The Friend Zone
By: Never Knows Best
~*This Year Will Definitely Be Different*~
'This year is gonna be different,' Rhys Harris vowed, standing at the front steps to North Weston Secondary School. The school looked the same as he remembered it: pale red brick, two stories, u-shaped and lined on both sides with tall windows. The front yard was crowded with teenagers, clustered together in groups, catching up with friends before classes started again. 'I'm definitely going to do it…'
"Rhys!" He heard a voice calling him. Rhys turned and saw his best friend Derek waving at him. "Rhys! What up?" Derek jogged to join Rhys by the doors.
"Hey man," Rhys greeted him, distractedly.
"Ready for another year?" Derek slapped his friend's shoulder jovially. "Or do you plan to spend another year wasting away chasing after Katherine Schweltz?" Derek laughed until he saw Rhys' face. "Holy shit, you're still hung up on her?"
"Shut up, Derek," Rhys growled, "This year for sure. I'm gonna ask her out."
"Okay, lover boy," Derek chuckled, "Whatever you say."
"Sure, sure," Derek shook his head, "I'll believe it when I see it."
Rhys scowled as his friend went ahead of him into the school.
"See you in biology!" Derek waved as he disappeared.
Derek could think what he wanted, but Rhys had a good feeling about this year. He'd been to the mall twice with Katherine over the summer, and two days ago she'd texted him to compare what classes they would be in together. If that wasn't a sign that she was interested, Rhys didn`t know what was. Feeling a bit more confident, he hefted his bag up onto his shoulder and went inside.
It was a strange feeling being back in school again. The halls were packed with students more tightly than sardines. People called to friends they hadn`t seen much of over the break and compared class schedules. There were well over a thousand students in NW High, and Rhys barely knew a handful of them, though he did recognize the teachers. They never seemed to change. He nodded at Mrs. DiCarda when she caught his eye. She would be his homeroom teacher this year. "Ten minutes, Mr. Harris," she warned him.
"I'll be there, Mrs. D!" He called back as he was swept past by in the stream of students. He grinned and cast his eyes forward to try and catch sight of Katherine in the crowd. They had homeroom together this year so her locker should have been somewhere nearby his. He looked at his class schedule with his locker number scrawled on the top: 317. He found it easily, just a few feet down from his homeroom class and tossed his backpack inside, eyes still flickering through the faces. Was she the classroom already? He went over to check, but she wasn't there. Maybe he should go in anyway and save her a good seat by the window? He was going to do just that when he heard a familiar tinkling laugh from down the hall.
Trying not to grin too widely, Rhys looked over his shoulder and saw her: Katherine Schweltz, the object of his desire for two years now, ever since they'd sat next to each other in ninth grade English.
"Kat!" he called to her, waving. She turned, golden blonde hair whirling around her shoulders. Her bright blue eyes met his and her face lit up in a smile. "Rhys! Hey, it's so good to see you! I'm so glad we have homeroom together." She bounced over to him, her friend Ami at her heels, to give him a hug.
"Where's your locker?" he asked, "Mine's right here." He knocked the metal locker to show her.
"Hmm, 345, looks like we won't be locker neighbours."
"Well, at least we have homeroom together, right?" Rhys gave her his very best smile. Behind her, Ami snorted and looked away, covering her mouth with her hand.
"Yeah!" She smiled again, and Rhys felt like his knees were going to go weak. She had the most amazing smile he'd ever seen.
"Want me to carry your bag for you?" Rhys asked her. It was only a few feet to her locker but Rhys thought it might impress her a bit if he was a gentleman.
"Sure," Katherine handed him her backpack, which felt like it was loaded full of bricks, and led the way down the hall.
"So how was your summer?" Rhy asked, trying to engage the girl in conversation. "Do anything interesting?"
"Yes! Omigosh, Rhys, I have to tell you all about it! You're going to be so excited for me!"
"I bet; what happened?" He pretended not to notice Ami smirking and shaking her head. He always got the impression that Ami didn't like him much.
"I got a boyfriend!" Katherine squealed excitedly. The whole world stopped. For a second Rhys was certain that he'd misheard her. The chatter in the halls faded away and all he could hear echoing in his head was one word: boyfriend. He looked around, searching for conformation of this horrible, awful news. He caught Ami's eyes, and the brunette just shrugged. His feet stopped moving and Katherine continued ahead a few steps before she realized he wasn't there anymore.
