In the middle of writing a lot of random little things and free verse poetry (which I’ve never loved until now – and now I’m totally addicted!), I wrote this short story for an assignment a few weeks ago. It’s pretty long, but I wanted to share it with you guys. Give me some feedback, too, because I’m supposed to “substantially revise” it for next week’s big assignment. *insert nervous emoji here*
My Best Friend’s Brother
I haven’t been this sick since finals week of my Junior year of college. I barely made it to Saturday of that week, and my grades were less than admirable. Even so, they were good enough to get me through the last year, and on to my teaching job at the local elementary school. I teach English, so the kids probably don’t miss me.
I blow my nose and groan. I can’t believe I’ve gotten sick again. I have several containers of hand sanitizer in my classroom, and I clean my apartment every weekend and deep clean once a month. After working with constantly sick kids for three years, my immune system is pretty tough… but apparently not tough enough.
Closing my eyes, I deeply inhale the steam from the essential oils I’ve put in my diffuser. I still don’t know if it really works, but I need all the help I can get.
I roll over, then let out a huff that turns into a cough. This couch is so uncomfortable!
I can’t sleep in my bed because it’s up a ten-foot ladder, in my loft. This is one of the few times I wish I had a normal apartment with a bedroom on the first floor. However, I have what I have, which is a tiny one-room studio apartment with a bathroom off to the side and a small balcony that I stand on sometimes. There’s only space for me and a glass of wine, but it’s got a nice view of the twenty-square-foot courtyard and the other apartments about thirty feet straight ahead of it. The entire situation – the space of my own, despite the lack of a view – is usually pretty great, but it’s times like these when I stay inside all week that I regret making this decision. I can’t afford a new apartment, but I make a mental note to buy a new couch. Provided my bank account can withstand the hit.
I think about everything I had planned for this coming weekend. The usual trip to the farmer’s-slash-flea-market with my best friend and her brother, then a quick stop at the library for my weekend read and then the grocery store for chocolate chips. (I’m pretty healthy, but I’m also human. I love my chocolate.)
Dang. I frown, unable to think about anything other than what I’m missing out on because of this stupid flu. I sigh and text Beth.
‘Oh my gosh, so irritated I’m sick and can’t go tacky décor hunting with you and Jeremy!’
Beth’s always glued to her phone, so her almost immediate reply doesn’t surprise me.
‘OMG, SAME! : ( Let’s go next weekend twice to make up for it!’
Sniffing harshly, I smile as I reply, ‘Sounds good. Miss you!’
‘I miss you too! Hope your getting better!’
I glare at my phone. ‘YOU’RE.’
‘Whatever. Hey so Jeremy’s nearby and wants to bring you food. What do you want?’
Even as incoherently sick as I am, I melt a little. ‘Aww. : ) I’ll take that soup we had at China Star that day the parade got rained out. Can’t remember what it’s called.’
‘Jer will. ❤ Feel better soon!’
[HAHA OH MY GOSH IT AUTOCORRECTED INTO A HEART]
I send a heart back to Beth, then a thank you text to Jeremy, then turn off my phone.
I want to sleep, but I can’t ignore how messy my apartment is. I’ve been sick for three days, but that’s no excuse for the utter chaos that reigns over my usually immaculate apartment. Plus, Jeremy’s coming. Not that that means much, it’s just another reason for me to clean.
I groan and pull myself up from the couch, bracing myself against the headache as my mind instinctively scans through the list of tasks I do on a weekly basis – wash the windows, sweep the floor, wipe off all the surfaces, reorganize my books, and re-color-code my clothing, to name a few. I rub my eyes and assess the situation. If I just clean up the tissues and put my puke bucket in the shower, it’ll look a little better and that should be enough. Hopefully Jeremy won’t be too shocked.
It takes me fifteen minutes to slowly locate and throw away all of the tissues, and two and a half minutes to carry the trash can to the bathroom and walk back to the couch, even though it’s only ten feet away. I make the mistake of glancing at myself in the mirror before I collapse on the couch again. Well, at least I look like crap, too, instead of just feeling like crap. Yay.
I lean forward and slowly straighten up my journals on the coffee table. I don’t usually leave them out for any of my three regular guests to see, but I didn’t feel like putting them away last night. I open the one for all of my random thoughts, write ‘I hate being sick’ on an empty page, and put it back on the top of the stack.
When I’m done, I rest my back on my pillows and survey my apartment. It looks fine. Not as clean as I usually clean it, but it’s good enough for a sick day.
Now to wait for Jeremy to come and see me in all my sick glory.
An indeterminate amount of time later, the buzzer rings, jerking me awake. I slowly get up and stumble to the door to answer it with a hoarse, “Come in.”
