FOR THE MOST PART, Willie is an intelligent kid. He is.
But for some reason, his brain can’t seem to comprehend the art of shoe tying.
Even after what has to be my twentieth time demonstrating the exact process, nothing seems to rid him of his confused Jell-O-like fingers.
“Let’s try this,” I finally say, snatching a shoe from a very frustrated Willie’s foot. “Think of it this way. You like pirates, right? One day a pirate is sailing in search for buried treasure when he finds an island. When he gets to the island, he finds an X in the sand.” I pause to form an X shape with the laces. “Once he finds his treasure, he has to dig a hole and then go underground inside the hole to take it and then bring it back up.” I take one of the laces and slip it inside the hole formed by the X, proceeding to pull it through.
“To avoid getting caught, the pirate has to cover up the hole again.” While I pull both laces into a knot, I glance up to make sure Willie’s following.
His gaze is transfixed on the shoe, and I take that as a sign to go on.
“Then, when he finally has his treasure, another pirate suddenly appears and tries to steal it, so the first pirate has to run toward a mountain on the other side of the island to hide his treasure.” I create a loop with one of the laces. “The pirate travels all the way around the mountain, and eventually he finds a little cave for him to put his treasure in.” Finally, I pull the knot tight, hoping Willie was able to follow that little visual demonstration I came up with.
“I love pirates! Arrrg!” he cheers delightedly.
The screeching sound of the front door swinging open suddenly saturates the air. I glance up in the general direction of the door before looking back down at Willie, who is now holding a hand over his one eye and using the index finger of his free hand to make a hook in a pirate-like fashion.
“Hey buddy, why don’t you go out back and show Mommy what you learned so far?” I suggest right as wisps of dirty blonde enter my peripheral line of vision.
“Okay,” he says cheerfully. “Hi Jathper! I’m a pirate!”
“That’s exciting, Little Man,” Jasper greets, nodding his head at Willie before he bounds outside in bare feet, a sneaker dangling at his side, held only by a lace. Shrugging, Jasper slides down on the floor beside me, propping his back against the wall.
Champ lowers herself down on the floor, crossing one paw over the other.
“Hi,” is all I can think to say.
He sends me a curious look. “Hey.” Undertones of sarcasm and a little something else that I can’t quite pinpoint lace his voice. “It’s beautiful outside. Why are you in here?”
I shrug. I don’t have any viable excuses other than the weak “I didn’t feel like it,” but to Jasper, that’s not a real answer, so I stay silent.
Truthfully, I was hoping to stay inside all day and maybe fit in a marathon of one of those wedding shows aired on the TLC channel, or maybe read a book. I didn’t want Jasper to come, even though I knew he would. He always does. But in a few weeks’ time, I won’t have that option anymore. It’ll be just me.
And how on earth am I supposed to start getting accustomed to being by myself if Jasper keeps coming over every day?
“My mom said no to us taking the boat out, so I was thinking we could take the canoe instead. Yeah?” he says, nudging my shoulder.
Eyes glazed out of focus, I give a small nod.
“Are you okay?”
Shaking myself out of my reverie, I finally look up at him, alert. “What?”
“Are you okay?” he repeats.
“Oh. Yeah. I’m fine,” I say, standing up and extending a hand to help pull him up. I make sure to keep my voice cheerful when I say, “Yeah. Let’s take the canoe out. I need to work on my tan.”
“What tan?” he jokes, latching onto my hand and pulling himself off the ground.
I go to retort with a witty remark, but the familiar sight of his black camera bag makes me stop short. Narrowing my eyes at its padded black exterior, I say, “Must you take that everywhere? I don’t feel like being recorded today.”
“What? You look fabulous on camera, dah-ling,” he says, using his best impression of a gay photographer.
I glare at him and point at my hair, thrown up in a brown messy bun for the second day in a row. “Do you see my hair today? I pretty much look homeless. And besides, you’ve already gotten your stupid footage of me in the canoe at least ten times this summer. I think you have enough.”
He strings an arm around my shoulders and walks me through the back door, Champ reluctantly following at his side.
“Lexi-Loo-Who, you really underestimate yourself sometimes. And today is different. I have something planned for today, unlike the other times, and I’d really like to capture it on camera, if you don’t mind. Not that I care even if you do mind,” he quickly adds before I can protest.
“Oh, God. I’m scared now,” I tease.
