Learning To Write

No matter how I looked at it, a blank page was a blank page. My hand hovered over the keys on the keyboard, then withdrew again. The deadline for my short story was fast approaching, but my mind was simply not cooperating. Even after brainstorming for two hours, the words still eluded me.

"Argh, damn!" I slammed my fists against the keyboard in frustration, watching lines of gibberish appear on-screen from the impact.

A heavy arm dropped across my shoulders. "What's got your panties in such a twist?" Reid poked his head forward to look at the monitor screen.

I shoved at him lightly. "Shut up. I'm trying to write a story."

"Trying being the operative word," he said with a pointed look at the almost empty page. "What's the problem?" He flung himself onto my bed and lay there, staring up at the ceiling. The year we were fourteen, we'd gotten the idea into our heads to paint the ceiling black, 'just for fun'. The paint strokes were obviously amateurish and the colour clashed horribly with my baby blue walls, but I'd left it as it was for nostalgia's sake.

"Hey! You're messing up my sheets!" I grabbed the nearest object and threw it at him. It turned out to be an eraser.

He sat up and shot me a cheeky grin. "They were gonna get messed up sooner or later, anyway."

"But I just made the bed!" I said sulkily.

He threw the eraser back at me. "You're such a little kid sometimes."

Even though it verified his statement, I couldn't help sticking my tongue out at him. Then I turned my attention back to the computer again, hitting a few keys to delete the nonsensical letters on the document. "Hey, Reid. Have you ever been in love?"

Behind me, I heard him choke on air. "Whoa. Sudden change in subject. Cannot process."

I swiveled the chair around to glare at him, then stopped short. "Wait. What's that look on your face?"

"What look?"

"That deer-in-the-headlights look!" I jabbed an accusing finger in his general direction. "So who's the girl?" I asked slyly.

He dodged the question skillfully. "What's with the sudden talk about love, anyway?"

At that reminder, I sagged back against the chair as all the energy drained out of me. "I'm writing a romance story for class, but the words just won't come out! I can't write about something I don't know."

Reid fell silent.

"Hey," I nudged his foot with mine. "Why are you being so quiet?"

"I was just thinking. Does it really have to be about romance?"

"Well, no. But romance stories are easy to write! It's always the same thing – boy meets girl, things happen, they fall in love, blah blah blah." I rolled my eyes.

He smirked. "If it's so simple, you should have no problem writing it already."

I let out a growl of frustration. "I wish. I'm fine with planning the scenario, but when it comes to describing the emotion itself, I'm totally stuck."

"You can't really describe love," he said musingly. "It's just… a kind of feeling that makes you feel warm inside, like everything is right in the world when you're with that person. And you'll do anything to make her happy–– what?"

I was gaping at him. "What the hell? This is the first time I've ever heard you talk like that. What happened?"

Unexpectedly, a tinge of red scoured his cheeks. "Shit, I was just saying…"

"What did you do, swallow a whole dictionary of clichés?" I grimaced. His words were still running through my mind, and I barely suppressed a shudder at the mushiness they signified.

"Clichés are clichés because they're true," he said defensively.

I sidled up next to him until we were practically nose-to-nose. "So who's the girl you're so madly in love with?"

He edged away to reinstate some distance between us. "Yeah, right."

"You can tell me," I cajoled, flashing him a winning smile. "I'm your best friend!"

"There's no one."

"I don't believe you," I huffed. "Any guy who can spout poetry like that has to be head over heels in love enough to lose his mind!"

"I didn't spout poetry," he sounded offended, and after a pause, "and I'm not out of my mind, either."

"Close enough!" For some reason, I was annoyed. Having being together since early childhood, Reid and I had always told each other everything. This was the first time he'd deliberately kept something to himself, and it… bugged me. Over the years, he'd gone out on a few dates with other girls, but he'd never really had a steady girlfriend. Selfish as it was, I was used to be the number one girl in his life, aside from his mother. Now, it felt like my long-held position was in danger of being snatched away.

