Part I - The Confession
I waited outside for him. It was a cool night. Crisp. The crickets chirped. The leaves rustled. Children were being tucked in. Husbands were kissing their wives on their foreheads. Grandmothers were sighing over the nightly news. Teenage girls were texting their boyfriends goodnight. And here I sat. Outside. In the crisp air waiting for him to come home. Tonight, I felt just a little bit brave.
His SUV pulled up in the driveway. The butterflies in my stomach fluttered. As he got out the car and walked to the porch, I stood up.
"Hey," I barely whispered. My hands were sweating and shoved in the pockets of my jeans. He stood there. All 6 feet of him. Solid. Masculine. Bold.
"What are you doing here?" he asked confused. "It's late. Why are you sitting out here by yourself?"
"I know, right. It's crazy. I could probably be attacked or something," I said nervously.
"What are you doing here?" he asked again. The way he spoke over the rustle of the leaves made it sound musical.
"I had to talk to you. I had to explain what's been going on with me lately."
"Right, now? Can't this wait? It's been a long day, I'm tired. You should go home." He starts to put his key in the door. "We'll talk tomorrow, okay? Night Kamryn."
"Ethan, I love you!" I exhaled. I took a step back from him, startled by my own words. They pierced the air. All of a sudden silence blanketed the night. As desperately as I needed to speak the words, I needed even more desperately to take them back. But I couldn't. Once the words left my lips I didn't own them anymore. He owned them now. I wondered what he would do with my most precious possession.
After what seemed like hours, but I am sure were only seconds, he began to speak. "Why do I get the feeling you don't mean in a we're best buds kinda way?"
"Look, I know it’s crazy. It’s absurd. It makes no sense. I've told you over and over again in word and in deed how impossible the very idea of us being together would be, but it just snuck up on me. Bit me in the butt. I did exactly what I didn't want to do. I caught feelings. And I hate it. I don't want it to be this way, but it is what it is..." I trailed off.
"But you've been treating me like crap lately. It's like you are in permanent PMS mode or something. Nagging about this and about that... Nothing I do is ever good enough for you," he complained.
"I know. I just said it didn't make any sense. I've been building this wall all my life. I tell you you're not worthy. But it’s just a misdirect; I’m turning the attention on you when it’s really me. I'm not worthy. Or at least I don't feel worthy. I've been lying to you and to myself. I guess in trying to convince you that you're just incapable of any relationship then hopefully my desire for one with you will disappear."
"You're rambling," he sighed. "You always ramble when you're nervous," he put his fingers to the crown of his nose and started to massage the space in between his eyes.
"You know me too well," I say sheepishly.
He answers me back with the sternest of looks. "Obviously, not well enough."
"Maybe I should have been an actor or something? You know me, always into the dramatics," I joke.
"You should stay away from drama."
"I try," I said softly.
"Obviously, not hard enough."
There was this long pause that followed his words. He stared at the paint chipping off the floorboards of the porch. I stared into the night sky fighting back tears. My heart ached for him. It ached in ways I have never felt before. Of course I wanted more from him. I wanted him to hold me. To tell me he loved me too. To occupy the lonely space in my heart. But he couldn't. He wouldn't.
"Look, maybe we just need to take a step back and take a break from one another. Really try to figure out what we want from this relationship," he said breaking the silence.
"I already know what I want," I mumbled.
"What?" he asked.
"Look, Ethan, its not like I told you I loved you hoping you felt the same way or even wanting you to say it back," I lied.
"Yes you did."
I hate him. "I just thought you should know, Ethan. Thought maybe it would make you understand my behavior. You know I think it's just time for me to go." I started to walk quickly past him but really wanting to run away from the rejection.
"This changes everything, you know that, right?" his question chased me down the driveway.
I turned around to face him. The breeze dried the tears from my face. I look at him. He doesn't seem as tall as before. His eyes look tired. He's slouched at the shoulders; his skin oily from the stress of the day. His lips a perfect pink, parted, ready to speak.
"Actually, Ethan, it changes nothing at all," I say and turn back around and walk away.
I watched as Kamryn got into her car and drove her and our friendship away. Her scent lingered in the night air. She always smelled like a mix of coffee and spring time. I hated the way the bangs of her hair hid her eyes or how she was always catching strands in her mouth when she talked. She was so petite, I'd swear when it was windy she would blow away. And that dimple, that signature dimple. It was the cave in her cheek that held all the secret things that made her smile. And apparently, I am one of them. Or at least... I was.
