Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 6

She said …

Alex was right.

Through the hundreds of thoughts racing through my mind as I paced back and forth in my dorm room after leaving Sid standing in the Bible Building, this one stuck out most clearly.

Sid was exactly who Alex had said he was. I had just been too stubborn, proud, and insecure to admit it. What had I been thinking? One thing I had always loved about Alex was his ability to read other people, but I had refused to trust him, even when deep down I knew he was right. But it was too late now. I had pushed him away.

The tears welled up in my eyes again. Had I lost such a wonderful friend in one fell swoop? I wiped my eyes and sunk down onto my bed when suddenly a thought struck me. Alex’s words from before came flooding back into my mind.

I love you, Jess, but it doesn’t bother me how upset you are at me. I’d rather you be furious with me than to know that you are in a dangerous relationship. You deserve more than that.

This time, however, a different portion of it stood out in my mind, as clear as day.

I’d rather you be furious with me than to know that you are in a dangerous relationship.

I sucked in my breath and covered my mouth with my hand in surprise. How had I missed that part before? Alex had been willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure I wasn’t in a harmful relationship. Even if it meant sacrificing the incredible friendship he shared with me. My safety was more important to him than even that. No one had ever done anything like that for me before in my entire life.

And I just pushed him away.

The tears came again, but this time I didn’t try to stop them. Instead, I reached for my phone. Maybe he would refuse to respond. Maybe he would never want to talk to me again. Could I blame him? But one thing was sure—I had to see him.

 

He said …

*tic* … *toc* … *tic* … *toc* …

Generally speaking, I tried to avoid the monotonous routine of watching the clock. After all, it tended to be fairly regular: tics on the second, tocs on the half. I sipped the Pepsi in my hand and squinted back at the clock on the wall; something between the caffeine in my system and my lack of good sleep was messing with my vision.

“Hey,” a voice said, snapping me back to reality and reminding me that I was in the lounge and not alone. It was Kylee, one of my closest friends, and about the only other person in the world who knew the entirety of the situation, so I felt most comfortable with her in my distracted state. “Why don’t you join the rest of the class?” We were supposed to be studying for our last final, which was in the morning.

“Sorry. Kinda distracted,” I confessed, turning yet another page of the textbook I was pretending to read.

“You did the best you could, man,” Kylee reassured, knowing exactly what was eating at me. “And the best you could was exactly what you should have done. You know that. Stop second-guessing yourself! Besides, it’s a little late for second guessing.” Kylee always did have a way of being genuinely optimistic with just the right twinge of sarcasm. Just the sort of thing that she knew would reassure me and lift my spirits, if only a little. “She’ll come around, and you know it.” She saw that I wasn’t entirely convinced. “You’re a good friend, Alex. The best. She won’t be able to throw that away.”
“I hope not.” We stared at each other for several unsure seconds, both refusing to blink first. “I just want my friend back.”

*buzz* *buzz*

Both our stares were directed at the table where my phone sat. “Bet it’s Jess,” Kylee blurted. I picked up my phone and flipped it open to read the new text message.
“Looks like I owe you a dollar,” I grinned. I read the text aloud. “Hey, I miss you. Can we go on a walk?”
“Well?” Kylee shot me a look of disapproval, jumping out of her chair. “Why the heck are you still sitting here?” She started yanking me from the seat I was so comfortable positioned in. “Go! Go!”

 

She said …

I was back to pacing around my room, trying to calm my nerves. Alex had agreed to see me and to go for a walk, but had said nothing else to reveal what he was thinking or feeling. I had no idea what to expect.

What if he was angry about the things I said to him before? At the very least, he had to be hurt. What if that was enough to keep him from forgiving me? In the midst of all the hurt and confusion surrounding Sid, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Alex on top of that. Tomorrow, I was leaving for home and Alex was going back to Iowa. That didn’t leave much time.

I sat down on my bed and took a deep breath in an attempt to settle myself down. I am really terrible at confrontation, and my blowup with Sid surprised me probably even more than the confused people who had witnessed it. Even worse than confrontation, I hate knowing that I have hurt a friend, and I knew that I had hurt Alex very much. I gave up sitting and went back to pacing, just as my phone buzzed on my desk.

I’m outside.

My stomach flip-flopped as I gathered all of my courage and slowly stepped out of my unit. I stared at the ground as I walked across the courtyard of my dorm, willing myself not to cry. I suddenly realized that in all my worry about what Alex would say, I hadn’t even considered what it was I should say. I glanced up and saw Alex outside through the tinted double doors, hands in his pockets, eyes on the ground. It was too late now.

I paused for a moment and took a deep breath before shoving the door open. Alex jerked his head nervously up at me, and when his eyes met mine, the tears broke through again. Not knowing what to say, I did the first thing that came to mind. I crossed the few feet separating us and threw my arms around his neck, crying into his shoulder. Without hesitation, Alex raised his arms and wrapped them around me.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry …” I cried into his shoulder. He squeezed me back and told me it was okay and everything was fine. I realized he had forgiven me long ago.

