02. The Maze
“You have to let it go bro, she doesn’t want to date you.” My best friend Joe warns me for the thousandths time. It may sounds mean coming from him, and it kind of is but I know that he thinks he knows best when it comes to this.
“I get that she doesn’t like relationships and all that shit, but what you don’t get is that there is something special between us. I am not just going to let her go.” I reply as I stand beside him on the bench press, checking in case he needs help, although there is a small part of me that would love to see him struggling with the weight.
“You think too much like girl bro, which is ironic because she doesn’t think like that. You have to let it go, you only kissed.” He repeats once again, as it has been two weeks since I met Lily and I have not been able to stop talking about her.
“Why do you have to be such a negative asshole?” I ask because I am getting a little tired of everyone just telling me to let it go, to let her go. That she isn’t showing any signs of being into me so I should just find someone else, it’s not worth all the effort.
That’s not what I was taught growing up. My dad always made sure I knew that he had to work to get my mum, even years after her death he still finds new stories to tell me. I was 16 when I lost her to a drunk driver but she managed to teach me enough while she was alive and there is no way I am going to do anything that would make her disappointed in me.
“I’m just being realistic, she’s taking hours to reply to your texts and last night she was seen kissing some dude. She’s not exactly making this easy for you, she’s always cancelling when you want to meet, do I need to list everything else?” He raises his eyebrow at me, I hate that everything he is saying is true but there is something about her that I can’t just let go.
“Maybe, that’s why you haven’t been in a serious relationship, ever. It’s not going to be easy, you obviously know she was hurt before so she’s not going to jump at me.” I supply because even though he is my best friend, we could not be any more different when it comes to relationships and love.
“Well, she did want to jump up on your dick but she doesn’t want your heart bro.” He reminds me, the exact words that actually came out of her mouth. I wish I could say that I wasn’t disappointed when she said it all, but I can understand where she is coming from, even if I don’t like it.
“Well, at least I have somewhere to start from.” I say with a smile even though I know that if it doesn’t work out, I am only going to be hurting myself. It takes a lot for me to fall for someone but it wasn’t like that with her, I fell as soon as I saw her and if I don’t manage to convince her to be with me, I am going to be ruined.
“Getting her to sleep with you is not going to be very hard, you guys already have chemistry but getting more than a one night stand from her is going to be the hard part. I just don’t want you to get hurt, especially after what happened after your mum’s death.” He reminds me and just touching the subject makes me angry and numb at the same time. I am glad that I have people that care for me but at the same time I don’t need to be reminded of that dark time, there is no way I am ever going to forget it.
“That’s not going to happen if she breaks my heart.” I reassure him, I guess some habits are hard to go. He still sometimes acts the same way as he did years ago, that helped me realise so many things and one of them was that Joe really does have my back when I needed him most.
“I don’t want that to be even an option. I can’t ever see you like that ever again.” He says seriously and I know it’s a little selfish of me to be getting annoyed at the people who were affected by everything.
“I’m never going there again, ever.” I say with confidence because I have worked too hard to leave all of it behind me. If I have to remind them for the rest of my life then I guess that is one of the consequences of my actions, from years ago.
“You really want to go after this chick?” He asks as we switch, it’s my turn on the bench. We normally don’t talk much during our gym sessions but with him being at university and me working at my job, we don’t see each other as often. We used to basically live together before as teenagers and even though we’re both over 20, sometimes you wish things were as simple as back then.
“Nothing is going to change my mind.” I stress and stretch my arms a little, adding some more weight on the bar. One way that I have learned to distract myself over the years is going to the gym, most of the time it gives me that adrenaline that I just don’t get from working behind a desk.
For the next hour, we don’t really say anything other than to comment on gym stuff, like how everything is covered in sweat or how no one ever puts shit back where they got it from. And, for the rest of time just ripping into each other, teasing each other about either one of us lifting more than the other.
I am visiting him at his university and a small part of me hopes that we run into Lily. I mean she met Joe here a couple of months ago, hence why she was at his party at New Year’s. It’s not a small campus so there is no guarantee that I would ever run into her, or that she would even be on this part of the campus.
However, I don’t think I am fooling Joe about why I insisted that we work out here today. I mean we are going out tonight but I really wanted to be here for longer and try to run into her. I might be becoming a little pathetic but I remind myself that my dad always said that the end is going to be worth, you just have to be selective who you do this for.
I don’t know what we were talking about but as soon as I caught sight of her golden hair, I knew I had found her. It’s weird how there are so many different but similar shades of hair, but when you’re looking for someone you can just tell who it is. I know that I have two ways I could play this, I could either go in hard and hope that she doesn’t run too far or I could be casual, play her game for a while.
