What am I doing?
I asked myself, pulling my white blonde hair over my left shoulder, trying not to run into anyone in the busy Hector International Airport in Fargo, North Dakota. You're going to Los Angeles, silly! You're going to see your best friend!
Ah, that's right. Royce.
Royce Ethan Masters. My next door neighbor - well, used to be anyways - my personal bodyguard, and my confidante. Add all that together and you got my best friend.
Okay, that equaled possibly the best trip ever, so why was I second guessing my trip? Maybe it was the fact that I would be spending two months of my summer vacation, before heading off to school at the University of North Dakota, in sunny California - without my parents by my side. Maybe. It was possible seeing as I have never gone that far away from home without my mom or dad, or even my brother, Nathan. I didn't even have any of my friends flying with me. At least on any other flights or trips I had other people with me. Not this time. This time I was flying solo. The only people I knew were going to meet me at the other end of my flight.
So it was scary, if not terrifying. Anyone that knew me could explain that while I did venture out of my comfort zone and do some crazy shenanigans, I would much rather spend my Friday and Saturday nights at home. I had gone out and had my share of fun though, I wasn't a hermit by any means. There's just something I found relaxing and comfortable about being in sweatpants and having some friends over for a movie or game night, rather than going to a classmate's party where people will get drunk beyond belief and end up doing something they will later regret. So it was natural for an eighteen year old girl like myself, who just graduated high school a week before, to question the reasoning as to why she would take the biggest step out of her comfort zone ever.
But no. That wasn't the reason why. I had been preparing myself for that moment. I was finally spreading my wings. Leaving the nest, at least for a short while. I was 'coming of age' as my mom so fondly put it. I'd be coming back after all. In the fall I would be attending the University of North Dakota, home of the Fighting Sioux. The college I grew up supporting. It wasn't as if I was leaving good old North Dakota forever.
So…if it wasn't going on my first trip, without any parents or other type of chaperone, what in God's name was it? I could eliminate the possibility of it being the cause of nerves of independence. The only plausible explanation I could think of was that the nervousness was due to the fact of what was awaiting me at the other end of my plane ride.
Just thinking his name set free the butterflies in my stomach, soon followed by the slight waves of nausea I got whenever I became nervous about something. And I was only ever nervous about really big issues. I cheered in front of big crowds at either competitions or sporting events without giving it another thought. I had even done karaoke in front of complete strangers without batting an eyelash. But this - this was different. It was the moment I had been looking forward to, yet dreading to do at the same time.
I was finally going to tell Royce my true feelings towards him. That those friendly feelings we shared were far beyond the platonic level for me.
I was in love with my best friend. I had been since I turned sixteen.
The only problem was Royce wasn't an ordinary person. Royce Masters- the boy I had been best friends forever with since I was almost four years old- was Hollywood's new "it" boy. I guess one could call him Hollywood Royalty. He had the gorgeous looks to make any normal breathing girl swoon with just one tiny glance at him. His dark blonde-light brown hair and hazel eyes, his ever so kissable lips that covered perfect teeth that shone like stars, when he smiled his breathtaking smile, were just a prelude to what the rest of his body was like. Royce was built. But not overly built like some of the professional wrestlers seen on TV. No, Royce was lean and mean. His six-pack alone was enough to make a girl blush and be overcome with the need to fan herself. No lie. I was guilty of doing that myself after making sure he wasn't looking.
His arms and legs were no exception. His biceps were just the right size. When those arms were wrapped around you, they gave a sense of safety, that not matter what, it felt like nothing in the world could possibly hurt you. His legs were the product of his addiction to playing basketball. All the running and jumping to either block a shot or attempting a dunk made his calves almost as hard as his abs. And don't even get me started on how amazing a butt that boy had. I would like to see anyone try and find a pair of pants that didn't do his backside justice. And lucky for me, I had the pleasure of seeing the God-like specimen with no shirt many a times. I thanked my lucky stars I was able to hide my blushing by either jumping into either his pool or my own and reveling in the cooling effect, or by feigning a sunburn and needing to apply some sun block and retreating into the house.
