Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 9

And then, out of nowhere, the words formed on my mouth. I had no idea where they came from. I just said them.

“I … think …” I started, being sure to look only at the ceiling tiles and not Kylee. “I think that I like Jess …”

He said …

Kylee placed her hands on her knees and leaned forward in her seat, looking at me sternly. “What did you say?”

I sat up suddenly and put my feet on the ground, shifting my gaze from the ceiling to them. I stated much more confidently this time, “I think I like Jess!”

Kylee leaned back and crossed her arms. “I heard you the first time,” she smirked. “I just wanted you to hear yourself say it again.”

I felt dizzy. It was hard to maintain my balance, though I was still sitting. What did I just say? What did I even mean by that? I couldn’t possibly like Jess. Then why did I say it? Has this been true all along? Does Jess like me? What if she starts to date Ted now, and I’ve finally just realized that I like her? These were a few of the hundreds of questions racing through my mind.

“So,” Kylee began, leaning forward again, “What are you going to do about it?”

“I have … no idea. I just finished telling you about Ted and their date this Friday! She’s going to start dating him!”

“And you feel …” Kylee began.

“Obviously very bad about that,” I finished. “I mean, if she dates him and isn’t even aware that I’m interested in her, that’s bad for both of us. And if she someday does find out that I liked her and I never even told her, that could be very frustrating to her … and me!”

An image of Jess, all dressed in white, walking down the aisle to Ted popped into my mind. There she was, looking all beautiful. I suddenly felt very selfish, as she was not looking beautiful for me. The preacher stood before the congregation and asked, “If any man has any just cause as to why these two should not be married, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.”

“I object!” I shouted, leaping to my feet.

“Excuse me?” Kylee said, totally shattering my daydream … or maybe it was a nightmare?

“Huh? Oh, nothing.” I retook my seat across from Kylee.

There was a lull in the conversation as we both thought over the comically dramatic situation. “Also, he was kind of there first.” Kylee pointed out, matter-of-factly.

“Yah, I know that,” I replied. “But I’m not sure that’s a reason not to tell her how I feel. I mean, I think she’d want to know that I just had this epiphany. I think she’d be hurt if I didn’t tell her. On the other hand, if I do tell her, it’ll throw a wrench into things with her and Ted.”

This was all much more complicated than I ever could have imagined. I continued, “On the other hand, you could say that I was actually there first. I mean, I’ve known her and been close to her way longer.”
“I don’t think that really counts when he’s the one who’s already intentionally pursuing her,” Kylee reasoned.

“You’re supposed to be on my side.” I shot her a glare for a few seconds, then gave her a wink. It was frustrating, but I knew she was right. And the reason I had asked her for advice in the first place was because I was confident in her ability to help me decide what was best for every person involved.

We continued talking for another hour or so, mulling over every possible scenario, extracting every unknown feeling I never knew I had. There is a reason I come to Kylee with these emotional things. After tiring of talking, we finally narrowed it down to three possible solutions. Ultimately, we knew that the one that meant be open and honest with Jess was the most sensible solution. It wasn’t fair to everyone otherwise.

I left Kylee’s lounge only a few hours after I had entered it, but it felt like I had been in there for an eternity. After all, my entire world had just been changed by a single conversation. I was walking out of that building a new man. A new man who now realized he liked his best friend.

Realizing that I liked Jess was about the weirdest notion I had ever stumbled upon. Usually you would think you’d notice such feelings slowly creeping up on you, but Jess and I had been so close for so long that our relationship just seemed natural.

Walking back to my dorm, I reflected on the decision Kylee and I had come to. Regardless of how I knew I felt, it was decided that I should sleep on it—it’s always best to sleep on big decisions, we had said. Two days, we had said. It was Tuesday when I talked to Kylee, so Thursday was the day I planned on talking to Jess. This gave me plenty of time to sort out my own feelings, and Jess a while to sort out her own emotions before her date with Ted that weekend.

The last thing I wanted was to talk her out of her date with Ted. Whether she said the feelings mutual or not, he still deserved as much respect as possible, and that simply wouldn’t have been fair to him; I planned on making that abundantly clear to her.

