Looking for a heavy-handed reminder of why neglecting relationships in the pursuit of something driven by assumption? Then look no further than this little story about a friend-zoned high school boy.
A Zone for Friends
by Gabriel Merithew
“Dude! What did she say?”
The final bell rang but Freddy and I stayed put in front of our lockers. I didn’t want to make the situation any more uncomfortable than I knew it would already be.
“We’re just gonna be friends,” I replied, trying my best to sound nonchalant.
“Friend-zoned again?” Freddy groaned. “Fuck. Sorry, bro.”
“Yeah, well… Maybe I could use another friend.”
“So you can do what? Talk to her about how much you want to comb her hair and feed her grapes? Tell her how much you want a girlfriend, knowing that there is a slim to none chance of her changing her mind?” Freddy asked incredulously. “Sounds pretty fucking painful, plus you’ve got me for that! What you need is to get laid.”
“Be that as it may…” I said, speaking slowly. “I don’t know if I can forget about her just yet… Why am I always attracted to girls who have absolutely no need for a man in their life?”
There was a dull pause between us and the last classroom door closed somewhere down the hall, leaving us alone and at serious risk of getting tardies.
“Dude, I’m actually asking.” I implored.
“Well, first of all, I think calling yourself a man is a bit of a stretch, but second of all… (and please don’t take this the wrong way), I think it might be time to slum it with some sub-sixes to get this Maisie shit out of your system.”
“That doesn’t answer my question at all, but thanks,” I said sarcastically, then looked up and down the empty hallway. The place reeked with the eternal stench of Drakkar Noir mixed with pubescent BO. “We’re gonna be late.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you later. And when I do, I’ll have cooked up a brilliant plan to get you laid.”
We hoisted our backpacks over our shoulders and trudged off in separate directions. He had French and I had Gym.
I sighed. We’d gone through this rigmarole before. “At least with a female, please.” I reminded him.
He turned but kept walking backward down the hall. His laughter echoed off the rows of lockers. “Tall order, but I’ll see what I can do. Later bro.”
Gym was a nightmare. Seeing Maisie in tight workout clothing was a big contributor to my initial obsession and I hated how she somehow looked better than ever, and even smiled at me as I passed, though my mind immediately took the smile as a pitiful one. It was just as well, I was pretty fucking pitiful.
The class passed in a whirlwind of confusion on my part because the teacher/coach thought that playing volleyball was a critical step in our mission for fitness. I found this notion baffling not only because she automatically assumed that we knew the basic rules, but also because I didn’t break a sweat at any point in the class, and instead spent the hour trying not to get hit in the face by flying balls. It occurred to me that I spent most of my time, in and out of class, trying to avoid all activities where there might be balls in my face.
I might’ve been fine and even enjoyed the volleyball game, which we eventually lost if I hadn’t been so distracted. It seemed like nothing had changed for Maisie. She was enjoying herself and laughing with her friends as they absolutely creamed a group of senior guys on the other team. She looked over at me a few times and smiled, but this only made me realize that I was staring at her like an idiot and quickly looked away. I didn’t want her to feel bad, but it seemed unfair that I was over here with a broken heart and she appeared completely unfazed. “Friends.” “Friend-zoned.” These words echoed in my head and by the end of the class, it seemed unlikely that I’d ever be able to go back to just being her friend. I would be a great boyfriend. If only I could just convince her of that.
Sitting on the sidelines, I was lost in a fantasy where Maisie and I were making out under the big tree across from the football field. I had been staring blankly at the mascot printed onto the gym floor but looked up quickly when I felt a tap on my shoulder, ready for a reprimanding from our teacher/coach. But it wasn’t the teacher/coach, it was Maisie. “Earth to Cole-y.” She said brightly.
“Oh, hey!” I said, trying to maintain a composure that I always seemed to lose every morning when I entered the school and regained when I exited at the end of the day.
“Why don’t you wanna play?” She asked.
“I am playing. In my mind. You know that mental exercise is as good as physical.” I said lamely, not at all wanting to admit that the only mental exercise I’d been engaged in involved imagining a world where I knew what the inside of her mouth tasted like.
Maisie laughed and held out her hand. “Get up.” She commanded. “You can be on our team.”
I took her hand and hated how warm and smooth it felt, and how the direct connection seemed to deliver some kind of electric shock into the pit of my stomach.
