silence for a bit, and you don’t dare look over at her. “I’m sorry. That was... really dangerous and shitty of me.” You can feel her looking over at you, and then her hand cautiously rubs your back. “Chris? I... I don’t know what I was thinking. I just... I’m sorry. Please don’t freak out.”
You focus on your breathing, your heart threatening to explode out of your chest, not just because of the close call.
“I just... okay, this is going to sound like I’m super full of myself, but I’d kind of always wondered why you never asked me out. I mean, it’s not like people can’t just be friends, or anything, of course. And we get along great. But, you know, it’s high school. And I feel like everyone else is hooking up with whoever shows even the slightest interest in them. Not that you’d do that, of course. But just...”
She sighs and withdraws her hand, clasping them in front of her. “But I never really thought much about it anyway, except lately, you’ve been... more shut in than usual, even. And I noticed you’ve been, uh... I don’t want to say obsessed with, because that’s not you, but... interested? In, uh... certain people? Around school?”
You can feel your cheeks burning, and you’re vaguely aware that you’re trembling.
“Not that it’s obvious at all! Chris, please don’t freak out. I just... I know you. Better than anyone. So that’s the only reason why... I could...” She shakes her head, and her hand is on your back again. “I’m sorry. I... don’t know what I was thinking. I just wanted you to... I don’t know. I just wanted you to know I had your back, or something. And I shouldn’t have. I should have let you just... I don’t know.”
“It’s... it’s okay.” You feel like you’re still gasping for air, but your tremors slowly subside.
You sit in silence for a bit, her hand rubbing comfortable circles in your shoulder, and you wipe your eyes on your sleeve.
“So, um. We don’t have to talk about it now. Or ever.” She pauses. “Well, no. You should talk about it at some point, because you’re obviously freaking out about it. But... when you’re ready. I’ve already forced you o... uh... I’ve already given you a heart attack once today. So when you’re ready.”
You nod and look at her, and she smiles at you. “Also we should probably get to school.”
You go to shift the car back into drive, but notice it already is. You look at it confused, and Janet taps the parking brake.
“I somehow had the presence of mind to pull this, at least, when you stopped. But uh. I’ll shut up the rest of the drive. I’m... I’m sorry.”
True to her word, she’s quiet the rest of the drive, and also maintains her distance the rest of the day. She meets you at your locker after school, smiling, and you’d almost think there was nothing wrong except for her unusual silence.
She follows you to the car, and you stop at the door, thinking. “...The Bean?”
She grins. “You know it. Best Chai lattes around.” She doesn’t say it, but you’re pretty sure she understands the question.
You grab your coffee and head to the corner where Janet’s snagged a seat. You note, with gratitude, that she’s picked the table furthest away from the counter, and also away from everyone else in the shop.
You join her and she eyes your black coffee. “I don’t know how you drink that stuff. Even if you drink it so rarely. Or maybe especially because you drink it so rarely.”
You inhale deeply, the scent of the roasted beans calming you, somehow. Janet sips her latte and smiles at you.
“So, uh. Do you want me to talk at you? Or... do you want to start?”
“I, uh...” You can feel your hands starting to shake again, and take a deep breath. “I’ve never... told... anyone.”
She laughs at that. “No, duh.” She immediately looks guilty and stares at her cup. “Sorry. No, that’s... I’m not surprised. And also honored to, uh... Honored, even if I was shitty and didn’t give you the space you needed. Time you needed. Whatever.”
Strangely, underneath the initial sense of panic threatening to overtake you, you feel a strange sense of calm, and almost relief. It must show in your expression, because she smiles at you, waiting a bit for you to continue.
“This was... easier, at least.”
She laughs again, then looks guilty until she notices you’re smiling now. Or at least trying to. “That’s good. I know I could have been... well, I know I could have handled all of that a lot better, but I’m glad if it... if it helped you at all.”
You sip your coffee, closing your eyes and letting the bitter sweetness coat your mouth.
“Okay, I’m just going to talk at you, but please shut me up at any point.” She sips her latte again before setting it down and smiling at you. “Actually, I’m not really sure where to start. Uh. Did you know Kevin and I broke up because of you?”
You stop, cup halfway to your mouth, and stare at her. “What?”
She shakes her head. “It wasn’t your fault. Because is probably not the right word. But, uh... he was jealous of you. I guess he always worried that he was always second, to me. After you. I don’t think he was wrong about that, but I don’t think he understood that, even if you mean the world to me, that we’re really just friends.”
“I’m... I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It just felt like he... never trusted me, you know? Anytime we wanted to hang out, I felt like he was worrying that you would... I don’t know... steal me away from him? And it’s weird, because even though I knew I would dump him in a second for you, I also knew that you would never... make that a decision I had to make? Like our friendship is awesome beyond words, and I trust you with my life, but I just... I don’t know.”
You shake your head, letting the aroma of your cup overtake you again. “Was it... that obvious?”
You can feel her looking at you. “What? That you were... uh... No. No! I guess I just always knew you weren’t into me, and again, I mean that in a way that is absolutely not judgmental at all... but, uh... Well, we broke up. Partially because I figured at some point that, if he didn’t trust me with you, that was going to be one hell of a relationship. Like, what, I was never going to be able to have male friends in my life? And I liked him, sure, but not enough to deal with that shit forever, and especially not if it ever cost me any time with you.”
She sips her latte again and smiles at you. “But, no. It absolutely wasn’t your fault, and I really should thank you for it. But it, uh... it got me thinking, I guess? Like... you’ve never dated anyone. Or even shown any interest in anyone. Or, at least, you never told me about having any interest in anyone, while I was sitting around yapping at you about boys. And I know you’re super shy and awkward and all that, but it’s like... hormone central, and I wondered for a while if you just didn’t like anyone. But then I guess I just started... noticing things. But only because I know you! And I feel like I know how you think. So I started, uh... trying to drop hints, and to figure out if I was right, and... I don’t know.”
“Aw, Chris. Crushes aren’t stupid. Also, uh... you have good taste in guys. Smart, nice, and hot? Yes please.”
You shake your head. “No. I’m just... terrified. I don’t know how to explain it, and I don’t even really know why it terrifies me.”
“It’s hard to not be normal.” She stops. “Wait, no. That’s not the right word. You are normal. You are normal. But it’s not something that’s... easy? I don’t know. I... I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like, for you. So please don’t feel like you have to... I don’t know... answer to anyone? Or tell anyone? Or anything?”
“I... I want to, though. Someday. Somehow.”
“Okay.” She sets her cup down and takes your hand, squeezing it. “Whatever you want, whenever you want. But I will always be here for you, I promise.”
You nod, wiping a tear from your eye. “Okay.”
She laughs. “But I get to tease you about it, though. I have to make up for so much lost time. You so have a crush on Jon, but I’m sorry to tell you I’m pretty sure he’s straight.”
You feel yourself turning red, and she laughs again, and despite the fact that it should be horrifying, it instead feels somehow liberating.
“So, anyway. Congrats. It’s like... the first step, right?”
“Yeah.” You’re smiling now, truly, and she sits back in her chair, seemingly relaxing for the first time. “Yeah.”