I walked into my apartment. Tired from the day and drained from the conversation. I hated it when girls cried. I hated making them cry, but they always cried. Well Kamryn always cried. She's emotional. Always has been. Let her tell it, however, she was passionate. Nah, I'd call it emotional. I smiled. We got into that debate a million times. I would always win, because the debate would end in Kamryn throwing a hissy fit. "See," I'd say, "case and point: Emotional." I shook my head and opened my refrigerator and then shook my head as I closed it. Wish I hadn't pissed off Kam, then maybe I'd be eating right now. All I had to do was text her and tell her I was hungry and she'd drive an hour out of her way and prepare some elaborate meal. She loved to cook, so technically I was doing her the favor.
Her confession wasn't much of a confession to me as I believe it was to herself. I could look in her eyes and know that she loved me. Anyone could. Everyone did. I just pretended not to see it. Which was pretty much how I delt with everything that involved change, vulnerability, and emotion. If I didn't see fit to acknowledge it, then it must not exist. That philosophy has gotten me far, I think. It just frustrates the heck out of everyone else.
I got out my guitar; a Les Paul Gibson. A gift from Kamryn. I'm not a jerk. I love her. I do. Always have. I just can't love her the way she needs to be. The way she deserves to be.
I remember the first time I met Kamryn. She was moving in next door with her mom and Sophia. I was 16 at the time. Noah, who lived down the block from us wished for hot white chicks to move in. Zuri on the other hand didn't want any more white families coming in and taking over the neighborhood. I didn't care either way. In the end though, it seemed we all ended up being pleased with what we got.
When the moving truck pulled in and the movers started to unload, my mom made Zuri and I accompany her to welcome them to the neighborhood. After the initial introductions, Zuri and I offered to help with the moving. Southern hospitality. I could tell they weren't used to it. City girls.
"I can handle it," Sophia said when I reached out for the box she was holding. "
Ok then," I said as I lifted my hands in defeat. I looked over at Zuri who rolled her eyes and followed her into the house.
"I could use help with this one," Kamryn said pointing to a box.
"Sure thing," I said. I went to lift it speedily and nearly stumbled over, surprised by its weight. "Shh.." I stopped myself, "what the heck is in this box?" I asked.
"It’s just my books," she said softly.
"Guess you read a lot,” I said as I got a better grip and walked into the house.
"Yeah, but most of them were my fathers. He left them to me. He was a professor. But he umm died a few months ago..." she trailed off.
"Oh, sorry to hear that," I said uncomfortable with her truth.
"Thanks. It's the room to the left."
We walked into her room, which was a pretty amazing room for a teenager. Windows that stretched from floor to ceiling lined the right side of the room and were accompanied by a window seat. The opposite wall was lined with espresso colored book shelves from floor to ceiling. I walked in the direction of the shelves, which had the beginnings of decor: photos of Kam, her sister and others. She's spoiled and a cheerleader. Great.
"So you're a cheerleader? Middle school out here doesn't have sports," I said ignorantly.
"Really? Well it’s a good thing we're both in high school," she retorted.
"My bad, you looked kinda young."
"Yeah, I get that all the time. I'm 17. Sophia is 15."
"And you're the oldest? Never would have guessed that."
"Yeah, get that all the time too."
"Well I'm on the varsity basketball team," I boasted.
"You a senior too?"
"Nah, a sophomore."
"My bad, you look kinda old," she said with a smile and at that moment I was formerly introduced to that dimple.
"Yeah, I get that a lot," I smiled back.
Zuri and I ended up spending that entire day with the Williams sisters. I called Noah over and he helped us out with the moving. We got them all moved in and then Mom invited them over and Dad cooked out on the grill. I watched the girls carefully. They were both very pretty but polar opposites from each other. Sophia was tall, her skin dark, but complexion smooth and gorgeous. She had a cute round face and a button nose. She was built like an athlete. She was forceful, loud, smart-mouthed, daring, and independent. She didn't look or act like a girl who had just experienced loss. Kam was petite. Small stature. Fit, but curvy in all the right places. Mocha-colored. Reserved. Well-poised. Observant. Cautious. Kam wore the worry in her heart on her face.
Time passed and it turned out to be always the 5 of us. It's like we were each random dots, connected by the lines of chance to make a unique family. Through high school sports, homecoming dances, stealing liquor out of our parent’s liquor cabinets and getting trashed. Through boyfriends and girlfriends, college applications, snowboarding trips, college parties, through my parent's divorce, Noah's mom's sickness, Kam's valedictorian speech, Noah, Soph and my senior prank... I could fill countless of pages filled with priceless memories.
It always admired the fact that as a group we were all close, but individually we held our own as well. Zuri and I became closer siblings as we got older. Noah and I were inseparable up into recently, once he got serious about school. I always clicked the most with Soph. We were a lot alike. I could hang with Soph for hours doing absolutely nothing. Soph could hold her own if I picked a fight, verbally or otherwise. I could tell crude jokes around her without worrying she'd be offended. She was one of the guys, but as we got older I began to notice how much of a girl she was. I reserved it in the back of my mind, visited it once, made promises never to visit it again. Soph and I had our secrets. Secrets Noah or Kam or Zuri didn't know about. Secrets that were the reason Kam cried tonight, though she would never know it.
