“Calm down, you’re shaking like a chain smoker without a cigarette,” Katie said as she rang the doorbell to Phil’s house. The light that streamed through the windows was bright and inviting, just as it had always been.
“Do I look okay?” I’d changed at least five times and left my room looking like it’d been hit by a hurricane.
“Yeah. Besides, who are you trying to impress? Phil’s history.” Katie had a way of saying the hard truth, but sometimes she could’ve used a filter.
Phil’s mom opened the door, and her face broke into a smile when she saw me. We’d always been really close. She invited us in while bombarding me with hundreds of questions. “Phil never tells me anything about you,” she complained.
Because he knows nothing, I wanted to say, but I just smiled and tried to answer all of her questions.
There was already a crowd in the living room, but I spotted Phil right away. He sat on the couch alone with a mug of coffee, staring into the fireplace. People I knew from church stood in groups beside the refreshment table, and I heard voices coming from the kitchen.
“There’s Anna and Jake,” Katie said, nodding at the dining room where another group of people sat around the table. “You coming?”
“I’ll be there in a minute.”
I headed toward Phil on the couch. Let’s see how this whole friend thing works. I smiled bitterly.
“What’s up?” I asked and sat by him. I smiled at the startled look on his face as he came back to reality. “Something on your mind?”
Phil took a sip of his coffee. “Not really. Just tired.”
“Hmm. Where’s Shae?”
“She’s sick. Couldn’t make it.”
“Too bad.” I leaned back into the couch and my arm touched his. A shiver went up my spine.
He returned to staring blankly, and I wished I could read his mind.
“Hey, you want to go outside? It’s really hot in here,” he said suddenly.
“Um, sure, I guess.”
I stood up and pulled him off the couch. He gave me a strange, halfway amused look.
I grinned. “What? Isn’t that what friends are for?”
We went through the kitchen and out onto the back deck. The cold air hit us, and I shivered even in my coat. At least the wind wasn’t blowing. Phil went and sat on the steps. I followed him.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked, studying his face.
He sighed. “Do you remember that time you told me you could eat more ice cream than anyone you know, and we had a race to see who could eat the most in three minutes?”
I laughed. “I was so sick after that, but it was worth it. I won.”
“I miss that,” Phil said, elbows on his knees, staring ahead. “Shae doesn’t get it. She’s always looking for the meaning in things and doesn’t know how to have fun. I like her a lot, I really do, but sometimes I wonder…”
Our eyes met, his eyes shining in the moonlight. He looked down and took my hand gently, running his thumb over my palm. I shivered again, but I knew it wasn’t just from the cold.
“I know I should be happy for you, but I still wish you hadn’t left. Everything was so great; heck, we had our lives planned out together. Maybe I was boring and overbearing and I wasn’t enough to make you happy, but…” he paused, and my heart beat faster and faster. “I can’t get over you.”
“I’m sorry.” I leaned in without even noticing. Our faces were so close. “I miss you too,” I whispered, looking down. My face burned, and my mind raced, a swirl of unintelligible thoughts.
Phil touched my face, lifted it slightly. And then I did something I never should have. I closed the gap between us. Kissing him felt so normal, so right. In the moment, I couldn’t think of why I’d ever wanted to leave him. He didn’t draw back either. We were so caught up with each other, we forgot where we were, who we were supposed to be.
Suddenly reality hit again, and Phil and I jumped back from each other as if we’d been shocked. Anna stood in the doorway, looking as surprised as we did. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing, I…” I stood up, and walked toward the kitchen door. “I’d better go.”
Phil still sat on the steps, in a daze. He didn’t say anything. I brushed past Anna, but she followed me through the crowded house and out the front door.
“Em, please tell me that wasn’t what I thought it was.”
“It wasn’t what you thought it was,” I muttered.
Anna grabbed by arm and turned me around so I was facing her. “So you weren’t just making out with someone else’s boyfriend?” She looked so mad, I was almost scared of her.
“He was my boyfriend,” I protested, pulling from her grasp. My head was swirling; it was a miracle I could even walk straight.
She held on tightly. “Was, Emma. You broke up, remember? He’s not yours anymore.”
“He wants me, okay? He told me so. He never should have gotten together with that other chick.” I could look her in her eyes.
“That ‘other chick’ is a very sweet person who doesn’t deserve to be cheated on!”
“Shut up, Anna!” I yelled, surprising even myself. “You don’t understand! You have a boyfriend, and you’re not all alone, watching him happy with someone else.” Tears welled up in my eyes, despite my attempts to keep them at bay.
Anna’s expression softened. “I’m sorry you feel lonely. But you know this isn’t right. You can’t use someone else to fill the emptiness inside, not even Phil. You deserve better.”