"Rhys?" she questioned, "Are you okay? Didn't you hear me?"
Rhys quickly snapped himself out of it and joined her at her locker. "Yeah, I heard you. So you got a boyfriend? That's great. Who is he? Do I know him?"
"You might, he's in grade twelve and he's so sweet! It was so cute when he asked me out. He…" Rhys tuned her out, his mind racing. This was not supposed to happen! This year was supposed to be the year he finally confessed his feelings to Katherine! She wasn't supposed to hook up with some loser older guy before he got his shot! Why hadn't he said anything to her sooner? If only he had made his move before this mysterious boyfriend of hers, she would have been gushing to her friends about him instead.
"His name is Kyle Petra, and he has his own car!" Katherine finished breathlessly. "Isn't that just so cool? He said he'd give me a ride home after school today!"
"Yeah, cool," Rhys answered weakly. He searched his memories for the name. Had he ever met this Kyle person before? The name sounded familiar. Well, he was probably a jerk. Katherine was way too good for him. He wouldn't last a week, Rhys assured himself. And when they broke up, Rhys would be there to swoop in as her knight in shining armour and be the best boyfriend ever. He'd waited for two years already, he could be patient a little while longer until Katherine realized she was dating a bozo and decided she wanted him instead.
"Well, I'll see you inside." Katherine chirped happily, practically bouncing away, glowing the way girls did when they started a new relationship. Rhys wanted to kick himself. She had still been single when they went to the mall in July. He'd bought her ice cream and carried all her bags and he was sure that she would finally notice how much he cared about her then, but nothing had happened. And now she had gone off with some twelfth grader with a car!
Maybe Rhys needed to get a car. He pondered that while he wandered back towards the classroom behind Katherine. Is that what impressed girls? Having your own car?
"Oh man, was that ever pathetic." A voice laughed. Rhys looked over his shoulder and saw a girl standing at her locker, looking at him with bright, amused eyes.
"What?" Rhys asked, "Me?"
"Yeah, you," She laughed, slamming her locker shut. "I saw that whole, sad thing. Don't tell me; you're thinking that you can wait until pretty little Katherine Schweltz breaks up and be there to pick up the pieces when she does?" she snorted, "Lame,"
Rhys felt his face getting hot, who the hell was this girl? She was tall and willowy, with dirty blonde hair cut in a pixie cut, with long strands framing her face. Her clothes were boyish and shapeless, and she had a guitar case slung over one shoulder. He thought he'd seen her around before, but he couldn't quite remember her name. All he really knew about her was that she was a bit strange. There was no way he could take anything she said seriously, "Whatever," he snapped, "What do you know anyway?"
"I know you're never gonna get a piece of that, that's for sure." Her green eyes were bright with laughter. "Not for as long as you live."
"How would you know that?" Rhys growled, irritated.
"Because you are in the friend zone, my good man, and there's no escaping that." She slapped his shoulder as she walked past.
"There is too!" Rhys protested to her back.
"Not for you there isn't!"
"What do you-" he stopped, because the girl had disappeared into the classroom: his homeroom classroom, and he couldn't very well continue this argument while Katherine was right there. Angrily, he stomped after the girl and went to class, just barely making it in time for the bell. Katherine was sitting near the front of the classroom, her head ducked in close to Ami's as they gossiped about something. Katherine looked up when he came in and waved. Rhys looked for a seat nearby, but everything was already taken. Katherine gave him a sad shrug as if to say 'sorry, I tried,' and then turned back to Ami.
With a sigh Rhys found a seat near the middle of the room and slouched down. Ten minutes ago he had been driven and optimistic, now it looked like this year was shaping up to be just as crappy as the last one.
The strange girl from the lockers caught his eye. She'd somehow managed to get herself a back seat near the windows. She smirked at him when she saw him looking her way, and shook her head sadly. She mouthed some words at him. He wasn't 100% sure, but he thought she was saying 'friend zone'. Rhys scowled at her and turned pointedly away, resolving to ignore her from then on. There was no way she was right. He may have been in the 'friend zone', but it wasn't hopeless. Katherine already liked him and trusted him, it was only a short step from 'friend' to 'boyfriend', wasn't it?
At lunch Rhys got his first glimpse of Kyle Petra in the cafeteria. He was sitting with Katherine snuggled under his arm, regaling her and her friends with some amusing story that had them all laughing out loud. He was tall and lithe and had that slightly long, tousled dark hair that all the girls seemed to love lately. Worst of all, Rhys realized that he had met Kyle before, and he was not – in any way – a jerk.