Not only did he have the body of a Hollywood star, but he had the best personality out of anyone I have ever met. While he could pull off the whole bad-boy persona when people messed with his friends and family, inside he was a big softie. In fact, he might have been the most sincere guy ever to have walked the face of the Earth. No matter what situation he could possibly be in, he was always putting others before himself. He would open doors for people, offer assistance if someone seemed to have trouble with a situation, give up his seat on a bench for someone that looked like they needed it much more than he did, and was always the one to call if you needed a favor or just someone to talk or vent to. He truly had a heart made of gold, and was always there for me.
Or, he had been there fore me.
The past year - my senior year in high school no less - he wasn't around for me as much as he'd always been. And there were plenty of times when I needed my best friend to help me deal with the stress. Between the large amount of college applications, ACT's, the pressure of being captain of my high school's cheerleading squad, all the honors and AP classes I could take, and graduation, I'm surprised I didn't crack two months into the school year. I couldn't really blame him for his absence though. His acting career had really started to take off. He loved acting, and he'd been able to capitalize on his natural talent to live out his ultimate dream.
I really was happy for him. But, even though I supported him in everything, I couldn't help but feel a bit neglected.
Stop worrying. He's still the same old Royce. Nothing- not even the fame and fortune of his new lifestyle- can change who he is. I let out a sigh, a little louder than I intended to, causing both of my parents to look down at me.
"You alright sweetheart?" my mother asked me from my left, gently running her fingers through my hair, knowing that the action comforted me.
"Yeah," I whispered, looking up at the woman I greatly resembled, having inherited her natural white-blonde hair and striking sapphire blue eyes. We had a inside family joke saying my dad wasn't my biological dad, because frankly, I didn't inherit anything physically from him. Spitting image of my mom was what I was. The similarities between us were uncanny and we'd often been asked if we were sisters. It would take people repeated tellings of "she's my daughter" and "she's my mother" for the truth to sink in. In all honesty, my mom was beautiful. We both took the comments of being sisters as a compliment - her that she still looked young, which she did, and myself that I could be in the same league as my mom when it came to my appearance. It probably helped that she was a cosmetologist. She fit the bill. I'd never once had to visit a salon for hair and makeup for proms and other special occasions.
"Honey, if you're worried about doing this on your own, don't be. You'll be just fine. Royce will be there waiting for you right as you get off the plane."
"Molly, maybe someone should go with her," my dad said from my right. His brown hair that matched his eyes perfectly was freshly cut, thanks to mom. I couldn't believe that was how they first met - mom giving him a haircut when she was just starting out her career while he was starting his residency at the hospital. Yes, my dad was a doctor. He was the head trauma surgeon at the hospital, which he half owned with. Twenty-three years of marriage and he still looked at mom like she was the center of the universe and did anything to make her happy. I guess what my dad was to my mom was what I was to Royce, although Royce and I aren't a couple. Made me wish that that could happen between us. I looked up at my dad and saw the seriousness in his brown eyes, "In fact, I could go and purchase a ticket to Los Angeles right now."
"Alan, honestly, she's eighteen years old!" Mom countered. "She'll be perfectly fine! All she is going to do is spend a couple months out West to visit her best friend. I think she is plenty old enough to go on her own, don't you? Have you no faith in the way we raised her?"
"Of course! I trust my daughter wholeheartedly! How could you think of something that absurd?"
"Then explain to me why you feel the need to tag along on her trip? Hmmm? Why?"
"The reason why Molly, is because while I may trust my daughter in her decision making, I don't have the same trust in all those Hollywood hot shots Royce will no doubt introduce her to! I know what goes through the mind of young males!" Great. Dad's face was starting to turn a light red. This was never a good sign. Once his face starts turning red, it only leads to a very heated discussion, or slight argument, with whomever he was speaking to at the time. And it was always beyond embarrassing, in public or in private. I just prayed he wouldn't make a scene this time. "And don't get me started on Royce himself! If he even so much as thinks of taking my princess to a Hollywood club I swear to God I'll-"
"ALAN!" Mom yelled, interrupting my father's little rant. Not wanting to stay in between them as they spoke over my head, I made my way to my brother's side. His 6'4" frame dwarfed my 5'5" one as we stood next to each other, wondering when this little discussion would end. We glanced at each other at the same time and gave the "here-we-go-again" look, as our dad's over protectiveness of me was taking over again., while our mother continually tried to calm our father down. "Don't you dare. We have known the Masters how long now? Almost fifteen years, and we have watched Royce grow into a polite and level-headed young man. For goodness sakes, his parents still live right next door to us! Their son wouldn't harm a hair on Julianne's head and you know it!"
