Looking back at the texts and messages, he sees hints and suggestions from months ago — but for him, it starts on a Monday afternoon.
It's twelve thirty in the afternoon and he hasn't gone to work yet, because it's a fairly low-key weekday and there's nothing particularly demanding his attention there. She IMs him just as he's about to head out: she was feeling crappy and stayed home, and she's hating it — being alone with her thoughts isn't doing her any favors.
It was, unfortunately, his advice that she stay home if she wasn't feeling great — mentally or physically — and he furrows his brow for a moment before offering to grab some food with her. Her reply is quick: 'I'm not hungry, but the company would be nice.'
So he heads over and knocks on her door, she invites him in, and six hours later, he's missed work completely.
Instead, they've spent the entire time talking — he's learned a lot of her past and history, and has also shared some of his own, though it was a bit like pulling teeth, she says, later.
While sitting in class afterwards, he gets a text from her: 'For real, though - thanks for coming by
He smiles, then stifles a laugh as her follow-up flashes on the screen: 'You're a really good friend. Don't worry - I won't tell anyone'
This, he thinks, could be the start of a really good friendship.
Their background is this: they're coworkers, they've hung out a bit outside of work, but they only recently started talking extensively (because of a crush he had on one of their mutual friends, amusingly enough). But this meeting — six hours, where they talk about love and loss and childhood troubles and there's complete honesty — is something that's much deeper than the interactions they've have before.
It also sets the tone for their future.
A week later, and he's picking her up from the airport: she's coming back from helping her boyfriend move down to LA. The two of them have had a rocky relationship for a few months now, but she wanted to give her boyfriend one more chance — and it seems like her boyfriend sees (at least for a few days) the error of his ways, because they're still in a relationship when she gets back.
He picks her up and drives her home, and then, on her front steps, they talk for a few hours, well past midnight — about her trip, about life and sundry, about hopes and dreams. Time passes, and it's getting late, and suddenly he realizes something that's been bubbling under the surface for a bit now: he likes her.
As soon as he realizes, he's caught in a dilemma — they've been incredibly honest with each other, not dodging questions and putting all cards on the table, as she puts it. And yet, for him to say anything would be a terrible time; even if she had broken up with her boyfriend — which she hadn't — now would be far from a good time.
And yet, that demand for honesty remains. It eats at him, and so even though he realizes that it's going to be the wrong move, it just won't let him leave without telling her the truth. So he does — sort of, awkwardly, not making eye contact and mentioning that it is, in fact, the worst of times — and lets her read between the lines.
Normally, he'd be telling anyone else in that position that it was a stupid crush, and he's an idiot for giving it voice, for making it awkward and screwing up a friendship.
But there are two things that are different, here, for one main reason: the same honesty that compels him to tell her also gives him hope that it isn't going to mess everything up, because they'll be able to work through it.
So he does. And then, after going home, he texts her about it, knowing that he couldn't just leave it like that, and spends an hour with her in a conversation where she brings up her negative past experiences with friends that disappear as soon as it becomes apparent that they're not going to get what they want, and he tries to show that it's not going to be like that. And he asks her to trust him, and she says she does.
Here, he thinks that whatever it is they're building, at least it's being built on the truth.
Every story she tells touches on a different facet of her life — the way that her parents raised her, the journey to college, the trips to the Middle East, and across it all, the relationships that make up the fabric of her life.
He responds in kind, sharing stories of moving frequently, of the horrors of middle school when younger than everyone else, of finally finding friends in high school, of his lackluster college days, of his family, of his relationships, too.
There's always something to talk about, always a story yet to be told.
The next couple of months pass with little fanfare but much time spent together — hour-long walks at work, meals with each other, and almost inevitably a few hours spent on Sunday night, by phone or in person. Even when they're both traveling — him to Boston, her to Chicago — they still talk just about every night. She eventually breaks up with the boyfriend, because he never starts to treat her well, but she still loves him — it's never more clear than the night that she calls him and asks that he come over because her ex and her just had a phone conversation, and she wasn't doing okay.
He goes, of course, and is her metaphorical shoulder to cry on for a few hours, and his heart breaks a little — perhaps surprisingly not because she's crying over another guy, but simply because she's crying, because she's hurt, because she's unhappy
And there, with her, after learning about her life across the past few months, through phone calls after midnight and three hours on any given weekend, he's starting to see the shape of her life. She's learning some of his, too, in a way that few do.
They talk a lot about equality, and the strong desire and preference for it, and at one point in time she asks him whether she's being too needy — she says that she feels uncomfortable that it always seems to be her leaning on him, and if he'll ever need her for anything. He responds, rather flippantly, that her sample size is too small — it's only been a few months, after all.
But then he adds, quietly, that he enjoys every moment he spends with her; it's not exactly a terrible burden he's bearing, and in a lot of ways, he's leaning on her, too. And he is — she makes him a better person.
Another night, and it's time to leave again, after spending a few hours helping her through a protracted mess at work involving teams and transitions and entirely too much headache, after a few stories that she hasn't told anyone else, after a few vulnerabilities shared.
