A/N: Inspired by real events. :D
Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.
-Charles M. Schulz
I was in love with Stephen Charles Mack, and I was going to tell him.
Right then, right there, I was going to tell him every stinking bottled up emotion I'd had for the past three years. Charlie, I was going to say. I am in love with you and you're just going to have to deal with it.
Okay, so maybe I wasn't. To be perfectly honest, the thought alone made me queasy. What if he didn't feel the same way? The last thing in the whole world I wanted was for us to be awkward around each other. If I didn't get to spend time with him, heck, what was the point? I'd rather never get to hold his hand than never get to talk to him again.
That's how much I liked him.
But the prom was coming up. The prom. And afterwards, the after-prom extravaganza, to make sure everybody didn't go out and get wasted and make wild passionate love in the backseats of their used cars for the rest of the night. It was the perfect opportunity to ask him to something. Drop a hint, per se.
Charlie, I could say. Are you going to the prom with anyone?
Nope, he would respond, the corners of his lips curling up in that way that has made my heart flip over in my chest for who knows how long. Not that I know of. You?
Nope, I would shrug. I'm not sure there's anyone I'd want to go with…
Oh? He would smirk. For Pete's sake, I felt warm inside just thinking about it. Nobody's good enough for you?
Well… I would sigh.
Well how about me? he would waggle his eyebrows. You've only known me for four years now. That's bound to be long enough for you to have judged my character.
Yeah, I would say.
Yeah you'd go to the prom with me?Yeah that I could judge your character, but as long as you're asking…
It was spectacular. No: it was better than spectacular. It was… perfect.
And if it wasn't perfect, the most perfect thing was that if he didn't look as excited as I'd hoped, I could always cover myself up with the just friends speal. It wasn't like he'd be able to tell the difference unless I told him flat out, not that he was stupid (he was far from it, in fact.) It's just that if he hadn't figured it out by then, he wasn't ever going to.
I couldn't decide if this was better or worse.
Maybe I should have wondered why he hadn't figured it out, but I honestly wasn't obvious. I never flirted with him even though Jess always told me to. It's just that every time I was about to, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I had too much respect for myself, and too much respect for him. If he was going to like me, he was going to like me, not some cheesy charming line that anyone could have gone for.
"Steph, that's why he hasn't asked you out," Jess said. "Yet. He needs encouragement. Guys wouldn't be able to figure out anything if it weren't for us."
"Yeah," I'd muttered. "Tell that to Isaac Newton."
I'm not sure why, exactly, I had told Jess about my disabling-ly strong crush. I had several closer friends—in fact, I met Charlie himself (and started liking him) a long time before I even knew who Jess was.
I guess I'd always just gotten the feeling she'd never tell anyone. Besides which, she had the experience and enthusiasm to make her a completely satisfactory confident. If it had been anyone besides Charlie, I think I would have been able to use her advice effectively, I really do.
It was still about a month and a half until the dance, but people were already starting to ask each other, so I figured I should do it before someone else got to it. I wasn't going to make a big show out of it, just in case he wasn't as enthused as I was.
"Okay," I breathed in deeply (though not too deeply—Jess and I were in the school bathroom, her touching up my hair and makeup), trying to compose myself. I wanted to look nice, but not like I was making an effort. Complicated, I know. "I think I'm ready."
"No," Jess shook her head, her straight, dark chocolate brown hair brushing on and off her shoulders. "You know you're ready."
"I know I'm ready," I repeated. I looked in the mirror one last time to make sure my mass of blonde ringlets wasn't going Einstein on me again. For once, it wasn't, and this, for whatever reason, was calming.
"Go get him, tiger," she winked.
I walked into study hall and the first person I saw was Charlie, even though he was on the other side of the room and several of us were wearing our student council t-shirts (it being Friday).
When I saw him, sure my heart got flip-floppy. Sure I felt warmer inside. But the thing that really got to me was, when I saw him I felt happier. As in physically. It was like even if I was having the worst day of my life, I'd gotten a ticket on the way to school and failed a major test and forgotten my lunch money (hypothetically, of course), as soon as I saw him I wouldn't care so much. The corners of my lips twitched up at the sight of his back.
He was waving his hands around excitedly about something he was saying (although he always did this, even when he wasn't excited), when I walked up to him and one of his two best friends, Larry.
