Just Friends

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The CD

The grocery store was fairly empty as Leo went inside. He only needed a few things, but he had been dreading the trip, if only because he was in the middle of studying for a test. As much as he had wanted to drop from med school, he still hadn’t gotten the courage to tell his father yet.

He walked down the refrigerated aisle and was about to grab a carton of milk just as he overheard a very familiar voice. “Excuse me, I can’t reach those at the top. Do you mind?”

“Min,” he whispered to himself, his voice catching in his throat. He was tempted to move around the food wall to get a look at her, but he refrained, not wanting to upset her with his presence or give her the impression that he was following her.

“Thank you,” he heard her say. “So, I got that, the cheese, and I just need the… Oh, right. The milk! Okay, I just need to-”

As he overheard her, Leo tried to hurry out of the dairy section before she could see him but he rounded the corner and his cart crashed directly into Jasmine’s. “Shit. I’m- I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”

“Oh. Um, hi, Leo.”

“Hey.” He cleared his throat and asked, “How are you?”

She smiled slightly and nodded. “Good. I’m- well, I’ve been seeing someone.”

Leo felt a sharp pain in his chest as she said it, but he did his best to hide it, instead smiling. “That’s great, Min. You- you deserve it.”

“Oh. Thanks, I guess.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I- I guess you’re doing good, huh?”

Before she could answer, another man approached her from behind, carrying a bag of chips and dip. “Hey, babe, I thought we were meeting at the register. What’s taking so long?”

Jasmine turned to the man and said, “Sorry, I ran into- um, this is Leo. Leo, this is my boyfriend, Ethan.”

“Hey, man,” Leo said, holding out his hand.

Ethan didn’t even give him a second glance as he said, “Come on, let’s go.”

With a half-smile, half-grimace, Jasmine looked back at Leo and said, “Sorry. I’ll see you around, I guess.”

Leo nodded and watched her walk away, a sinking feeling in his stomach. Before he could question himself, he pulled out his phone and texted Alex.

>>> Leo: I’m going to send her the CD

>>> Alex: Wait what??

>>> Leo: I ran into Min at the grocery store with her new boyfriend

>>> Alex: Ok????

>>> Leo: Idk I just feel like I need to send it to her

>>> Alex: No that’s a terrible idea

>>> Leo: Why?

>>> Alex: She’s just started dating a new guy

>>> Leo: So what? Either I send it now and she knows how I feel and can make a choice, or I don’t send it and she chooses him blindly

>>> Alex: And who’s to say she’ll even choose you?

>>> Leo: Nothing, but at least she’d know how I feel

>>> Alex: And if she chooses him?

>>> Leo: Then that’s her choice. I have to try

>>> Alex: Okay fine

>>> Leo: What do you think of her new guy anyway?

>>> Alex: He tried too hard when he met us, it’s like he’s hiding something idk

>>> Leo: I didn’t get good vibes from him either but I wasn’t sure if it was just me

>>> Alex: Nah, idk I just didn’t like him

>>> Leo: Well, here’s hoping that she’ll at least listen to the CD right?

>>> Alex: Good luck

>>> Leo: Thanks

When he got home from the store, he read through the CD booklet one last time, packaged and addressed it, then dropped the package off at the post office. When it arrived at Jasmine’s apartment, it was a full three days later.

Jasmine stopped at the mailroom and checked her box, surprised to see a package without a return address. Through the packaging, she could feel that there was a small, square case inside, which further confused her until she opened it up and pulled out a CD case with a small typed booklet, its title reading ’To Minnie.”

As much as she wanted to stay mad at him, a fluttering feeling filled her stomach at seeing the CD and she smiled. Once she could get to her computer, she popped the disc in and plugged in some headphones, curious to hear what Leo had selected. Before the first song played, she opened up the booklet, shocked at the amount of detail that he had put into it, and her heart raced as she read the introduction.

Minnie, I don’t know how else to show you just how much I care, so here’s your custom “mixtape,” and an apology. As much as I fucked up, you have every right to be mad at me. I just hope you can understand that I never wanted to hurt you and I love you. I’m sorry. You deserve to be happy, no matter what you choose. As long as you’ve been in my life, whether we were friends or not, you’ve made it better. I can’t imagine spending the rest of it without you. Love, Lionel

Next to that paragraph was the first picture they had ever taken together, not from any of their dates, but from Alex’s twelfth birthday, where Leo and Jasmine had stood next to one another by accident, though he had cropped the picture to be just the two of them, smiling at the camera.