Wow. Mom was starting to get heated. She was usually the one that stayed calm and never raised her voice to anyone.
"He has been in Los Angeles for almost three years now Molly! Who's to say the glitz and glam of the Hollywood lifestyle hasn't changed him? He's a twenty year old guy for God's sake! For all we know, he could be the one to unleash his carnal instincts on my little girl! Who's going to protect her then?"
Carnal instincts? Oh, no. That had just escalated to a whole new level of embarrassing moments in the life of Julianne Sanders. I really didn't need my parents to make a scene right then. I still needed to get my baggage checked and then find my gate. Having my parents debate back and forth of the many reasons why I did or did not need someone to accompany me on this adventure, in the middle of an international airport no less, was definitely at the bottom of my to-do list. Noticing the many stares and glares of the other travelers in the airport, I turned to Nate, wide-eyed, and mouthed a pleading "help". He nodded and put an arm comfortingly around my shoulders.
"I wouldn't worry about it Dad." Thank you Lord. "I highly doubt it would be Royce's 'carnal instincts' you should be worried about," Nate said, causing our parents to look our way, mom looked happy that someone seemed to agree with her, dad just had his eyebrows raised in question. Finally, Nate would be the voice of reason and we could continue on our merry way. Or so I thought. "I'd say it'd have to be Juli's carnal inst- oof," he got out before I elbowed him in the side, right underneath his ribs. Serves him right.
"Not helping," I hissed. At least jabbing my elbow into him prevented him from finishing that sentence. If he had, he would have regretted it, that was for sure. Turning my attention back to my parents I said, "Nate and I are going to get my baggage checked and then head to my gate. When you two are done having this little… rant… discussion… debate… or whatever it is… and can act like the adults I know you are and love, we'll meet you there. Okay? Okay. Come on Nate."
I grabbed my brother by his elbow and led him away from our parents, who had already resumed their previous conversation. Making sure I led Nate far away from our parents, to an area where there weren't many people, I decided to ask him what he was trying to say before I stopped him. Though I was already aware of the fact that he knew about me liking Royce as more than a friend, he didn't exactly know the intensity of my feelings. Both of our parents were oblivious though, and I was incredibly thankful for that. My dad's small outburst earlier proved he didn't have any inkling, if he did, I knew for a fact I wouldn't be flying out there alone. I probably wouldn't even have been going. He'd do everything in his power to keep his little girl as innocent as can be. My mom, on the other hand, would be ecstatic. She would then proceed to go on and on and on about how Royce and I would be perfect for each other. In fact, she and Cheryl - Mrs. Masters aka Royce's mom - already sid things like that. It would just magnify their enthusiasm about a potential relationship between us. But at that moment, Nathan was in for the interrogation of his life.
"Nathan James Sanders, what exactly were you thinking back there? 'Juli's carnal instincts'? What is that suppose to mean? Really, Nate, really?"
"Awww, come on sis. I just wanted to see the look on Dad's face. I mean, he was already pretty red in the face," he laughed as he 'explained' why. "Why are you so pissy about it anyways? Usually you are right there beside me getting him riled up."
"Hmmm….let's think shall we? Our dad is freaking out and about to blow his top over guys who I may or may not be in the presence of out there. And this is all going down in the middle of an airport to boot! I'm sorry if I don't share your humor in this Nate."
"Juli, relax. Dad knows you'll be fine deep down. You're just his baby girl, that's all. He's looking out for you. Kind of like how I protect my sister from douche bags."
"But Royce isn't one. And you know I see him as more than a friend, so why give fuel to dad's fire? Do you really expect him to be cool with me going all the way to California, without a chaperone, to visit the guy I'm in love with? Are you seriously that de-"
"You're in love with him?!" he interrupted me, an shocked expression on his face.
