“That’s different,” he said, his own voice rising. “Those girls don’t mean anything to me. You do.”
“You mean something to me too,” I said sternly. “As a friend.”
“I don’t see how you can’t tell the difference between kissing someone purely for pleasure and kissing someone who really means something to you. Kissing for us is something special.”
My jaw clenched. He was treating me like an idiot. “Trust me, I do see the difference. That kiss is looking like it might cost me a close friend, and that’s very disappointing.” I paused to let that sink in. “Like I said, I don’t want anything to change between us. But it seems like you won’t let that happen.”
He kicked a small rock on the ground, sending it tumbling in the distance. “I don’t get it. What’s the matter with you? I’m spilling my guts here and you’re turning to stone.”
“You might say ‘those girls’ mean nothing to you, but at least you respect ‘those girls’ enough to be upfront about the arrangement,” I snapped. “Frankly, the longer this conversation goes on, the more I feel like you’ve just been biding your time waiting for things to become romantic between us. Did you ever even want to be friends?”
“Lorrie, come on,” he said with a sigh. “I was totally cool with being friends. But I like you. You’re different. I know you like hanging out with me, and last night shows you’re definitely more than just attracted to me. So now I can’t understand why you’re denying your feelings. Especially when I’m being upfront with mine.”
“Here are my feelings,” I said, my fists balled up in frustration. “I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, and I wish you would respect that. Maybe I got confused because we spend too much time together, and it was Valentine’s Day, and I was caught off guard. I don’t know, but it won’t happen again.”
“Hunter, stop. I’m sorry, but we can’t. I told you before and I’m telling you again: I’m not ready. Maybe we shouldn’t be spending so much time together. It seems like things are getting confused.”
“We need to spend more time together.”
I looked into his gray eyes. “You’re willing to jeopardize our friendship for a chance at a relationship?”
His eyes became big and round. “We can be friends and in a relationship, Lorrie. We can have it all.”
“No,” I said, pursing my lips, my heart thumping in my chest. “I can’t do that. I really think we should have some distance.”
He looked at me carefully before standing up. “Fine,” he said. “You want to spend time apart. That’s what we’ll do.”
He turned and walked away. Halfway to the corner of the Social Sciences Building, he kicked a trash can over in anger. Empty bottles and cans tumbled across the ground.
My stomach churned as I watched him turn the corner out of sight. When I was sure he was gone, I took out the sketch I had been working on and uncrumpled it. The eyes were all wrong. I had drawn them sharp like they were when he was fighting, but I knew there was also a softer side to him. A vulnerable side.
I looked at the box of chocolates and rose in my lap. Sighing, I put the box in my bag to share with Daniela—no sense in wasting perfectly good chocolate —and left the rose on the bench. Once I packed up, I got up from the bench and fixed the trash can that Hunter knocked over. Then I crumpled up the sketch again, threw it in the trash, and went to my next class.
I spent the next few days praying I wouldn’t see Hunter. Every time my phone jingled its reminder to feed the kittens, I had a mild panic attack. When I would go to his apartment, I would check the windows to see if his lights were on or if I could see some other sign he was home, but he never was. The most I heard from him was the notes he left on the whiteboard above the kittens’ bed: “need to get formula” or “Bones wouldn’t eat make sure he gets enough” or “has Georgia been sleepy for you too?”
He was giving me time apart, that was for sure. The more I didn’t see him, the more I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted. I had dreamed about kissing him twice in four days, each time waking up with an annoying ache between my legs and my lips pressed against my pillow.
The situation was on my mind as I walked into the dining hall with Daniela on Thursday night. All I had was swimming on Fridays, so this was practically the beginning of my weekend. That meant I should’ve been happy, like a normal college student when the weekend rolled around. Instead I was a nervous wreck. All I could think about was whether I would run into Hunter over the weekend.
“Hey, cheer up!” Daniela said as we stood in line for the cafeteria. “Let’s go out this weekend and do something fun. Go to a house party or something.”
I shrugged. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Lorrie, I know you’re trying to give it time because you guys said you’d give each other space, but you’ve been really bummed out the past few days. If it’s really bothering you, you should talk to him again. From what you told me, it sounds like he would want that.”
Maybe she was right. I didn’t want to admit it, but maybe it was time to admit my feelings for Hunter were more than platonic. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get him out of my mind.
We handed our student IDs to the cashier to allow her to scan them, took our trays, and got in line for food. The Barnyard was serving chicken broccoli bake, an Arrowhart favorite. Once we got our food, we searched for a place to sit. The cafeteria was buzzing with excitement for the approaching weekend. All around us I heard people making plans, gossiping, complaining about the upcoming midterms, and generally getting ready to relax for a couple days. It was then that I saw Hunter on the other side of the cafeteria.
He was sitting at a table and talking to a girl with shoulder length blonde hair and a perfect tan despite the lack of sun in winter. Her black coat hanging on the back of her chair, she was wearing a lilac colored cotton tank top that showed off her ample br**sts, and looked very comfortable with Hunter.
They were eating off of one plate. I felt sick as I watched her lean over and whisper into his ear, tracing her fingers along the muscles under his tight-fitting navy t-shirt. He looked over at her and smiled, making suggestive movements toward her lips with a peeled banana in his hand. She playfully slapped his arm but then lunged for the banana with her mouth, taking a bite. He laughed and took a bite himself. I was starting to feel dizzy. Daniela looked at me, then followed my eyes and gasped.