Romance Friendship Happy

Elle had been convinced of the impending ruination of her life on many occasions; although none had actually come to pass, she was never less certain that this time- this time- would be different. She attempted to assuage this sense of dread by ensuring she was always prepared for every possible scenario. Despite this preparation, today’s life-ruining information in question didn’t miraculously disappear from her phone screen, no matter how hard she stared at it. Apparently, meticulous planning and well-thought-out schemes don’t work for every aspect of one’s life. She sighed and ran a hand through her hair as she read the text again:

Caleb: Finally signed a lease- NYC real estate is no joke!

Though she’d received it the night before, Elle hadn’t been able to bring herself to reply. What could she say? She ran through the most likely scenario in her head:

Elle: Cool! Before you leave, actually, I should probably confess that I’ve finally admitted to myself that I think I have feelings for you even though rationally I know you don’t feel the same, and I’m telling you before you leave forever to avoid being filled with an awful regret that will follow me for the rest of my life.

Caleb: Ugh. What a gross display of feelings and vulnerability. Please lose my number and never speak to me again.

Or . . . something like that. She had to say something, though—she didn’t want to be rude. She tipped back a sip of her now-cold coffee and hastily typed out a response:

Elle: Wow, congrats! When are you going to head over?

Though it was significantly less time than she had anticipated, Elle figured she would at least have a month or two before Caleb moved to figure out her next step. How quickly could somebody realistically move to the other side of the country? If it were Elle, it would take months. Or, more likely, she would chicken out at the last moment and never move at all. Her phone buzzed:

Caleb: Tonight! Red eye. Just want to get over there and get started now that the job and apartment are lined up.

Elle promptly choked on the last of her coffee, earning her glares from the other patrons of the cafe. She held her hands up in a hapless, “not sick, just reacting to watching my life implode!” gesture that she wasn’t sure got her point across at all. Whatever.

How could he leave tonight? More concerningly, why hadn’t Elle done anything, anything, before this moment? She’d been friends with Caleb for over a year now. Sure, she’d wasted opportunities before, but she wasn’t done planning. Confessing your love for your heretofore completely platonic friend wasn’t something you (or, at least not Elle) just jumped into. Her phone rang:

“Hey!” said Andie, Elle’s sister, cheerfully.

“Hey,” replied Elle, exiting the café and making a concerted effort to sound like somebody whose life wasn’t in the process of actively falling apart.

“Is everything okay? You sound like Mom after she sees an ASPCA commercial.”

“I’m fine, really. I’m being dramatic.”

“One of your grand plans fall through? Trying to convince yourself to get something you actually like for lunch?”

“What are you talking about?” Elle could practically hear Andie rolling her eyes through the phone.

“Oh please, Elle, don’t play dumb. What is it? Something at work? A boy?”

Elle made an involuntary strangled sound into the phone.

“Aha! Oh my god, it’s too easy. It’s Caleb.” God, Andie sounded smug.

“Fine. Yes. You know how I told you he may or may not be taking a job in another state? It all worked out and he’s leaving for New York. Tonight.”


“I know. Months of doing absolutely nothing about this and now I’m stuck.” Elle sucked in a breath and closed her eyes. “Andie, why do I do this? Every time I want something I can never actually do anything about it. It’s pathetic.”

“Because you’re scared. And it is pathetic. And I’m allowed to say that to you because I’m your sister and I love you. But it’s also pathetic to act like there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it now.”

“Are you dumb? He’s moving to New York. Tonight! Do you know how far away that is?”

“Are you dumb? It’s 11 am! You have a whole day ahead of you! You have literally nothing to lose! Stop being afraid and go tell that idiot how you feel.”

“Maybe,” Elle said, chewing on her lip.

“Stop being annoying about this,” Andie replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Just suck it up and do it. And then call me back, because I had a very funny story to tell you about my roommate, but I graciously ceded my currently available phone time to save you from yourself. As usual.”

“Wow. Thank you for that.”

