tagRomanceA New Beginning Pt. 03

A New Beginning Pt. 03

byOnePenIsMightier©

Kate stared back at me, just as uncertain what to do as I was.

"Uhh...hey." I stammered.

"Hey...how are you?"

"I'm alright. What about you?"

"I think I'm going to let you two catch up. I'll see you in there." Wes interjected.

"See ya Wes. I'm doing ok." Kate said, staring at anyone but me.

I took a deep breath and decided I might as well address the cloud hanging over the whole situation, "Kate, I'm sorry about everything. Really, I am. I didn't mean to come off as shallow and insensitive. I don't expect you to give me another shot or anything, but it's important that you know I didn't mean to be a jerk."

Kate kicked at a plastic bag as the wind sent it tumbling by, "I know." she said almost too soft for me to hear. "It wasn't anything you said. That was just the excuse I used. I feel bad for making you think it was your fault. I just...I'm sorry, I can't do this right now." Kate finally looked up and I saw tears welling in her eyes and felt my heart ache all over again. I wanted to be the man that could comfort her, not the one who caused her grief; somehow I had hurt her again.

"I'm sorry. Can we talk some other time? Over lunch maybe?" Kate asked, wiping her eyes before anyone else could see.

"Of course! Whenever you want."

"I'll text you later and we'll figure something out. I'm really sorry." Kate replied as she quickly walked away in the opposite direction she'd been originally going.

I was left standing on the corner completely unsure what to make of the whole interaction. Had I made her cry or was it something else? What did she mean by what I said just being an excuse? And most of all, was she actually going to text me or was that just a tactic to get out of the conversation quickly?

I spent Wes and my's entire workout turning the questions over and over again in my head trying to make sense of it. I told Wes about the entire exchange to see what he thought and was left with even more questions. After our workout I went back to my place and showered. Twice during my shower I heard my phone chirp and hurriedly dried my hands only to find a work e-mail to be the cause of the alert. After a few more false alarms throughout the day I resigned myself to the fact that she just wasn't going to text me.

It wasn't until late that night when I was just falling asleep on my couch while a Netflix show blared on my TV that the chirp of my phone pierced the blaring speakers and startled me awake, knocking my phone down into the crack of the sofa. I went from almost asleep to fully alert in no time flat and quickly fished my phone from the dirt and lint infested underbelly of the sofa and unlocked my screen with a swipe of the thumb.

It was Kate. "Hey, sorry about earlier. I was a bit of a mess. Can you do lunch tomorrow? If not, it's ok, we can do some other time. I was thinking about the little place on the corner by your apartment."

I tapped out my reply, read it four or five times, contemplating each word choice carefully, then finally hit send after a few edits.

Kate's reply came quickly, "Great, see you at 1."

After that I couldn't get back to sleep. I tried to go to bed but spent a few hours lying awake thinking about Kate. After laying in silence didn't work, I turned the TV back on to try to drown out my thoughts. I finally fell asleep after another hour of rehearsing what the following day might bring.

As I left my apartment to head to the cafe I felt the anxiety start to build. I knew I didn't have anything to be all that nervous about, but for whatever reason I was a giant ball of nerves and felt like I could break out into a sweat even though it was a cool windy day. I had paced my apartment for 20 minutes trying to make myself wait until it was an appropriate time to head down to the cafe and still ended up leaving 10 minutes before it was probably necessary.

I arrived at the cafe and looked around, not surprisingly, I didn't see Kate yet and grabbed a table for two away from all of the other diners. I picked up a menu and pretended to be scouring it for what I would eat, when in actuality, I was staring blankly at the same spot on the menu trying to get my thoughts under control and calm my racing heartbeat.

Just when I thought I'd gotten myself under control I saw Kate walking by the windows outside, headed for the door, and lost total control of my insides again as they twisted themselves into a knot. She looked amazing, as she always did, the wind whipping at a loose fitting skirt while she hugged a jacket to her body to keep the breeze at bay. She saw me as she entered and walked over with a somewhat forced smile on her face.