As she stared down at the booklet, she realized she couldn’t bring herself to press play to listen to the CD. At least, not yet. She was still trying to process that he had told her that he loved her, which was more than enough of a shock.

While she was attempting to build up the courage to actually listen to it, Jasmine heard a knock at the door and she had to set her computer and the booklet aside. She looked through the peephole, conflicted at the sight of Ethan holding a box of doughnuts.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” she asked, opening the door with a smile and quickly kissing him on the lips.

Ethan shrugged and said, “Thought I’d surprise my girl.”

Stepping aside, she said, “Yeah, it definitely is a surprise. I was just gonna be doing laundry and chilling at home tonight.”

“Well, now you can be chilling with me,” he said as he sat down on the couch. “What’s going on with your computer?”

Jasmine shook her head and closed the laptop. “Nothing. One of my friends made a CD for his girlfriend, he wanted me to check it out.”

Without even a second glance, Ethan accepted the lie. “A CD? That’s weird. Okay. So what should we watch?”

“I don’t know,” she said before sitting down next to him. As they scrolled through their options on Netflix, her eyes kept looking towards her computer, desperately wishing she could listen to it, but not wanting to do so with Ethan around. As a result, the couple settled into the couch while the CD waited patiently in Jasmine’s disc drive.

The CD remained untouched for another week, while Jasmine found herself constantly in Ethan’s company, which would have been fine if she weren’t so anxious to listen to it. As it was, Leo’s words were burned into her brain and she couldn’t get her mind off of it.

As soon as she was able to, she plugged in her headphones to her computer and pressed play on the music, booklet at the ready.

“Someone To You” - BANNERS: You’re the person I want to be with at the end of the day, who I want to wake up to, share meals with, give my time to, and I want to be that person for you. I want to be the one you call when you need help, I want to be the one you tell about your day, and I want to be the one you love.

“Vanilla Twilight” - Owl City: Without you, everything in my life is more empty. I miss you so much and every time I think about the mistakes I made, it just makes me wish I could rewind and take it all back. I miss feeling you near me, and more than anything, I wish I could hold you close and let you know just how much you cross my mind.

“Missin’ You Like Crazy” - Us The Duo: Even the most simple things in my life are different without you. I don’t even enjoy my baking without you there to tease me, or to steal it away for a taste. Life is better when you’re with me, simple as that. I’m missin’ you like crazy.

“Where You Are” - Marc Broussard: Even before I realized just how amazing you are, I have always been infatuated with you. You drove me insane in school, and I never realized the reason why was because you were perfect. You are perfect. I fell in love with you a long time ago without even realizing it, but now I do and… I’ve loved you from the start, I want to be where you are.

“You Are the Best Thing” - Ray LaMontagne: Without a single doubt, you are the best thing to ever happen to me. Before, I couldn’t even admit what I wanted out of my life, but because of you, I know exactly what I want: you. You are the best thing.

“Unforgettable” - Nat King Cole: It’s not a romantic “mixtape” unless you have some Nat, is it? You caught my attention a long time ago and I was never able to look away. I couldn’t ever get you out of my mind, even in high school, and now I know it’s because you truly are unforgettable. And even if I could forget you, why would I ever want to?

“Count On Me” - Bruno Mars: I do love you more than anything, and somehow, you also became my best friend. A best friend is there for you no matter what, to help you through the bad times, and give you the support you need. If nothing else, I’d be happy to be your friend and show that you can count on me, no matter what. I will be there for you.

“Unpack Your Heart” - Phillip Phillips: I want you to trust me, and if you do, share it all with me. Your fears, your hopes and dreams, the good and the bad. Everything you are and everything you feel, I want it all.

“Stuck On You” - Meiko: You make everything fun and I can’t imagine feeling this way about anybody else. You are the one I could see having fun with, not just for tonight but for the rest of my life. I’m stuck on you, Min.