I can’t say that I slept much Tuesday night. It’s hard to sleep when you just discovered a side of yourself that you never knew existed. You’ve made the biggest discovery of your life, and you’re supposed to sleep on it? I can barely sleep before an exciting event, let alone a discovery as big as my feelings for Jess.

So, it’s safe to say my emotional state was a bit hazy on Wednesday morning. I went through my morning routine—classes, chapel, classes, lunch, classes. Then, when I was done for the day, I had nothing to do but sit and wait for the day to be over. Sit and wait for Thursday to come. That was what we had decided, after all.

But then … I already slept on it, I thought. And it’s not like my decision is going to change in the next twenty-four hours, I reasoned. And it is a lovely day for a walk, I rationalized. And there’s probably a 100% chance of rain tomorrow or something.

It was true though. It wasn’t as if I had just decided yesterday that I liked Jess for the first time. Yesterday, I had discovered that I had liked Jess all along. It wasn’t something I was unsure of. I had never been more certain of anything.

I flipped open my phone and texted Jess an invitation for a walk. As usual, she replied promptly. A yes and a smiley face. Well, this was it. No turning back now.

“I was just getting my phone out to text you for a walk, you know,” Jess said as she emerged from her dorm, linking her arm through mine.

“Really?” I was surprised. We hadn’t really talked all day, so I had assumed she was busy.

“Yup.” Her abruptness indicated to me that there was something on her mind as well. A moments silence later and she poured into it.

I’d tell you what she said if I could. If I could remember what it was—maybe a tale of woe from the day, or one from her past that was eating at her again. Perhaps a frustration with another guy that was pestering her about a date. I’m certain Ted came up once or twice throughout the conversation—she needed help evaluating the status of her upcoming date. Was Ted as good a guy as she assumed? What should she wear? How should she act? Would there be a fourth date invitation at the end of the night?

See, it’s not that I wasn’t listening to her. And it wasn’t that she didn’t say plenty of things in the hour-and-a-half walk we had. It’s just that I was so preoccupied with the things I wanted to say to her that … I honestly don’t remember what we talked about before arriving at the town park.

The town park had a little river than ran through the middle of it. We made our way the side of the river and sat down on the rocky bank. It was a place we had grown accustomed to. Whenever we had long walks, we almost always ended up on the bank of the river.

I offered my advice to her as peacefully as I could, but I can’t help but think it was muddled and confusing to her. Where I normally would sit and look at her, I was instead staring at the rocks and the river. Where I would normally sit attentively, I was instead pulling up leaves of grass and shredding them between my fingers.

“Well,” Jess started, looking at her phone to check the time, “Wow, we should really get back. We’ve been gone nearly two hours now. And I told Kristi and Ryan we’d meet them for dinner.”

Dinner? I had not been informed I had a time limit! It caught me off guard, and I suddenly panicked. “No!” I shouted, tugging on her arm and forcing her to sit again. My own shouting was more of a reflex than a voluntary action, and it made me jump as much as it did Jess. “Uh, I still need to talk about something.”

“Then let’s walk and talk,” she suggested nonchalantly, standing again. Clearly, she had not picked up on my nervous vibes for the entirety of the walk. “We’re going to be late. And you know how you hate being late.”

“No, sit back down. This isn’t a walking-and-talking conversation.”

Jess took her seat by the bank and looked at me suspiciously. “Okay then … what’s up?”

I tried continuing immediately, but I found myself at a loss for a voice. Instead, I turned back to the shredding of grass. After my intense conversation with Kylee, I found that preoccupation was my means of relieving emotional tension. After a painfully long silence and many heavy sighs from Jess’ side of the bank (as she was clearly getting hungry), I finally began.

“Okay. Here’s the deal. I’m just going to have to say this or it’s not gonna happen at all!” I took a deep breath, trying to focus. “I’ve been trying to figure out lately why you going out with Ted bothers me so much, because he’s a good guy, and I totally want to be in support of your relationship if you start dating. But for some reason it just always annoys me! So, I sought the council of my psychiatrist, Kylee, and I think I finally figured out what the issue is.”

“Alright.” Jess waited for me to continue, but I just sort of sat there. “Wait,” she began again. I guess my pause was too long. “You don’t like me going out with—“

“Wait, just let me finish,” I begged.

“Okay. Go on,” she agreed. I took a deep breath and began again.