“You should be,” he says with a wry expression. Then he turns toward my aunt, who is busy at work gardening several feet away, currently yanking out an ugly patch of weeds that terrorize her tulips, Willie still working on tying his shoe beside her. “Colleen, can I please steal Lexi away to spend the day out on the canoe?”
My aunt wipes away a trail of perspiration that lines her brow and squints up at the two of us, using a garden gloved hand to shield the intense glare of sunlight.
“Yeah, sure thing, kiddos. Make sure you’re back before dinner, though. I’m making tacos.”
I feel Jasper freeze beside me and smirk.
“You’re free to join us if your parents are okay with it, Reynolds,” Aunt Colleen adds, rolling her eyes mockingly. “I know you and your tacos.”
“Count me in,” he says without a split second of hesitation.
“Can I come?” Willie suddenly pleads, wiggling his way between Jasper and I and sending puppy dog eyes at Aunt Colleen. “Pwease?” he adds pathetically, no doubt trying to use his cuteness to his advantage.
“Not today, Willie,” she answers firmly. “I think Lexi and Jasper want to spend the day alone. And besides, they let you hang out with them all day yesterday. Maybe another time.”
My cheeks heat up at the mention of us wanting to be alone. That sounds way more intimate than it really is.
“But I wanna come!” Willie whines.
“I’m sorry buddy, but not today. You can help me garden; it’ll be fun!” She takes his hand in hers, leans forward, and whispers to us, “Go before he starts throwing a tantrum.”
We nod, give a little wave, and walk over toward the dock in Jasper’s backyard where his family’s boat is tied up, a small white multihull power boat dubbed The Explorer by Jasper and me—I’m sure you can figure out what we like to do with it most—though its official name inscribed on the side is Y Knot?
It’s a little on the tacky side and Jasper seems to be sufficiently embarrassed by the lack of creativity, but I’ve seen worse. Using sea puns in boat names is an ongoing trend that you find a lot on the bay.
The canoe is already sitting on the graying, splintery wood that constitutes the dock, its green exterior nearly blinding under angry rays of sunlight. The air has a familiar salty twang to it, although it’s still fresher than the air by the ocean. Below the dock, the water laps against the beams holding us up, a satiny sheen of blue-green silk with rippling creases and ridges.
Jasper moves to the edge of the dock and lowers the canoe a couple feet down into the water, dropping a set of paddles down with it. Already inside is a brown straw basket that we often use to put our lunches in, along with two lifejackets “just in case.”
“Ladies first,” he announces, gesturing at the canoe below.
I roll my eyes and lower myself down into the canoe, taking one of the paddles once I’m finally situated in the front seat and dipping it into the water.
Jasper carefully guides Champ to the interior of the canoe and then clambers in after her, taking the seat behind mine. He puts a little safety vest on Champ and then carefully places his black camera bag in a waterproof container. Once he’s done all that, he finally picks up his paddle and shoots me a thumbs-up.
I turn around to face the front without saying a word and begin paddling. The water sloshes with each movement and the sun is already burning down on my bare shoulders and legs.
“Hold up,” Jasper says once we’ve paddled several yards away from the dock.
Sighing in mild agitation, I let my movements that had previously propelled us forward go limp. I turn around to look at him and see what he wants.
“I have some sunscreen for you,” he says. “Your aunt would kill me if I let you burn out here.”
He tosses a bottle of SPF 30 at me and I stare down at it for a second before unscrewing the lid and applying a generous dollop of lotion to my legs. Although I don’t burn that easily, he’s definitely not incorrect about Aunt Colleen killing him if he lets me get sunburnt. And I’d rather not contribute to Jasper’s potential retribution if I can help it.
“Want me to get your shoulders?” he offers.
“I, uh, that’s okay—” I begin to protest, but he snatches the bottle out of my grip and pours a glob of the slippery substance onto his hands and begins rubbing it into my shoulders gently anyway.
“Jasper, you don’t have to do that,” I mumble, feeling my face grow hot. Leaning forward, I swipe the bottle from beside his foot, pour out a generous glob, and begin coating my face with it to cover up my embarrassment.
“I’m just looking out for my best friend,” he says, somewhat defensively. His hands are still lightly massaging the lotion onto my shoulders and I silently will him to stop as a legion of butterflies swirl together and dance in the pit of my stomach.
