“You’re a jerk, Jared Wyatt. A tall abandoning jerk who left for Japan without contacting any of his friends.”
“Are you honestly going to sound like a girl, David? Because you’re beginning to get on my nerves with your tone.” I replied, snark laced into my voice.
David stuck out his tongue at me, and I rolled my eyes at his immature response. He had always done these things back in University to infuriate me, knowing well enough that I hated when grown adults resorted to childish tactics in lieu of an actual response. I had always hoped that he would outgrow them, but I guess those prayers haven’t been answered yet because, after five years, he was still the same immature creep I shared a dorm with.
Though to be honest, the thought that he hadn’t changed since then comforted me a little. Not that I would ever admit to that, but it felt reassuring.
“It’s been awhile, Jay. I’m surprised you even remembered me after all these years,” he said, looking at me knowingly and grinning. I managed a half-smile, half-smirk back and shrugged.
“Who could forget someone as gay as you?” I replied, earning a swift punch on my shoulder. I rubbed the sore spot and laughed at him (or at least, I attempted to). “I’m kidding, Sutter. I was busy, you know how it is.”
He gave me a look but nodded anyway. He shifted in his seat, pulling out his cellular phone and checked for messages. A smile blew out on his face and I knew in an instant that it was a message from Yana. I clicked my tongue, raising my eyebrow and he looked at me curiously, placing his phone back into his pocket.
“Was that Yana?” I asked. He nodded in reply, almost cheekily. “You’re still together? Really?”
“Yeah, is that so hard to believe? How about you? Any girls I should know about?”
I shrugged. “You should ask my parents about that.”
David sat up straighter, surprised. He peered oddly at me, studying my expression. Then he clapped his hands once and gave a shout that might have meant, “Oh I get it!”
“So they actually went through with it?”
“Yep.” I nodded, popping the ‘p’ less than delicately.
David studied me for another odd minute and nodded tersely. He knew how strict and conservative my parents were. We often joked that my parents were probably time travelers from the very distant past, stuck in the new millennium and trying so hard to keep things as old-school as possible. It didn’t seem impossible if my parents had planned the betrothal the minute I was born but I stupidly thought they couldn’t be that bad about it.
Clearly I was wrong.
David’s voice brought me back to the present. “How old is she?”
“She’s supposed to be eighteen already but she acts like she’s in middle school a lot of the time.”
“That’s because eighteen is a child, Wyatt! You’re robbing a baby its’ youth!”
I scoffed at the insinuation, gritting my teeth at having to explain the annoyance in my life. “As if I’d touch her. You talk like I wanted this to happen. It’s as if you don’t know me at all.”
David thought about that for a second and nodded. “You have a point there.”
“Geez, man, your parents petrify me.”
“They tend to do that.”
He shook his head. “And you’re okay with all of this?” He made gestures with his hands to emphasize a point. I had to bite back a sarcastic remark.
“Of course not.”
“But you won’t go against them.”
He got me there, and I threw him an annoyed look. He shrugged, and then looked at the time on his watch.
“It’s not like Diane to be late for dinner. Usually, she’d be the first one here if there’s food.”
At the mention of her name, my chest tightened. I threw David’s oblivious figure another filthy look and breathed deeply. Pull yourself together, Wyatt. It’s just a name. Her name never bothered you like this before.
I cleared my throat. “How is Diane, by the way? I always thought that if you and Yana broke up, the two of you would become an item.”
David made a face and shook his head. “That’s scary, Jared. Diane’s like a little sister to me. I would never take advantage of her like that.” He shrugged. “Besides, she’s not interested in relationships.”
I raised my eyebrow. That didn’t sound like the romantic girl I knew. “That’s not like her.”
“I know. She was always the girl in love during University. Doe-eyed about romance and Shakespeare.”
David shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Nothing happened. After you left and graduation passed, she just started to come down to earth and reality. She went out on dates sometimes, but those relationships never lasted long enough for her to introduce them to me or her parents.”
David then leveled his eyes at me. Giving me a look that was both accusing and… pitying. “You were probably the last guy she introduced to them.”
I lowered my gaze and shrugged, trying hard not to let it show that that piece of information tugged at me. “Funny. She introduced you too.”
“As a friend.”
He laughed like I’d just said the funniest joke. “Huh. Could’ve fooled me.”