“Anytime. If it helps, try to channel me! I would’ve done this months ago if I were you.”

Elle hung up the phone and shoved her hands in her pockets as she waited at a crosswalk. Andie was right—this was pathetic. But how could she understand what was stopping Elle? Andie was fearless; ever since she’d been old enough to walk, she’d fought for what she wanted without a second thought. Elle supposed she could blame it on being the oldest child, but she’d always been the careful one, who never took a step or made a move without mapping out the worst- and best-case scenarios in her head and preparing for both. It hadn’t led her astray thus far in her life, but—Elle realized as she continued her aimless walk through Capitol Hill—it actually hadn’t helped her much either. Everything she had, she had achieved through meticulous hard work. But everything she had ever wanted, really wanted, she had never let herself try for at all. Failing to get something you want is one thing. Failing publicly, when you’ve already said to those around you—This matters to me. I care about this—was something Elle had never been able to stomach. She was hardly able to admit to herself that she wanted Caleb; how could she possibly admit it to him? Elle realized that without noticing, her feet had carried her into his neighborhood. She turned around to go home.

“Hey, Elle!” Caleb’s voice carried through the phone. She quickly sat up in bed.

“Hey! Thanks for gracing me with a call on your very last day in Seattle,” she said, swallowing her nerves and hoping she sounded sincere.

“You never replied to my text. I figured I should call to see if you were going to ignore me until I left, or if you could be convinced to grab a goodbye drink before I head to the airport?”

Could she? Elle checked her clock—5 PM. She’d successfully wasted most of the day watching Love Island.

“I’m sorry,” she replied, smiling into the phone. “I kinda got distracted watching trash TV. I’d never let you leave without a toast goodbye.”

“Just as I suspected. Meet at The Local in an hour?”

“It’s a date.” If only. Andie’s words rang through her head:

                 Stop being afraid

Even though Andie was her little sister, she was usually right. Elle steeled herself to ruin her own life.

“Elle! Back here!” Caleb’s voice carried through the happy hour crowd, and Elle peered over the heads in the bar to see his arm waving frantically from the booth in the back. She waved back and slowly picked her way through the tables towards him. He stood to give her a hug as she approached, lifting her feet off the ground as he did.

“Can’t believe you thought you could just ditch me before I left forever,” Caleb said as he sat back down and put his hand over his heart in mock affront. Elle smiled and reached over to ruffle his hair.

“Oh, you know I could never ditch you prematurely. You still owe me $20, and I always collect on my debts.” She raised her eyebrows at him.

“Shoot . . . okay, get the most expensive cocktail on the menu, my treat.” He leaned back in the booth as the waiter approached. Elle leaned back and tried to convince herself she didn’t feel like throwing up.

“So, tell me about the apartment! I can’t believe this is happening so fast, but they’re so lucky to have you, of course they’d want you to start as soon as possible,” Elle said, smiling at Caleb across the table after they’d placed their order.

“It’s okay. Well, honestly, no, it’s kind of a dump. It’s a studio that’s like, 350 square feet, which I’m not even convinced I can put a bed in.” Caleb rolled his eyes. “You’d think the most populous city in America would build some bigger apartments. I only got a 6-month lease, though, so hopefully I can find somewhere better once I’m there and can scope it out a bit more.”

“And here I thought Seattle real estate was bad,” Elle countered.

“You say that as a joke, Elle, but I swear I’m basically going to be in a dorm room now. But at least I’ll be in a dorm room in New York, right?”

“Right,” Elle said quietly, as the waiter returned to their table with two purplish gin concoctions. Caleb had never shied away from ordering outrageous cocktails, claiming that smart men had intentionally branded them as “girly” to save more for themselves. She glanced at her phone and realized it was already 6:30. Suddenly, the room felt very hot.

“Everything okay?” Caleb asked. “Is the drink bad?”

“Caleb–” she stopped herself.

“Elle, what is it?” He frowned and reached his hand across the table to cover hers. “Seriously, if something’s wrong, tell me.” Elle felt with certainty that if she stayed in the bar another second, she would suffocate. She abruptly stood up, bumping the table in front of her.