"Hey guys," I said, grinning. "How's it going?"
"Ah, Stephanie," Charlie said, lighting up. "My favorite person in the world," No mind that he said this to a lot of people. "Can't complain."
"Yeah," Larry waggled his eyebrows. He had rather large, dirty blonde eyebrows, so it was especially funny when he did this. In fact, Larry was just funny in general. He and Charlie made an interesting pair—Charlie was easygoing but a million times more levelheaded than Larry would ever be. "Especially with the dance coming up."
Charlie blushed profusely. "Yeah," he stuttered a little bit. "Have you thought about asking Katie yet?"
I laughed a little bit, mainly because of the expression of utter surprise on Larry's face. Katie completed the trio—she was cool, I had to admit. Her cute, artsy and absent-minded persona matched up with Larry well. At least, I'd always thought so.
"Actually," Larry furrowed the eyebrows. "I was going to say you—"
He didn't get to finish, though, because the teacher walked in, huffing about something. It was funny to see her huff, because at under five feet tall, she was even about a half a foot shorter than me. And Larry… well, she was practically at Larry's waist. (Almost.)
"Bomb drill," she muttered, dropping her things on her temporary desk. She was normally a Spanish teacher (from Venezuela, in fact) and normally wasn't in the building our study hall was, so I assumed the drill had just been there. "As if hiding under desks would prevent us from getting blown to Kingdom Come."
Both Charlie and my hands flew to our mouths so she couldn't tell we were laughing so hard we couldn't breathe. Larry just stopped looking confused and started grinning at the two of us. Was it possible he just knew Charlie and I were right for each other, the way I figured about him and Katie?
"Dude, but seriously—" Larry started, but Charlie interrupted him for some reason.
"Yeah, I know," he sighed. "The dance is in a month and a half, and I still don't have a date."
Wow, I thought. Maybe it was going to be easier than I'd assumed.
"Yeah, me neither," I shrugged, trying to sound sympathetic and not like I was insinuating anything.
"Really?" Larry blinked. He was about to say something when Charlie cut in again.
"Seriously?" Charlie wanted to know, which was kind of a self-esteem boost. "That's crazy. I could have sworn you were going with that guy in our math class."
"Oh yeah," I sighed, trying not to sound annoyed. "He said that he had to take care of his sick grandmother that weekend, if you know what I mean."
They both laughed since I'd added a good-natured wink to let them know there were no hard feelings. "Well jeez," Charlie grinned. "Why don't we go together?"
"Why not?" I shrugged, but inside I was running around and dancing a million miles a minute. I could barley keep myself from gushing. I wondered, actually, if I was dreaming.
I looked over at Larry, who was frowning—an expression that looked unnatural on him, and smiled encouragingly. "Don't worry," I assured him. "You wouldn't be left out. I really think that Katie would go with you, not even trying to be polite."
"I'll take your word for it," he nodded and smiled weakly, I guess he didn't really believe me. Whatever—when he asked her (which I would make sure of, eventually) they would make such a cute couple.
Almost as cute as Charlie and me.
Nearly half a month had passed, and plans were still strong. Things hadn't really changed between Charlie and me, but that was okay, because at least they hadn't become awkward. I guess he just assumed it was a just friends thing.
"That's okay," Jess said, winking. "Once he sees you looking cuter than ever in your dress and makeup and hair he'll realize what he's been missing out on."
"Yeah, sure," I said. I was just glad to get to go with him. Although it would have been absolutely amazing if it turned out he felt the same way as I did, I'm not gonna lie.
I'd actually had one other offer since then, since Charlie and I hadn't made a big show of it. I don't really think that many people even knew we were going together, but that was okay. I completely honestly didn't care if anyone ever knew, as long as I did. "Sorry," I'd had to tell him, trying to sound like I really meant it. "I'm going with somebody already."
"Oh, no problem, I'll just ask Victoria," he'd said, running off.
Well, whatever. I'd just have to pretend like he'd never said that, and gone on being flattered.
The day exactly a month before the dance was the day everything turned upside down.
Larry and I were sitting with some other student council people at lunch as usual, joking around about the theme of the dance (James Bond—get it? 2007? Ha, ha!), when I asked him if he'd asked Katie yet.
