"Hey Greg, how's it going?"
"Karen. What a surprise! I'm doing even better now."
"Listen I was hoping I could take you up on that offer for help; if it still stands?"
"Oh yes, of course. I'd be more than happy to. When do you want to get together?"
"How about today after school; meet me in the library?" Karen suggested.
"Alright, I'll be there."
Greg was visibly glad to have this run in with Karen. He walked away believing he had another chance to woo her. Not too far down the lockers Liam was chatting with some friends and noticed the two. It must have been good news for Greg to see him leaving with a huge smile on his face.
During lunch hour, the three friends sat in the cafeteria. Karen's plan was to try her hardest to get excited about Greg so that she could return to her normal self with Liam. She knew how to act the part, but inside she was growing more jealous of Jane and more drawn to Liam.
"So did you hear Karen and Greg have a little study date after school today?" Jane announced to her boyfriend.
Liam gave a quick scowl, confused since Karen had told him that she wasn't considering it.
"It's just a brief meeting. I didn't understand something in class today so I thought why not?" Karen explained.
"Why didn't you ask me?"
"Liam, this is perfect. Now Karen and Greg could spend more time together and maybe she'll have that spark finally" Jane said hopeful.
Karen just rolled her eyes and smiled but was then distracted by Liam's peculiar stare. Refusing to address it, for she knew that she had said one thing and done another. But she was in no mood for the older brother lecture. On the other hand Liam was quite confused and wanted to know why she still didn't ask him instead. Regardless, he chose not to mention it again.
Liam had gotten out a little early from class and fled to the library. There he sat and pretended to study while waiting for Karen to show up.
"Hey, I thought you would be watching Jane practice now that you are off the hook."
"Off the hook huh? I never insinuated that it was torture, torment or whatever other word you've used." Liam responded.
"Well, I was just thinking … I don't know." Karen paused.
"So what's the trouble? What didn't you understand today? You might as well tell me. I do have great teaching skills, or so you said."
Karen quickly gave in and sat next to Liam taking out her notebook to show him the problem.
"Karen you know this..." Liam reminded her.
After a few adjustments to the problem, Karen soon realized she did know this.
"Oh what a relief, I thought I was never going to get it."
Liam gave a pleased grin, satisfied that he could come to her aid before Greg had the chance of showing up. Karen was not only happy about her assignment but also for being Liam's pupil again. Though now she also felt bad for Greg, what would she tell him?
"I have to confess something, and it sounds fine in my head but I don't know how it will sound once I say it." Liam began. "I came here hoping to find you before Greg…to be the one to help you instead of him."
Afraid yet prepared Liam looked at Karen anticipating her reaction. Karen didn't know where to categorize that comment. If he was kidding or joking then why was he suddenly so serious? Was he hinting at something else other than the opportunity towards an act of kindness? She in turn was afraid that whatever she might say could reveal how she had been feeling lately. And the embarrassment that would follow if she had read too much into what he said.
As Karen decided on what to say, Liam was growing worried and a little impatient. But before either one could say something Greg showed up.
"Hey, you ready?"
"Umm, actually Liam was nice enough to explain it while I waited."
"Oh? It isn't even a quarter after three yet." Greg was clearly disappointed.
"How about we get a bite to eat instead?" Karen suggested.
Liam stared down at the table the whole time, not bothering to say even a "see ya later". He felt so stupid for saying what he did. Even though he could have easily covered it or thrown in a joke, but the fact that he didn't made things a little unclear. What could he do? Should he address it privately or pretend like nothing happened. Either way it needed to be fixed.
On their way to the diner, Karen was contemplating Liam's last statement. The things, the many things she would have said. She dared to imagine what it would have been like if Liam went on further to say that he liked her, and that he was leaving Jane for her. Even though her smile couldn't deny how dreamy that would be, her mind pointed the finger and charged her with guilt.
"I really like the chocolate milk shakes here." Greg interrupted.
"Huh? Oh yeah. I'm more of a cookies and cream gal myself."
No matter how Karen wanted to revert back to her plan with Greg, her curiosity was slowly consuming her every thought. Back to the fake smiles and light conversation, she was eager to just get back home.
The following day, Karen purposefully tried to avoid both Jane and Liam. If they should happen to notice or ask, she would just project that she was overloaded with school work etc. Jane remained oblivious to the invisible struggles her friends were going through. Still not fully recovered from her defeat last Friday, she had committed to some evening practices with another coach who would surely give her helpful tips.
"Hey, there you are. I haven't seen you all day."
"Oh, I've been busy with school work." Karen answered.
