“I don’t think this is healthy but I don’t care right now.” I seized his hand and pulled him with a smile, store to store, we were like a couple. We had gotten dinner after months apart and now that dinner was over, I couldn’t let go. Work would suck in the morning, but I didn’t care. I had missed Ryan every day since starting college. When I studied abroad, he came to see me for a week in London. A stint in a neighboring state from our hometown had him over at least once a month. I was only two hours away, it was almost every other week we would spend time together. We both needed the affection and it felt so real with each other, it felt right.
Then in the middle of a clothing outlet, he answered his phone and gave me a smile. I linked my arm around his, head on shoulder and smile wider than it has been in forever. I tried not to let a sigh out, I was not the only one that needed him. The guilt rode up as he hung up on his call, reciprocating the affection.
“Everything okay?” I nuzzled into his jacket sleeve, without breaking stride with him.
“Yeah, Sandra just wanted to say goodnight and tell me about her day.” Everything felt natural despite the lump of something telling me to be upset. To let go and never come back. Instead, I slid my grip to his hand and pulled him to a shoe aisle. Swallowing my pride, I asked him about his girlfriend. It came off so nonchalant but it faded away when he hugged me from behind, eyeing a pair of heels he thought would look cute on me.
I tried them on and, like a young doe, wobbled back and forth to his amusement. The good times ended only when she called again. This time Ryan slipped away with a look and I pretended to care about shoes. I placed the heels back on their shelf when he came back, obviously fighting his own battles.
“She’s upset I’m not home yet.” His voice went all shrill and dramatic as he mimicked her, “Dinner doesn’t take three hours! She’ll live. Want to do this again in two weeks? My schedule isn’t set to change so I can meet you half way again.”
I’d spend every day with him. But with school, work and her, it was impossible at the moment. I took him up on the offer in two weeks. He’d made enough sacrifices for me, I wanted to give back somehow.
In the line for the late night ice cream parlor we were talking about something. I was too caught up in being around him to listen. We held hands all night, but at that moment it felt so warm and inviting. I placed his palm against my cheek and he just smiled, dropping whatever he had been saying.
“I love you,” He said.
“I love you too.”
I’d never feel guilty for saying it. We said it again in the dead of night, in a crowded parking lot. Just us. He pecked my cheek, the corner of our lips glanced each other and we acted natural. My sheepish grin couldn’t contain itself though. I pulled him down and planted a kiss on his forehead.
“This is very unhealthy.” He joked, probably not, but neither of us let it faze us. We embraced once more before separating into our own cars. I looked forward to our next friend date.