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"Friends"

Just Friends

Sawyer walked into Pro Joe’s once a week during his work day. Being the Executive Editor at Sun & Moon Publications, he has the free will to take time out of the office. Pro Joe’s is his favorite café on the outskirts of the city. It’s old, built fifty years ago and still thriving.

“Heya Sawyer. Regular today?” the barista asks before Sawyer can close the door behind him.

“Yeah, thanks, Marty. Extra shot of espresso will ya?”

“You got it.” Marty has Sawyer’s drink made by the time he gets to the counter to pay. He hands Marty a ten-dollar bill and grabs his regular order of coffee and a croissant on his way to his regular seat in the corner of the shop. Sawyer spreads out the stories that need reviewing, and his colorful pens along with a clean notebook with every page in place, nothing ripped or dog-eared. Within minutes Sawyer is lost in his work, noting and highlighting and slicing pages with his red pen causing the papers to bleed.

After a while Sawyer took a break, breathing hard and slow, scanning the room to see that Pro Joe’s has ten times the usual number of customers at this time of day. He put his pen down and sipped his coffee, watching everyone going through the doors, taking seats at the tables to chat. There’s all of three open seats in the whole café, one being directly across from him at his table.

She looks around the shop, her hair falling out of her ponytail, eyes widening with stress. After a few seconds, she walks to Sawyer, coffee in one hand, backpack hanging over her opposite shoulder.

“Do you mind if I share this table with you? It’s pretty crowded in here.” Sawyer had social anxiety, yes. But when it came to interacting with people, Sawyer was oddly social at work and with the baristas at Pro Joe’s. It was strangers he didn’t know how to talk to, but his therapist urged him to come out of his comfort zone in public.

“Yeah of course,” Sawyer said, offering the seat to the girl. She smiled and dropped her backpack gently to the floor. He watches as she tucks her loose strands of hair behind her ears and opens her notebook to her current page, textbook closed to the side. Her notes, unlike her reddish-brown hair, are neat as can be, the words color-coded and written perfectly in place.

"You look like an interesting person, Sawyer.” She rests her head in her hands, “I’m Lexa.” Sawyer smiles politely, wondering how she already knew his name. He squints his eyes in confusion before realizing that his name is written on his coffee cup. They both let out a small laugh and Sawyer sits back in his seat, impressed by the girl’s attention to detail.

“What do you do?” Lexa straightened out her pens and closed her notebook. A full-time student at St. Mary’s. She’d earned a bachelor’s degree in English with an emphasis in Literary Theory & History and was now studying for her teaching credential. She liked to talk and Sawyer liked to listen to her. Lexa told him about the adventures she’d experienced on the weekends and intersession breaks from school. She’s hiked Hekla, Mount Temple, Mount Katahdin, and Mount Olympus. She’s been to Pompeii, Paris, snorkeled in the Great Barrier Reef, and ziplined through Rio de Janeiro and Yellowstone. Her grandparents had left her millions in their will, Lexa had invested some of it into the New York Stock Exchange. She doesn’t have to go to college, she doesn’t even have to work. But she wants to earn respect from her peers. She doesn’t date, not since high school. She doesn’t have time for immaturity. She doesn’t have many close friends, but she’s friends with everyone.

Lexa was so different than Sawyer. They were both friendly and had similar traits, but Lexa was so much more adventurous than him. As he exchanged conversation about their lives with her he can’t help but feel that inevitable emotion he got at night before bed. Despondency.

Sawyer woke in a sweat. His phone rang loudly, frightening him. His breathing finally slowed down when he answered to find his brother on the line. He addressed the question of bringing a date to the wedding next month. Yes, he’d find someone to bring with him. He promised. Sawyer hung up, stood and stared at his reflection in the mirror in his bathroom. Normally his mirror was bland, just a decorative frame surrounding the reflective glass. It’d been a year since he met Lexa and the mirror’s framing had pictures of them hanging out of the edges. There hadn’t been a weekend without some sort of adventure since he’d met her.

He picked up his phone and sent her a text: I need a solid. They’d established a system. They would never give in to society’s pressure and consider dating. They both knew who they were and they both knew they weren’t attracted to the other. Sawyer saw Lexa as his second little sister and Lexa considered Sawyer the older brother she never got. I need a date for Tom’s wedding next month. He knew she wouldn’t like it, but he needed a solid. He’d pay her back with donuts later.

Fiiiiiiiiiiiine. He smiled at the text from his best friend, put his phone away, and continued to get ready to see his family and try on his tuxedo at the fitting.

The weeks before the wedding moved fast. Sawyer and Lexa had been meeting at Pro Joe's every week to work together on their respective practices. They talked about their excitement for the wedding and spoke of how they wouldn't fake a relationship there even to please his mom, who pushed them to date every time Sawyer talked to her.

“You can’t let people control your life and walk all over you. You can’t please everybody. You’re you. Be you, not what the world wants,” she gave Sawyer confidence, a boost of self-esteem that he’d never been given. He knew she was right but he didn’t know or realize how toxic pleasing people was.