"Yeah I know. Having trouble with Calc again?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well why else would you need Liam's help tonight? He said he would stop by around 7 by the way."
Karen was quick to play along to whatever was going on, even though she wasn't aware of tonight's study meeting with Liam for she hadn't talked with him. She merely nodded and asked what Jane was doing this evening.
"I need to win. I'm meeting with some of the girls tonight. So don't ask me why I'm sore tomorrow." Jane snickered.
"Gotcha, well I gotta run. I hope tonight goes well." Karen cut her off to head towards the parking lot.
Later that night Liam sat in his car in the drive way. He was ready to head off to Karen's house. His chest was beating hard; he had no idea or assumption of how this night would turn out. Nevertheless he was determined to go.
Karen was done with all her assignments; she had only pretended to be so overwhelmed. She was fixing herself a dinner salad when the doorbell rang.
"Hey, I know I didn't say I would be coming over, but I needed to talk with you." Liam stated.
"I found out through Jane. But I don't need any help."
"Can we still talk?"
Karen closed the door behind her and they stepped on over to the porch bench. Before Liam could begin to share his slightly rehearsed speech, Karen blurted out and asked him the first question.
"When you said you hoped to find me before Greg, to help me, I wouldn't have thought much of it if you hadn't made such a big deal about a confession. What was that about?"
Liam sighed and knew this could get messy. He battled between two options; either play it off like it was no big deal or take the direct approach.
"I was jealous you asked Greg to help you instead of me." Liam confessed.
"Why? I thought I was doing both you and Jane a favor. I don't know how tolerant I could be with my boyfriend tutoring another girl, no matter who she was."
"That's what I don't understand…why I got jealous."
There was a moment of silence filled with confusion and a hint of regret.
"I can't explain it, but I've really enjoyed hanging out with you these past few weeks; a little too much perhaps." Liam admitted shamefully.
Liam kept staring at the floor and glanced over dreading that she would have a look of disgust and kick him out of her house. Karen was glowing inside, but then she imagined Jane overhearing this and feeling betrayed. So was she to deny her feelings for the sake of what was the right thing to do; putting her friend first.
"I can't help but feel something too; even if I can't quite explain it either." She finally spoke back.
Liam felt somewhat relieved that he wasn't the only one imagining this but then he felt worse and conflicted. The lack of words weren't necessarily helping the situation.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to say now without crossing the line." Karen added.
"I think we already crossed the line by admitting what we were feeling, but I understand."
Liam looked at Karen straight in the eyes. He was sure he had stronger feelings than he thought for her. He felt tingles in his stomach and emotion start to pour out of his eyes. Karen was taken aback by the whole scenario. Surely she had dreamt of what it would be like to kiss Liam. But dreaming wouldn't hurt anyone as oppose to what reality could do.
"What should I do? Tell me what to do. It would be so much easier than having to decide for myself."
"Decide on what?" Karen asked.
"Do I throw away two years and leave Jane? Should I just be single for a while? Could we even be together after?"
"Woah, that's a lot of serious decisions. And I'm not ready for something like that to happen. I'm not even sure what it is exactly that I feel. Besides can you imagine how hurt Jane would be? She wouldn't want anything to do with either of us. I don't want to lose my best friend over some crush on a guy."
"So it's just some crush, that's all?" Liam said sadly.
"That's what I keep telling myself. I don't know; it's not like I planned this."
"I didn't either. But I still don't want to just do nothing about it. I wouldn't be here right now if that were the case."
"Liam, I feel really torn between my best friend in the whole world and you. Can you imagine if we risked everything and then we didn't even work out?"
"But we'll never know for sure. And I want to find out. I'm not in love with Jane. I mean sure I love her and care for her, but… that spark you keep talking about…I've never felt that with her. I feel it with you."
Unexpectedly Liam's phone rang and it was Jane. He silenced it and continued to focus his attention on Karen. Moments later Karen could hear her cell phone go off inside her house. She too ignored it.
"Would it be too much if I asked for a hug?" Karen asked bashfully.
"Of course not!"
Liam leaned closer in and placed his arm around her shoulders. She was now the closest she had ever been to him. Liam could smell her flower scented hair; he always got a whiff of it when she'd pass him by. Now she knew what it felt like to have his strong arm around her, to feel the warmth of his body beside her and the comforting ease return.
"If you're not in love with her then why do you stay with her?"
"It's what I'm used to. And I don't think she would want to remain just as friends. Which then leads me to believe that we wouldn't be friends anymore either." He assumed.
Liam placed his hand over Karen's and gave it a light squeeze.
"Tell me what to do Karen. I want to be with you instead."
"We can't do anything. At least I can't be the one to tell you that." Karen spoke softly.
