Fifteen years and she has always belonged to someone else, never once looking my way. I couldn't tell you how many times I had been encouraged to forget her, to find someone new who actually wants to be with me. I tried, I failed. There was always something about the little blonde girl with the dazzling, blue eyes. She never once saw the tall, lanky, awkward looking, brown haired guy who was always there.
I really was a glutton for punishment. All these years carrying the same torch, constantly being snuffed out with every new man and reigniting with every smile. All these years and I could never once put that torch down. All these years and it only burns hotter, burning my hands as I constantly grabbed for a love I would probably never have, and yet I kept grabbing.
I probably was not even her second or third choice. I probably wasn't even an option. Forever restricted to the position of best friend and confidant. A person to laugh with, a person to dream with, never a person to be with. I was everything she needed me to be with little to no complaints. I was the perfect door mat and the mud was getting too thick.
It always made me feel better to tell myself that there was always the chance she could change her mind. That was probably the worst thing I could have done.
The first and only person I have ever outright told about my Ali problem was Jason. Surprisingly, the knucklehead was actually capable of giving advice with some substance.
I guess I was a little transparent.
She got out of the car with a smile and a good night as she closed the door behind her. It was second nature for me to get out after her and walk her to the door. Every time since the first time I drove her home, I have always walked her to the door. My excuse, if I ever needed one, was that I didn't want her to get jumped somewhere between my car and her front door. She never questioned it though, instead opting to link her arm with mine and leaning in against my body.
The walk to the door was my favorite part of any outing.
It ended the same way every time. She would pull me into a hug, I would kiss the top of her head and we would both say good night before her parents opened the door.
"Keeping her out a little late aren't we Alex?" her father asked. His eyes were fixated on my arm that was still wrapped around Ali's waist.
"Sorry sir, we had to drop the other guys off on the way," I said bravely not removing my arm.
"Calm down honey," his wife soothed. "It's Alex. I honestly much prefer him keeping Alison out all night than that new boy. What's his name Bobby?"
"Yep, it's Bobby, I've already got a bullet with his name etched into it," he glared at me. "I've got plenty more bullets, you better not make me etch a special one for you, boy."
My courage fleeted away and I quickly removed my arm as if I had just been electrocuted. I didn't know for certain, but I was pretty sure that my internal organs would not appreciate bullets tearing through them.
"Daddy! Do you really have to threaten Alex every time he takes me home?"
"If he ever took you home I'd be doing a hell of a lot more than just threatening!"
"He's just a friend!"
"He's a male friend!"
"If one of my girlfriends took me home would you assume they were only after sex?"
"I would rather you date girls to be perfectly honest. You can bring home as many girls as you like."
I looked at Ali's mom in fear and silently asked for permission to leave. She smiled at me and escorted Ali in. "Have a good night Alex, dear," she closed the door and I quickly made my way back to my car and hopped in the driver's seat.
I groaned and banged my head on the steering wheel. I was dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb. Not only would I always be stuck in the friend zone, but I was also successful at making her father hate me for being a good guy. GAH!
"Well, wasn't that just precious?" I looked over to see Jason in the passenger seat.
"What are you still doing here?" I asked.
"I called shotgun. Did you forget that we have that project due in the morning?" I groaned again and rolled my eyes. It was eleven o'clock already. How we were going to finish that stupid project was beyond me. It was safe to assume that as long as I was hooked on Ali, no assignment would ever get completed on time ever again.
"Alright, you can stay over at my place tonight, I think we're going to be pulling an all-nighter." I turned the key and the car roared to life as I pulled out of her driveway.
"Think of those ten extra minutes we could have had if it weren't for that extended goodbye. How come you never walk me to my door? My feelings are quite hurt." Jason pouted and leaned back against the seat.
"I don't walk you to your door because then I would lose that short moment I have to fantasize about hitting you with my car."
"You don't walk any of the other girls to their doors, aren't you worried someone could try to rape them on the way to their doors?"
"Where are you going with this Jason?" I was getting impatient. I could see where this discussion was going and I would much rather avoid the subject. This had the makings of a very long and uncomfortable car ride.
"You like Ali, don't you?"