Let me say that I do not have a crush on Jasper. He’s my best friend. That’s it. I know that and he knows that. The thing is, Jasper has this quality to him where he knows how to make you feel special. But unlike some of the guys out there who you read about in books or see in movies that do that to get something in return, Jasper is genuine about it. He wants everyone to feel good about themselves, and he will do anything he can to ensure that that’s the case.
And since I’m his shy, weak, and insecure counterpart, his constant need to prove my self-worth to me increases tenfold.
The thing with me is that I’ll never be the kind of person who deserves Jasper Reynolds. Other than him, I pretty much never talk to anyone else at school, and I don’t know how to reach out to my classmates and make friends. Every time I try, I just get too intimidated; feel too inadequate. Like I can’t connect with them, no matter how hard I try. And I give up.
And then he tries to help me get past that, and I give up again. And again. And again.
I’m a quitter. I spend more time running from my problems than facing them, and it’s too late to try to turn things around and mend what I’ve already damaged at this point. People at school have given up on trying with me, as they rightfully should. There’s only so long people can try to reach out to a person before they give up.
To be honest, even befriending Jasper was a stretch at first. Even back at the end of eighth grade, when boys were still gawky and fitting into their bodies, he was cute. He wasn’t hot in the way that a fortunate select few of the other guys in our class were, but he definitely didn’t repel girls like a bunch of the other guys did, either. His only major visible flaw was that he needed a service dog, but he didn’t let that separate him from the other kids.
In fact, he used it to his advantage to attract the other kids and make even more friends than he already had.
“Be honest with me,” he had said that very first day at the carnival with Meredith and River, who were still nowhere to be seen. “Do I freak you out? I mean, with the whole needing a service dog thing and all. It’s okay if you say yes.”
I stared at him in panic for a moment, unsure how to respond. “Uh, I mean, it’s something to get used to,” I admitted shyly. “But, I guess, um, it’s mostly just that you . . . you’re you and I’m me and I guess that it’s just not really a, um, typical pairing.”
I was blabbering and stumbling over my words and the whole time I was speaking and he was peering at me carefully without a trace of judgment in his eyes, adrenaline pumped through my body.
After that he did something that I never dreamed a boy my age would do: he used his free hand to latch tightly onto my own hand.
Let’s be real. In eighth grade, hand holding basically equated to dating. So for a boy who I had practically just met to take my hand in his so easily, so unexpectedly, I was thrown off guard. And there’s not a doubt in my mind that it showed on my face, too.
“Lexi,” he had said gently, as if he might break me if he spoke too loudly. “I’m nobody special, okay? I mean I’m not, like, better than you or someone who you should feel weird around. I’m kind of a dork, actually. Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but I still sleep with superhero pajamas and a nightlight.”
Unable to help myself, I laughed. “Why are you telling me this?” I asked in puzzlement.
“Because I really wanna be your friend but I’m not really sure if you feel the same,” he admitted. “You’re kind of hard to read, Lexi Callaghan.”
“I don’t try to be,” I said quietly as we continued walking past all the food stands and prize booths. “I’m just not really good at talking to people.”
“But it’s easy. You just ask the other person questions until you find something you both have in common, and then you talk. Do you like funnel cake?”
Bewildered by the shift in subjects, I shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. Why?”
He stopped in front of a food stand and broke apart from our hand holding to dig out his wallet from his pocket. “Because I’m gonna buy some for us to split.”
“Jasper, you really don’t have to do that,” I protested, but he held up a hand to shush me.
“What better way to celebrate a new friendship than funnel cake?” he challenged. “My treat.”
Once we were both seated with a mound of sugary funnel cake before us, Jasper continued with his efforts at getting a conversation going.
“So you’re scared of Ferris wheels, huh? Is there a reason behind that or what?”
My eyes flitted down to the rotting brown picnic table below us and I shrugged. “I’m kind of afraid of heights, so . . .”
“But aren’t you from New York City where all the buildings are a bajillion feet off the ground?” he asked curiously.
I gazed up at him in surprise. I didn’t know that he knew where I was from. I wondered if Aunt Colleen had told him about me, or if she had told his mom who told him. Either way, I was kind of flattered that he remembered that about me.
“Yeah but . . . there are some . . . bad memories, I guess, associated with New York. I don’t really like to talk about it,” I explained apologetically.
“That’s okay,” he said quickly. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”
“Thanks,” I had said, meaning it.