Liam lifted her face to meet his. He wanted nothing more than to kiss her and begin to find out. As much as Karen wanted it too, she knew it was wrong and she slipped away. Standing up and feeling ashamed once again.
"I can't do that. And I won't let you be the guy who cheats."
Liam shook his head and understood it was his cue for him to leave.
It had been weeks since Liam and Karen had talked that night. Everything appeared normal on the outside but every time Karen saw them holding hands it made her heart heavy. Every time she was alone or talking with a random guy, Liam wanted to go scoop her in his arms.
Graduation night was soon approaching, and all three friends were going to different colleges. Even though Karen and Liam hadn't said anything else about that night, their feelings hadn't changed. If anything they were stronger and more aching.
The three friends including Greg decided to make another double date, this time to Austin's week early graduation party.
"You know Austin's a big drinker, so don't be surprised if he acts stupid drunk." Liam announced to the girls in the car.
"Yeah don't take any jell-o shots." Greg chuckled.
"Thanks for the warning. I don't plan on drinking anyways."
"Well I do Karen, so don't spoil my fun okay" added Jane.
For a medium sized house, it was quite full. Karen ended up taking a shot anyways, forced by Jane who was having more than she should. And as to be expected Jane was soon drunk out of her mind. With Greg wandering around it was just Liam, Karen and their almost past out friend.
"Should we take her home or just lay her down in some room?" Karen suggested.
"It's barely nine o'clock, maybe she just needs a nap till the affects wear off. Let's take her to the back room." Liam said as they swung her arms over their shoulders.
"This is kind of funny…remember that horror flick we watched at your house that time."
Liam laughed, he remembered it very well. It was a bunch of drunken teenagers getting lost in the woods and so on. One of the characters looked like Jane, and she kept getting teased for it.
Surprisingly, the room was empty so they laid her on the bed. Karen tried talking to her to see if she would respond, but Jane was out cold.
"What a party animal huh?" Karen whispered.
"Yeah, she never has done that before; which explains why she got buzzed so fast."
The room had a dim street like peering inside, creating a comfortable atmosphere. The music wasn't as loud and they were still able to talk. Neither one wanted to actually leave.
"Do you think she could hear us or remember what we are saying, like in her subconscious?" Karen wondered.
"I doubt it, no one ever does. She didn't even moan when you tried talking to her." Liam indicated.
Liam's eyes were no longer worried on Jane, but firmly on Karen. She watched him, trying to guess what he was thinking; if he still liked her or was he over the idea. She was going to suggest going back to the party, but she really didn't want to; much less have Greg find her and steal her away from Liam.
He then chose to walk over and sit on the floor with his back against the bed frame. After he motioned for her to do the same she sat so close to him that their legs were touching. For some reason it felt safer not to talk, in case Jane would remember. But they could still enjoy sitting next to each other, in a closeness that Jane certainly wouldn't approve of.
Right before them was a large pair of closet mirrors, enabling them to see each other no matter if they looked to the side or straight ahead. They kept on smiling and giggling silently, as though they were the only ones to share a secret. Soon Liam's smile died down as he then turned to look at her intently. Karen still looked at him through the mirror, almost as though she were the third person, observing the seriousness in his stare.
It took all she had within her to turn her gaze straight to him. Both pairs of eyes roamed over each other's faces. Karen noticed Liam's face come closer but she pulled back a little; still scared. Liam's hand drew near to her cheek, and she couldn't fight him any longer. She pushed forward a little, regaining the distance lost and he did the rest. So many voices screamed in her head not to do this, then to stop; but her heart said yes continually.
Liam could care less at this point if Jane woke up and saw what was happening. He was finally kissing Karen after months of thinking about it. Yes, even before the tutoring began, he had fought with the idea at times of what a kiss from her would feel like. Apparently he wasn't happy or satisfied with Jane's. He kissed her slow and comfortably; trying his best to keep from making any lip smacking sounds. All you could hear was the ruffle of their heads against the bed's sheets and slow brushes of hands across skin. Their body temperatures were soon rising as the kiss was getting more heated. Like coals to a fire, there were no signs of a burn out any time soon.
The seniors were in the auditorium rehearsing and making sure everyone had a partner. Karen agreed to be Greg's partner, even when she wished for Liam instead.
"I've been thinking a lot about something lately. And I know this is an odd place to bring it up, but I was wondering how do you think we'll do with the whole long distance relationship? I mean, we will be a couple of states away. You are going to be so much closer to Karen then to me." Jane mentioned.