"No," he blushed profusely. "Um, look, Steph, I didn't want to be the one to tell you this, but—"
"Omigosh," a girl a few seats down interrupted. "Larry, you heard, didn't you? Since you're so close to Charlie and Katie."
"Yeah…" he mumbled. "But…"
"Omigosh," she repeated. "I still can't believe it. It's the saddest thing I've ever heard, but it's so romantic. It's like Romeo and Juliet or something."
"Um," Larry looked like he wanted to leave the room.
"What happened?" I demanded. I was starting to feel a little bit sick. I had a very, very bad feeling.
"When Charlie got to second period, which is math, it was written on the white board in giant letters, 'CHARLIE, U + ME PROM?' And then to the power of 'KATIE.'"
"Oh," I said, trying to look… well, anything besides completely crushed. I couldn't bring myself to meet Larry's gaze. That must have been what he was trying to tell me. I forced a smile quickly enough that nobody could have guessed anything. "What did he say?"
"I'm not sure," she said. "But he's already going with somebody. Isn't that the most tragic thing you've ever heard? It's been so obvious that they've liked each other forever, but it's not like Charlie is going to be rude enough to dump whoever he's already going with."
"Yeah," I squeaked. "He would never do that."
I didn't look at anyone for the rest of the lunch period—just stared intently at my mashed potatoes as if they were the last scrap of food on the planet, trying to smile. I shot up as soon as the bell rang, throwing my tray in the trashcan just a little bit too hard for natural.
"Steph!" Larry called, trying to catch up to me. I was sort of subconsciously speed-walking. "Wait—aw, come on, slow down."
I did, just a little bit, or at least enough for him to get up beside me. "Are you okay?" he wanted to know. "I mean, I know you guys would have had fun, but I'm sure you'll still be able to get someone to go with."
"What do you mean 'would have'?" I almost snapped—but refrained. I had to be mature. I had to be mature. I had to be.
Instead I said, "Yeah," and sighed. "I just… I don't know. I was really looking forward to it. But it's fine, I'm really happy for them. I never would have guessed!"
"Look," Larry sighed heavily. "I know."
"What?" I blinked.
"I know. I know how you feel about Charlie."
"How?" I demanded. Did Jess tell him? How could she? I trusted her.
"Because," he half smiled. "I've known you for long enough to tell that you look at him differently than you do—anyone else."
"Oh," I frowned. "Well, it's not a big deal. I'm not really much of a dance person anyway."
"So you're not going to put up a fight?" he sounded surprised.
"No," I grumbled. "Okay? If he's happier going with her, then I want him to go with her. Why would I want him to go with me if he wants to go with her?"
I started walking away before he could start again, because I really thought I was going to cry. I was being a stupid, selfish, boy crazy hormonal teenager, but I didn't care.
"You're doing the right thing, you know!" he called after me.
I made it through the second half of the day as my normal bright bubbly self, and yet somehow managed to completely avoid Charlie. I guess he wasn't trying to hard to talk to me, either.
When I got home I went straight up to my room, ignoring my mom as she asked me how my day was. I didn't want to talk about it. All I wanted to do was cry. But when I got up to my room and sat on my bed like a lump, I just couldn't.
I went into my bathroom and turned the shower on as cold as it would go, stripped down and stepped in. I would just wash my troubles away, eh?
All I did was get really cold, and wash all of my hairspray out. Fine. FINE. I felt like shouting at the top of my lungs and running until I completely wore myself out and could go to sleep.
What was wrong with me? Why the heck didn't he like me? I always talked to him and paid attention to him and laughed at his jokes. We were both bubbly but forever logical. We would have been perfect for each other.
And besides which, it made me happy whenever he smiled.
What did Katie have that I didn't? She was pretty, but she wasn't that much prettier than me, was she? She was artsy, sure, but I was… well, I was a people person. I mean, I didn't really know where I wanted to go in life but…
Who was I kidding? He just liked her more. It was that simple, and I didn't mean that in a feel-sorry-for-me way. It was the same way I felt about him…
Only he felt it about her.
There had to be something I could do to make him like me. I could be…cute and flirtatious? I could be artsy. I could totally be artsy. I couldn't draw a straight line to save my life, but I could learn. I could—
Okay no. No. You're doing the right thing, you know, Larry had said, and he was right. I sucked it up and went into my room and sat on the floor and pulled my cell phone out of my back pocket, and called Charlie.
