Whenever she wanted to see him it was in a coffee shop, or a restaurant, or out with her friends or his. They would be in the club, dancing the night away when she would lean towards him, yell in his ear 'I need a cigarette'. Sensing his opportunity, his chance, he would follow her, feeling his clothes stick to his skin with the heat of the place.
Once they got out, he would take a deep breath, ready to tell her how he felt.
But she would begin to talk, her words fast and rapid. More than usual, due to the drink. He would wait, for his perfect chance, and watch as she would flick the butt into the air, making it rise up and curve before it landed.
Usually, the talk would revolve around some arsehole who said or done the wrong thing, who had treated her badly, who had stood her up...
The list was endless.
Before the end of the cigarette had even landed, she would turn to him with a smile, tell him how good a friend he was and, one day, some girl would be oh-so-lucky to have him. He would take a step towards her, brace himself and get ready to tell her how he felt...
And then, one of two things would happen.
She would either turn away and head back inside, leaving him to follow like a puppy, or the others would tumble out, screeching their names and acting like they hadn't seen them in years. He would be left with the words stuck in his mouth, his throat, staring at her back as she went inside or greeted their other friends.
He could never really get her alone.
It was beginning to kill him.
He would sit in his room, try to do something – anything – that would get her off his mind, but everything reminded him of her. Everything seemed to point in her direction.
One evening, he sat in the living room of their mutual friend, waiting for the girls to arrive. It was yet another night out, but this time, the girls had decided they would meet up a few hours before for a 'girl's night'. So as not to be left behind, the guys had met up at the same time and now sat in the living room, waiting for the girls to finish their girl time and decide to join up and head out.
Beers had been passed around and games set up. None of them were even energetic enough for Beer Pong or Ring of Fire, so the general rule of thumb was to play games that involved nothing more than sitting and drinking. I Never Have Ever was out, mainly because it always took a turn for the worse after one too many. Currently, they were playing Drink While You Think and he, with a limited knowledge of footballers and most celebrities, was losing horribly.
"Oy!" one of the guys called, staring straight at him. "Come for a fag with me?"
He didn't smoke, never had and never saw it as a habit he particularly wanted to adopt. But they all knew, if there was one person too nice to turn down a request to stand in the cold and keep someone company, it was him.
He nodded, stood and followed his friend outside.
Once the cold air had hit him, he regretted the decision to comply. He usually did. Once the cigarette was lit, his friend fixed his steely blue eyes on him.
"Listen, mate, the girls should be turning up soon and I...I think you should talk to her."
"Who?" he muttered, wrapping his arms around himself to try to stop the cold from getting to him too much.
His friend laughed. "You know who, man. Look, I'll keep the others inside, yeah? Get a decent game going with the girls and...and give you two a chance to talk."
He frowned, glancing off at the large full moon hanging above them. "Is it that obvious?"
Another laugh. "Mate...yeah, it is."
Once they were back inside, they joined in with the game once more. When the girls turned up, he felt the steely blue eyes on him once again. He took a deep breath, glancing at her. She sat on one of the armchairs, another of the girl sitting on it, her hands clasped around a plastic cup filled with vodka and coke. Her eyes locked on him and she offered him a brief smile, before glancing quickly away.
He waited until she stood, placing the drink on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. "Anyone for a smoke?" she asked. Everyone else was silent, glancing at each other. Most of them were 'social smokers', most only smoked when they'd been drinking. Right then, none of them were drunk enough.
"I'll come out with you," he offered, feeling, once more, the steely blue eyes on him. Her smile widened as he stood, shifting awkwardly as she climbed over people sitting on the floors and made her way to him. Together, they moved through the house until they had gone through the kitchen and were standing near the back door.
He unlocked it, holding it open for her. As she moved past him, he caught a whiff of her shampoo. Strawberry. It suited her.
Her hands trembled in the cold as she fished out her cigarette and went to light it. He leant against the now closed door, watching her carefully as once more the words caught in his throat. Her eyes flickered to him.
"Are you okay?" she asked, titling her head to one side. "You look kind of nervous."
"Yeah, I just..." He stopped, unable to keep looking at her, unable to keep thinking. He glanced down at the ground, biting his lower lip as he let the words just tumble out. "Look, I...I've been thinking, for a while, about...you...and me, and well I...I like you." He lifted his head, staring at her with his big, round eyes, just praying she wouldn't laugh or think he was joking. Instead, she just looked confused. "Like, really like you."
"Oh," she muttered, eyes darting away as she inhaled on the cigarette. "Oh," she repeated, this time drawing the word out. When she looked back at him, he felt his heart sink. She looked worried, and the pity in her eyes was all too clear. "I'm so sorry - I like you, too, but...but just as a friend."
His head dropped.
"We can still be friends, can't we?" she asked, dropping the cigarette. It was soon crushed beneath her foot. "Please?" She took a step towards him, took his hand in hers and squeezed gently. "I would hate to lose you...as a friend."
Every time she said the word it was like a stab to his heart.
The smile on his face was forced, but he didn't think she noticed. "Of course," he said, lifting his head as he tried, so hard, to keep the smile on. "Of course. I'll still be here for you."
She relaxed, stepped forward and pecked his cheek. "Thanks. You're a great guy. You're going to make a girl very happy, one day."
But not you.
"You coming in?" she asked, her hand hovering above the handle of the door. He shook his head.
"I'll be a minute."
"Okay." Suddenly she was gone, disappearing through the door and sliding back to the party. Shortly after, to his surprise, the door opened again. He thought she'd come back, though, for just a brief second, she had come to tell him she had realised she really did like him, as more than a friend. But, no, it wasn't to be. Instead, one of the other girls stood there, her arms wrapped around her chest as she stared at him.
"Hey," she said, voice quiet and soft. Her eyes were big, wide and so full of worry and...and something else he couldn't quite place. "Are you okay?" she asked.
He nodded. "Yeah," he muttered. "I'm fine." A sudden thought occurred to him. "You know when we get out, later?" She nodded, a brief bob of her head. "Want me to buy you a drink?"
The offer was quick, sudden, but felt strangely right. Especially when a bright smile lit up her face. "Yeah," she whispered, nodding faster now. "Yeah, that'd be great. Thanks."
"No worries. We should get back..."
"Sure." She stepped inside, holding the door open for him. The rest of the night was spent with quick fast glances and shy smiles, and when he stood at the bar with her, buying her the drink he promised, he glanced over his shoulder to see her – the other one, the one he'd placed on a pedestal for so long – giggling and laughing with someone he did not recognise.
Maybe, he thought, just maybe, he'd made a lucky escape.
A/N: A little explanation for this; in one of my modules this semester, we've been looking at different ways of generating material. One of them involved getting a number by using coins and the I Ching, going to that page in a book and the line number and using that. Which is what I've done here; the first line, in italics, is from Fifteen Tales of Modern Attraction, a book of short stories by Alison MacLeod. Was quite fun to write and, as always, reviews are hugely appreciated and returned.