Written by Fairley Lloyd – Instagram: fairleylloyd
“Amanda,” Marcus said, “just talk to him. What are you waiting for?”
Voices echoed in the high school cafeteria, but Marcus’ words boomed in my ears. The smell of stale baloney and fake cheese invaded my nostrils. Marcus bit into his six-inch Subway sandwich and stared at me. His eyes clearly told me he’d stop staring once I did what he told me to do. I looked down at my uneaten bowl of mac and cheese. Marcus only acted the way he did because he was tired of my hesitance. He gave me the following instructions weeks ago: find Noah Russo on campus and talk to him.
But that was the problem: I couldn’t talk to him. Every time I tried, no words came out. My voice disappeared the moment I saw Noah, whether we sat in class or read during study hall or ate in the cafeteria.
Marcus slurped his drink, playing around with the straw. He put it down and cleared his throat. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” he said.
“Really?” I said. “And why’s that?”
Marcus shrugged, taking another bite out of his ham and cheese sandwich. “He’s just a guy,” he said. “We’re all human here, aren’t we?”
“You don’t get it. You don’t like him like I do.”
My feelings for Noah were exponentially greater than anything I’d ever felt for other guys. James Tyler dated a senior when we met in art class; Andrew Neal transferred to another school last year; and that one guy I met at summer camp didn’t live here. I had no trouble talking to any of them.
Usually, I felt fairly comfortable around my crushes. Noah was an exception. Marcus said he’d help me talk to Noah weeks ago, but his definition of help differed from mine: his snarky comments started when I first asked him for help, and, if anything, they got snarkier as time went by.
“You could at least pretend you’re busy,” Marcus said. “You haven’t even touched your mac and cheese.”
My stomach growled at the reminder of lunch, but one look at my bowl brought bile to my throat. I couldn’t eat, not when I thought about Noah. How could Marcus not understand that? “You’re so not helpful,” I grumbled. “Can’t you see I’m nervous?”
I hated Marcus, but it wasn’t like I had a great pool of friends to choose from for help. My circle consisted of a self-proclaimed narcissist, a stale comedian, and a whiny loudmouth. (Marcus was the first one.)
I’d say this, though: he was nothing short of confident. Right now, I needed that.
Marcus cleared his throat. His plate stood on the table, completely empty. “You still haven’t moved,” he said. “It took me half an hour to eat this sandwich.”
“It was more like five minutes,” I said. “You eat fast.”
“Well,” Marcus shrugged, “I don’t trust your judgment; after all, didn’t you say you were going to talk to Noah weeks ago?”
“I can’t just talk to him.”
“Technically, you can.”
I glanced at Noah. He sat at an empty table, devouring a slice of pizza. Even his eating looked cute.
“He’s alone,” I said. “That makes it worse!”
“That makes it better!” Marcus said. “Now, you can talk to him one-on-one.” I shook my head.
“What if I do something stupid?” I asked. “What if I say something stupid? What if—” Marcus held up a hand to stop me.
“It’s not going to be like that. Get a grip, Queen of Theatrics.”
I rolled my eyes. Whenever I freaked out, Marcus called me “Queen of Theatrics.” I called him a pretentious asshole.
“Look,” Marcus said, “I’ve met Noah. He won’t bite.”
“He doesn’t know me well. What if he doesn’t like me?”
He let out a loud sigh. “Amanda, I’ve said all I could. You’ve been standing at my table since I grabbed lunch. For God’s sake, talk to Noah!”
“I can’t do this,” I said. “Not today.”
“That’s what you’ve said before. If you don’t do it now, when will you do it?” I opened and closed my mouth. Marcus had a point.
“You’ll never be ready,” Marcus said. “You just have to do it, like Nike says.” I laughed.
“You’re seriously quoting Nike right now?”
“They’re right,” Marcus said.
Damn, I thought, they’re right. I hated when that happened. Besides, if I did it now, I’d never have to hear about it from Marcus again.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”
Marcus clapped his hands together like a laughing baby. I glared at him, but he only stopped when he noticed students glancing at them from their tables.
“Finally!” Marcus said. “It only took you seventy-five months!”
I vowed to slap him later; right now, I had other priorities. I glanced back at Noah, who had his phone in his hand. Was he texting a girl? What if he had a girlfriend?
“Tick, tock,” Marcus taunted.
I took a deep breath and walked away from Marcus’ table, heading toward Noah’s. When I reached him, he didn’t look up at me. He was fully absorbed in whatever he was texting. Man, I was right. He did have a girlfriend!
You don’t have to do this, I thought. You can just walk away.
I clenched my fist. If you don’t do it now, when will you?
I cleared my throat.
“Hi,” I said.
Noah looked up from his phone and smiled at me.
“Hey,” he said. “It’s Amanda, right?”
“What’s up?” Noah asked.
“Not much. What about you?”
“I’m pretty good.” He smiled at me. You want to sit down?”