"Hello?" he said after a couple of rings.
"Hey," I said quietly.
"Stephanie?" he said. I could practically picture the look on his face. "Is that you?"
"Yeah," I said, making my voice louder, and holding my mouth to the speaker. "Um, hi."
"Hey," he said. How was he always so calm?
"Look," I sighed. I would have to get it over with eventually, and it was probably better to do when I wasn't really thinking straight. "I heard Katie asked you to the prom."
"Oh," he said, letting out a short laugh, like he didn't find anything funny. "Yeah. I told her you and I are going. It's cool."
"Yeah," I said. "But…" But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. I had liked him for so long.
"Really," he sounded frustrated. "I explained it to her. We'll all get to see each other anyway, so it's not a big deal."
It was, though. I sort of got the feeling he said that just as much for himself as he did for me. "Oh," I said intelligently. "Okay."
"Well, see you at school," he said, but not in an unfriendly way, and hung up. That was great. He wanted to go with me. He told Katie he was going with me… but he was way to nice to have done otherwise. So it was up to me? But there was no way I had the nerve… for Pete's sake, was I that selfish?
So I decided to call the least selfish person I knew.
Larry, it seemed, never thought about himself, even when he should have. He never got mad at anyone, and the only people that didn't like him were the people that were jealous of him, which wasn't even that many, because people seemed to know that he really and truly deserved the friends he had.
And plus, I couldn't think of anyone who could cheer me up faster.
It only rang once before he answered, bless him. "Hey Steph," he said.
"How," I blinked, dumbfounded. "Did you know it was me?"
"Because I'm outside your window," he said, his voice completely level.
"What?" I demanded, standing up really fast.
"Kidding!" he said, laughing. "Sorry, I couldn't resist. You should have seen the look on your face—kidding! Sorry. I'll stop. Someday, Steph, you will get used to my sense of humor."
Actually, I was already starting to, even if I wouldn't admit it. "But seriously," I said, smiling. "How did you know it was me?"
"The modern miracle of caller ID," he said. "Why the call?"
"Why not?" I frowned, remembering why I'd called.
"Because," he sighed. "How many times have you called me in the past without a reason?"
"Uh…" I tried to count.
"Right. None. You okay?" he sounded concerned.
"Yes," I said. "Okay no. I just… will you meet me at the football field in fifteen minutes? I need to talk to someone in person."
"Someone?" he sounded amused, and yet… something else.
"You," I said. "I need to talk to you in person."
Larry was waiting there when I arrived, leaning against his old beat-up hand-me-down car. "Hey," he said. "What did you want to—"
I'd walked there (since I lived about five minutes away), and my wet hair was sticking to the back of my neck in the heat, which wasn't helping my demeanor. Lying around and sticking my head in the shower hadn't worked as far as making me feel better, so I settled for a hug.
In fact, I think it would have helped a while back.
I'm not even sure you could call it a hug. It was more of me suffocating Larry and then bursting into tears as soon as he put his hands on my back. I guess I did want to cry, I just hadn't wanted to do it in front of anyone…but whatever. Beggars can't be choosers.
"Hey…" he said. "Shh… it's okay."
"No it's not," I sniffed, trying to keep my voice steady. "He doesn't like me."
"Of course he likes you," Larry said softly. "Just in a different way than you want."
"How could she do that to me?" I demanded. "Even if she didn't know I liked him, she didn't have to ask him when she knew I was going with him."
"She didn't know," he said. "She found out after he saw the poster."
"Oh," I mumbled. "Well, it's not fair. I've known him longer than she has."
"Well," he chuckled. "I've known him longer than both of you but that doesn't mean I get him."
I nodded, smiling weakly. "I'm sorry," I said. "I'm being silly."
"No you're not," he sighed. "I just can't take anything seriously. But seriously—no pun intended—are you okay?"
I thought about it for a moment, wanting my response to be as sincere as his was (or at least sounded). "Yes," I said finally. "I will be. Eventually, anyway. But Larry…" I sniffed. "What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing," he said simply. The way he didn't start babbling and making things up actually made me feel better. "If it makes you feel better," he continued. "I'm not going to the dance with anyone either."