Gym was the last class of the day so when it was over, I hurriedly redressed in my normal clothes and joined the flood of students all clamoring noisily. I went to meet up with Freddy at my car, feeling relieved the day was over, but also wishing that I could have played volleyball with Maisie a little longer. Freddy pointed at the passenger door as I approached and I clicked the unlock button. Once we were both inside my beat-up old car, he launched right into it.
“Okay,” He said excitedly. “Here’s the plan!”
As we pulled out of the parking lot he launched into his in-depth plan, but I was only half listening.
“You’re going to crash Ash Johnson’s party tonight.” He looked over at me, expecting some kind of crazy reaction, but I felt a bit numb, and I didn’t feel like arguing so I stayed silent.
“How are you going to get in?” Freddy asked my question for me. “You’re going to walk in and you’re going to offer him the only girl you’ve ever had success with. I’m talking of course about the sexiest of babes, our dear Mary Jane. I heard that Ash is a bit of a pothead and I don’t think he’d turn it down. Okay, now you’re inside. You strut your stuff over to the open bar and pretend you know what you’re pouring into your glass. Once people see you’re drinking, they’re going to accept and then ignore you. This is exactly what we want. But don’t actually drink anything, you need to be as alert as possible if this is going to work. Next, you go over to the DJ, or probably just Ash’s fucking iPod and change the current track to anything by Barry White. Of course, there’s absolutely no chance your abilities could live up to a Barry White track, but the girls don’t know that… Are you even listening to me?”
“Huh? Totally.” I responded, glancing over at him and flashing a smile I hoped didn’t look as fake as it felt. “Do go on, master planner.”
“Okay, so after you change the music, without making eye contact with anyone, you walk over to a sofa, or any seating area big enough to at least seat two people. Oh! And preferably in a dark corner or something. Then you just need to look cool but sad and pretend to keep sipping whatever the fuck you put in your glass, and if all goes according to plan, one (if not two or three) girls will come up to you. They’ll ask you something like: Are you okay? And you launch into your story of always getting friend-zoned. Hopefully, they’ll be pretty drunk and find your adorable vulnerability incredibly attractive. And then after you finish your story comes the best part. She (or them if you believe in miracles) will take you up to one of the hopefully vacant bedrooms where you will finally become a man, and then I can finally stop coming up with these plans for you – however masterful they may be.”
I had actually been listening to the last bit of Freddy’s plan, but instead of making me feel excited, or even laugh at its absurdity, it made me feel sad. I was lucky to have a friend like Freddy, who would try to make me feel better no matter what. I hadn’t even asked him how his day had been. I didn’t know if he had a crush on anyone. I’d been so busy worrying about my insignificant and fucking pathetic problems that I had been completely ignoring how he was doing.
I wouldn’t be going to Ash Johnson’s party. I wouldn’t continue to ignore my best friend’s feelings. And I knew that in all probability, I wouldn’t lose my virginity that evening. Freddy and I would go back to my house like we did almost every day, but this time, I’d put real effort into asking him questions and listening to his answers with an open mind. Friends were pretty great, and even though I still had a major crush on Maisie, maybe being her friend wouldn’t be so bad after all. I would never be able to change her mind and maybe I was finally okay with that, but who knows, maybe she might change her mind. It was time to be a better friend because whenever a girl finally liked me back, I’d want us to be friends… But a friend who could also hold her soft warm hands, make out with her under the tree across from the football field, and maybe even make her toes curl in a deserted bedroom at one of Ash Johnson’s parties, but that might be pushing it.
I looked over at Freddy and smiled a real smile. A genuinely happy smile. “I’m not going to Ash’s party. Let’s just hang out at my place tonight.”
“Really?” He asked. “But what about the possibility of three drunk seniors pulling down your boxers with their teeth?”
I laughed. “Maybe another time. But let’s drop that, okay?”
There was a long silence, but then I spoke knowing that I had to start somewhere. “So do you have a crush on anyone?”
“You gonna ask me out, bro? Cause I’m afraid if you do that you might be friend-zoned for the second time in twenty-four hours.”
I laughed harder at this. “I am definitely not going to ask you out. I just realized that I’ve been so wrapped up in my own shit that I have no idea what’s going on with you. And I’m genuinely interested. You’re my best friend, but lately, I haven’t been acting like it. I’m sorry.”
Freddy had a puzzled look on his face when I looked over at him, but he quickly recovered when he realized I was being serious, and he launched into his own dramatic tale. All thoughts of Maisie vanished from my mind for the rest of the evening, and Freddy and I reverted back to a simpler time when everyone was friend-zoned and it didn’t matter. Maybe our eight-year-old selves had a point.