“Okay, so, I know we don’t usually go this way, but I found this little spot by the woods where there’s this little beach-type area and I thought you would like it,” Jasper says after we’ve been rowing for at least twenty minutes. “I thought we could have lunch there and then I have something I wanna show you.”
“Show me . . .?” I parrot questioningly.
“Lexi Marie, just trust me on this!” he exclaims in mock exasperation.
I turn around to shoot him a threatening expression and he grins, resulting in me swiftly turning back around to face the front to cover up my own smile.
“Whatever you say, Jasper Michael,” I murmur smugly in retaliation. The looming silence in the back of the canoe that follows is sufficiently satisfying.
After we’ve passed a long row of houses and occasional restaurants on the water, the only thing that resides to our left at this point is a bunch of tall green reeds that sway rhythmically in the gentle breeze and a dense patch of trees beyond those where the woods lie. The sun is still a hot ball of yellow in the sky, with only a few white cumulous clouds threatening to conceal it. The air smells faintly like fish and seaweed and the breeze occasionally picks up enough to temporarily cool me from the scorching sun.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I hardly consider the seventeen-year-old boy sitting quietly behind me. He’s been a constant in my life all summer, and his presence hardly fazes me at this point. I have to constantly remind myself not to take this for granted, seeing as in a few weeks, that’s the kind of luxury that will only be a memory from the past.
I bite down hard on my lip and mentally slap myself for being so cynical and mopey when I should be relishing my last days with Jasper.
“Up there!” Jasper suddenly yells from behind me. “See where there’s that little break in the reeds and you can make it to shore? That’s where we’re going.”
Striving to forget my previous thought process, I paddle in the direction that he told me and survey the scene. He’s definitely right about it being the perfect spot. Hidden by the woods, it’s secluded from the outside world, and there’s a patch of sand once the water stops and before the trees begin, our own little private beach.
Once we finally reach the part where the water gets shallow, Jasper hops out of the canoe and pulls it inland toward the shore and I follow suit on wobbly legs until I am able to upright myself. We drag it up onto the sand so it’s far enough out of the water that it won’t wash away and he retrieves the picnic basket and pulls out a blanket, spreading it down across the sand that glistens underneath the sunlight, using the basket as deadweight to keep the wind from blowing it away. I take a seat on the blanket and pull up on my shorts a bit to inspect and see if there’s a visible tan line while Jasper helps Champ out of the canoe.
“I still can’t believe you ditched all your soccer friends to do this with me when we’ve been hanging out twenty-four-seven this summer. You didn’t have to do that, Jas,” I say while fiddling with the frayed edge of the blanket.
He plops down beside me and begins rummaging through the basket before digging out two sandwiches for us, and a plastic container of dog food for Champ. While handing me my sandwich (PB&J with creamy PB and strawberry J on white bread, just how I prefer it), he says, “Lex, you’re more important to me than they are. I wanted to do this. Okay?”
“Okay,” I murmur, somewhat reluctantly.
We fall into a silence after that, the only sound coming from our quiet chewing and sporadic sips of water. Every now and then I glance up at him to make sure he’s feeling okay and not showing any signs of having blood sugar levels that are too high or too low. As far as I can tell, he seems okay. Perfectly content, actually.
His cheeks are a bit rosy, but they’re like that all the time. His hair gleams in the sunlight and I get a glimpse of the blonde undertones in his hair that vanish during the dark winter months. His mom thinks that he needs a haircut, but I like it when his hair is a little grown out. It suits him. His green eyes remind me of the bay, bordering on a blueish shade in the right lighting, and always sparkling.
It can be hard, having someone so easy on the eyes for a best friend. I think that he secretly knows it, too, even if he does do a good job at being humble about it and not letting his outward appearance get to his head. I’ve seen him with other girls, how easy it is for him to talk to them; the way he smiles when they giggle at his jokes. I mean, come on, there’s no way he’s that blind to it all.
I stare unhappily down at my own hands, the nails bitten to stubs, and know that I’ll never have that. There’s nothing about me that screams beautiful like Jasper. Even on the inside, I’m just a slate with fuzzy shades of gray uncertainty, while he’s every shining color of the rainbow.
He passes me a bag of strawberries for us to share, sugar sprinkled on top for extra flavor. While I dig one out and slowly sink my teeth into its fleshy red surface, he scoots closer until our shoulders are lightly pressed together. “Good?” he asks, twisting his neck to gauge my reaction.