"I am, though," I said, explaining at the sight of the eyebrows being raised. "I called him and tried to tell him to go with Katie, but he was too nice about it."
He thought for a minute. I noticed when he let go of me, realizing I'd forgotten I still had myself latched to him, and let go too. "Well…" he said slowly.
"Well," he shrugged. "Actions speak louder than words, right?"
I never would have thought that I could have had fun helping setting up a guy I liked and someone else. Who in their right mind would? Larry, I'm pretty sure however, was not in his fright mind, and being around him may have made me a little crazy.
That Friday, we decided what we were going to do. His uncle owned a construction company, and let us have several big sandbags for free, since Larry had helped him out over the summers so much.
I told my mom I was spending the night at Katie's, and he told his he was staying at Charlie's, and went and sat in Denny's and talked until a little bit after midnight. You'd think it would have been boring, but the thing about Larry was—it was physically impossible for him to be bored.
All of the sandbags were in his trunk and backseat cleverly (ahem) concealed under a blanket. When it was late enough that we figured nobody would be around school anymore, we drove to the practice field—the one everyone could see between classes. It was eerily quiet without the hustle and bustle of thousands of students.
"Ready?" he waggled the eyebrows as we opened the trunk and took out the first bag, slicing off the top corner with a bush cutter.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I nodded, and we started the long, delicate process.
I'm sure it took over an hour, but when we were done, it was so worth it. We'd carefully traced the open edge around in a line to spell out in giant letters, "I'D LUV 2 GO W/ U, KT." We'd had to condense it as much as possible to make the letters bigger, and make sure we had enough sand.
When we were finally done, we stepped back to admire our handiwork. Some of it was kind of messy, and I wasn't sure how it would look in the sunlight in comparison to the dim lighting of the streetlights, but for the first time since I realized I wasn't going to get to go to the dance with Charlie, I felt good inside.
When Katie saw it that Monday, she'd stopped in her tracks and dropped both her jaw and everything she was carrying. It had been sort of a funny sight, since she had been walking super fast, trying to avoid Charlie. Ironic, no?
Of course I still regretted not getting to go with Charlie, but instead Larry and I decided to go together, just as friends. That way we could still have pictures to remember the night with, and not have to feel awkward during the whole thing.
In all honesty, I had an amazing time. Of course there were instances that I would catch sight of Charlie and Katie slow dancing and looking absolutely ecstatic and I would start to get depressed again, but Larry was quick to lighten the mood, cracking a joke about how Charlie's tux was too big for him, or how Katie's dress looked like it was from the sixties. In fact, I had almost as much fun as I would have if I'd gone with Charlie.
"So," Larry said as we sat down by the punch bowl, taking a breath. Larry was quite an… energetic dancer. "I told you it would be fun."
"And you were right," I grinned.
"Bet you're glad the whole thing with Charlie happened after all, eh?" he waggled the eyebrows.
"Yeah," I said. "Well no… but it really has been fun."
"What's so great about him, anyway?" Larry looked like he was serious, even though that was something he might have joked around about, Charlie being his best friend.
"No," I sighed, trying to explain it one last time. "You just don't get it. I've just liked him for so long. But I really, really have had a good time."
"I do get it," he mumbled.
"What?" I blinked.
"I get it more than you'd guess," he sighed, not looking at me.
"Oh," I said. "Do you… do you really like Katie?"
"No," he grumbled.
"Oh," I said again. "So… were you not joking when you said you knew Charlie the longest?"
He snorted and somehow managed to look like he was laughing but in deep thought at the same time. It was an expression I'd never seen him with before. "Yes, Steph," he said. "I was joking."
"Well… then how on earth do you know what I'm talking about?" I demanded. How, I wanted to know, did anyone know what I was talking about? I was the one that Charlie didn't like. Me. Because apparently I wasn't good enough.
"Because," he said, for once looking completely and one hundred percent serious. "For the past four years, I've been in love with you."
Uh. Yeah. So I'm thinking that was way different than anything I've ever written before.
So... it would be amazing if you'd tell me what you thought of it. :D
NOTE: I would like to take this time to mention that the ending is SUPPOSED to be... well, whatever you make of it. Besides cute, which it so isn't. It's supposed to cut off right there, for a point. Not just because I'm lazy. xD