“Rhythm of Love” - Plain White T’s: If I could only be with you for a single night, it would easily be the best night of my life.

“Brighter Than The Sun” - Colbie Caillat: The love I feel for you is stronger than anything I’ve ever felt. If it weren’t for that day in the elevator, that small chance moment, I would have missed out on the best thing that has ever happened to me. Lightning struck my heart and now it belongs to you.

“Stuck Like Glue” - Sugarland: Even after all this time, I’m stuck like glue. We may not have gotten along as kids, but you make me feel like a kid again in a good way. You make me laugh and I’d do anything to make you feel the same way.

“Must Have Done Something Right” - Relient K: As cliché as this whole “mixtape” is, I couldn’t think of a better way to show you how much you mean to me. It’s all been said a thousand times, but to be lucky enough to have you in my life, I definitely must have done something right.

“I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” - The Proclaimers: I’d do anything for you, including walk a thousand miles. Can I fall down at your door?

“Take A Chance On Me” - ABBA: If ever you decide to give me a chance, I’ll be waiting to make you as happy as you make me.

By the time she reached the last song, Jasmine was in tears. Between the songs, Leo’s commentary, and the pictures he had included, she had become so overwhelmed with emotion, and she reacted in the only way she could think to: she hid the CD in the back of her underwear drawer, where she was sure that nobody would stumble upon it.

The waiting was the worst part. Leo had ultimately decided that if she rejected him, he would be upset but eventually, he’d accept it, but not knowing her decision was worse than being told ‘no.’ Had she even listened to the CD? Did she throw it away when she realized who it was from? Was she just still trying to decide?

As much as he wanted to go to Jasmine’s place to get an answer, he knew that it would only push her away. Instead, he decided to text Alex again, who was getting really irritated with it all.

>>> Leo: Hey have you heard anything from Min yet?

>>> Alex: Nope

>>> Leo: Damn it

>>> Alex: It’s not like she tells me everything

>>> Leo: I know but it’s driving me crazy not knowing what she’s thinking

>>> Alex: As far as I know, she and Mr. Perfect are still together

>>> Leo: Mr. Perfect? Ugh

>>> Alex: That’s my nickname for him, not hers

>>> Leo: Oh lol. Well that’s still awful

>>> Alex: Shut up

>>> Leo: Can you just check in with her?

>>> Alex: I can try

>>> Leo: Thanks man

>>> Alex: You owe me big time

While Leo waited for Alex to get back to him with some sort of update, he decided to pay his mother a quick visit. If he happened to run into Jasmine, so be it, but it actually had been a while since he had visited Astrid and he was starting to feel bad about it.

When he knocked, he could hear the stumbling of two people, which reminded him that his mother had a boyfriend now and he easily could be stumbling into a naked horror show. However, Astrid and Steven were fully dressed, although covered in paint and food.

“Leo, I didn’t know you were coming over!” she said. “What a nice surprise. You remember Steven?”

“Yeah, I do. Nice to see you again, Steven.” He quickly gave the man a handshake before turning his attention back to his mother. “What’s going on here, Mom?”

Astrid smiled. “Let me show you.”

“Oh, because that’s not cryptic at all,” he teased, following his mother into her apartment while Steven went into the kitchen to make some coffee. “Where’s the murder victim?”

“Oh, hush,” she said, swatting at him. “Look at this piece.”

They stood before a large canvas and as Leo looked at it, the painting felt familiar, but he couldn’t place it. As he continued to stare at it, it was becoming more and more apparent that this was an original painting. “You did this? It’s not a restoration?”

“Look at the details,” she said, smiling.

The painting depicted a couple dancing, though their faces were obscured. The woman had fiery red hair and was wearing a pink and black dress, and the man was blond with a pink pocket square. The man held the woman close, and the people in the background and foreground were staring at them.

“This is me and Min, isn’t it?” Leo asked, his voice quiet but filled with awe.

“Do you like it?” she asked. “I saw you two at the wedding and it was just such a beautiful sight, I had to capture it.”

He smiled while he stared at the redhead woman in the painting. “It’s beautiful, Mom.”

Astrid put her hand on her son’s shoulder. “I’ve seen her with that other man lately, but she doesn’t look as happy with him as she was with you. I think you still have a chance.”