“You don’t understand,” I whispered again. This time I managed to pull away, and I walked toward the street.
“Wait, I’ll come with you!”
“Stay with your boyfriend,” I said, not wanting to see her pitying look anymore. It was worse than when she was mad. “I need to be alone.”
I wandered aimlessly through the almost-empty town. I played the kiss over and over in my head. Had it been wrong? We both still loved each other. That was apparent. It had felt so perfect, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed his lips on mine until that moment. Then I thought of Shae. No matter how much I disliked her, I still had no right to ruin her relationship. I felt sick to my stomach. What would I do if I found out that someone else had been kissing my boyfriend? I was suddenly disgusted with myself. I felt dirty and worthless. What if she found out? I couldn’t look Phil or his girlfriend in the eyes ever again.
I was a horrible person. Why had I let Phil invite me to that stupid party? Why had I even agreed to see him in the first place? I had been perfectly fine without him, and now, suddenly, he was manipulating my life again.
Our relationship had meant so much to me at the time, and I would’ve done anything for him. I’d never understood why Phil didn’t want to continue our relationship long distance. I mean, if we loved each other, what did it matter? But looking back now, it made sense to me. He had always needed me close by, didn’t like me going anywhere without him. We were together, and so we did everything together. I guess he just couldn’t go on with me not being near him. So he found someone else who could keep him company while I was gone. And as soon as I came back, he wanted me back.
My blood boiled. What kind of guy was he? It was obvious that he didn’t really care who he had, as long as he had someone. If I left, he would find someone else. I was just a girl to him. And that hurt. The two years we had spent together all seemed pointless. He had replaced me so quickly and now was quick to replace the girlfriend he had now. He was twisted, ugly.
And I had fallen for it. For so long, I had told him everything, I had shared my life with him. For a while, I’d even thought we’d get married and grow old together. Young love. Stupid, I know.
I needed him out of my life. I didn’t want him there as a friend—or anything else. I needed to move on for good, not let myself be pulled back into a defective relationship. I looked up at the sky and spotted a few, faint stars peering down from between the patchy clouds. I realized I was shivering and turned to go home.
Christmas came and went, and I made the most out of it with my mom, baking and decorating, ice-skating and reading by the fireplace. I started reading my Bible more and looking for God in the everyday things. I ignored the missed calls from an unknown caller. I’d deleted Phil’s phone number.
At church I stayed as far away from our usual row as possible, and though I caught a glimpse or two of Phil and Shae (every time was like a punch in the gut), we never had the chance to talk. And that was the way I liked it.
There were two more days left until I headed back to college, and my mom had asked me to get some groceries while she was at work, so I drove to Walmart on my own. As I walked out to the car, loaded down with groceries, I bumped into someone. It couldn’t have been an accident. It was Phil.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to push past him.
“It’s Walmart. I’m going for a swim. What did you think?”
I gave a snort and kept walking.
“Come on, Em. I need to talk to you.” Phil jogged up behind me. “Just one minute.”
“What is it, Phil?” I reached my car, and tossed the bags in the back, slamming the door very near to his face.
“Why won’t you answer my calls?” He was too close for comfort.
“Oh, that was you calling? I must not have your number anymore.”
He looked hurt. “What did I do, Em? Why are you acting like I’m a bad guy?”
I paused, took a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it was all my fault. But you’re the one who has a girlfriend, Phil. You’re the one who has supposedly moved on. You didn’t need me anymore; you found someone else. And you know what? I’m not even mad about that. We broke up, and that’s fair. But what makes me mad is how quickly you moved on, and then as soon as I got back, you tried to drop her and get me back. I’m not some toy you can drop and pick back up at your convenience, Phil! I’m a person, and so is Shae. You can’t treat us like this. You can’t treat me like this.” I started to open my car door.
“You mean you didn’t feel anything? When you kissed me?” He leaned in even closer, his voice dropping.
I drew back as quickly as humanly possible. “Did you not just hear what I said?”
“Listen, I can leave Shae. That whole thing was stupid. You were always the one I wanted. We can tell her together and—“
“And then what?” I yelled. “I’m leaving in two days, Phil. This whole thing will start all over again. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore, okay? Shae’s a great girl. I just hope you treat her well; she deserves a lot better.”
Phil stared at me for a while, as if sizing me up, seeing if I would break. I stared back, not wanting to lose the staring contest. He sighed finally, running a hand though his hair. “I’m sorry, Em. I don’t know what came over me.”
My face warmed at the use of my nickname. I couldn’t believe that he still had that kind of effect on me, after all that happened. I shook myself and got into my car.
He stepped to the door and looked at me. “So we can’t be friends?” he said with a weak smile.
I smiled unintentionally and started pulling the door shut. “No, Phil,” I answered. “Maybe someday.”