"Sorry about your luck, man." Derek said sympathetically as they waited in line. "Maybe you should try for a different girl?"
"Different girl?" Rhys scoffed, "No way, I've spent way too much time on Katherine to give up now. I was this close, Derek. If I had made my move sooner, she would have been with me instead of that… that…"
"That what? Totally sexy twelfth grader with the dreamy eyes and his own car?" Derek batted his eyelashes as him.
Rhys smacked him away in irritation, "I'm serious!"
"So am I, man." Derek sighed, "You need to give up on Katherine and go after someone else. It's not like she's ever going to see you as anything more than 'just a friend'."
"I don't want to talk about this anymore." Rhys stated, heading towards their usual table, "Talk to me about something else."
He could practically feel Derek roll his eyes, but he changed the subject to some movie he'd seen over the summer. Rhys only half listened as he poked at his macaroni salad and lamented his situation.
He saw the strange girl from his homeroom across the cafeteria, sitting not far from them laughing with two guys. Rhys recognized one of them; Jake Butler had been in his Canadian history class the year before. She must have been friends with them.
"Rhys? Hello, earth to Rhys!" Derek suddenly waved his hand in front of Rhys' face. "What are you staring at?" he followed his gaze across the room to where the girl and her two friends were sitting. "Listen, if you're going to take my advice and go after a new girl, I wouldn't go after Julia LaRush."
Rhys blinked, "Do you know that girl? She's in my homeroom."
"Yeah, I had math with her last year, and I'm pretty sure she's a lesbian."
"She is?" Rhys blinked.
"Yeah, she was making out with Rachel Skully at Mitchell's party last year. Hence, lesbian. Hence, you should pick someone else. She'd be even less interested in you than Katherine is."
Rhys seriously considered hitting Derek in the face. "I'm not giving up on Kat. Not yet."
"Why are you staring at Jules, then?"
"Because she was a total bitch to me this morning, telling me I had no chance with Katherine."
"You see, I'm not the only one who thinks so!" Derek threw up his hands, "Give it up already!"
"No," Rhys snapped, "There's got to be something I can do; some way to win her over."
Derek groaned loudly.
Rhys was not about to be put off by that, though. "Maybe I'll just tell her."
"Do not do that."
"Because it's a stupid idea. You're just going to freak her out."
"Oh, how would you know?" Rhys growled, kicking Derek under the table. "You've got even worse luck with girls than I do."
"Fine then," Derek said, "If you're really so insistent on getting Katherine, why don't you ask Jules for some pointers?"
Rhys stared at his friend, stunned, "Ask for pointers? From a lesbian?"
"Dude, everybody knows that lesbians are the best wing-men ever. She knows both sides of the equation: being the girl and getting the girl."
"I don't want to ask for dating tips from a lesbian."
"Alright then, be prepared to stay in the friend zone forever."
Rhys grinded his teeth at the other boy; he hoped that if he just glared hard enough, Derek's head would explode. It didn't happen though, and Derek went back to eating his lunch. Rhys had nothing else to do but eat his macaroni salad and listen to Katherine's laugh mixed with Kyle's floating across the cafeteria.
"Hey, Friend Zone."
Rhys winced when he heard the familiar voice in the hall outside his biology classroom. It was his last class of the day and he had been hoping to avoid any reminders of his problem with Katherine. And here was the absolute worst one, right on his heels.
"Hey Jules," Derek, the little traitor, waved back to her, giving her a reason to join them outside the door. They bumped fists in greeting while Rhys tried to sneak inside without having to talk to her. He had a feeling she would hassle him about Katherine again.
"Fancy seeing you here," Jules grinned, "Are you trying to escape?"
"He just doesn't want any more grief about Katherine," Derek informed her.
"Ah," Jules nodded sagely, "Makes perfect sense. No one likes to hear that they're doomed."
"No kidding, he's totally in denial."
Rhys rolled his eyes as the two of them happily discussed his problematic love life. He took the opportunity while they were distracted to slip inside and find a seat at one of the lab tables near the back. Derek and Jules followed him in and, to his horror, Jules took the seat right next to him, pretty much guaranteeing that they would end up lab partners for the whole semester.