I sighed and stared at the road and the passing street lights. I had never said it aloud and I certainly did not want to admit it to Jason of all people. Yes, he was one of my best friends, but he wasn't the greatest at taking things seriously.
"I'm just saying I'm happy for you. Ali's a great girl and you're a good guy. You deserve a little happiness. Not to mention, Ali's picked a good number of pricks," Jason shrugged. "Just be careful, these kinds of things are tricky."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that it might not be the greatest idea to be crushing on your best friend, especially when it's not mutual. Not to say that it will never happen, but it usually doesn't. Sometimes it's best to just forget about her early. Sometimes it just isn't worth the heartache."
"It's kind of late for that," I said with a small smile. "I'm in pretty deep, I don't think there's any turning back now. There's only her."
Jason smiled and pat my back, "I hope it all works out for you. I really do. Who knows, maybe the whole crushing on a friend thing will work out better for you than it did for me." His smile faded as he sat back and stared out his window.
"Do you ever wonder if it could have worked out with you two?" I asked.
"Sometimes. But I'm happy I gave up on her. There's only so much a guy can take. Yes, it's nice to think that someday you'll have your happily ever after, but it feels like that day will never come. You think about all of those hugs and kisses you never got and it hurts, but then I think about all of those Valentine's Day and anniversary presents I never had to buy and I feel a lot better."
"Do you still love her?" I asked. As much as I tried to fathom my predicament, I could date as many girls as I wanted, but I could never imagine myself being able to stop loving her.
"Do you think she'd still be alive after all of the crap she and Andrea put me through if I didn't? I'm just happy enough being the friend she loves to torment. I've moved on, but moving on and forgetting are two completely different things my friend."
Jason may have been willing to give up on Rachel, but I wasn't willing to give up on Ali.
More and more these days I remember those words, "Sometimes it just isn't worth the heartache." This whole unrequited love thing was getting tiring.
Time flies when you're not having fun, Ali's been dating Andrew for a couple of months now and I barely see her anymore. She stays over at his place almost every night and really only comes home to pick up textbooks. Her clothes have been slowly disappearing from our apartment as she fills a drawer at his place. The countless shampoo bottles in the washroom haven't been touched in weeks and I could only figure that Andrew's washroom was filling up. The smell of strawberries was long gone and so was she.
My bedroom had gotten steadily cleaner. Turns out, I clean when she's not here, just to feel like she is still here. The apartment has never been this clean.
Countless trash bags had been filled with old trash and old memories. Old assignments that had been handed in days late, empty cologne bottles that I never liked but she loved, letters I'd written but never given her. Nothing was sacred, everything was going to go.
It was time to move on, time to forget. Fifteen years was long enough.
I went into my bedroom and easily found my bed. Tearing the plain white sheets off I replaced them with silky black ones. They had never been used, tonight would be the first time. I smoothed them onto the bed and looked around. My room looked presentable enough. My eyes caught on the end table, probably the only thing that had ever actually been clean. Sitting on top of it was nothing more than a simple picture frame a picture of her. I picked it up and stared at it. It was from about four years ago when we first moved in, the only time before now that my room was clean. She still looked exactly the same, she was completely unchanging.
Another trash bag sat open on the floor, practically begging for another discarded item. It was an old photo, I didn't need it anymore, just like I didn't need the beautiful girl in it anymore.
I tried to throw it out, I really did but I couldn't. She wasn't trash. Instead I turned her face down and put her back on the end table. Always there, but not always on my mind.
I couldn't do this anymore, if even just looking at a photo could break my heart, I couldn't keep waiting for her to love me back. I wasn't happy with just waiting around anymore. If nothing was going to happen I could accept that and make something happen with someone else.
Tonight I was going to bring home a girl. I didn't care who, I didn't care how long it would last for, I didn't care about anything. Tonight would be the start of a new beginning, the end of the Book of Ali. I was finally going to listen to the advice I should have taken years ago. I was giving up.
My cell phone vibrated and I checked it, she had texted me, 'Hey Alex, I was hoping we could hang out tonight, I really miss you. Please get back to me'
I texted back with a simple, 'Sorry, already have plans.' For the first time, the world didn't stop when she told it to. I smiled to myself as I left the apartment, ready to finally enjoy myself the proper way a single man should enjoy himself. No longer chained to a love that was never going to happen.