I observed my best friend of fifteen years out of the corner of my eye. He was staring into space, a frown etched upon his brow. He was probably thinking about her. "Maybe I should fall in love too," I decided on a whim. "Hey, introduce me to some of your friends!"

The pensive frown transformed into an instant scowl. "Hell no!"

"Why not?"

"They're all jackasses."

"Is that the way you refer to your own friends?" I asked, half-teasingly. I felt strangely light-hearted. It looked like he didn't want his position in my life to be usurped by the existence of a boyfriend, either.

That discovery satisfied the inner selfishness within me, that was all.

"Heeeey, Reid!" I collided with him from behind. Or, more accurately, I deliberately ran into his back. What can I say? It was my normal greeting for him.

He turned around, grinning. "Hey, yourself."

"When's your next class? Wanna have lunch together?"

He grimaced. "Not today. I need to go see my professor about something."

"Like what?" He'd started in the direction of the nearest building and I trailed after him because that was where the canteen was, too.

"He gave me a B minus for one of my essays and I want to talk to him about it."

"Eh. A B isn't the end of the world," I jabbed him lightly with an elbow as we walked side by side.

He scowled. "It's a B minus!"

I rolled my eyes. "You are such a nerd."

He gave me a furtive look out of the corner of his eye. "Aren't you the same too, Ms. Straight-A Student?"

I smiled guiltily, then covered up with a haughty toss of my head. "I can't help it if I'm smart!"

"And modest too, I see," he teased, reaching out to ruffle my hair.

I slapped his hand away. "Hey! Didn't your mother teach you? No touching a girl's hair!"

"Makes no difference, anyway. Your hair is always messy."

I mock-pouted. "I'll have you know I spend a lot of time straightening my hair every morning!"

"Why?" He tugged on a lock of my straightened hair. "It looks really good curly. You should just leave it."

I stared up at him, startled. He liked my messy curls? I was still pondering this when he came to a stop and I belatedly realized we were at the canteen.

"Wait, I thought you were going to see your professor?"

"Couldn't leave you to walk here on your own, could I?" He smiled so disarmingly that I was taken aback for a moment.

"Uh, so where are you headed?" I gave my head a shake to clear it. What was I doing? I'd seen Reid smile plenty of times, but my brain had never gone blank like that before.

He jerked a thumb in the opposite direction. "Next building."

"Oh." I grinned at him as my brain finally started processing normally again. "Want me to buy something for you?"

"I don't know how long I'll take," he said warningly.

"Don't worry! I'm done with all my classes for today. I have the rest of the afternoon free." I smiled triumphantly.

"Lucky wench," he pretended to growl, then laughed. "Okay, if you're sure."

"I'll be waiting!" And I couldn't help adding, "I'll buy you something nice. Like a salad. Topped with," I gave it a moment's thought, "cheese."

He made a face. "Yuck."

I laughed, amused at his reaction. "All right, get going already."

"You're so eager to chase me off?" He feigned hurt. I giggled a little at his antics, then shoved at him to get him going. With a casual little wave, he turned and began walking off. I watched his back view with an odd feeling in my chest. I was feeling a little light-headed, and I couldn't stop thinking about the way he'd smiled. My heart contracted; I'd read about things like these before.

Damn, it couldn't be…?

He was standing at the bottom of the bleachers, talking to a group of girls who were practically purring at the attention. Seated a few feet away, I forcibly turned my gaze back to the book I'd been reading while waiting for his soccer practice to be over.

The past two weeks had been hell. Ever since that day at the canteen, I'd been observing Reid, wondering who his mystery girl was, and feeling sickened whenever he stopped to speak to a girl. It was getting harder and harder to keep my feelings in check.

I turned a page without reading it. My eyes were focused on the words, but no matter how hard I tried, my attention kept wandering back to the group of girls surrounding him. Was there really a need to carry out such a long conversation in the middle of practice? I clenched my jaw irritably. I was so deep in thought that I almost missed the sound of heavy footsteps coming towards me. A shadow fell over the page of my book and I looked up.