“Don’t even start that, Sutter. We...”
“I’m sorry I’m so late!”—
“Excuse me. I’m late for this class and I really don’t want to walk all the way towards the front where my seat is because that would be embarrassing so, uh- can I sit here?”
“My name’s Diane. ‘Whatever, Diane’. Or call me Dee, if you’d like. That way it won’t sound so awkward.”
—Diane came in almost tripping, with the same sweet smile on her face when I first met her. Her smile was the first thing I saw when I looked up from my book that day in class. It was warm and welcoming…
Beautiful, my brain supplied. I inwardly scowled. Nonsense.
“Summer wasn’t going to let me out of the house until I agreed to go out with that musician she wants to set me up with.”
She bowed a couple of times, apologizing (David was giving her a slightly hard time, teasing her by acting like it was a big deal to be early for a dinner) before stopping to look at me.
By that time, I had already stood up to greet her. “Dee. It’s nice to see you.”
“Long time no see… Wyatt.”
He didn’t like it one bit. The way I said his name, so politely. So formally. I’ve never spoken to him in that way, not once, not even on the day we met. To be honest, it had felt strange in my mouth- foreign and surreal. I almost hated it myself. But if I had said his name any other way, that would have brought me back—
“No. I mean, call me Jared.” He sighs. “I know you like calling me by my last name or whatever pops up into your pretty little head, but I’d prefer it if you stuck to my name. Plain and simple. Okay, Diane?”
—Dinner was awkward at best. I asked him a few generic questions (Where was he staying at? His parents. What was he doing these days? He was junior-associate of a law firm in Tokyo.). Thankfully he replied and acted naturally. He even asked me in the same way (he asked if I still lived in the same apartment? And I told him I did and that the roof still leaked) to avoid any odd glances from David.
If David hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have survived it. I never let my gaze linger long enough towards his direction.
David texted me right after the dinner. Just as I closed my apartment door and released the breath I had been holding in; asking me why I wasn’t energetic today to see our old friend. I replied with a fake excuse of having a fake headache and tossed myself onto my bed – burying my face into a pillow.
David: Try lying better next time. I can tell even from texts. Whatever it is, it’s all in the past right?
All in the past. It would be easy to say that if my heart wasn’t feeling different. What was that saying again? Your first love never dies? This was a desperate cliché written all over it. I put my hand on my heart and sighed. Whatever it was that I felt for him was still here- I only learned how to hide it.
I’m not ready for him to be back. I reply, typing slowly. His reply came almost instantly.
David: No one’s ever ready for love. Get some rest, Dee.
“I know,” I said under my breath, “no one’s ever ready…”
A framed photograph caught my eye and I reach over for it. The image was from before graduation with David, Yana, Summer and him. David and Yana were holding hands and laughing, smiling and staring more at each other than at the camera. Summer was playing with my hair and laughing while I did the same with hers. Jared sat between me and David, that mysterious aura looming over him despite the smile he had on his face. His hand was around my waist (I remember how the touch had made my stomach feel butterflies for the rest of the day) while his other hand was on David’s shoulder.
—“Why do you pat my head?”
“Because you stop moving when I do. You’re like a child.”
“So that’s your way of saying I’m immature?”
“Among other ways, yes.” He grins. Unevenly.
I smile despite myself. “Shut up.”—
I traced the photograph with my finger and sighed. It was just an old college crush, Diane. You’ve been over it a long time now.
As I set the frame back on the table, the doorbell rang. With a sigh, I pulled myself off the bed and walked briskly towards the door, half expecting it to be Summer (for a late night chat) at the step when I stopped short.
Jared stood outside my door, with his jacket on and was slightly shivering. To say that I was surprised would be an understatement of what I truly felt. “What are you doing here? Come inside. You look cold standing out here in this weather.”
“No, I just…” he stopped himself and cleared his throat, “I never got your number. I figured you must’ve changed yours.”
I shook my head slowly, still confused. “I didn’t change my number.”
He nodded. “I see. Well, then goodnight.”
“Wait.” He turned, and I was tongue-tied. What was I supposed to say?
“What is it?”
“I… welcome back.”
Jared Wyatt smiled that uneven smile despite his shivering, and pat my head. Just like he used to. My chest tightened.
He shook his head at me and shrugged, taking a step forward. With a small wave, he called out:
The tears are warm against my cheeks.