“So good,” I confirm with a full mouth. “Did your mom pick these?”
Neither one of us says anything after that. Jasper’s relationship with his parents has been rocky all summer, ever since they announced that they’re moving to Australia back in March. Things are especially tense between him and his mom, who is largely overprotective of him and a little too sheltering.
It’s like, unless I spend every waking minute in a glass fish tank on display for her to keep an eye on me, she’s always going to be on my case, I recall him telling me once.
“You okay?” he asks several delicious strawberries later.
“Why must you always ask me that?” I mutter in slight irritation.
He sighs. “I dunno. Because you worry me, I guess.”
“Kind of like how you worry your mom.”
“Lex, don’t play that card. That’s different and you know it.”
“How?” I snap. Although I don’t want to be mad at Jasper, I feel anger seeping into my bloodstream all the same. I get it; I’m weak and pathetic and eternally look like I can’t handle whatever life’s throwing at me. But the fact that he always has to acknowledge it is frustrating on so many levels.
“Because,” he says, sounding somewhat desperate, “I know how to control my diabetes. She knows I can handle myself. But you never want to talk about when something’s bothering you, and I know that something happened in New York that hurt you because your aunt told me that much, and I know that whatever happened is eating at you and making you feel like you’re not good enough but God, Lexi, you are good enough. And I never know how to go about handling this so usually I just ignore it like you want me to but I don’t want to ignore it anymore because I’m concerned for you. I’m not even asking you to tell me about whatever happened, I’m just asking that you talk to me. Help me see whatever it is that you’re feeling so I can help you.”
My breathe hitches and my heart starts thrumming against my chest in a series of pulsating beats.
He can’t know. If I tell him, he’ll tell Aunt Colleen, and she’ll make me talk to a psychologist or something, and I can’t talk about this with a stranger. It’s too personal; too much.
I try to hide the growing panic that gnaws at my stomach, but my hands are trembling and my throat feels like there’s something stuck in there closing off my airway. So instead, I manage to say, “Didn’t you say you wanted to show me something?”
“Lex . . .”
“Come on. Let’s go!”
“Am I not your best friend?” he shouts angrily.
I will myself not to start crying.
Lowering his tone, he turns to look at me, eyes glimmering with pain. Pain that would never be there if it wasn’t for me. “You can trust me, Lexi. I don’t understand why you feel like you can’t talk to me about this. I’m here for you, okay? I’ve always been here. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Except you are!” I exclaim, tears already pricking at my eyelids. “You’re leaving me to move to the other side of the world in less than a month and if you think that I don’t know that you’re going to forget all about me once you make a bunch of new, prettier, cooler friends than me, then you’re mistaken. I’m not going to ruin this by throwing some tragic backstory down your throat as a pathetic scapegoat to make you pity me and feel obligated to stay in touch. I’m just trying to enjoy what little time I have left before it’s back to being the friendless loser, but you’re determined to make that impossible by constantly playing the ‘what’s wrong? Talk to me!’ card and I can’t deal with this anymore.”
My voice cracks and a couple of salty tears silently stream down my face by the time I’m done speaking. I use my palm to swipe them away angrily, frustrated with myself for letting my weakness ruin what was supposed to be a joyful time together.
Jasper pulls me into a hug and begins drawing pictures on my back with his fingers soothingly, a technique that he always uses to calm me down when I’m upset about something. “Lexi, I’m not going to forget about you in Australia, okay? Get that out of your head right now. You’re my best friend; it’s gonna take a lot more than a sixteen hour time difference and some people with accents for me to forget about you.”
For some reason, this makes me want to cry harder. But I fight it, because I don’t want Jasper feeling any worse than he already does. He doesn’t deserve that.
“Aren’t you supposed to be giving yourself extra insulin after you eat?” I ask, pulling away once I’ve gotten myself under control significantly. My eyes feel puffy and gross, but at least I can manage my breathing.
“Yeah, actually,” he says, pulling up on the one side of his shirt and revealing a blue insulin pump attached to the waistband of his pants, injecting insulin in his body through a narrow tube connected to a needle. After he eats, he usually needs to increase his body’s insulin intake to compensate for the added sugar.
While he messes with his insulin pump, I hug my knees to my chest and remind myself the importance of staying cool. For Jasper. After all, he doesn’t deserve to deal with my crazy episodes when I lose control of myself. He’s just concerned for my wellbeing. I should be grateful to have someone like him.