“I hope so.” He sighed and looked away from the canvas. “You know, she was encouraging me to pursue something different from medicine.”

“Really?” she asked. “What is it that you want to do?”

He took a deep breath and said, “Baking, actually.”

“Baking? Really?”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “I like making food, especially sweets like cakes and doughnuts, so I think I could maybe open a little bakery.”

She thought about it for a moment and then smiled. “You know, I think I like the idea of you doing something more creative. Does your father know?”

He shook his head. “No, not yet. Please don’t tell him.”

Astrid scoffed. “I don’t talk to your father unless it has to do with alimony or something legal that directly affects you. You tell him when you’re ready.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Leo said with a smile.

They continued visiting over coffee and Leo learned more about Steven, who apparently used to fix old clocks before he started working in art restoration. After about an hour, Leo decided to leave the couple alone, planted a kiss on Astrid’s cheek, and left the apartment, walking slow just in case.

He passed by her door, hesitating for a moment as he considered knocking, then he continued to the elevator, which opened just as he approached it. Out stepped a beautiful redhead, arm-in-arm with a dark-haired man, who didn’t even bother pretending to recognize Leo.

“Hey,” Jasmine said awkwardly. “You visiting your mom?”

“Yeah, I was,” Leo said. “Did you get the- um, I mean-”

Rather than answering, she looked over at Ethan, desperate to change the subject. “Hey, you remember Leo?”

“Who?” Ethan asked.

“You met him that day in the grocery store, remember?”

Leo held out his hand, despite what had happened the last time. “Nice to see you again.”

Ethan clasped Leo’s hand with his own, but didn’t exchange any pleasantries. “Babe, let’s go inside.”

Jasmine sighed and mouthed a quick ‘sorry’ to Leo before they walked over to her apartment, and Leo stepped inside the elevator. As the doors closed, he felt his phone vibrate with a text message.

>>> Jasmine: Yes, I got it. Thank you

>>> Leo: You’re welcome Min

>>> Jasmine: It doesn’t change the fact that I’m with Ethan though

>>> Leo: I know. I just needed to give it to you

>>> Jasmine: Okay. Thanks Leo

With a deep breath, Leo pocketed his phone again. Progress.

The biggest romantic gesture Leo had ever done was for his girlfriend in college, Bianca, when he had asked her to a party using a pizza. He had special ordered it so that the pepperonis spelled out ‘BE MY DATE?’ so when she opened it, she’d be surprised.

Unfortunately, even with the effort he had put into setting it up, she opened the box, read the note, and decided to break up with him.

“Can you at least tell me why?” he asked her.

Bianca shrugged. “I’ve just been bored. I don’t want to spend time in a relationship where I’m just not having fun. Besides, I’m thinking of changing to a double-major and I won’t have time for dating anyway.”

Leo ultimately decided that he, too, didn’t need the hassle of a relationship, hence the beginning of his reputation for having flings.

When Ethan left her apartment for the night, Jasmine dug through her underwear drawer and pulled the CD out. It had only been a matter of days since she hid it, but running into Leo earlier that day had made her want to listen to it and read through the booklet again. As she did so, she found herself drawing comparisons between him and Ethan.

Firstly, Leo got along with her family, while her family, aside from her mother, was making it abundantly clear that they didn’t care for Ethan. Not that they hated him, but they weren’t ever enthusiastic about his presence or when he was brought up in conversation.

Ethan was attentive to her, as Leo had been, but he also had a tendency to be more self-involved. Whenever things were an inconvenience to him, he didn’t want to deal with it and would either remove himself from the situation or simply ignore it. Unfortunately, those ‘inconveniences’ occurred quite a lot and would range anywhere from doing the dishes to helping Jasmine with her migraines to exchanging pleasantries with an acquaintance.

She had also felt a lot more passion with Leo than she did with Ethan, even when it was all supposed to be fake.

On the other hand, Ethan hadn’t betrayed her trust like Leo had done, though if he ever did, she doubted he would go to such lengths to rectify his mistake.

Jasmine stared down at the booklet for a long while after the CD finished playing before she ultimately hid it and the disc back in her underwear drawer.

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