"Hey! Thanks for doing lunch." She greeted me.

"Anytime, really. How are you?"

"I'm fine. So what's good here?" She asked as we both began dancing between random topics while avoiding the sole reason we'd actually agreed to meet. Neither one of us wanted to make things awkward, and by not wanting to make things awkward, we inherently made things awkward. We made small talk and jumped between topics on a whim, never letting silence linger for long in the hopes that we might just run out of time and never have to address the topic at hand.

Finally, as we ate, there was a lull in conversation where we caught each other's eye and knew it had to be done.

"So...about the other day..." Kate began.

"Yeah, I'm sorry if I upset you somehow, I didn't mean to."

"No, no, you didn't do anything, really. It was more just me not wanting to have the conversation is all, but it wasn't fair to leave you hanging like that."

"It's ok, I would have survived."

"Well, the way things ended wasn't fair to you either and I felt bad for making it seem like it was something you did when really it was just me. I...well...I'm sorry, I really did have a lot of fun with you and everything was just...perfect. I just couldn't get past our past. I never wanted to think about high school again, and then you came back into my life and everything was great, but you just constantly reminded me of the person I used to be and I hated that."

"Oh...sorry."

"No, you didn't do anything wrong! There's nothing to be sorry about, it's just something that I have a hard time with. I was laying on your bed that last night after you went to get in the shower and I looked over and saw all the games we used to play together and, no offense, but those weren't exactly fond memories. They aren't bad by any means, but they just remind me of a time in my life where there wasn't a lot to be happy about. So, I panicked and I just ended up asking you stupid questions that were obviously just a big no win scenario for you but gave me a reason to leave. It was a shitty thing to do and I'm sorry." Kate took a deep breath, having gotten everything she wanted to out on the table.

"I...well...I don't blame you for any of it. I totally understand where you're coming from and why you feel the way you do. I guess I just look at it differently."

"How so?" she asked.

"Well, there's always going to be stuff that reminds me of the terrible stuff from high school, that's never going away. But if the one thing that was still in my life from those days was you, well, I could live with that. You were the only thing that got me through high school, I hope you know that. I know we weren't great friends or anything like that, but, really, I couldn't have done it without you. And if we could make it through all of that together, I guess I just felt like that would have been the hardest thing the two of us would have ever had to overcome together. So in that sense, I didn't care that you reminded me of high school because you were the part that got me through it."

Kate's eyes softened as she looked back at me, "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. Seriously, it is. You were my rock too you know."

We talked for quite a while, sharing how we felt about one another, but I soon realized she did not think of me in a romantic sense, but rather as a friend that she could lean on. By the time we had to leave we agreed to see each other more often, as friends, and decided to go out the following weekend together with Alice and Wes.

It hadn't been the result I wanted, but it would do. As long as I had Kate in my life, I was at least happier. When I got back to my apartment I called Wes and told him what had transpired and that we would be joining him and Alice the next weekend. Wes was encouraging as always and made me feel like I had at least scored a mild victory in getting to see Kate again.

Over the next few weeks I saw Kate a handful of times and things became more and more natural. We laughed and joked with one another and developed a healthy friendship. As I walked Kate home after dinner one night with Wes and Alice we passed by the GameStop. It was close to closing time, but we decided to pop inside and take a look around. As we browsed, Kate picked up the game that we had both decided to play on that second night together.

"Would it be weird if we still played this?" she asked.

"I don't think so. Why would it be weird?"

"I don't know, just cuz we decided to back when everything happened and all that."

"Well I'd still be up for playing." I said.

"Let's do it!" Kate said excitedly as she scurried over to the checkout counter.

That night felt like we were a couple again. We laughed, we made late night snacks together, we played our new game through the night, and I ended up sleeping on her couch. It was all perfect except for the fact that we were just friends. I couldn't understand how Kate didn't see that we were perfect for each other, and yet, I had to accept it; that was simply the nature of our relationship.