“Well, I’m pretty sure the reason I’m having such a difficult time coming to grips with it is because …”

I paused for yet another long moment of silence and swallowed hard. Possibly for dramatic effect, possibly because I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit things to her face. Most likely it was the latter of the two.
It wasn’t that I was uncertain of the feelings I had recently stumbled upon. It was that during each of my long silences, I was fully realizing the ramifications of what I was about to say. It could alter our friendship forever and not necessarily in the way I was hoping.

I looked down and saw that I had created a whole mound of shredded grass. Shyly, I peeked a quick look at Jess from the corner of my eye. She was looking a bit perplexed, and I knew I couldn’t stall any longer.

“… the thing is, see … I may not be altogether convinced that I couldn’t potentially be completely opposed to the idea of sort of maybe possibly dating you at some point in the future. Is the thing. See.” I stopped. There, I had said it.

I may not be altogether convinced that I couldn’t potentially be completely opposed to the idea of sort of maybe possibly dating you at some point in the future. I played back my own words in my mind. What the heck kind of a sentence is that, Alex? Communication was usually something in which I took pride … that sentence was not. Here I am trying to confess my love to this girl, and I speak that train wreck of a sentence.

I snapped out of my thoughts, whilst blushing, only to hear Jess … laughing.

Laughing? Apparently she didn’t realize just how serious I was. After a sentence like that, I can’t say that I blame her. Either way, I knew it was time for some serious damage control. Sadly, my train of thought was completely broken, so I just sat there staring at my pile of grass.

Jess stopped laughing and stared at me intently for a few seconds before uttering, “Oh … you’re serious …”

It wasn’t exactly the reaction I had hoped for. “I was pretty much as surprised as you are when I discovered this,” I said, trying to make amends for my rude awakening to her. “And after I realized how I felt, I determined I had three real options.” Here came my logical side, which always kicks in when emotions get too high. I knew I could handle it from here.

“First, I could not tell you. Maybe you and Ted would start dating, but your entire relationship I’d be just waiting for you to break up. So that’s bad. And if I told you then, you’d wonder why I never told you sooner.”

“Second, I could not tell you ever. Just let you and Ted date, and regardless of whether you and he stayed together or eventually broke up, you’d never know my true feelings. So that’s bad too. This just didn’t seem fair to you, really.”

“Third, I could tell you before your date with Ted this weekend and let you decide for yourself. Obviously, this is the option I opted for. I’m aware this may complicate things with Ted. And I don’t want you to change your relationship with him based solely on the basis of me. But hopefully you can see that, even though this has now become a very complicated situation, telling you was the best option.”
We sat there quietly, now both staring at my pile of grass. At this point, Jess had even contributed a few shreds of grass to the pile.

“Well … “ she began, hesitantly. “I don’t really know what to say. At least not right at this moment. I need to think …”

When she trailed off, I realized I wasn’t going to get an immediate response, so I broke the silence with, “Well, you shouldn’t say anything now, anyway. You should think it over first. We should probably get back for dinner?”

We stood and started walking back to school. Out of nervous agitation, both of us immediately launched into fervent and unrelated conversations. We had a ten minute walk, and we needed to think about something other than the awkward transaction that had just occurred.

“I couldn’t tell you what we said to each other,” I relayed to Kylee later that day. “I know we talked non-stop all the way back to school, but I haven’t the slightest recollection as to what we talked about!”
Kylee shook her head. “I can’t believe you. And weren’t you going to talk to her tomorrow?”

“Well, yes. I was. But I couldn’t take it anymore! My heart isn’t used to handling these emotion things! I was about to burst!”

“You two are perfect for each other,” she said, honestly sarcastic. “So, what’s going to happen now?”

“If I know Jess,” I thought out loud, “and I’d like to think I do. She’ll probably avoid me for a couple days. Then, after she has had some time to sleep with her thoughts, she’ll come to the conclusion that she is and always has been madly in love with me. We’ll be dating by the end of the semester!”

“Slow down there, Mr. Confident. Though I can’t say I disagree. How do you feel about that?”

“Pretty good,” I stated nonchalantly. “Can’t complain. But a lot is riding on this, you know.” I leaned forward and spoke more hushed and seriously to Kylee. “The thing is, see. I already know that if I do start dating Jess … I’m going to end up marrying her.”