His locker is stuck, again. I watched him for a full minute from across the hall before strolling over to him. Without a word, I knocked my boot against the edge of his locker, simultaneously grabbing the handle and throwing it open. I leaned against the locker next to his and smiled.
“Hey,” I say.
Adrian shook his head. “I still can’t figure out how you do that. I can never get this stupid thing open then you waltz up and BANG.”
“I have the magic touch,” I teased, waving my hands around like I was about to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
“Wish some of that would rub off on me,” he muttered, handing me his history book. He’s been letting me borrow it since his book has very detailed notes from the last person who owned it. Adrian grabbed his science book and closed the locker, snapping the lock on it.
“Not how it works but I can try.” I reached out and ruffled his hair, which I know he had spent a good half hour before school doing. His hair is soft and thick and I want to bury my other hand into it and-
“Hey!” He slapped my hand away. “Jerk! You messed up my hair!” He started brushing it back into the wavy style that it had been in. I take a shaky breath and open the history book, pretending to be reading it while I collected my thoughts and slowed my racing heartbeat.
“I like your hair wild,” I say hoarsely, a little part of me begging him to read deeper into the words.
“Well, I don’t.” I look up as he slicks his hands through his hair, taming the thick brown mass. He has such a cute angry face. His brow scrunches up and he frowns but his wide blue eyes can’t agree to it.
I suddenly realized that he was wearing the brown jacket that I had given to him for his birthday last Friday. I haven’t seen him since then.
“The jacket looks good on you,” I say. He paused his meticulous finger-combing to look up at me. Finally, he ditched his hair and adjusted the left jacket sleeve.
“Yeah, I like it. It’s a brand name, too. This thing must have been a week's wages, at least.” He looks up at me. “How much did this thing cost, anyway? I hope it wasn’t too much.”
Seventy dollars. I want to tell him that it was only twenty or something low like that but, staring at those eyes, I can’t think straight. I look back down at the history book still open in my hands, trying to ignore the feeling of his full attention on me. “Y-You don’t need to worry about that. It’s a gift, enjoy it.”
“Well, thanks again, Marcus.”
“Yeah. That’s what best friends are for.” I look up at him in time to see his wide grin. My heart melted at the sight.
Adrian looked away and shifted on his feet, suddenly nervous. “Hey, you know about… relationships, right?”
My heart stopped.
“W-What?” Am I that obvious!?
“Well, uh… I…” He shifts his backpack to his other shoulder. “You know Kara? The new girl?”
I look around at the crowd of people amassing in the hall. Dismissively, I say, “Yeah, I’ve seen her around.”
Adrian starts drumming his fingers on his locker door, a nervous tick of his. He looks down at his feet, smiling like he was thinking about a good dream. He’s never smiled at me that way. “Well… we have a few classes and… I really like her. She’s funny and smart and… and I want to ask her out.”
I look at the locker, at his hand tapping away at the metal. I gritted my teeth, my fists clenched around the book. A burst of anger bloomed in my chest but I locked it away inside, refusing to let him see it. Adrian has been my best friend since kindergarten and he knows everything about me, but he’s never seen me lose it like I want to. I want to scream at him, I’m standing right here! I love-
I ditched the thought. Still, if he’s serious about asking her out on a… date then he needs to know how I feel. I need him to know how I feel. I take a breath and stand up straight, closing the history book then adjusting the backpack on my shoulders. Before I could lose my nerve, I say, “Adrian, can I ask you something?”
“Of course.” I take another breath, looking at the locker, at the floor, at the history book, anything but those eyes. “Marcus, are you okay? You look nervous. What, do you have a crush on someone?” I know that he’s teasing but the words hit me like a bullet to the chest. I swallowed the pain, ignoring the way he had bluntly shoved the fact that he has no idea in my face.
He has no idea how much I love…
I take another breath, raising my head to meet his eyes. “Yeah, I’m good. I… I just need you to know this.” Another breath. “Adrian, I really like-”
As if God himself hated me, the minute bell rang.
Adrian looks up at the digital clock mounted on the wall. “Ah, man. We’re gonna be late.” He looks back at me. “What did you want to say?” His bright blue eyes are solely on me. I look at the locker.
“It can wait.”
He smiles. “Alright, see you after class.” He headed off. I stand there for a few moments, watching him go.
“Yeah, see you later,” I murmur.
I kicked back on my bed after school, trying and failing to focus on homework. Instead, my mind kept wandering to that conversation before school started. I could have said it, I think that I would have if it wasn’t for that stupid bell. Who needs bells anyway? All they do is ring and annoy people. Bells are the only warning system that always ends with something bad happening. Stupid bells.
My phone rang. Welcoming the distraction, I turned it over to see Adrian’s name on the caller ID.
“Marcus, hey!” He sounds way too excited. “I did it!”
I roll over to my back, half laying on my math homework. “Did what? What are you talking about?” I ask, pulling a pencil out from where it had wedged itself into my back and tossing it aside.
“I asked Kara out!”
My heart stopped. The world stopped spinning. Time froze.
I laid there, staring up at my ceiling, the world blurring at the edges. My ears are buzzing, those words branding themselves on my mind as the rest of the world falls away.
He asked her out. They’re dating.
I lost him.
It was a few seconds before I realized he was saying my name. I swallowed thickly, forcing myself back into the moment even though I so desperately wanted to disappear from this world. Quietly, my voice shaking, I say, “I-I’m still here.”
“This is awesome! I finally got my first real date!” He’s shouting. He’s so excited. The words are on the tip of my tongue but I can’t force them past my lips.
Adrian, I love…
No, I can’t ruin how happy he is. I had my chance, now it's Kara’s turn. If she makes him happy, then I’m happy for them. I have to be happy for them. What else can I do?
“Yeah, awesome,” I croak. The words are thick in my throat and I’m barely able to force them out, much less make them sound normal. But he doesn’t notice.
“We’re going out this Saturday! I’m taking her to that new pizza place on sixth.” We were going to check that place out this weekend. Now, for the rest of the week, maybe the rest of my life, all I’m going to be thinking about is that morning in the hallway when I lost my chance. All I’m going to remember is the pain of my heartbreaking. “It’s all thanks to you! She walked up to me and asked about the jacket you got me! I was so nervous, I never would have been able to walk up to her. Thanks again, Marcus. Who knew this thing was a chick magnet? I’m never taking it off!”
I covered my mouth with my hand when I almost sobbed. I bite my lip hard enough to draw blood, squeezing my eyes shut and desperately trying not to cry. I should have told him. I shouldn’t have said that it could wait. But, if I tell him now our friendship would be ruined. It’ll be so awkward and he’ll never talk to me again. I won’t lose this, I can’t lose this. I can’t. He can never know.
“Your welcome.” I struggled to keep my voice even but it was impossible. “I-I’ve got to go, homework.” My voice cracked on the last word.
“Okay. See you at school tomorrow.” He hung up. My phone slid out of my hand and thumped against my chest. I can’t breathe but it has nothing to do with the phone. I feel dizzy, a torrent of emotions pounding at the inside of my head. A single tear slipped past the barrier I had been so carefully building around my heart, the barrier I’ve been wanting to let Adrian through.
A single tear became a thousand.