We fell into a routine where we would all go out for dinner and drinks together on Friday or Saturday night and then Kate and I would spend the rest of the night together playing through different games. This routine continued for months, and then the months became a year, and then a year became two. Throughout it all I never dated anyone; I never wanted to. Wes knew better than to ask and just let me wallow in the painful bliss of having Kate as one of my closest friends.

Over that same period Kate dated a few guys for short periods of time. She never brought them out with us and she never cancelled our gaming nights which always made me feel better about it. Nevertheless, it still hurt to know someone else was holding her hand and getting to kiss her beautiful lips.

During that second year, Wes proposed to Alice. Kate and I were asked to be the best man and maid of honor while we all celebrated that evening. Over the next 9 months, Wes and Alice planned their dream destination wedding in the Bahamas while Kate and I occasionally bat around ideas for our speeches. They kept it small with immediate family and a few close friends and had a beautiful ceremony on the beach followed by a reception at the resort where we all stayed.

"Hello everyone, for those of you that don't know me, I'm Jason..."

"And I'm Kate. We decided to do something a little different with our speeches and instead of doing them separately, we decided to do them together."

"See for the past 5 years I have been with Wes on an almost daily basis, whether it be at work or hanging out on the weekends."

"And I've lived with Alice for 2 of those years, seen her multiple times a week for the rest, and talked to her daily during that stretch."

"In fact, the two of us were there the night that they both met. Wes dragged me over to go say hi to 'the hot redhead that looks like a lot of fun.'"

"And I was there with Alice, being dragged along because I 'never get out of [my] apartment'"

"Since that night, we have all been close. But the real reason we decided to do the speeches as one is because our relationships, mine with Wes, and Kate with Alice, are so similar."

"You may not guess it now, but Jason and I used to be overweight. Really overweight. Alice and Jason are the reason we are both the people we are today."

"Wes, you didn't know this, but I was miserable when I got to New York. My high school and college experiences were some of the worst years of my life. I had no friends, I was overweight, and had zero self-esteem. In the blink of an eye, I shared a cubicle with you, and in exchange you shared a whole new life with me. I will never be able to thank you enough for that. My entire life has been better since I met you. You're funny, outgoing, generous, and one of the most down to earth people I know and I've witnessed firsthand that you treat every person you come across with the same affection and generosity that you've showed me over the years. Thank you for treating me as I always wished someone would. You were my motivator and my inspiration for finally getting into shape and I wouldn't be half the person I am today without having met you; or...well...maybe I'd still be twice the person...I was pretty fat."

"And Alice, I was in the same place as Jason. I had no one when I got here. I was a train wreck emotionally, I never left the house for fear of how people looked at and judged me, and I couldn't bring myself out of the depression that I'd settled into for years prior. But then I found an ad asking for a roommate and my whole life changed. You're upbeat and positive even in the darkest of moments, you have energy that seemingly never ends, and you're one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met. When I started working out with you I felt like an absolute idiot. I couldn't do half the things I was supposed to and I wanted to give up time and time again. Your positivity and encouragement kept me going and it's something I'll never forget. You bring that same energy to everything you do and I'm so glad you've found someone who shares your same level of enthusiasm for each and every day.

"So from the both of us, thank you. Even if you did nothing else with your lives, you can honestly say that you've helped save ours."

As I looked out at the small grouping of people, many had tears in their eyes and others seemed to be fighting them back. Alice was a mess, tears streaming down her face uncontrollably, while Wes was visibly trying to keep control of himself.

"Don't worry, we aren't just going to blow smoke up their ass, we have some dirt to share too." I continued.

"So, I'm not sure how many of you know this, but Alice has a collection."

"Oh god" Alice mumbled from the front table, hiding her face in her hands.

