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It’s a cool, crisp autumn day. A light breeze blows the red, orange, and gold leaves across the abandoned football field.
It’s six-thirty P.M., and Edwin Gates High School is deserted.
Tall, blonde, and naïve, my best friend Jessie Warren sprints down the hill towards me, grinning. Jessie and I always get to hang out here after-hours because Mrs. Warren is the principal. She unlocks the gates, and we promise to stay out of her hair for a few hours. It’s a sweet little setup.
“Hey, Rick!” Jessie yells, throwing his A Midsummer Night’s Dream script on the grass, and almost crashing into a goalpost. “You bring the football?”
I flash him a grin of my own and toss the weathered brown object into the air for him to see. “Heads up.”
It’s one of the craziest throws I’ve ever made, and the football spirals towards Jessie like a torpedo. Just when I think the ball’s going to annihilate him, he lets out a shriek and somehow catches it.
“Not bad for a drama kid,” I say, somewhat surprised.
He passes the ball back to me. “I guess hanging around a lousy jock like you is finally starting to do me some good.”
“Speaking of ‘good’… I hear someone has a new girlfriend…?”
“Her name’s ‘Katie O’Brien’,” he replies almost reverently.
“Only the most amazing woman in the universe… Hey… do you think you’ll need a ride home from school tomorrow?”
I grunt noncommittally. The football soars over my head, landing in a clump of weeds. “You know I still don’t have my driver’s license.”
“Okay. I promised Katie I’d drive her home, too.”
“Where does she live?” I ask as I turn and retrieve the ball. “I want to be home in time to watch Miami Vice.”
He rolls his eyes. “Dude, she lives right next door to you.”
“Oh, I knew that.”
* * *
Three weeks have passed since Jessie started driving me and Katie home after school. Three weeks have gone by since I met Katie O’Brien, but I feel like I’ve known her all my life.
She likes scary movies, just like I do, likes Miami Vice, listens to David Bowie and Bon Jovi, and laughs at all my “you know you were born in the seventies when…” jokes.
Not only do we have so much in common- Katie is seriously gorgeous. With her long red hair and entrancing emerald eyes, she could give any self-respecting supermodel a run for her money.
Sometimes, I swear Jessie sees me staring at her.
He doesn’t say anything.
I think I’ve actually fallen in love with Katie O’Brien, but I can’t have her. She is Jessie’s girl, after all, and I don’t stand a chance.
It’s better to pretend that I don’t love her. Life becomes one big charade.
Inside, I’m suffering.
Where can I find a woman like that?
* * *
It’s Friday night.
I’m sitting in my living room watching A Nightmare on Elm Street for what must be the thousandth time. It’s been two whole years since the movie’s release, but Jessie says he hasn’t seen it.
Apparently, neither has Katie, because she’s sitting right beside me.
As the movie progresses, I find myself feeling an odd mixture of nerves and boredom. I’m bored because I’ve seem this movie so many times that I know exactly who Freddy Krueger’s going to get and when he’s going to get them. I can quote every single line.
I’m nervous because, as I said just a minute ago, Katie O’Brien is sitting right next to me.
Our shoulders are touching.
Suddenly, Jessie gets up and announces that he needs to use the bathroom.
He hastily exits the room.
Katie and I are alone.
Instinctively, I turn my head to look at her. She’s as beautiful as always…
Her eyes dart over to my face, and I freeze. She caught me staring at her.
Katie doesn’t say anything. She looks at me for what seems like an eternity, saying absolutely nothing.
Slowly, she smiles. “Hey, Rick.”
I swallow. She’s so close now that I could just put my arm around her shoulders…
“Uh, hey, Katie…”
“Rick… there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” she says in a low voice, as if it’s hard for her to get the words out. “Something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time.”
I force myself to look away. Freddy is chasing some girl in a nightgown.
I’m not so sure I can keep this up much longer. I’m getting fed up with living a lie, you know.
Five little words. “Do you love me, Rick?”
Her hand falls on my hand, and I forget the act. I forget that I’m supposed to be pretending I don’t like her, forget that she’s my best friend’s girlfriend, forget that I’m about to make an idiot out of myself. With one single word, I seal my own fate. I’m a dead man now. “Yes.”
Katie grins, her eyes half-closed.
The sound of footsteps echoes in from the hallway.
I’m no longer thinking about my feelings for Katie, or hers for me. I could really care less about how pretty she is, or how perfect we’d be together, and you know why?
I just remembered that Jessie Warren- tall, blonde, naïve- is head-over-heels in love with this girl, and he trusts me enough to leave me alone with his girlfriend.
Time crashes to a halt.
“I can’t have you,” I say quietly as I leap up from the couch just as Jessie reenters the room. “And it was stupid of me to think that I could.”
“What did I miss?” Jessie asks as he sits back down on the couch and puts his arm around Katie like I’d come dangerously close to doing. Seeing him grinning like that, staring into Katie’s eyes, I wonder how I ever could’ve thought of betraying his trust.
“The girl was… trying to seduce Freddy,” I answer quickly, knowing full well that my oblivious friend will never realize what I’ve just said. “But… Freddy wouldn’t have anything to do with her.”
“Why not?” Katie asks softly, catching the apparent meaning behind my words.
“She’s Jessie’s girl.”
As if on cue, the movie ends. Credits float up the screen like stray balloons rising up into the stratosphere.
Katie stares down at the floor.
“Dude,” Jessie mumbles. “Which one’s Jessie?”