“Act cool dude, don’t look too desperate.” He hisses beside me, elbowing me in the side not very gently. “You don’t want her to run so quick, you have to reel her in a little first.” He whispers just before she sees us, she has a friend with her who seems to recognise me, but I don’t think I’ve ever met the dark-haired beauty.
“What are you doing on campus Jules?” She asks even before I could open my mouth to say that she looks gorgeous. Frowning at her angry tone, I am at loss as to what to reply to her angry words. Did I really make up everything that went on between us?
“He’s visiting me, we’re going out tonight.” Supplies Joe when it seems that my mouth no longer knows how to work. This is not the best time for me to look like an idiot, yet I am standing silent while her friend analyses me and Lily is just glaring at me, her eyes hard.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Hope.” Her friend breaks the tension as she sticks her hand out to me, smiling brightly in a way that you would an old friend, but I don’t know this girl.
“You’ve probably gathered that I’m Jules.” I smile in greeting, very curious to know more about Lily and her friends. I know that I have found myself in another situation that I am in way over my head but I just can’t bring myself to let this go and not give it a fair chance.
“I’ve heard a lot about you, Jules.” She smiles and laughs when Lily throws her a not so subtle look, maybe there is hope after all. If her friend knows about me then I must have done something right and made an impression, maybe I’m not the only one who spends all day thinking about.
“Anyway, we have somewhere we need to be.” Lily interrupts and she is not meeting my eyes, she is looking at something behind me. I really hope that I don’t look behind me and find her looking at some guy.
I am well aware that I have no claim over her, that she also thinks there is nothing between us but it still stings when I hear about how she has hooked up with someone else. I don’t know how I am going to convince her to actually take a chance on me, now I really sound like a pussy.
“No, we don’t. We were just going to get coffee and then maybe go shopping. It was my birthday last month so she is taking me out for the first time.” Her friend replies and I have to hold in my laugh and smile as I see a little blush forming on her cheeks. I don’t know why she is trying to get away from me and act like she doesn’t want anything to do with me, even now when she is acting like this, I still feel this pull towards her.
“Maybe we’ll run into each other tonight.” Supplies Joe and I would have to thank him later, I would have thought he would be doing the exact same thing Lily is doing, which is trying to find any excuse for us not to talk.
“It’s very unlikely that we’re going to be at the same club.” Lily smiles tightly as she says this, as if it pains her to be talking to me. I am losing all and any confidence that I had going into this, maybe she just doesn’t want anything to do with me after all.
“Well, it was nice running into you.” I smile politely and cross my arms over my chest so I don’t lean down and touch her, or hug her. It’s becoming very transparent that I am probably wasting my time here, at least for now.
We say our goodbyes and as we walk away, I make sure that I don’t look back because I don’t want to be disappointed again when I see that she didn’t look back. I have been like this before with a woman, I fall hard for someone but I have never really had to work this hard to get started, never mind keeping a relationship going.
I’ve only had one long-term relationship which lasted for two years but things got too much for her and she left me. It didn’t exactly help with what I was going through then but I get it now, I would have rather she leave me than later find out that I had dragged her down. I know it was the best thing to do for both of us but being reminded of it now with Lily means that I get reminded of all of feelings from back then as well.
“She looked back bro, you’re game.” Joe says from beside me and just like that my mood is somewhat lifted. This morning I was so confident about us and I have had countless conversations with my friends about how this is going to work, and it’s sad how now I am not that sure.
“You might be right, I don’t think she wants anything to do with me.” I say as we walk into his house, it’s right by the campus and as he is on his last year here, he couldn’t be bothered to be a flat rep like last year.
“Don’t go down that route, women love playing hard to get. You’re the only one of us who actually has the balls to go after her, don’t lose that confidence now. At least get a date out of her or a fuck, you like her a lot, we can all tell that.” He reassures me and it feels a little weird because before now, we rarely ever talk about girls like this or go into deep conversations.
“What changed that now you’re all for us being together? Before you thought that I should just give it up.” I ask because he is not the kind of person to change his mind, when he gets something stuck in his head, it’s going to happen.
“I don’t really know, I wasn’t there when you nearly fucked in the middle of my party so I haven’t seen you guys together. You guys suit each other, and I definitely think that she is playing hard to get.” He shrugs and I do feel a little better.
“I feel like a fucking pussy just complaining and talking about my feelings all the damn time.” I fall onto his bed, the gym just now catching up to me. I don’t know why it felt like a good idea to go out after the gym, I just want to sleep for 10 hours.
“I’m not going to lie, I do feel like you’re my girlfriend or something. Even then I’ve never had to deal with so many feelings.” He laughs at me and I don’t even have the energy to throw something at him. I don’t really know if I should trust him when it comes to women as he has never wanted anything serious and I am definitely not chasing after Lily for just a quick fuck.
