They met in a literature class, sitting in a circle discussing modern novels with everyone else. The first thing he noticed about her was her big, doe-like eyes, so big. And he remembers she was prettily dressed, a pink blouse tucked into a long, brown maxi skirt, a floppy sunhat over her brown hair. She smiled at him and asked him what he thought about Cheever.
They became good friends, sometimes eating out for lunch, sometimes writing essays in the library, sometimes calling the other for notes that they forgot to take. But they were just good friends, nothing else. She bounced about with many others and so did he; they only met when they really had to.
Every time he saw her, she’d be wearing something pretty.
She showed him her work; he dutifully read and critiqued her pieces like a good friend would. He never showed her his, because he never felt they were good enough, and she never asked. But that was all right by him, because he just liked reading the things she’d write, and listening to the things she’d think. They were always so soft, so thoughtful, like a sunhat lying forgotten in a wheat field on a summer’s day.
Over time the things he read got more personal; he saw more into her life and like a good friend he’d offer insight and advice. She took it all, smiling at him over her lightly toasted whole-wheat sandwiches. “If you ever need anything too,” she said, “I’m here for you. I’m your friend.”
But she would never call, never write, never message him. He always was the first one to take the step, because he should; he was a good friend. Unless he spoke up to her first, she never seemed to remember he was there. She had said she was his friend, so why did she always seem just a bit condescending, a bit guarded, and a bit reluctant around him?
Over time he got irritated by this. Why did he always have to be the one that spoke first? She wouldn’t eat lunch with him unless he asked, she wouldn’t tell him about her life unless he asked, she wouldn’t even ask how his day was unless…he asked her first. He was tired of asking.
So one day while walking alongside her, he decided to ask. “Why are you always so close, yet so distant?” he said. As he stared at her, he couldn’t help but wonder that she could feel as chilly as the breeze blowing through her hair.
She stared at him with those big, doe-like eyes. “Oh, honey… it’s because of exactly this.”
“Exactly what?” he repeated, confused. Her clothes were awfully pretty today, he thought, golden and smooth.
“You’re caring about me.” She said softly, her big eyes sad. “And I try to keep away from you because I don’t want you to. It’s for your own good.”
He looked down at her brown laced-up booties, feeling more confused by the second. “But I’m your friend, I’m supposed to care about you! What is wrong with that?”
“Because it never is that simple,” she insisted, and the wheat in the field seemed to sway under her, “that’s what they always say, and yet it always changes. And I can never love them back.”
“You think I love you?” he asked, aghast.
“Perhaps not yet,” she said, smiling sadly at him. Her head looked strangely bare without a sunhat. “But you will. They always do.”