"I knew you had a crush on the guy, but… in love?" his eyes narrowed at me while he spoke. That was never a good omen. "Julianne Isabella Sanders are you insane?! You are only eighteen years old! You don't have the first clue as to what being in love really is!"
"I never said I was in love with him," I denied. Girl, you lie like a rug.
"You said, and I quote, 'visit the guy I'm in love with'. I'm starting to think dad has a point. Someone should go with you."
"Like I'm really going to do anything Nate. Well, I was planning to tell him I wanted to be more than friends. But I wasn't going to go as far as feeding my carnal instincts. More than likely he doesn't feel the same way for me. Our friendship is even going downhill, so its not like I would do anything that drastic to completely ruin it."
"Whoa, wait, what? Back up here for a minute. What do you mean your friendship is going downhill? You told me you guys still talked to each other every other day. I am so lost right now," he furrowed his eyebrows and raised his fingertips to his temples, rubbing them in a circular motion.
That was just great. Me and my stupid big mouth. I just spilled two secrets to my big brother, and ones that I truly didn't want him to know about. And of course, I couldn't have done this at two separate times, no I had to do it in less than a half an hour. Now he not only knew that my crush on Royce was much more than he had originally thought, but that I had been lying to him and my parents this past year. They were still under the impression that we talked every other day and that nothing had changed, when in reality it was anything but. And that, along with wanting to confess to Royce how I felt about him, was why I was going to L.A.
I honestly felt bad about keeping the truth from Nate. Apart from Royce, Nate and my other best friend, Connor, were the people I told everything to. Those three guys were the best listeners any person could ask for. In fact, I trusted them more than I did any girl. They didn't thrive on gossip like most of the girls, and even some of the guys, in my high school did. That was most likely the reason why I got along with them so well. Then the feeling of obligation settled in, and Nate deserved to know the whole story after all. The poor, helpless look he had on his face was what caused me to break down and spill.
"If you promise not to say anything to Mom or Dad, I'll tell you," I conceded, raising from the benches we were sitting on, and continued on our way. "I suppose it really all starts when I realized that I was in love with him at my sweet sixteen…"
And so it went. I continued to spill everything about the situation that I was currently in regarding Royce, while maneuvering our way around people in the airport to my destination. I told him how he knew Royce, Connor, and he were the only ones that I confided everything in, and that during the last year it had seemed that one of my personal therapists had just abandoned me. I knew that his career was partly a reason why, but he had been out in L.A. for over two years now and he wasn't like he was now for the first year he was living there. So why the change? I could handle the lack of communication, but it was the lack of friendship that hurt the most.
He wasn't there for my eighteenth birthday the previous September, only saying a 'Happy Birthday' a few days later from his manager's son/friend Logan's phone when Logan called me. No gift like I had gotten for countless years before. He didn't even come home for Christmas and New Year's either like he had promised over and over again. Instead, it was a text I received wishing me a 'Happy Holiday'. I had to leave a voicemail on his birthday when I called him. That had never happened in the fifteen years I had known him. He wasn't there to celebrate the day I got my ACT scores in the mail, or even my acceptance letter to my dream college. The biggest day of my life to date, graduating from high school (plus making it into the top twenty-five percent of my class), he was absent. Not only from the ceremony where his family came and cheered, but even my graduation party. A huge milestone and my best friend wasn't there by my side, even if it was just support. Pictures had been taken of me in my cap and gown with my with my family, myself and Connor, with Randy and Cheryl Masters, but none with him with his arm on my shoulders and a proud smile on his face like there should have been. His parents 'relayed' his congrats to me. My guess was that there wasn't a message to relay, but they thought to say it anyways.
There I was, traveling halfway across the country to spend some quality time with him, after finally getting in touch with him after so many failed attempts. I prayed for everything between us to be magically restored once I arrived in California.
"I honestly think this is the only way to get the old Royce back Nate. It has to be resolved," I finished as we finally reached my gate.
"Oddly enough, I agree. I think a face-to-face meeting and a heart-to-heart talk is in order. But, are you going to tell him that you're in love with him? What if that makes things worse?"