I trudge back to the sofa. A few minutes later the door opens and Jeremy walks in, his gaze scanning the room for me. As soon as he sees me, a huge smile bursts over his face. “Hey, Arielle! How’re you feeling?”
I sink down into the couch and pull my blankets up over my head.
“That bad, huh?”
I listen as he puts something into the fridge, then starts walking around aimlessly, moving things. I pull my blanket down just below my eyes and watch him moving stuff around my apartment. “Um, what are you doing?”
“Um, duh, but why?”
He glances at me with twinkling eyes and continues tidying. “Because I know you can’t think straight when your apartment’s a mess. It probably messes with your ability to get better, too. Because I know how your mind works.”
I think about this for a minute, then nod. “Yes, Cosette, this is true.”
“What?” he says, laughing.
“Nothing,” I mumble.
I watch as he puts things away, washes a few stray dishes, and wipes off the counters in my microkitchen – everything I normally wouldn’t have left undone for an hour but currently feel too wretched to do. I can’t believe how sweet he’s being. He’s taking the broom out of its place in the corner when I tell him, “Thanks, but you can stop now.”
He just laughs and starts to sweep. “When do you want your soup? I put it in the fridge but I can heat it up for you whenever.”
“I’ll have it later.”
Silence falls and I push through the sludge in my mind to come up with a conversation topic. “So, uh, how’s your weekend been?”
He gives me a look. “Today’s Thursday.”
My brow furrows. “Oh.”
“It’s okay. I always get confused when I’m sick, too.” He takes an empty water bottle out of the fridge and throws it in the trashcan, then smiles and reaches into the trashcan and takes out my TV remote. “Just not this confused,” he laughs.
Oh my gosh, I want to sink into a hole and die. I cover my face with my hand. “Yikes.”
“Have you had much flu medication?”
“No, I’m relying mainly on herbal supplements.”
He stops sweeping. “Excuse me?”
“Herbal supplements. Like teas and my oil diffuser and stuff.” I motion towards the diffuser with my hand, but I can tell he doesn’t care.
“That’s not going to help you much,” he tells me, instantly clicking into Doctor Mode. “You’ve gotta take some NyQuil. It’ll help you sleep better.”
I roll over. “Whatever, Doctor Jeremy.”
“I’m a med student, Ari. Not a doctor. Yet.”
Jeremy opens my pantry that triples as a medicine cabinet and storage for my mixing bowls to put my flu meds back. A moment later, he chuckles and pulls out my Tenth Doctor sonic screwdriver replica. He turns and waves it a little. “Doctor, medicine. Makes perfect sense.” He shakes his head and puts it back on its stand on my bookshelf.
I pull my blankets over my head and groan.
For the next thirty minutes or so, he continues to clean. I close my eyes and try to fall asleep, but am unable to because there’s a person in my apartment. I can never sleep with people around. So I just rest my eyes. Jeremy tries to start conversations several times but I put my hand up to stop him. I’m in no mood for talking, especially after the remote and sonic screwdriver thing.
“Well, I’m gonna head out. Last-minute homework.”
I open my eyes to stare at him. “Jeremy, you never have last-minute homework. You do your homework before the professor assigns it.”
Jeremy lets out his signature irresistible laugh I’ve grown accustomed to over the years. It never fails to make me smile, even now, when I can barely function.
“You’re right, Ari. I guess I just have homework.”
“How are your courses going?” I ask, suddenly eager for the company.
“Pretty well,” he replies, perching on a barstool across the room. “Mind if I sit over here? I have a big project due soon and don’t want to get sick.”
I wave it off with a nod. “Enjoying your catheters and bedpans?”
He grins. “Not as much as I enjoyed being puked on the other day.”
“If you’d come about three hours ago, I could’ve given you the opportunity to experience that wonder again. Imagine that.”
“Darn,” he deadpans, snapping his fingers. “I hope you get better soon, though. Really.”
“I do, too.” I blow my nose and groan. “Who knows what those kids are learning wrong because of those stupid subs.”
“Those stupid subs…” he sarcastically echoes. A split second later, he tilts his head. “Hey, wait. Didn’t you get started by working as a substitute teacher?”
I scrunch my nose and avoid his eyes. “Yes.”
“What?” I ask, glaring at him through squinted eyes.
“Nothing,” he innocently replies.
“That’s what I thought.” I ball up my tissue and toss it across the room, watching at it arcs gracefully and lands about five feet away from the trashcan. “Meh. Hey, how’s Beth? Is she still dating Rick? She won’t tell me.”
“Humph,” I pout. “We’re going to have to talk about that. She needs to hurry up and get married. I want to be an honorary aunt.”
