Once Upon a Cotton Ball, Part 3

He said …

Admittedly, the day I first met Jess, I thought she was exceptionally cute. Beyond that, I didn’t know what to think, seeing as how I didn’t know her. What I did know was that she was a good friend of Emilie’s, I was surprisingly comfortable with her, and she seemed to be looking for a steady group of friends she could rely on. Though my initial interests may have been more flirtatious than anything else, I quickly established that what I wanted to be for her was just what she was searching for: a close friend she could rely on. I knew the rest of our friend group would be just the same for her. Therefore, I cast aside any other notions that entered my mind with ease and dedicated my efforts becoming trusted friend of Jess.

The semester was hastily drawing to a close. The first invitation I had extended to Jess to study with me in The Hive turned into a second, third, and countless more. In fact, our afternoon meetings became such a given that the invitations soon became unnecessary. And as the Cedarville volleyball team was winning the National Championship title, Jess and I were quickly growing to be close friends.

By the time Emilie returned from her week in Colorado, she was confused (and pleased) to find that Jess was an established member of our group. Jess even started initiating group events and inviting Emilie along.

Just as our friendship seemed to be in full bloom, Christmas Break hit. We were driven (literally speaking) hundreds of miles apart for a full month. But if you think that stopped us from staying in touch and getting close, you’d be wrong. We spent the majority of break chatting on Facebook (I wasn’t feeling bold enough to call her just yet), sending each other emails, and writing creative stories on each other’s wall involving everything from our families to the consistency of Candy Corn (which we determined to be made of pottery clay).

Before we knew it, Christmas break was over, we were back at school, and we had made arrangements to meet back in The Hive for another unproductive study date.


She said …

I glanced casually over my shoulder at the clock in the back of the classroom. Just a couple minutes until class was over. It was the first day of a new semester, so class was far from exciting, and I found myself spending most of it daydreaming while watching the snow falling outside the window. Finally, the professor dismissed us and I jumped up and dumped my books and new syllabus in my bag, and pulled on my coat, hat and scarf. The school day was finally over, which meant it was time for my study date with Alex—the first one of the semester.

I chuckled to myself as I headed out the door into the blustery Ohio afternoon toward The Hive, our regular meeting place. One could hardly consider what we did to be “studying”. It was mostly an hour or so of laughing and telling stories about anything and everything before meeting the rest of the group for dinner. No one would guess that we had only known each other a couple of months, because we talked and enjoyed each other’s company with the comfort and ease of two old friends.

And a “date”? It was even more absurd to call it that. Alex was funny, cute, and charming, and I was amazed at how comfortable I felt with him after such a short time. But a date? I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit attracted to him. But this is college, I reminded myself. Grow up. I was sure it was perfectly common for a guy to just be good friends with a girl. There’s no way Alex was thinking of it in any other way than that, so neither should I. Even so, I couldn’t help but notice how lately our conversations weren’t all just about silly stories and memories, but they were becoming blended with more serious topics: thoughts about life, our pasts, and our faith. Things I don’t readily share with just anyone.

Oh, stop it, I instructed myself. He’s just a friend. Why did I need to remind myself of that? I pulled open the door to The Hive and shook the snow from my boots.

“Jess! Over here.” I glanced up and saw Alex waving me over to a table. He was smiling and eating mozzarella sticks. He slid them across the table over to me as I sat down, knowing that I’d only pick off the outside and give him the cheese. It was a good and well-established system. I smiled back and picked one up, pushing my private thoughts from the walk over out of my mind.

“So, how was the first day?” Alex asked.

“Well, you were right about Professor Greene …” I responded, launching into a story about a professor Alex had warned me about.

An hour later, I was wiping tears from my eyes from laughing and trying to catch my breath. In the midst of story after story, I had forgotten all about the things I had been thinking about on the way over and was just enjoying hanging out with my new friend.

“Yeah, and that wasn’t even the worst thing I ever ate,” Alex said proudly, between his own fits of laughter. “One time, I ate a cotton ball. Trust me—bad idea.”

I choked on my mouthful of mozzarella crust. “Wait … a cotton ball? That was you at that insane party?!”