Kate laughed as she pushed on, "Alice, has socks. Lots and lots of socks. That doesn't seem too weird on the face of it, but if you saw them you'd start to get concerned; I certainly was when I saw them. 80% of them are unwearable, they have holes in them, they're torn to shreds, God knows how they got that way, but she keeps them anyway. She puts them through the wash even though she doesn't wear them and then folds, and puts them away again. Why, you may be asking. Why would anyone keep, oh, I don't know, 70-80 pair of unusable socks? Because she's going to fix them. She has no sewing experience, but she says she's going to learn. Half don't fit her anymore, but she says she'll make them bigger. Some aren't even cute, but she says she'll make them adorable. She can't sew, she's not really artistic, and she has very little free time to devote to this endeavor, and yet, she she's incapable of giving up on them. She throws away other things when they get old and worn, but not socks. For whatever reason, Alice will NOT get rid of a pair of socks. She claims she will fix them all eventually, but why bother at this point? Well, maybe because Alice doesn't give up on anything she says she's going to do. She probably told herself she was going to fix one pair of socks when she was 12 and dammit she's going to keep that promise. It may not be until she's retired, and it may not be one pair, it may be 400 pair by then, but she will stick to that.

She's never let me down in the years that I've known her and she's helped me so many times to achieve goals that I've set, so just once, I thought I might help her achieve one of hers." Kate pulled from under the table 3 large grocery bags of socks, "Wes has been stealing 10 pair at a time so you wouldn't notice, but Alice, here are your socks. They are all fixed, the uglies have been made cute, and the small have been made bigger. I hope you can find it in your heart, in the future, to finally throw some socks away, for Wes' sake, because I won't be sewing any more of them for you."

There was a round of laughter and applause as Alice stood up, wiped what were now laughing tears from her face, and hugged Kate as she pulled handfuls of socks from the bags and showed the audience.

"Now for Wes. Wes doesn't have a collection of socks unfortunately. At least not that I'm aware of. However, for Wes, like Alice, it is about what he refuses to give up that is probably the most embarrassing. I'm not sure how many of you have been to Wes' apartment, but you would not guess that a grown man lives there."

"Hey! My place is awesome!" Wes yelled.

"Wes, buddy, grownups don't usually use the word 'awesome' to describe their living arrangements. 'Nice', 'Comfortable', 'Homey', these are words grown-ups use." I smiled at him as the crowd laughed in agreement. "For those of you that haven't see his place, it is a cleaned up version of a frat house. There are music posters taped to the walls with blue painters tape, because, ya know, clear tape is hard to come by and so damn expensive. There are shelves that were hung out of level and have beer growlers lining them, some of which actually do have beer in them, but I've never seen anyone drink from them. The tops of his kitchen cabinets are lined with what he has decided are 'cool' liquor bottles. And maybe worst of all, in 5 years of living in New York, he still has yet to get a proper stand for his TV, which currently sits atop a stack of plastic milk crates. Buddy...I hate to break it to you, but your stuff might not make the cut in the home merger. You have exquisite taste in clothes, and obviously in women, but when it comes to home decor, you leave a lot on the table; not that I'd expect you to have a table to leave it on. Thank God Alice seems to know how to decorate. At least I think she does. She may have had all that furniture just to house all the socks now that I'm thinking about it. But no matter either of your faults, Kate and I are so happy we could be here with you today and are honored to be your friends. We will always be here for you no matter what, so if you just need a place to store a few extra pair of socks, or you want a spot to tape up your old posters, you can always come to us and we'll be there for you. With that we would like to propose a toast, to the happy couple, without whom Kate and I would be lost in this world."

Everyone raised their glasses, and we all sipped on the champagne in honor of Alice and Wes. Both stood and gave Kate and me big hugs before we all sat back down for dinner. The night was a blur from then on with everyone drinking and dancing, laughing and getting to know new fun people that we'd be seeing for the next few days while we all hung around the resort. Kate and I spent the night dancing together, having a blast, and obviously giving off the wrong vibe as many people came up and complimented us on our speech and asked when we were going to get married.

At one point Alice came and stole Kate from me for a short time which gave Wes and I a moment to ourselves.

"Congratulations again man. This is awesome. It's been a lot of fun."

"Awesome huh? I didn't think grownups used that word." Wes teased.

"Well, ya know, it is your wedding so I figured I'd stoop to your level at least once."

Wes chuckled, "Yeah, it has been pretty good hasn't it. Can't believe it finally got here, it seemed like it never would when we were planning it."

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