Jeremy chuckles again as he messes with a spherical paperweight. He spins it around and watches it whirl as he quietly says, “I think I like you.”
My gasp turns into a coughing fit. When it’s over, I ask, “Pardon?”
He smiles and shrugs. “It’s the truth.”
I don’t know what to say. He keeps spinning the paperweight and doesn’t seem to realize what he just said. My stomach churns. Did he just…? I can feel my heart rate accelerating. Oh man, I’m gonna puke. I swallow. “Um, I think you need to go.”
“You’re right; I should be getting back. See you later, Ari. Hope you feel better soon.” He waves, his face flushing a light shade of red, and leaves the apartment.
I can’t process this new information. I can barely believe he said it. I’ve always thought that he liked me, I just could never figure it out for certain. It makes sense that he wouldn’t bring it up until now, though – it would dramatically change our friendship.
My stomach settles down enough to allow me to eat the soup he brought me as I think about what he said. If, by some miracle, I was able to assess my feelings enough to know I reciprocated his sentiments, what should I say? If I tell him I like him back, I’ll be sailing into the unknown. I’ve never dated a friend’s brother before; who knows how this would go? And if I tell him that I didn’t like him back, it will definitely impact my relationship with Beth. Will I lose my best friend because I rejected the affections of her brother?
I can’t stop thinking about what he said. I lie awake for hours, overthinking, overanalyzing, and doubting.
Did he really say it? I ask myself more than once. But my brain is too muddled to remember the situation any different.
At two am, after hours of thinking and thinking and thinking… I text Jeremy. Short, simple, and to the point.
‘I like you, too.’
I read it one last time after sending it, then I turn off my phone and roll over. A combination of the hour, my sickness, and the flu medicine I’ve been inhaling all day helps me drop off right away.
The next morning, the sunlight streaming through the blinds wakes me up. It’s a new experience for me. The sun’s never up when I wake up.
I yawn, stretch, and then freeze in order to analyze my condition. I feel better. By a lot. I smile. Jeremy’s soup really helped.
Then, my eyebrows shoot up as I gasp.
Oh my gosh – Jeremy!
It takes me a few minutes to locate my phone, eventually found under my couch cushion. I tap my finger impatiently as I wait for it to turn on. Finally, after what seems like hours, the screen lights up. I register that it’s ten am – the latest I’ve slept in since the summer before my freshman year of college. Then the text arrives. Sent at seven am. It’s Jeremy’s reply.
‘Um, I never said I liked you… did I?’
My jaw drops as the churning sensation reappears in my stomach – this time for completely different reasons.
Oh my gosh, what have I done?!
I massage my temples with my fingers, trying desperately to remember what was said last night. I slowly realize that I can’t remember much – probably because of the medication. I don’t remember what we talked about, and I certainly don’t remember him telling me that he liked me. The only clear thought I have was my eagerness to see his reply to my text this morning.
I can feel the embarrassment oozing out of the with the consistency of hot tar. I smack my forehead, berating myself for being such an idiot. Then I regret it and rub my forehead, wincing.
I don’t want to do anything about it. I want to ignore the fact that I actually did this totally stupid thing. I want to blame it on my illness and my mushy brain.
But I can’t.
I groan and fall backwards on the couch. I can’t do it. No. I refuse to do it.
I stare up at the twinkle lights on my ceiling that I strung up there when I moved in a year ago. Ugh, I can’t just leave it like this. I have to fix it. And I can’t text him back. That would only make it worse. I should just call him. That would be the responsible thing to do. If I were a responsible human being, and not a stupid girl who throws her emotions at every guy who comes around.
I grab a pillow and slam it down on my face, screaming into it. When I’m done, I sigh.
Before I can stop myself, I call him. Please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up…
Darn. “Hey, it’s me. Ari.”
“Ari! How’re you feeling?”
“Pretty good, but hey – I don’t know why I texted you that last night. I mean, I know why, but I can’t explain what made me. I did it because I thought you said you liked me. Which is stupid because I remember you saying you like that girl from your Bio class. So… I’m sorry. I don’t know why I thought you said you liked me. I must’ve imagined it. I was pretty drugged up – herbal supplements, including a hot toddy with lots of bourbon, and NyQuil – and I probably misheard you. And I’m sorry.”
I will myself to shut up and wait for him to say something. A few moments pass and he’s silent. I wonder if the connection got cut off. He’s usually so vocal about everything… Say something, Jeremy! I clear my throat. “So…?”
“I… I don’t know what to tell you, Arielle. I didn’t say that last night.”
My heart pounds against my ribcage like a caged animal. Is he angry? Is he sad? What?! I can just see him running his fingers through his hair, then grabbing at it and pulling slightly. I can see the look on his face – that one of utter confusion and terror and regret. I can see him pacing, despite the fact that he’s probably in the library at uni, judging from the quiet tone of his voice and the muffled conversations going on around him.