Enjoy it while it lasts, my mind taunts.
“I do actually have something I wanna show you, but do you mind if I go pee first?” he asks once he’s finally done fiddling with his insulin and checking his blood sugar.
“Are you okay?” I query, concerned.
“Love you,” he says slyly as he begins slinking away toward the woods.
“Jasper!” I call after him, but he waves me away dismissively behind his back and I clench my jaw. Idiot.
While I wait for him to return, I busy myself in putting away the remnants of our lunch, Champ lazing beside me in the afternoon sunlight. I try to think about something other than Jasper, but there’s not really much else for me to think about and even if there was, I’d still choose to think about him.
I’m screwed when he leaves.
After a couple of agonizing minutes wondering whether or not he’s okay and if it would be crossing some kind of line to go check on him when he’s supposedly peeing somewhere in there, he emerges from the trees with a proud smile on his face and a yellow wildflower in his hand.
My brows draw together in confusion. “Jasper?”
“Come on,” he coaxes, coming toward me and pulling me up on my feet, pushing the flower into my hands. “For you.”
“I really hope you didn’t touch your . . . thing . . . with that hand while you were peeing,” I mutter darkly, feeling a faint blush creeping up my neck.
His face goes blank as realization sets in and I have to refrain from punching him—hard.
“You’re disgusting,” I mumble, though my face is definitely redder than his.
“Come on, it’s not like I have cooties. Some people our age do way more than—”
“Shut up,” I swiftly interrupt before he can destroy the innocence that previously enshrouded this moment.
He laughs. “Love you, Lexi-Loo.”
“So is there something you actually want to show me, or was that just a cover up to get me out here and antagonize me?”
“Both,” he says with a smirk.
I narrow my eyes at him, but truthfully I’m just glad that we managed to finagle our way out of another potential argument. I don’t want to fight with Jasper.
“Come on, let’s go. I don’t want to be out here too long; I have Colleen’s tacos waiting for me for dinner and I’d hate to disappoint them.”
“It can’t be later than two o’clock in the afternoon, moron,” I point out.
“Now who’s the one being antagonized, huh? My heart is wounded.”
All the while we’re going back and forth with our banter, he’s leading me past all the trees and shrubs, one hand resting on the small of my back over my tank top. It only takes about a minute of walking to find what he wants to show me: two trees twisted together like a pinky promise.
“Look, someone was here before us,” he says, motioning for me to come closer.
I follow his gaze and my eyes land on a carved heart about eyelevel from where I’m standing on the ground with the letters K + D inscribed in the center. There’s no telling how old or recent it is.
“I wonder if they’re still together, whoever they are,” I say.
“Who says they were ever together at all?” Jasper challenges. “Maybe they were really good friends, like you and me.”
“Maybe,” I agree, though I kind of doubt it, an unexplainable feeling of butterflies taking flight in my stomach, not for the first time that day.
He pulls out a pocketknife and begins carving something below it.
“Wait, what are you doing?” I demand.
“J + L = BFFS,” he explains nonchalantly, like this is totally rational. “We’re making it tree official, like they did. Duh.”
“But . . . why?” I find myself asking.
“Because, I know you’re scared about me forgetting you when I’m gone, and I want to prove to you that that’s never going to happen. I want to give you a spot that can be just ours, where no one else has access to, and I came across this place the other week and thought it would be perfect.”
“Jasper,” I start to say, realizing I don’t have any idea what more to say to properly exhibit just how thankful I am to have him.
“You and only you are my best friend, and I don’t want you to think that I’m going to replace you. I really do love you, Lexi. And whenever you’re missing me, I want you to come here and look at this tree as a reminder that we’re always going to be best friends.”
Before I realize what I’m doing, I’m tackling him in a hug and burying my head in his shirt, inhaling the pine tree-like scent of whatever his signature cologne is. He’s taken off guard for a second before throwing his arms around me and resting his chin on my head.
“Thank you for this,” I mumble against his shirt before pulling back to look him in the eye. “You’re the best friend I could ask for. Honestly.”
He smiles, shakes his head, and gets to work finishing his carving before pulling out his video camera to capture our initials and recite his whole speech about how the tree is a symbol of our friendship, making sure to capture my reaction, against my will, of course.
I pretend to be exasperated the whole time, but I’m just grateful to have my best friend by my side.