 

He said …

We walked and talked for hours, not really wanting to leave each other. We both knew that once we separated for the evening, only one night’s sleep and a short exam in the morning stood between us and parting for the summer. But the time went too quickly, as it always does when you’re restoring a right relationship, and the summer had come. I sat in the backseat of my van, laying back and reflection over the last several weeks, as my family and I made the long drive back to Iowa.

I was thinking about Jess. I was thinking about how close I had come to losing her if she hadn’t finally seen that all I was trying to do was protect her, not ruin her, as she had initially perceived. I was thinking about how much I missed our three hours walks and talks. I was thinking about how much I had just missed spending time with her—not just in the last week when things had gone off the deep end, but for the entire time she had known Sid!

And Sid. My thoughts kept drifting to his kind. Not “his kind” as in the individual of Sid. “His kind” as in the state of the individual—I held out hope that this entire situation would grow and change him in the years to come. But I kept thinking about the countless other men out there that were just like him.

I settled further back into the van seat, trying to pretend I was sleeping so I could keep thinking without being interrupted by anyone else in my family. Here’s what Jess needs, I thought. She needs a guy who will just be friends with her. Who doesn’t try to make her compromise. Who isn’t just waiting around to ask her out, but is genuinely interested in her and looking out for her. Could I do that? Maybe not. But I could certainly try. I had the rest of the summer to restore the good name of my gender with her, and I was bound and determined to do just that.

 

She said …

The summer had absolutely flown by, and with it came healing and a new perspective and outlook on life. After a few weeks at home reordering myself from an insane semester, I got on a plane and flew alone to the Dominican Republic for a 6-week missions internship.

I was happy to go. I needed to get away to someplace with new people and a drastic change of scenery. The Dominican Republic, with its salty ocean air and loving, generous culture, was just what I needed. It was there, with the distraction of my ministry and the help of the girls I shared an apartment with, that I was able to forget about Sid and move on.

And then there was Alex. Ironically, out of everything else that I had made sense of over the summer, he was the one thing I couldn’t quite figure out. He had been amazing for the last two and a half months. Never once, from the moment I walked out of my dorm crying and apologizing, had he ever even hinted at harboring any bitterness or hard feelings about the Sid situation. Instead, he just seemed eager to pick up where we left off, happy to have me back.

Throughout the weeks leading up to my trip to the Dominican Republic, I realized just how much I had missed Alex during our unnecessary time apart the previous semester. We were anxious to make up for lost time, and I knew every night I could expect a call from him just as I was crawling into bed. Curled up under the covers with the phone pressed against my ear, we would talk late into the night until I could no longer keep my eyes open. If there was anything that was keeping me from being completely thrilled about the prospect of the summer in the Dominican Republic, it was the thought of not being able to talk to Alex whenever I wanted.

But despite the distance, the lack of cell phone service, and the limited internet access I had in the Dominican, somehow our friendship didn’t miss a beat. We emailed back and forth constantly, sharing stories of our adventures, and made plans for fun things we wanted to do upon our arrival back at school. The few times I had the opportunity use the phone of my Dominican church to make American calls, I found myself placing them to him more than my own family.

These were the things running through my mind as I sat in my room back at home, packing my bags for Cedarville. Something was different about the way Alex seemed to have treated me throughout the entire summer, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Suddenly the door of my room burst open and my sixteen-year-old sister, Kara, came in, holding out my cell phone.

“You left this downstairs, and it keeps ringing.” She tossed the phone onto the stack of clothes next to me.

“Who was it?” I asked, folding another shirt.

“Who do you think?” Kara winked at me, turning to leave. “Alex, of course.”

“Wait! Come back in here.” Kara turned around and sat down on the floor giggling excitedly. She was clearly ready for some girl talk. She had never met Alex, but I had told her all about him, including details from the summer.

“Alright,” I said, smiling at her excitement. “I have an important question, and I need you to tell me what you think. Okay. Do you think it’s possible that Alex has … um, some other feelings for me besides just as friends?”

Think about it, Jess.” Kara rolled her eyes. “The boy saves you from some other guy by basically chasing him away, he calls you every night, he emails you all the time, he’s always complimenting you and saying nice things about you and telling you that he misses you. What do you think?”

“Well, yeah, I see your point. But that’s also just Alex. He’s a sweetheart.”

“Well, you know him better than me. But let me ask you this. What if he is interested in you? How would you feel about that? I mean, he’s one of your best friends.”

I didn’t respond right away. I guess I hadn’t thought of that yet. How would I feel about that?

“You’re right, he is one of my best friends. And, well, the same reasons why he is my best friend are the same reasons that would make him pretty much everything I would want in someone. So … I guess maybe I would be okay with that.” I responded timidly. “But I love our friendship, and I have no idea if he is even thinking about any of this. And if he’s not, that is fine too. Either way, I just don’t want to lose him again.”

“Well,” Kara said, standing up, “There you go then.” She winked again and walked out of the door. I shook my head affectionately after she left. The kid was pretty smart sometimes for being a little sister.

As for Alex, I decided I would just wait and see. The semester would tell what the summer’s events would lead to for our relationship.