“You don’t know what it’s like to have a girlfriend, you only have fuck buddies.” I throw back even though it’s the truth and it doesn’t bother him at all. It does feel very weird to be what feels like the only young guy who wants to be in a serious relationship, and a wife and kids in the next couple of years.
“I’m not going to put the effort into some relationship I don’t want to be in, if I’m not obsessed with the girl like you are with Lily when what’s the point?” He asks and I guess he has a point, you don’t think about someone this much unless it’s serious. And you can’t force something when it’s not there.
“You make me sound like I’m already in love with her.” I say to save my ego, I’m pretty sure I’ve nearly fallen for her and I’ve had two conversations with her. I just don’t want to admit it yet, it feels pathetic to have fallen so quickly and for someone who definitely doesn’t feel the same. I feel like if I mentioned the love word to her, she would run so fast I would get whiplash.
“Dude, you might as well be there.” He confirms my worst fears that even though I have been trying to downplay how much she is on my mind, I have obviously not done a good enough job, if Joe is willing to go as far as to say that I look like a guy in love. Is this what girls feel like when they have a crush on a guy who doesn’t like them back?
My reaction to her is strong that it can’t be happening to me, I have spent so many hours listening to my cousin talk about her romance books and what kind of love she wants. Her brother likes to act like the tough guy so he has never been there to listen to her, and I have always wanted a little sister so I was more than happy to act like an older brother.
After my mum died, I came to terms with the fact that my mother had died and with her what I thought of as my family, and any small hope that our family would grow. It took me a long time to come to terms with the thought alone that my dad could date someone else, he is young enough and deserves to be happy, but it just felt wrong to have someone else come into our house.
I regret the many times when she would want to tell me a story about her and dad, what it was like when they met, the little dates they had. Luckily, I managed to snap out of it after a year or so but now that she is gone, sometimes all I can think about are the missed moments that I wish I could go back and change.
“Jules, where did you go?” Asks Joe as I must have spaced out for a long time, I often find myself getting lost in my memories. Sometimes it feels like they are all that I have left.
“I just started thinking about my mum.” I say, even though I know that he is going to start worrying. There has just been something off with everything these last couple of months, I no longer have the same motivation like I did before, of course it sometimes comes back but it just feels like I am in some repeating cycle that never seems to end.
“It wasn’t anything bad, don’t worry. I was just wondering what she would say about all of this if she were here. I mean I briefly mentioned it to my dad but I really wish that she could tell me what to do.” I confess before he can say anything, I don’t talk about her often even though I think about her daily.
“Man, I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent but you know her. She was always very happy and she would be all for you going after anything that would make you happy. I think she would be all for you falling in love.” He says and surprises me, sometimes I don’t expect my friends to be there when I need to talk to someone, we would all just rather play video games.
“She would tell me to do everything I can to make her fall in love with me.” I laugh because even when I was 13 she would make sure that I was aware of how amazing love was. She always told me that even if I felt like I needed to play the field, I would meet a woman who would just take my breath away.
“Your mother was amazing, we all miss her.” He says and I have to fight the tears in my eyes. Joe was there when I got the news, when I had to bury her, when I had to pack up her belongings. We have been friends since we were children so he knew exactly what my mum was like, which makes it a little easier when talking about her.
“So, what do you think I should do to get a date with Lily?” I ask to change the topic, I don’t feel like bawling my eyes out while sharing stories about my mum. There are nights where I cry myself to sleep thinking about her, or when something reminds me of a memory with her but I have learned that if I can’t think of a happy memory, that I have to distract myself.
“Getting you together with her is going to be like a mission, I am down.” He suddenly seems excited and I have to laugh, ever since we were kids he would love doing ‘missions’. Even though most times it ended with both of us grounded and somehow hurt.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, that it’s going to be a mission to get her to date me.” I laugh as any good best friends do, we spend half our time just insulting each other. With all the stress going on in our lives, it has been a while since we have been together like this and I can’t remember the last time I felt this young.
“You’re ugly bro, you need all the help you can get.” He laughs at his own joke and this time I do throw the bottle next to me, unfortunately, it was empty so it wouldn’t have hurt much.
“The only card you can play is the jealousy card, make her jealous and she’ll come running.” He states as if it’s going to be that easy. That she is going to see me with someone else and suddenly want me all for herself, I only thought this shit worked in the movies. In real life, it just ends in massive fight.
“You think, it’s just going to be that easy?” I ask sceptically because I can just all the ways this could go wrong.
Before he can say anything, I hear my phone go off with a text message alert and since I have a special sound for Lily’s texts, I know that it’s from her. I nearly fall off the bed as I try to get my phone out of my pocket, Joe just laughs at me. He stops laughing when I show him the message though, tonight is my chance.
Lily: We’re going to the Maze tonight, it would be such a coincidence to see you there.