"What are you doing?" Rhys hissed at her, "Derek was going to-"
"Derek wants to partner up with Hayley," Jules shrugged, "You don't mind, right? I'm actually pretty good at biology."
Rhys looked towards his traitorous best friend, who was slipping into the seat next to a petite redhead with a smarmy smile. "Bastard," Rhys growled under his breath.
"Come on," Jules said, "I'm not that bad, am I?" Apparently she had heard him muttering to himself.
Rhys sighed, feeling a little bad about being such a jerk to her. "No, I just don't want to hear about Katherine."
"I'm sure you don't. It's a pretty sad situation." She agreed. "But maybe I can give you some advice about girls?"
"I don't want any more advice."
"No really!" She insisted, "If you don't want to be stuck in the friend zone forever, there are a few things you should know."
"No, thank you."
"Suit yourself," She said with a shrug. And to Rhys' amazement, she actually left him alone after that. She busied herself flipping through science textbooks and scribbling doodles in her note book. She still had that guitar case with her, resting up against the side of the table. Looking at her with her tank girl-esque haircut and her loose jeans and baggy t shirt, Rhys didn't have much trouble believing she was a lesbian. He wondered if maybe Derek had a point about lesbians being good wing-men.
He immediately shook his head clear of the thought. He was not going to ask this weird girl for help with his love life. He could manage just fine on his own. Katherine would definitely come around.
Biology was easy, since it was the first day. They mostly just went over the lab rules that everyone already knew and did a short assignment on basic science stuff from the year before. Jules hadn't been lying about being good at biology. When Rhys sneaked a peek at her paper he saw that she had absolutely no trouble with it. It was much better than Derek, who was hopeless in any of the sciences. He'd really only taken it because he still needed another credit in either science, French or computers, and this seemed like the lesser of three evils. And probably he had hoped to cheat off of Rhys' homework. He probably still would, but at least this way he wouldn't have to worry too much about his lab partner blowing them both up.
"You wanna come over tonight?" Rhys asked Derek as they were filing out of class.
"Sorry man," Derek replied with a grin, "I told Hayley I'd take her out for coffee."
"Already?" Rhys blinked in surprise. "Is there something wrong with her?"
"Hey!" Derek said, punching his shoulder, "I'll have you know, she finds me very charming and funny,"
"Well, she's half right."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that." Derek pouted. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see ya," Rhys replied. He hurried out the door to his locker, hoping to catch Katherine there. Unfortunately, the crowd on the stairs was so thick he was slow getting there, and she was gone by the time he made it. He realized it she must have been with her new boyfriend. Rhys almost wanted to spit when he thought of perfect Kyle putting his hands on Katherine. He grabbed his stuff from his locker and headed outside to the bus stop.
Rhys froze at the sound of Katherine's voice. He saw her waving to him from the parking lot, Kyle standing next to her. Rhys waved back to her, but he didn't really want to go over there when he was there. But then she started motioning for him to come over, and he no longer had much of a choice. He hefted his bag and went over to join them.
"Rhys, I wanted you to meet my boyfriend!" She chirped when he got to them, "Kyle, this is my friend, Rhys."
"Hey man," Kyle greeted him with a handshake.
"Hey," Rhys replied, not sure what else to say. Thankfully Katherine took up the conversation.
"Rhys and I have been friends since ninth grade," Katherine was explaining, "I'm sure you guys will get along great!"
"Yeah," Rhys agreed with a smile.
"Anyway, Kyle is having a party at his place this weekend. You'll come, won't you?"
"Yeah, sure," Rhys said easily, "I'll see you guys there." He started to leave but Katherine's voice stopped him again.
"You're going? Don't you want to hang out with us for a bit? We were going to go to Second Cup for a bit with Ami and Dania and some other people."
"Ah, sorry," Rhys said, quickly searching his mind for an excuse to not have to hang out with Katherine and Kyle and watch them be all lovey-dovey with each other. "My mom is coming home late tonight so I have to watch the brat." Never mind that his sister was thirteen and hardly needed watching, but Katherine seemed to accept it. Delilah had just gotten out of the hospital after all.
"Oh, okay then." Katherine actually looked disappointed, which made him feel a little better, though he quickly remembered that Kyle was there. He wanted to spit again.