It suddenly hits me how well I know Jeremy. The fact that I can imagine everything he’s doing on his side of the conversation proves it. My heart sinks as I realize that it’s all over.
Our friendship is over. Nothing even happened and I somehow managed to wreck it.
I attempt to swallow back the lump forming in my throat, but it won’t leave. Tears burn the back of my eyes. “I, uh…” I clear my throat. “I’ve gotta go. I’m sorry, Jeremy.”
I end the call before he can say anything else. What could he say? I’ve already ruined everything. Our entire future together – even if it was just as friends – is completely gone.
Falling back against the couch again, I can barely keep myself from bursting into angry tears. How could I have been so stupid?
I spend the rest of the day cleaning my apartment with the rage of my self-loathing but slowed down by my mourning of what’s gone. I turn on dance music, but it doesn’t affect my mood at all.
As I scrub the floors, stopping every now and then to drink more tea and blow my nose, my mind drifts to what might have been. I can’t help it. He was never interested in me romantically, but I think about the possibilities we could’ve explored if he had been.
After a few hours of intense thought, I come to the conclusion that Jeremy is the only guy I ever really saw myself with. I’ve always subconsciously measured my boyfriends up to Jeremy, but I always thought it was because he was such a great guy. Now I know the truth.
I’ve known Jeremy for almost twenty-two years. We were in diapers when we first met. He was actually the first boy I saw a movie with. I was eleven and he was ten and Beth had gotten sick right before a showing of Princess Diaries. Beth gave Jeremy her ticket and my mom dropped us off, and we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the movie and then eating popcorn on the pavement outside the theater while we waited for his mom to come get us.
And I ruined it, I keep thinking. I can’t stop myself from thinking or believing it.
I clean the apartment better than ever before because I keep looking for things to do. After thinking about washing my sheets for the second time, I finally decide that there’s nothing left to do. I take a shower and sit down in front of a brain-numbing movie with another hot toddy – this one with less honey, herbal tea, and lemon, and a lot more bourbon. Despite the distraction of the movie and the hilarious one-liners that somehow still make me smile, the stupid text is still clawing at the back of my mind like an annoyingly relentless cat that wants to be let in.
I’m about to turn off the movie and start crying when my phone rings. I choke on my bourbon when I see who it is.
“Jeremy?” I ask, answering it a little too eagerly.
He sounds a little winded, maybe a little surprised at how I answered my phone. Calm down, I tell myself.
Trying to sound as casual as possible, I say, “What’s up?”
“I was just…” He breathes heavily. It sounds like he’s running. “Sorry, I’m trying to make it to a class and I’m going to be horrifically late, but I wanted to call you and tell you that I’ve been thinking about what you said all afternoon.”
I quickly straighten up my back, spilling a few drops of my fake hot toddy. “You have?” No, that was too excited. Chill, Ari. “I mean, you have?” I say again, a little more calmly now.
“I have. And while I know I didn’t say it – seriously, you were so out of it yesterday that I’m surprised you didn’t imagine me saying weirder stuff… that doesn’t make it any less true.”
I’m still trying to figure out if what he said about me being out of it is supposed to offend me when it hits me. “It doesn’t make it any less true.” He said that, I think, fireworks going off in my mind. He actually said that.
My heart racing, I slowly ask, “It’s true, though? You… you like me?”
Jeremy’s laugh is only slightly hindered by his panting. “Yeah, I do. Like, a lot.”
I rub my face, smiling confusedly. “You do?”
“Yeah, Ari. I do.” He laughs again and then lowers his voice a little. “I’m so late and I need to go now but I wanted to tell you that. And I also wanted to say that, uh… I also wanted to say that I’m willing to try it out if you are.”
“It?” I ask, dumbfounded.
“It. Like, pursuing a relationship. Seeing where it goes. Exploring our options. Et cetera, et cetera.”
I stare at the collage of all of my favorite students’ essays on my wall, starred and highlighted in blue and green and pink in places that I think have special promise. As I stare, it’s as if the colors brighten, lighting up as if to encourage me, saying, “Go for it, Arielle! See what happens! Open yourself up to the possibility of wonder!”
I take a deep breath, then laugh and nod. “Okay. That sounds wonderful.”
“Awesome. I’ve really gotta go now, but I’ll call you later and we can talk, okay?”
“I’m really excited about this, Ari.”
I can feel the heat rising to my face. I smile. “I’m excited, too.”
The opening bars of ‘Good Life’ by OneRepublic start as I end the call. I smile, then laugh and turn it up.