I watch the brown leaves crunch under Will’s feet. He takes a sip of his iced coffee, and looks back at me as if to say, are you coming? I return his smile and create my own path of crushed leaves. I hold my frozen caramel mocha in my left hand so he can’t try to hold it. I don’t like pretending to be an old couple in a park, strolling to the sound track of our love. Will and I don’t have a melody let alone a completed sound track. I can feel myself turning cold, a wave of cowardice coats my body, starting at my temples and rolling down my shoulders. How many times can he friend zone me? If he tries going for a sixth time, I’ll be ready. My lip wont quiver, and my eyes wont sting. I have drained my feelings, I am safe. I am a coward.
“There’s this guy who comes into my work all the time and told me one of the tallest trees in Utah is at this park,” Will says, looking up and stepping around in a circle slowly.
I smile, not because I am fascinated with finding the tallest tree but I mimic his movement and pretend. My dark hair twirls with me as I spin, looking at the tall pines. Annoyance tickles at the back of my neck and I realize I don’t give a damn about the tallest tree here. I just want him to get it over with. I don’t know why he couldn’t have just texted me and said that he would rather just be friends like a normal boy. But no, he has to be a now day gentleman and decline my love in person. How lucky am I?
“These trees all look the same height to me,” I say a little colder than I intended. Memories of last week flit through my head like crisp burgundy leaves. I remember sitting on my living room floor with him, looking up movie times on my laptop. Will’s familiar hand grasped a strand of my long dark hair, gently. When I turned to see what he wanted, he simply smiled and said, “Nothing.”
I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear along with the memory. After walking a few feet toward the pond I find the perfect spot. The grass is soft against the back of my legs. I sit Indian style and stare at the mystery in front of me, the water is like glass- smooth and clear. Yet, I can’t see what’s beneath the surface.
Part of me wishes he would take his sunglasses off so I could see his forest-green eyes, but a bigger part of me is grateful he keeps them hidden. Shit, why didn’t I wear sunglasses? I stare out at the geese and laugh. How can something look so graceful in the water, and then so awkward on land? A group of birds in the far corner of the lake fly off together. This is like a scene from the notebook, I think to myself. But Different. Excruciatingly different.
“So did you ask me to get coffee with you and walk around Liberty Park so you could laugh at geese with me?” I ask impatiently.
He removes his sunglasses and smiles at my salty attitude.
God dammit. I allow myself to look at his eyes for a moment before looking back at the wild long necks. Their black beady eyes are much less intimidating. Before he can say anything I spout out the worse outcome, “You would think that after the fifth time you’ve friend zoned me it would get easier.” At least this way there is nowhere for our conversation to go but up.
His eyes fill with confusion, or maybe it’s pity. “I know, I’m not trying to send you mixed signals, but I do think it would be best if we were just friends,” he says, almost trying to convince himself.
Fury churns inside my stomach as vivid memories start to attack me. His hand on my waist, pulling me closer; and his hot breath against my face. “You’re the one who always turns down the idea of hanging out with a group of people,” I say, remembering our Batman-Netflix and Chill night.
“I know,” he says, cutting me off. “I don’t know why, I just prefer hanging out just the two of us.”
Hmm. That’s weird, maybe because you like me, idiot. I bite my tongue, and think of a more appropriate thing to say. “That’s cool, do you enjoy hanging out with other girls just one on one instead of with a group of people?” Words were just shooting out like an angry lightning storm. Cracking the obvious into our surroundings. My best friend’s voice seeps into my head, Try not to be so forward, let him come to you. Oops, I guess I didn’t listen to her advice for very long. My impatience will be my downfall, or my biggest blessing.
“I know, it’s hard for me to hold back sometimes,” he says.
I look over at him and study his face, waiting for an emotion to reveal a clue. “Then don’t hold back,” I whisper, filling the space between us for a split second.