Home > Opposite of Always(3)

Opposite of Always(3)
Justin A. Reynolds

She grins. “I’m saying, get in that kitchen and talk to the girl.”

“I don’t need to. I talk to her all the time. She’s my best friend.”

“Wow, so you guys are best friends but she has no idea you’re in love with her?”

This girl is awfully loud. I realize we’re at a party, but her voice is set to Evacuate Immediately. I almost shush her, except not being shushed is an unalienable right, right there with pursuit of happiness.

I whisper, “I’m not in love with her, okay.”

She leans in closer. “What?”

“I’m not in love with her,” I repeat.

“I can’t hear you. Why are you whispering?”

I resume normal volume. “I said I’m not in love with her. She’s really nice, is all.”

“That’s obviously your problem. You’re too nice. You’re, what, waiting for the perfect opportunity to tell this girl how you feel and you’ve already waited for . . .” She pauses for me to fill in the blank.

“Three years.”

She palms her forehead. “Whoa, it’s been three years and she has no clue you want to jump her bones?”

“I like to take things slow.”

“Yeah, you do. At this rate, you’ll have to hope they find a way to freeze our bodies so that they can defrost you in two hundred years and you can ask her to go steady. You know, right after you do that whole fake yawn-and-stretch thing and slip your arm around her shoulders. Smooth move, by the way. Spoiler alert, she never sees it coming.”

“Hahaha. Listen, I appreciate the pep talk, but if you don’t mind—”

It is at this point that this girl, rather than proceeding down the steps, instead slides in beside me. Now, by our powers combined, we are officially damming all second-floor access. No one is going to pee on our watch.

“I’m Kate,” she says, extending her hand. Which is awkward because it’s a tight squeeze on the stairs, and I can’t turn my arm to meet hers.

“Jack,” I say, managing to give her The Wimpiest Handshake in Recorded History. “Jack King.”

“Do you always give people your full name when you meet them?”

“Nope. I only hand out full-name intros to cool tour guides.”

“Ha.” She grins. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jack King.”

“It’s nice to meet you . . .”

“Kate.”

“Just Kate, huh?”

“For now.”

“Ouch.”

“Gotta keep the mystery alive, right?”

“I don’t know. I sorta hate mysteries. I’m more of an all-cards-on-the-table guy.”

“So, Jack and King, that’s different.”

“’Cause I’m just looking for my queeeeeeeen,” I say with instant regret.

She bursts into laughter.

My cheeks are ablaze. “I promise I’ve never said that before.”

She shakes her head. “It came out of your mouth pretty quickly, so . . .”

“I’m serious.”

“I’m not sure if I believe you, Jack.”

“Cool. Only fifteen minutes in and we’ve already introduced distrust into our relationship. I normally like to reserve that for the second time I talk to someone, but.”

She snickers. “So, look, Jack King, I’m not trying to bust your balls, okay? But I think you could use help from someone who understands the female species.”

“And you can put me in touch with this someone?”

“Hey!” Kate punches me in the shoulder. It stings, but I pretend to shrug it off.

“Okay then, Ms. Love Doctor, what do you suggest?”

Kate laughs again. “Honestly, I haven’t the slightest. I’m still only in my Love Doctor residency, so.”

“Well, I haven’t told you the best part yet,” I say. By this point, I’m laughing too—partly because it took a stranger to validate what I already knew (that it is too complicated for Jillian and me), and because if I don’t laugh, I’ll probably cry.

“What’s the best part?” Kate asks. She clasps her hands together.

“She’s dating our mutual best friend.”

Kate erupts in laughter and mock-horror. “You giant douchebag!”

“I know, right? I am The World’s Giantest Douchebag.”

“Easy, boy, don’t give yourself too much credit. I’m guessing you’re an average giant douchebag at best.”

“That’s sort of my MO.”

“What is?”

And I don’t mean to say it but I’m on a sad roll, so. “Average at best.”

Her mouth opens but she says nothing, and for this minor miracle, I’m grateful.

We watch a kid sporting the plungiest V-neck sweater murder a pop song while a girl with a Hello Kitty tat on her neck accompanies him on the piano. Kate’s lips are moving, faintly singing the melody. My phone buzzes.

A text from Franny.

FRANNY: Hope you’re having fun, man! I know I don’t have to say this but watch out for Jillian. Keep those drunk frat-goons away from her!!

ME: I got you

I redeposit my phone. Kate stops singing. I try to think of something to say because I don’t want her to stop talking. “Is it just me or do these steps smell pretty awful? I’m thinking numerous people have puked and peed up and down them.”

She nods. “So us sitting here, it’s like we’re participating in ancient party history.”

I laugh. “I like the way you think.”

She smiles an awesome crooked smile.

Maybe it’s her smile that emboldens me.

Maybe the jittery party lights are doing weird things to my brain.

Or maybe it’s that there’s suddenly guitar strumming from the speakers. Me, forever a sucker for acoustic.

Maybe it’s that, for the first time in three years, I feel like it’s okay that Jillian and I will never be. That after a few minutes on some crusty stairs I can suddenly see a different future. An alternate ending, or two.

Maybe it’s because everything around us is now an unrecognizable swirl, Kate the only thing in perfect focus. Portrait mode IRL.

I gulp, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. “Can I ask you something, Kate?”

Kate smiles, and in a very formal-sounding voice says, “Yes, Jack, you may ask me your question.”

“It’s a tough one, though. Fair warning.”

“Consider me warned.”

I clear my throat, a habit when I’m uncomfortable, and/or when I’m about to say/do something stupid. “So how would you suggest a guy transition from talking about a girl he has a crush on but has no chance of being with to another very attractive girl—okay—to hitting on that very attractive girl even though he, at this point, also has zero chance of being with her, either?”

“Ooooh, that is a tough one.”

“See, I told you.”

“I’m fairly certain that such a maneuver is entirely impossible,” she says.

“I figured.”

“But were I to suggest a strategy . . .” She grins, as if she is about to divulge a top-secret tactic.

I lean in. “I’m listening.”

“I’d say, start with getting that girl a drink, and when you come back she can tell you she’s not looking for anything serious because she has a million commitment issues that she’s currently not at all interested in sorting, and also because she is only just escaping a disaster of a relationship and essentially hates all human beings at the moment.”

“Right, so definitely hold that thought because I’m definitely gonna go get that girl a drink, okay?”

She smiles. “Okay.”

“Don’t go anywhere. You must guard these steps with your life.”

“I’ll slay anyone who tries to scale these here steps, sire,” she says.

“What was that voice just then?”

She cringes, covering her face as she laughs. “My attempt at sounding Scottish.”

“Oh, is that what that was? Hmm,” I say, smiling hard. “Yeah, maybe work on that. Or maybe just don’t do it again. Like ever.”

“Was it that bad?”

I shrug, playfully. “The worst.”

She nods. “I’m a big fan of failing miserably, so I feel pretty good about it.”

“Oh, well, in that case, mission accomplished. Glad I could be here for that.”

“Me too,” she agrees.

“Sooo . . .”

“So,” she repeats, smiling. “Perhaps you get the drinks and we reconvene this epic pity party on the back porch?”

I stare at her a beat. “Maybe you should just make all of my decisions for me from now on.”

Kate extends her hand to me, this time with far better results. “Deal, Jack.”

I squeeze and sidestep my way into the kitchen, the alcohol scattered across the long countertop. I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Hey.”

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