"It's a risk I'm going to take. I personally cannot handle keeping it bottled up inside me any longer. If he can take it like a man and not act weird around me, I will thank the stars. If he can't, he's all the way in California while I'm here in North Dakota. I'd only have to deal with him if and when he visited home."
"And you're going to tell him all this dressed like that?"
Looking down at my attire, I failed to see what the problem was. I was wearing a green UND t-shirt with a white tank top underneath. Paired with my favorite light denim short shorts and green flip-flops, my outfit screamed 'casual'. What was wrong with being casual?
"Yes. Your point?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. He hated when I did that. Must have been because he couldn't and I did it whenever I had the chance to rub it in.
"Shouldn't you dress more, I don't know, 'fancy or something? I mean, to make a good impression?"
"No. You were the one to always say 'be yourself. Never change for a guy. If a guy doesn't like you for who you are, he ain't worth the time of day'. So that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm being me."
"Alright. I understand, well not fully but whatever," he said after a few minutes of silence. "If he hurts you in anyway possible though, he is definitely going to have to deal with me the next time we cross paths."
"Fine. But I see Mom and Dad heading our way. Remember, this is between us."
"They can't intimidate me enough to go back on my word to you Juli, that's a promise," he brought me into a fierce hug as our parents made it to our sides.
What seemed like only a few minutes later, I was boarding my plane. Taking one last glance at my family waving goodbye, I turned the corner and entered the plane. As I found my seat in the first class cabin, I noticed the passenger next to me. An older woman with graying hair and a plump body sat in the aisle seat, while I had the window. Smiling a sincere smile my way, I couldn't help but return it. I struck up a conversation with Mrs. Margaret White, as I learned what her name was, and soon found out that she was returning to California after visiting her children and grandchildren, and telling her that I was heading out to visit an friend.
"Is this friend, a young man by any chance sweetheart?" she asked with a knowing gleam in her eyes.
"Yes, by chance, it is," I smiled, feeling a slight blush cover my cheeks.
"Ah, young love. So magical. Now, don't think me rude, but I am not a big fan of flying, so I'm going to listen to some of this airplane music or watch the movie they're bound to show to distract me."
With that, she placed the headphones over her ears and closed her eyes as the plane started to take off. Once we were up in the air, I followed her lead and listened to some music to occupy myself during the flight. Though, I chose to listen to my ipod rather than the airplane music I was bound to dislike, and looked out the window as I headed out West.
After what seemed like forever, we finally landed in Los Angeles. Once out of the terminal, I immediately searched the crowd for a familiar face. But, there were so many people to see where he was. I was definitely not in North Dakota anymore. The place was hectic! And so far I had only seen the inside of the airport. As I was about to go in search of my 'welcoming committee', I heard someone yell out my name.
"Jules! Julianne over here!"
Turning around I saw Logan Pierce, Royce's L.A. friend and son of his manager, wave to me while making his way through the sea of people.
"Well, he sure is easy on the eyes there sweetheart," I turned to see Mrs. White standing to my left. "Have a fun vacation spending time with that one." She gave me a wink and a smile with a twinkle in her eye before heading on her way.
If only she knew he wasn't the one I came to see.
Logan finally made it to me and embraced me in a friendly hug. I was glad that Royce had made such a good friend out here. Even though Logan had grown up in a life of luxury and endless amounts of money due to his family, he was very down to earth and modest. Something I didn't think could exist in the city of L.A. And Mrs. White wasn't lying when she said Logan was easy on the eyes. His black hair and light chocolate-brown eyes and fit physique made him drool worthy. If he had been back in Fargo, he'd have been swarmed by hormone driven teenage girls. Now that would be a scary sight.
As he led me to the baggage claim, he asked me how I had been, if my flight was good and what not. While it was nice for him to be interested, I couldn't help notice how he seemed a little nervous, like he was trying to keep my mind of something. Realizing that I had yet to see Royce, I finally asked the question he seemed to be dreading.
"Hey Logan, where's Royce? He was suppose to pick me up when I got here."
"He… well… err… he," he stammered, before finally closing his mouth. Instead he gave me the most apologetic look I had ever seen.
I closed my eyes, already knowing the answer. I just prayed that no tears would come.
It was all I could do to keep my voice from wavering as I whispered, "He forgot."