"See you guys later," Rhys said, quickly taking his chance to escape the awkward situation. He had to stop himself from running towards the crowd of students waiting for the bus. He caught sight of Jules from the corner of his eye. She was looking at him again, and standing with the two guys he'd seen her with at lunch. She smirked at him and then bent her head to the two guys that made them all laugh. Rhys felt his face heat up in anger. Why the hell did she take so much joy in hassling him? He decided he would be the bigger person and ignore it. She could laugh at him all she wanted.
He stood behind a girl with pigtails and focused his attention on watching for the bus. He decided that he had missed the first bus when he had waited for ten minutes and there was still no sign of it. He hoped that Katherine wouldn't come by and try to get Kyle to give him a ride. It sounded like something she would do. She was very considerate like that, but Rhys had no desire to owe Kyle anything. So, when a horn sounded and he heard someone calling his name, Rhys had every intention of pretending that he hadn't heard anything.
That wasn't Katherine's voice calling him. It was Jules. He groaned and rounded on her, "What?" he snapped.
"Whoa, easy there," Jules laughed, "I just thought you'd like a ride." She grinned at him from the driver's seat of a beat-up old black Chevrolet Camaro. "Plus I wanted to show off my sweet new ride. Beautiful, isn't she?"
That was not exactly the word he would have used. "Are you sure it's road safe?"
"Shut up and get in," she rolled her eyes.
"You seriously want to take the bus?"
He definitely didn't want to take the bus. The bus at this time was always jam packed with people and sometimes he missed his stop because he couldn't squeeze through the crowd quickly enough for the bus driver.
"Come on," Jules urged, "we're lab partners now, right? So shouldn't we be friends?"
Rhys was going to refuse, but then he saw Katherine looking at him and talking to Kyle. Any minute now she would be insisting that her new boyfriend drive him home, and Rhys didn't want to deal with that. "Fine," he sighed. He quickly grabbed the handle and slid inside. He watched as Katherine looked up towards where he had been standing, and then looked very confused that he had disappeared.
"What do you see in her, anyway?" Jules wondered, following his gaze over to Katherine.
Rhys sighed heavily, "You really want to talk about Katherine?"
"Sure, you seem so hung up on her, I was wondering what the big deal was."
"The big deal is that she's perfect and I've been crazy for her since ninth grade."
"Aw jeez, that's adorable,"
"Yeah, and now she's dating that asshole, Kyle,"
"Are you sure he's an asshole?" Jules wondered.
"I dunno," Rhys sighed, "But I don't like him. What does she see in him anyway? I'm the one who's been her best friend for two years, holding her hand while she cries and eats ice cream after some dick dumps her."
"Sounds frustrating," Jules nodded sympathetically.
"Yeah, I don't get it at all. Why are girls always dating assholes when there are nice guys right in front of them?"
"Ugh!" Rhys saw Jules rolls her eyes dramatically, "Please don't tell me you're one of those."
"One of what?"
"I mean, I should have seen is coming, but really."
"You're a 'nice guy'."
"Of course I'm nice," Rhys scowled, "I'm always nice to girls."
"No, not just a nice guy, but a Nice Guy. One of those super-douchebags who spend all their time griping that no girls like them because 'girls only date assholes', or some stupid shit like that. Give me a break."
Rhys found himself getting angry again, "What are you talking about?"
"Let me tell you something about Nice Guys," Jules said, sitting up straighter, "They're not nice, they're assholes. If you ever want to get your ass out of the friend zone, you've got to stop being such a passive aggressive douchebag."
"Passive aggressive!" Rhys protested.
"You heard me. Every time a guy says 'every guy in the world is a jerk but me', a girl hears 'I'm an insecure little prick, you should never sleep with me'."
"You're very vulgar, you know," Rhys scowled.
Jules shrugged, "Well, I calls 'em like I sees 'em. If you want to get this Katherine chick, you have to stop saying shit like that. And stop thinking it, too. It's not true and makes you seem like a misogynistic little twat."
"Good to know," Rhys scoffed, not feeling grateful in the least. This girl wanted to be friends and yet she was calling him things like 'misogynistic' and 'asshole'. "You need to work on your friend-making skills."
She laughed at that, "Thanks, jerk," she turned down a street that Rhys didn't recognize.
"Um… where are we?"
Author's Note: Rhys' name is pronounced 'Reese', just so ya know. Please tell me what you guys thought of it! This story will likely be short, but send me your reviews so I don't lose interest in it! Tell me what you thought of Rhys and Jules and the rest. Oh, and I know Katherine is a bit irritating, but she gets better, I promise! Anyway, R&R!