I am notoriously bad at making decisions, and my dad knows this, which is why I’ve been sitting in my car for about twenty minutes, staring at the quarter in my hand.
I have two choices. I can get out of my car, go inside, and go to bed. Or I can put my car in drive, haul ass across town, and hope I’m not too late. When I told my dad about it, he said that I should follow my heart. I told him that was impossible. That was when he pressed a quarter into the palm of my hand and said “Try flipping a coin, then.”
I’ve been in love with Molly for as long as I can remember, since before I even knew what love was, but I was never foolish enough to tell her. I was in love with her, yes, but I would never risk losing my best friend over something as trivial as love. Only right now, Molly is on her way downtown, to a dinner where her boyfriend will propose to her. She wasn’t supposed to find out, obviously. Things like that are always meant to be a surprise, but while looking for something else, Molly had accidentally seen a ring box, tucked into her boyfriend’s suitcase. And as you do in such situations, she’d immediately called me, her best friend.
“You’re never gonna guess what’s about to happen.” She’d half-whispered into the phone when I answered.
I was standing in my parent’s kitchen, pretending to help cook. “What?”
“I think Katie’s gonna propose tonight. I found a ring box in her suitcase.”
After we graduated from college, Molly got a job in San Francisco, four hours away, and met her boyfriend, Adam. I got a job in town and moved into an apartment two streets over from our high school. Given the distance, I’d only met Adam a handful of times. We got along well enough, but a nagging feeling of jealousy kept our friendship at a purely superficial level. Although at that moment, standing in my parent’s kitchen with a spatula in my hand, I hated him.
Have you ever convinced yourself that something was going to be okay, even when you knew every choice you had ever made, was about to come back and bite you in the ass? As I stood there, hating Adam with every fiber of my being, I thought about every moment that I’d had with Molly. Every moment when I’d looked at her and gotten butterflies, just a look. Every moment when I’d wanted nothing but her. And every moment that I made the conscious choice to ignore my feelings.
“Did you hear me, Ellie?”
Ellie. No one had called me that since middle school. My knuckles had turned white around the spatula.
“Yeah, I uh– I heard you.” My voice shook. I was working hard to keep my emotions in check, but it was nearing impossible. Two decades of unrequited love were rushing to the service and the damn was about to break. “Are you happy?”
“I mean, I wish he wasn’t doing it the day before Thanksgiving, but yeah. Of course, I’m happy,” Molly said. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Surely, Adam thought he was doing something romantic by proposing in her hometown. Just in time to be able to show the ring off at Thanksgiving dinner.
“I don’t know.” I swallowed hard, forcing the lump in my throat down. “I’ve never heard you talk about getting married before.”
She didn’t answer for a long time. So long that I thought that the call might have disconnected. I was just about to pull the phone from my ear to check when I heard her speak again.
“Do you know why?”
Her voice was so soft, but her question punched through me. In the twenty years I had known Molly, I’d seen her through quite a few relationships, some flings and some serious, but never once had she brought up the possibility of marrying any of them. Secretly, I had always hoped that it was because she didn’t truly love any of them. That somewhere deep down, she felt the same way I did and was biding her time until I was ready to admit my feelings. But I had always known that I would never be ready and so that fantasy stayed tucked deep inside me, where I could ignore it.
Only now, Molly’s question had pulled that fantasy up out of the darkness and it settled beneath my skin, dangerously close to revealing itself.
“Why?” I finally answered after a too-long pause.
“I guess I’ve been waiting for something.”
My breath caught sharply in my lungs. “Waiting for what?”
Molly laughed in a way that, after years of knowing her, told me she was trying not to cry. “Are you really gonna make me say it?”
I started to answer, but another voice on the other end of the phone interrupted me. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but I knew who it was– Adam.
“Look, I gotta go,” Molly said, after a moment of hushed words. “Me and Adam have reservations at Canon’s at seven. But I’ll see you soon?”
Canon’s– the only restaurant in downtown that Molly liked. Of course.
I fought my nausea back just enough to force out a goodbye before hanging up the phone and letting it fall out of my hand and onto the countertop. I’d forgotten that my parents were behind me until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned to see my dad, his thick eyebrows drawn together in concern and question, but before he could even ask, the answer to his question poured out of me along with a flood of tears. Eventually, when I had nothing left to say, I looked up at him through watery eyes and asked “What do I do?”
“You gotta follow your heart, El.”
I shook my head. “But how do I do that? How do I know what the right thing to do is?”
I felt something being pressed into my palm and looked down to see my dad holding my hand.
“Well, you do what I do and try flipping a coin, then.”
That was twenty minutes ago and I’m running out of time. I glance down at the clock on my dashboard. It reads 6:25 PM. Canon’s is at least a thirty-minute drive from my parent’s house. If I really wanted to do this– If I wanted to make it to the restaurant before they sat down and before Adam had a chance to propose, I needed to leave now.
I stare down at the quarter in my hand. Am I really going to let a coin determine what was probably the single most important decision I was ever going to make? I hold the quarter up. The tiny George Washington stares off to the side, uninterested in my dilemma.
I toss the quarter up, catching it in my other hand as it falls. I take a breath. I open my hand. I toss the quarter into my cup holder.
I put my car in drive.