“I— I’m sorry. I have to go. I told Andie I’d go see a movie with her tonight.” She took a deep breath. “You should be getting to the airport anyway.” Elle turned and walked quickly out of the bar before she changed her mind.

She dug her fingernails into her palm as she walked down the street away from Caleb. This was better, she reasoned with herself. What was the point of ruining a great friendship for no reason? If she didn’t say anything about how she felt, she could keep talking to Caleb, even if he was across the country. If she said something now, and he didn’t return her feelings, Elle wasn’t sure she would have the emotional maturity to keep any sort of friendship going. Then again, did she need to? She’d only known Caleb for 15 months; he was hardly a lifelong friend. Jesus, what kind of person knows how many months they’d been friends with someone? Elle came to a sudden stop and sat down on a bench nearby. This was exactly what she’d been trying to avoid—she had made her decision in the bar based entirely on fear, and on reasoning that didn’t even make sense. Perhaps she was destined for a lifetime of things she hardly wanted at all. Someone sat down beside her.

“Elle,” Caleb said softly. She refused to look up. “Want to tell me what’s going on?”

                      Don’t leave.

                                 Stop being afraid.

Elle took a deep breath and sat on her hands. She couldn’t look at him; instead, she focused on the bus stop sign across the street.

“I should have told you this months ago. I might have even been able to tell you before that, but I didn’t. I’m sorry I’m saying it now, I know you’re leaving so it doesn’t even matter but I just— I couldn’t let you leave without saying it. I think I’m in love with you. I think I might have been in love with you for a long time and I’m just, I—” she stammered, feeling heat rise in her cheeks as she noticed how still Caleb had become beside her. Elle willed herself to continue.

“My entire life, I’ve been afraid of what I want. I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything I actually wanted, ever. Except for maybe this.” She raised her gaze to the cloudy sky above her. “I know you don’t feel the same way I do but I don’t know if I can bear to hear you say it. I’m going to leave now, and you can choose to ignore this, and in a month when I call and ask how New York is we can pretend it never happened.” Elle stood, feeling as though someone had just punched her in the stomach. Caleb caught her hand as she rose.

“Are you being serious?”

“Yes. But remember the part about pretending I never said it?”

“No. Why are you leaving?”

“I’m leaving this bench. You’re leaving the state.”

“Not for a few hours. So, I think . . .” Caleb trailed off. “I think we should go finish our date before my flight.”

Elle finally looked up at him and saw an odd expression on his face. If she hadn’t known better, she might have said it was joy.

“Our date?”

“Yeah. Kind of sucks that our next one won’t be until next month, though,” Caleb said as he typed something into his phone. Elle allowed herself to hope.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Buying a plane ticket to Seattle for next month. For our date.”

“You can’t just buy a plane ticket—”

“Just did!” Caleb held his phone up triumphantly. “Do you know how long I’ve been waiting for you to say you had feelings for me, Elle? I’ve been in love with you since I met you, but I never wanted to lose you as a friend.”

“But you never said anything.”

“Neither did you.”

“I almost didn’t say anything today, either” Elle said. She realized Caleb was still holding her hand, and squeezed.

“But you did.”

Elle looked up at Caleb and smiled. Her heart was somewhere far above her head; she didn’t care where it was, she just knew it was flying.

“But I did.”

December 09, 2022 05:13

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Rama Shaar
04:29 Dec 15, 2022

Oh, how I love a happy ending! I felt like I was watching a movie with lovestruck, helpless Elle. You captured very well the idea of all the (almost) lost opportunities because of fear of vulnerability or even acknowledging our own emotions!


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Daniel Allen
13:37 Dec 14, 2022

Hi Emily, I really enjoyed this story! I love how much emotion you packed into it. I could almost feel Elle's anxiety myself. Great work!


Emily A
15:07 Dec 14, 2022

Thanks Daniel!


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