Kam was the mother of us all. Her soul was way older than she was. She was like a security blanket. I knew I could always count on her. I allowed myself to tell her things I wouldn't tell anyone else. I was able to ask her questions about girls, talk to her about music, let her know my fears of losing or failing, share with her my dreams of being a professional snowboarder. But that comfort was accompanied by intimidation. With Kam it always had to mean something, she was always trying to read in between the lines. She knew what I needed way before I even knew I needed it. She nurtured and catered. I knew Kam could see me for who I really was and that terrified me. Naturally, I was physically attracted to Kam as well. But with Kam it was overwhelming. With Soph it was easy...
12:23 AM. That's what time my cell phone said when I heard the slam of the front door, the sound of sniffles and feet hitting the foyer steps.
"Kam?" I thought to myself, but my sleep quickly overtook me and I shrugged it off as just a dream. I rolled over and reentered into my slumber.
12:23 AM. That's what time the clock at the nurses’ station said as I was told to assist a patient to the lab for blood work. My patient was an elderly, cranky and smelly man complaining of diarrhea. Did I really want this as my life? Who was it that told me I would make a good doctor because I have a heart and I am great with people? Oh, yeah. That's right. It was Kamryn.
I bet she's sound asleep right now. Well then again, she's probably up either typing away her next piece for Essence giving people relationship advice or she was up hiding behind her want for a relationship with Ethan and texting him about guitars or snowboarding. Both topics she knows very little about but as long as it holds Ethan's interest she pretended to be intrigued.
"Crap!" the elderly man in the wheelchair mumbled as my nose sensed why he was frustrated.
"Crap!" I said as I realized his bowels were a lot looser than I wanted them to be. "Let's get you cleaned up," I comforted.
"Thanks a lot Kam," I thought.
"Hello?" I said to the phone that woke me up out of my sleep.
"Hey, you sleep?" I hated when people asked me this as if they couldn't tell that all the estrogen left my voice leaving me to sound more like Zach than Zuri.
"What's up, Ethan?"
"Nothing. It's not that serious. Go back to sleep."
"I'm up now, so you might as well tell me why you are calling me at," I glanced over at my digital alarm clock, "12:23 AM."
"Kam told me she loved me tonight; like in love with me."
"And what did you say to her?"
“I told her we should take a break from each other. Evaluate our relationship."
"And was that the truth?"
"I mean, I don't need to evaluate anything, but it sounded good."
I sighed, "Ethan, do you think even in the least bit that you led her on?"
"She's always known that we were just friends, Zuri. We've talked about that being the only option for us."
"Don't tell me what your mouth said, Ethan. Tell me what your actions said."
There was this long pause. I hadn't seen Ethan or the girls in months, since I moved down south to North Carolina, but I didn't have to be around to know how Ethan treated those girls. Whenever I talked to him he had just been with one or the other. I always wondered growing up which one he would end up with. I knew Ethan well enough to know Soph was more his type, but I knew Kamryn would love him with all she had. But what good would her loving him do if he didn't love her back?
"How are you and Eric?" he asked; an obvious diverting of the question. Typical of him though, to answer would mean that he would have to admit that he was partially at fault. A task we both knew he was incapable of.
"We're doing well. We had dinner with Mom, Nana and Pop tonight. They all liked him. He has a game away this weekend. When you coming to visit so you can meet him?" I asked.
"I don't know. Soon, I guess. I'm happy for you Zuri. He seems like a nice guy. You deserve it."
"You deserve to be happy too, Ethan."
"I am happy."
"Ok," it was too late to fight him. "So what are you going to do about you and Kam, now?"
"Nothing. What am I supposed to do?"
Was he really this oblivious? "You do still want to be her friend, right? I mean you guys are close."
"Yeah, I guess. I'm just going to go on treating her as normal. Just wait for her to make the next move."
"You treating her as "normal" is what got you in this mess in the first place."
"Alright, well goodnight. I'm too tired to be crucified."
"Good. I'm going back to bed. Just one question, though?
"Kam is pretty, successful, she's probably one of if not your best friend. We know she would love you and treat you right. What's preventing you from loving her back?"
"Zuri, there's something I have to tell you. Something I should have told you a long time ago..."
"If you come at me with some 'I'm gay' joke I am going to hang up!" I interrupted him.
"Nah, this isn't a joke," he said seriously.
I sat up in my bed. I wanted to make sure I was awake and alert for this one.