He's in love with a girl.
The popcorn is too salty, but maybe that's him, too sweaty as his pores leak the anxiety he tries so desperately to conceal. It's just a movie date. Not-date, because they are not dating.
He wishes it was a real date. They're best friends, sharing a bucket of popcorn and a romantic comedy that laughs in his face, because the guy is going to get the girl, because the guy always gets the girl in these things.
Their hands meet in the bucket. He wants to grab hers, but it is soaked in butter and sweat, and she'll slip out of his grip with ease, so why even try? She glances over to him, and her fingers linger. She goes for his pinky, and his heart pitter patters. She takes a kernel from under his finger and draws away.
He exhales. It's loud, too loud, and she pauses the movie.
"You alright, bro? You seem nervous tonight." The words sting his ears. Bro, she called him. Like they share blood, not chemistry. Maybe if he shoves his face full he can avoid responding.
The movie stays paused.
Swallowing, a piece catches in his throat, and his eyes begin to water. He's not crying. Nope, but she's gonna peg it as such, and reach over to wipe his cheek, which sends a jolt down his spine as he struggles to remember how to breathe. The kernel dislodges. Her hand is hovering, another tear falling. Swipe swipe.
There's something intimate about the move, and he tilts his head, lips pursing.
She swivels her head before their lips can connect. He graces her cheek, dejectedly opening his eyes.
"For kissing you."
"It's just a cheek kiss. You're my best friend. We're good." She flicks her hand as if to wave away the notion. He catches it, staring into her eyes. That's how you get the girl, right? Stare into her soul, and find her feelings lurking beneath the surface? He glances to the screen.
"I wasn't," he stutters, turning back to her. "I wasn't aiming for your cheek."
This is it. The moment when he's supposed to bear all, before he loses his will, because he's already lost his mind. It's been five long years of pining, and now her hand is limp in his as he grips it tighter.
"I like you. More than a best friend should." He's played out speeches in his head. Sappy ones that make her cry, funny montages to make her laugh. Anything to make her realize that it is mutual. Anything to assure himself that he needs to pee after chugging half a gallon of cider and not from fear.
"Okay." She nods, a lot, and extracts her hand. "Okay."
There isn't another word that comes to mind. It's been five years of friendship for her. No pining, no writing in her journal about almost kisses and not-dates. Mulling it over, she barely notices as he excuses himself to the bathroom.
When he returns, she un-pauses the movie. Her hand stays distant from the popcorn, and her eyes glue to the screen, watching as the characters fall in love and make love. The credits roll. They play until the home screen reappears, and she has to speak.
"It's getting late. I should get going." She gathers her coat and hat, bracing herself for the wind outside. They hug goodbye, and she sucks in her lips. This is too much, too fast.
"Goodnight." He flops onto his couch, landing on the cat that has come to comfort him. A displeased screech cuts the silence, and he opens a can of tuna as apology.
If only a can of tuna would be ample apology for ruining a half decade friendship. Sure, he hadn't poured his heart out, but he couldn't blame his sober words on the non-fermented cider. Unless...
The phone rings, and it goes straight to voice mail. He hangs up. Redialing, he concedes to leaving a message.
"Hey, it's me. Remember how I said I like you more than a best friend? I've been thinking for a while and -" he struggles to finish his thought, and the machine cuts him off, asking if he'd like to send the message. He opts out and hangs up.
He falls asleep on the couch, a crick in his neck by morning. There's a message on his phone, and he dare not check it, because he is going to convince himself that he doesn't want her, doesn't need her. Not in that way. He can't ruin their friendship.
The clock tells him that he is late for work, and he calls in sick. His heart pounds in agony at his missteps, and he shuffles past his hungry cat, tuna can emptied, as he makes his way to his bed. Shutting the curtains, he begs his body for more sleep.
Noon strikes, and he can hear cat food pouring into a bowl. He bends towards the doorway to see a familiar set of hips teasing him. She must have used the spare key. The smell of takeout hits him next.
"I brought you chicken noodle soup, in case you were genuinely sick." She holds up a bowl.
"I'm playing hooky. Just needed a day to myself." He looks at her pointedly. His newfound mantra echoes in his head. Friends, friends, friends.
Fishing through the bag, she pulls out fried rice for herself. She takes a spot on his bed, and a few pieces drop.
"About last night," she leads, hoping he will finish.
"Right. I was thinking," he said, taking a hearty spoonful of soup to give himself a moment, "that we should be ultimate best friends."
"Ultimate best friends?" Picking the rice off the bedsheet, she avoids eye contact.
He nods. "Like best friends for life, except we don't sound like a bunch of teenaged girls."
"Sounds great." The extra spice in her rice makes her eyes water. That's what she's going to blame it on.
The lie doesn't sit right in his stomach, and he thinks he might genuinely be sick as he crawls back under the covers once she heads back to work. He came all this way, just to backtrack. He's at square negative one, and there is no crawling out. Of that square, or this bed.
He wakes to find another message on his phone.
"Hey, I don't know if you listened to my first message, but if you could forget I ever said that, I would really appreciate it." The message ends and he erases it. The other message, the ignored message, plays.
"Hey, it's me. I'm sorry I didn't really react earlier, but I was kinda in a state of shock. The last five years have been spinning in my head all night, and I can't stop thinking about it now. And I think I want to be more than best friends with you too. Call me when you get this, okay? I love you."
He drops his phone to the floor. The screen cracks.
It matches the break in his heart.