Liam didn't want to respond to that. Because he knew how he felt about Karen, especially after their kiss. Being with Jane was beginning to feel burdensome, he was waiting for the right time to break it off, but felt stuck. He simply waited patiently for his name to be called so that he could receive his class ring.
Karen sat with Greg, acting as if she was entertained by him and his friends but how could she completely be there when her heart was across the room. She saw no point in being there, since she didn't buy a ring.
Hearing her name being called was almost eerie. I didn't order a ring; there has to be a mistake.
She walked up suspiciously and went to pick up her little box. Liam's eyes would not turn away, not even for second.
"I'm sorry there must be a mix-up. I didn't even order a ring." Karen said to the woman.
"Well you are Karen Bodeen, and it was already paid."
"Does it say by who?"
"No I don't have that information, must have been a family member or friend if it wasn't you. Consider yourself lucky then." The woman answered and proceeded to call the next student.
Karen opened the box to see her beautiful turquoise birthstone. Sitting down she than carefully took it out and saw the symbols on the sides. One was of a paintbrush and pallet; the other side had math equations. That's odd. When she looked inside, the ring had an inscription that read "with love, L.W.". Instantly she looked across over to Liam and their eyes instantly met. She articulated a thank you and he kindly smiled and bowed his head.
He noticed her eyes tear up a bit but she hid her face. She excused herself and walked quickly out of the auditorium. Liam wanted to be sure she was ok, leaving Jane talking with her friends; he flew out as well.
"What am I supposed to say when Jane asks who L.W. is?"
"Say it's from me."
"She will immediately think that something went on between us and that you or we cheated on her."
"I don't care anymore Karen. Someone is bound to get hurt and I'm tired of it being us. And I don't know about you but I'm done with this hiding. Why am I still with someone that I don't even want to be with? I feel like we've been wasting time. Time we could have spent enjoying each other; it's been wasted worrying about someone else's feelings. I know that sounds awful but I can't help believe that. Now do you still even want to be with me? Are you still confused and don't understand what you are feeling? Because I'm not; I know that I want us to work out…now." Liam professed.
Instead of hearing Karen's response they heard a gasp behind Liam. He turned around to find Jane standing there, red faced and eyes swelling. There was no word or action that could fix this now. Jane turned and ran off. Liam looked up at the ceiling and took a deep breath then looked back at Karen.
"Normally I would run after her, but I don't even know what to say; or where to begin." Karen said with a numb expression.
"I can't go to her; I think the last face she wants to see is mine. But you should, at least to see that she'll be alright." Liam recommended.
Karen agreed and took off.
"That was so unexpected. The last thing I could have ever imagined from my two best friends."
"I know Jane, I'm so sorry. But I couldn't help the way I feel about him."
"I can't hear this. I'm not even a bad girlfriend. I in no way deserved this. He could have had the decency to break up with me and then make the move on you…he still would have looked like a jerk but at least he wouldn't have been a cheating jerk…And you? My best friend since forever…how could you kiss him back? I would have rather you hadn't told me that, especially since I was in the same room."
"I know." Karen hung her head in shame.
"Do me this one favor, and respect it. Give me your word!"
"Don't talk to me. At least till I direct a word to you first. Then you'll know we are back on speaking terms. I don't want to see you or Liam for that matter." Jane demanded.
Karen simply shook her head, unable to even look her in the eyes. Watching Jane's shadow vanish was more heartbreaking than she had ever imagined. Not knowing if Jane would ever get to speak to her again, for after graduation they would have less than two months left in the same town before they were off to college.
Karen could barely see where she was driving; her eyes were tired from crying her heart out. She feared that not only had she lost Jane but Liam too; for she couldn't find him after her talk with Jane. She could only be thankful for the few remaining days till she would graduate to freedom and escape.
Once she had pulled up to her house, she noticed someone sitting on the porch; unable to make out whom it was, for their head was tucked down. When she slammed her car door, a fair haired boy jumped in his seat. Karen couldn't be more relieved to see Liam awaiting her. To her surprise he had been crying a bit too. She took a seat beside him.
"I didn't want her to get hurt. You know I'm not that kind of guy."
"I know." Karen whispered.
"I wouldn't do that to you either, regardless of my poor example. Just please don't tell me you want nothing to do with me." Liam pleaded.
"I want nothing more than to be with you but…" She paused, seeing even more concern in Liam's eyes. "I think we should wait till after graduation. I couldn't bear to be the kind of people who flaunt their crimes in front of their victims; meaning Jane and Greg. It's best to avoid all questions and accusations that are bound to arise, especially since we are so close to graduating."
With that Liam grabbed Karen's hand and planted a sweet kiss; holding it tight against his chest.
"I'll wait as long it takes." He finished.