"Well, what do we have here?" Apparently it was break time, because standing before me was a guy I recognized as the striker. The only thing I could remember about him was that his name was Adam.

"What do you want?" His tone hadn't been at all friendly, and it put me on guard.

He scrutinized me from head to toe condescendingly. "Just wanted to see what it is about you that has our little center forward panting after you like a pathetic dog."

Center forward. That was Reid's position on the team. What was he saying? "We… we're best friends," I said automatically, inwardly cringing. Odd, I'd never been so dissatisfied with that label of our relationship before.

Adam snorted. "Please. Everyone knows that he's so damned hot for you, but you're just stringing him along all the bloody time."

"What? I never…"

"You're just a little tease, aren't you?" I backed away as he loomed closer, sneering. He placed two fingers beneath my chin. "I don't know why Reid spends so much time on you. You're nothing special…"

"You bastard!" Reid was suddenly beside me. He grabbed Adam by the collar and let loose with a flying fist. Boys being boys, Adam retaliated with a fierce punch of his own and pretty soon it had escalated into an all-out fight. I scrambled to my feet to get out of the way, the book falling forgotten from my hands.

"Reid," I said anxiously, but he took no notice of me. It looked like I didn't have to worry, though. Within minutes the entire soccer team had surrounded them and was pulling them apart. Blood was streaming from Adam's nose, and Reid had an eye that was starting to turn purple. Several of the team members were looking at me. I flushed, wondering how many of them thought of me the same way Adam did. Did it really look like I'd been stringing Reid along? Until two weeks ago, I'd always thought our friendship was platonic on both sides…

The coach chose this moment that storm up, shouting about stupid boys and pointless fights. His lecture went on for ages, but I didn't hear a word of it. I was too busy controlling the foolish happiness that was bursting inside me.

"That was stupid," I chastised half-heartedly. We were in his room; he was seated on the bed, icing his bruised eye, while I perched on a chair beside him. The coach had sent both of them home in disgrace, citing that practice was over for the day.

"He deserved it," Reid muttered unrepentantly.

I said nothing, because although I wouldn't wish for Reid to get hurt in any way, Adam's words had taught me some things that I never would've learnt if it hadn't happened.

"Thanks," I said softly.

He didn't look the least bit mollified by my gratitude. "For getting into a fight?"

"For defending me," and after a beat, "stupid as it was."

His mouth twisted sardonically. "That's what best friends do, isn't it?" There was something in his tone, something that I now understood. It was like the fog in clouding my eyes had magically dissipated. Honestly, how had I not seen it before?

There was a little silence as we stared at each other; me because I was thinking about how to broach the subject, and him because his mind was still on the fight.

"Say something," I prompted, because my mind was drawing a blank.

He grunted and lowered the ice pack in his left hand. "So, did you finish writing that romance story of yours?" It was obviously meant to be a conversation starter, but it gave me the opening I wanted.

"No. I wrote a mystery piece instead."

He looked visibly surprised. "Why?"

"I dunno. Maybe I found out that successful love stories aren't that easy to write, after all."

He cast his eyes downward, so that they were veiled by his eyelashes. "Because you can't write about something you don't know?"

"Nah." I grinned. "Because I found out, you can't really describe love. It's just a kind of feeling that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and when you're with that person, everything just feels right."

I watched a myriad of emotions flit over his face – surprise, confusion, anger, then finally resignation and sadness. He cracked a small smile. "Now who's the one spouting clichés?"

"Clichés are clichés because they're true."

Of their own accord, my fingers found those of his free hand and held on. He hesitated, then closed his larger fingers over mine slowly. His expression started to change as he looked at the grin spreading across my face.

"Are you saying…?" The hopeful look in his eyes lit up something deep within me.

I couldn't seem to stop smiling. "So," I said in a tone dripping with satisfaction, "when exactly did you fall in love with me?"