Alex laughed and launched into his story. “Oh my word, it was horrible. I had cramps for—” He suddenly paused and started at me blankly. “Wait … how did you know about that party?”
It was my turn to laugh out loud in disbelief. “I was there! Emilie invited me. I can’t believe that was you. I thought you were absolutely crazy! Wow, I always thought that you looked familiar.”

“I can’t believe you were there! There were so many people packed in there, I must not have seen you.”

The irony of the situation was too much. We laughed and laughed, reminiscing about that party and agreeing it was for the best that I hadn’t put two and two together sooner, or else I might have quickly disassociated myself from Alex.

After dinner that night, I walked back through the snow to my dorm thinking about the afternoon. Even though Alex and I talked a great deal over Christmas break, I had missed our times in The Hive. Communication just wasn’t as easy via Facebook or email, and I was sure that was what had triggered thoughts about the possibility of something more between Alex and me. But after our afternoon together, I realized that the only thing developing between us was a deep and close friendship—and I was fine with that. I enjoyed his company immensely, and was unusually comfortable with him. Anything beyond friendship would just complicate things, and potentially threaten a friendship I had quickly come to value a great deal. I cared about our developing friendship too much to jeopardize it in any way. I quickly decided to leave those thoughts and questions back on Christmas break.

The next few weeks passed in much of the same manner. Alex and I continued to spend many afternoons in The Hive talking and even studying on occasion. We had developed an easy rhythm with each other, and at this point, Alex felt like a best friend or a brother, not someone I just met mere months before. The thoughts of a potential relationship between Alex and I had long been forgotten and had been replaced with the comfort of a trusting and loyal friend. Life seemed completely back to normal … until one fateful snow day.

Snow days are a rare joy in college, but on a freezing day in late January, the good Lord choose to bless us with one. Minutes after getting the news of canceled glasses, my phone began to ring. I answered while pulling up the blinds to see the thick blanket of snow covering campus. It was Dave, Alex’s roommate.

“Jess! We’re going sledding! Want to come? I still have those trays we swiped out of the cafeteria.” He said mischievously.

“Of course! Be ready soon!” Sledding was one of my most favorite winter activities, and there was no way I was going to pass that up.

My next phone call was to Alex. “Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to come. I don’t really like sledding. Or snow. Or the cold.”

“You’re ridiculous. Okfine. See you when we get back, wimp.” Apparently Alex was vehemently opposed to fun of all kinds. I’d miss having him along, but I knew it would still be a great time.

A few minutes later, I was jumping into a car driven by our friend Jesse. There was a blond guy with bright blue eyes sitting in the front seat whom I’d never seen before.

“Jess, this is my good buddy Sid.” Jesse said, glancing at me in the rear-view mirror. Sid turned around and extended a hand.

“Nice to meet you,” he said smiling. I shook his hand and my heart fluttered a tiny bit. He was very cute, and I introduced myself and giggled like a school girl with a crush. For the rest of the drive, Jesse was mostly quiet as Sid and I chatted away about our majors, where we were from, etc. I learned that Sid loved snowboarding, and was much more interested in that today than sledding.

“What?! You’ve never snowboarded before?” Sid responded, appalled when I admitted the sad truth. “Well, today is your lucky day, Missy, because I am going to teach you.” He flashed a smile at me, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about sledding either.
Several hours later, I was freezing, soaked to the skin, and only slightly better at sno
wboarding than I was when I started. Sid was an excellent teacher, but I found myself more often lost in his intense blue eyes than in his instructions. On the drive back, he flirtatiously teased me about my lack of snowboarding skills, and I joked back and pretended to be hurt. As they dropped me off at my dorm, I turned to Sid.

“Well, I wasn’t a very good student, but thank you for the snowboarding lesson.”

“My pleasure.” He smiled and then looked a little nervous. “Hey, um, would you like to have coffee with me sometime?”

My heart flip flopped again. “I’d love to.”

I floated up the walk and into my dorm, enthralled by the blond guy who had spent the afternoon teaching me to snowboard. I sat down at my desk and opened my laptop. Moments later, a message popped up from Alex.

Alex Laird: So, how was sledding?

I pulled off my coat and boots and then sat down to respond. Just then a second message popped up.

Sid: So, how about that coffee date?

My heart did that flippity thing, and I instantly sat down and replied. An hour later, I signed offline and got into bed, unaware that Alex’s message still sat unanswered.