The moon stood low in the sky, an orange tint covering its surface. I stared at it, random horror movies playing in my head and I shivered.
“Are you cold?” a voice asked from the darkness.
“Yeah,” I said, and I wasn’t lying. The temperature had dropped in the last couple of days as the season headed into winter. I turned to Noah and smiled although it was hardly noticeable in the faint moonlight. We were sitting on the front porch of his house, swinging on a wooden bench.
“What are you thinking about?” I asked, although I was pretty sure I already knew the answer.
It was a second before he spoke. “Jess.”
For a guy as macho as Noah seemed to be, I never thought the tears would come so easily.
“Noah…” I started, not sure what to say. Instead, I searched for his hand and just held it. He squeezed it lightly and then looked at me.
“I just got off the phone with her,” he said. “She never wants to see me again.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.” I could see the pain on his face and I didn’t want to push him, but I wanted him to know that I was his friend. “If you want to talk about it, I’m always here.”
“Thanks. But there’s not a lot to say.” His arm rubbed against me as his shoulders moved up and down in a shrug. “She doesn’t feel the same about me anymore.”
“Noah,” I scolded, “don’t be so hard on yourself. Two years is a long time. People change. Especially since it’s our senior year. We all have a lot going on. She’s probably just confused. Give her time.”
“What if she doesn’t ever come back?”
“You’ll be fine. Soon you’ll be up and running again. It may take a while for you to get over her. You don’t just stop loving someone, but one day you’ll wake up and her face won’t be the first thing that you see. And you’ll be a better person for getting on with your life. She’ll always be a part you, your first love always is, but you will move on.”
As I sat there and comforted him, I felt like a fraud. I’d realized months ago that I was in love with him but I knew he’d never be mine. Not with Jessica in the picture. Now, there was no Jess, and although it tore me up to see him sad, that little voice in the back of my head was relieved. Right now, though, what Noah really needed was a friend and that’s all I’d ever be. He was never going to find out my true feelings.
My own thoughts had run away and it took me a minute to realize he was staring at me.
“What?” I asked. “Is my hair sticking up or something?” I smiled at him and suddenly he was kissing me. For a second I froze. I opened my mouth to tell him “No” but instead found myself kissing him back. It was magic at first, his lips soft and warm against mine. Until I remembered that less than two weeks ago he’d called me ‘one of the guys’ and my head snapped back.
“Don’t,” I said to him.
“Cassie…” I’d never heard him say my name that way.
“I don’t want to be your rebound.”
“You’re not,” he denied softly.
“I would be. You know it and I know it. And that’s not fair to me.”
He didn’t speak. Just stared at the ground. So I stood and said goodbye. He looked up as if he were about to say something, then stopped. “Goodbye,” he whispered instead.
At that, I turned and walked to my car almost falling into the seat as my knees buckled. Now my emotions were in crisis mode. I didn’t know what to do. So I simply drove home, changed into a t-shirt and pajama bottoms and laid down. I stayed awake for some time. When sleep finally hit, it was deep and full of dreams of Noah.
* * *
Two days had passed by and still, no word from Noah, which was unusual. When he didn’t show up at Emily’s party that weekend, I called and left a message. He never called back. I decided to stop by his house the next morning. It wasn’t like him to stay out of touch for so long.
It was almost lunchtime when I made it over there. The weather matched my mood, grey and dreary. A continual sign that winter was just around the corner. I flipped on the heat and turned down his street just in time to see Jess’s car stop in his driveway. Her golden hair bounced around as she got out and walked up the front steps, feet away from the swing we had sat in only days before. My heart dropped and without stopping I passed his house, praying she didn’t see me.
I went straight home and cried, picturing the two of them back together. It had been easier before they broke up. Seeing them together was hard after awhile, but the dance was familiar. There had never been anything other than friendship between us, so I could push back the feelings I had for him, pretend they didn’t exist. But when he kissed me, everything changed. I couldn’t go back to pretending anymore and it was apparent by his lack of contact that he felt the same.
* * *
It was weeks before I saw Noah again. I was outside, washing my car when he pulled up behind me. I almost dropped the hose when I saw him step out. He’d gotten his hair cut and looked even cuter than I remembered.
“Hi, Cassie,” he said as he walked up.
“Hi, yourself,” I replied, coolly.
“It’s been a while since I’ve seen you,” he said, fiddling with the keys in his hand.
“That’s not my fault,” I said, already getting defensive.
“I know,” he looked at a loss for words. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t call, but I didn’t think you’d want to talk to me.”
I threw down the rag in my hand and balked at him. “So you waited this long to come and talk to me?”
Hazel eyes pleaded for forgiveness and a sensation washed over me as I stared back. I wasn’t sure if it was sadness or anger. Maybe it was a combination of the two that had me admitting, “If you’d thought of me as a friend, you would have been here sooner.”
“But that was the problem.” He took a step forward.
I was confused.
“I don’t think of you as a friend,” he explained
Fire burnt my cheeks as my face flushed with anger. “Thank you, Noah, for driving all the way here to tell me that.” I turned and started to walk inside the house.
“I think of you as more than that,” he continued, stopping me in my tracks, my back still facing him. “I realized it the night you were at my house. I’ve wanted to be with you ever since then but I thought you’d be too mad to talk to me.”
I turned my head to the side, but didn’t turn around. “I drove by your house. A couple of days after I saw you last,” I said, coldly. “But Jess was there so I didn’t stay.”
“She’d come over to get some stuff she’d left.”
“Oh.” I bit my lip as I thought of all the scenarios that had raced through my head that day. That hadn’t been one of them.
“Cassie,” he said, coming closer. “I know I messed up, but I want a chance to make it up.”
I finally turned around, but didn’t know what to say. “I don’t know.”
An awkward silence lasted what seemed like forever before he said, “You know, you were right.”
My brows furrowed together questioningly.
“About me waking one day and not seeing Jess’s face anymore.” He smiled. “Now all I see is you.”
I almost fell over. “Okay,” I said, pretending like it was no big deal. “But, Noah,” I started as he pulled me to him. “Just don’t wait so long next time to tell me I’m not your friend.”