They're talking about something, and he's about to leave when she asks him why he likes her.
And he tells her, because what else is he to do? He stands there, for a second, and then he looks up at her and says that sometimes you meet someone amazing, someone who feels right
, and you just want them to be happy. That she deserves to be happy. And that he wants to help, in any way he can.
Here, he thinks, well, maybe there's something more to this — but he doesn't dare say it out loud, not even to himself.
There's a conversation where she says to him, "I let him in, and I gave them all of me, and he didn't like what they saw and left and left me with nothing," and he understands, too well, and his heart breaks a bit more for her.
All he wants to do is hug her and promise her that it will never, ever happen again, and how could that guy — how could anyone that loved you — hurt you like that?
But that is also the nature of love, he knows, and he resolves, simply, that he will not be like that. Even, perhaps, if it happens to him.
He mentions why
he likes her from time to time, and she tells him he's being masochistic from time to time, and then, on a Tuesday night, they have a fight — their first.
It starts with her telling him that she doesn't want him making a goal of her, that it makes her feel less secure about their friendship, and that when his expectations aren't met, it's going to be shitty for both of them.
He protests, of course, but he's also confused — what's changed since the first time they had this conversation? He thinks she's being rather curt, and figures that this conversation would be better over the phone anyway, and calls her.
But after a few seconds, she simply says that she'd rather not do this, and hangs up on him.
For a moment, he sits, stunned, and then reacts the only way he knows how: he accuses her of shutting him out. It's unfair, and he apologizes for it later, but in the moment, he snaps at her, and she retreats, saying that his actions are making her insecure about their friendship, and as it escalates he wonders, briefly, if all that they've built will be destroyed in a single bad night.
He still doesn't understand what prompts it.
But after some more back and forth, she takes a few minutes, and he uses that time to write something to her:
"I didn't have any expectations, you know. I just cherished our friendship for what it was, enjoyed every moment. I didn't go home wishing that things were different, I didn't think that I deserved more of your time or energy. I just thought that it was a good thing, and that it was equal, and that it was shared. And no, it's not to say that expectations wouldn't have come, but I was pretty vigilant about guarding against them. And I thought that you shared a confidence that it would persevere, despite whatever challenges, despite time and tide. Maybe I'm just arrogant enough to think that I'm different, or maybe I thought that you would trust me when I promised that it would be okay. Yes, maybe there would've been hard questions to ask one day, but the questions wouldn't have been disappointing. Or maybe they would've, but I think a few disappointing answers do not a friendship break, and are perhaps the coin to pay for the passage."
And then she comes back, and writes something back, and mutually, they take a step back, they take a breath, they apologize to each other. And then she calls him, and they're almost okay again, but for the fact that he figures that he might as well get the pain over with now:
"You're never going to like me the way I like you, are you?" he asks, softly, knowing the answer, but needing to hear it anyway.
"I don't think so," she says, and his world collapses a bit, despite all of his words, all of his bulwarks, all of his anticipations.
The next day is hell.
And here he thinks, well, maybe none of it was worth it at all, and that the closer you are, the more hurt you get, and all this honesty bullshit bought him, what, exactly?
There's a recurring question that they've asked each other more than a few times — sometimes she's the one to raise it, sometimes he is.
They're talking about the fight, and she says, "We got to that point because we were allowing ourselves to get into a mode that wasn't platonic enough. I don't have fights like that with friends, nor do I want to."
And he ponders for a moment, and asks the question again:
"Do we spend too much time together?"
But for both of them, the answer is always no — even though they've spent a lot of time together, it's always been enjoyable, always been worthwhile.
Today, she says something else: "Maybe too much of a certain kind of time. Not that either of us doesn't like it that way, but the question is whether it's appropriate or sustainable."
And he says, "Well, I think it's fine—" and she's quick to respond that of course he would, and that it's not a robust philosophy.
But he understands, suddenly, the difference between their worldviews in that moment: he would rather live fully and take the ups and downs, the triumphs with the tribulations, and fight to expand local maxima, even if it means expanding the minima as well.
A few days, or weeks more, he recovers, and more importantly, he remembers.
"Corinthians", he said, that night. And after their fight, he wrote something to her, from the Bible verse, though not the usually quoted one: "It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."
And that is what he holds to, what he remembers — the way she laughs, the quiet gratitude on her face when he says goodbye, after a night spent distracting her from a bad memory or rough day, the way she sticks out her tongue, the way she slightly furrows her brow when she concentrates, the mock-exasperation when he's being obtuse, the banter shared, and all the moments in between.
He holds to the moments she's helped him, too — the times she's held him accountable in a bet with a classmate, the times she's kept him honest, made him a better person, and cheered him up when he was down, simply because she knew he was feeling down, simply because she chose to.
And he takes a moment to think about it, about the big picture, the long road to Eden, and not just the last five minutes or five days, and realizes that he's not everything to her, and may never be. But he's a close friend; he can make her laugh, he can bring her tea when she's sick, he can help her ease the pains of heartache and headache, and that's enough.
He's not everything to her, but he's a close friend. He loves her, and he wouldn't change a thing.