Before they knew it, the big day was there. Sawyer was Tom's best man. In the dressing rooms, Sawyer noticed how nervous Tom was and watched him pace back and forth. He checked his reflection in the mirror every few seconds. Sawyer checked his watch every few seconds.

A knock came at the door and Tom's head jolted sideways as Sawyer jumped to get the door before Tom could move. Lexa stormed in with a fury so red that Sawyer could feel the fire emanating from her body, "You told your mom we're dating?" She was trying to keep her voice level as to not cause a scene.

"No, of course not. What happened?"

"Oh, nothing, just your mom casually introducing me to everybody as her second future-daughter-in-law. I asked her what she was talking about off to the side so I wouldn't embarrass her and she said that you said we're engaged. What the hell, Sawyer? What happened to all of our conversations about staying true to ourselves?" She took a deep breath and found some alcohol in the room. She poured herself a glass of champagne and drank it as if it were a shot.

"Lexa, I promise you, I didn't tell my mom we're together, we're dating, or we're engaged. She knows I'm single, she knows we don't like each other like that. I'll go settle this, alright?" She nodded and downed another flute of champagne as Sawyer walked out the door to find his mother.

Outside the air was warm, the sun bright, and the flowers brighter. The palm trees swayed in the wind and there were coconuts sporadically fallen in the sand around the wedding arch. There were fifty or so chairs distributed evenly between two sides of the space reserved for the wedding, one side for the groom's family, one for the bride's. Sawyer pulled his mother out of a crowd of their family members and asked to speak with her in private. By the look on her face, once they were alone, Sawyer could tell that she already knew what he needed to talk about.

"You have no right, mom," Sawyer angrily whispered to her. "You know that we're just friends and will only ever be friends. Why are you going around and telling people that we're engaged?"

His mother sighed and rolled her eyes in exhaustion. "Humor me," she said as if Sawyer was being overdramatic.

"No, mom. I'm never asking Lexa out. She's like a little sister to me."

"But you love being around her! She makes you so happy!"

Sawyer could feel his temperature rising from more than just the spring air and the fading breeze, "Fix it. We are not dating and you are lying to people about it. Lexa is so angry right now mom, and so am I. You don't get to meddle in my love life. Okay? Today isn't about you, it's not about me, or Lexa. It's about Tom and Tina. Stop trying to get me settled down and pay attention to the son you have that's getting married," Sawyer said and walked away.

The ceremony was short after that compared to the reception that followed. There was an open bar and great music. Sawyer and Lexa sat together for about an hour, people-watching. For the first time in a while Lexa pointed out some boys she thought were cute, she admitted because she was almost done with her degree she had more downtime to think about starting a family. Sawyer couldn’t stop staring at the maid-of-honor. Alana. He’d walked down the aisle with her and had had several friendly conversations with her but decided to admire her from a distance. That is, before Lexa caught him gawking and encouraged him to slow dance with her. He felt silly, asking her to dance out of peer pressure as if he were at prom, but as soon as Alana smiled at him, he couldn’t get her out of his head. That dance was perfect and Lexa was the sole reason for the two-year-long relationship Sawyer found himself in after Tom’s wedding.

Alana made Sawyer happier than he’d ever been in his life. Lexa had helped him out of his shell and made him a happier person in general, but Sawyer had never felt the kind of love that he felt with Alana. Ever. He bought her flowers and chocolates on her period, he took her on fancy dates and fun dates and relaxing dates. She bought him new ties and cufflinks for his suits. She worked as a chef in an up and coming restaurant and because of that, Sawyer was her guinea pig when it came to new recipes. She wasn’t one of those hipster chefs that shoveled dirt into a mold and called it “food.” Alana made real food with top-of-the-line ingredients that tasted delicious.

On their two-year anniversary, Sawyer had planned a series of dates throughout the day. For dinner, he took her to her favorite restaurant where they had the most incredible cocktails they’d ever seen. They walked back to Alana’s apartment, slightly tipsier than either of them would willingly admit. They stumbled through her door, laughing and kissing. Alana tugged on Sawyer’s suit jacket and as he took it off he separated their lips and insisted they both drink a glass of water.

As Alana grabbed the water, Sawyer pulled out his phone to check the time and left it on the counter, throwing his jacket on the barstool next to it. He slowly sipped the water with the love of his life. She wasn’t perfect, he knew that. They’d had their ups and downs like any other couple, but Sawyer couldn’t help but admire her at that moment the same way he’d admired her at Tom’s wedding.

“Why is she texting you?” Sawyer didn’t know what or who Alana was talking about. He followed her eyes to the screen of his cell phone and saw a text message from Lexa. “It’s half past midnight, Sawyer. What could she possibly want?” He didn’t know, and he continued to ignore the message.

“Nothing’s going on, babe. We’ve talked about this.” He softly grabbed Alana’s hands and stuttered to her to try to calm her. His heart rate quickened and he knew Alana wasn’t about to drop the subject. They’d fought about it many times before and it was often the basis of any argument they’d ever had.

She huffed a shallow breath of air, “I don’t get it. What does she have that I don’t?” Sawyer sighed and checked what the message said.

How was your big anniversary date? Hope it was a good night dude ;D Sawyer continued to stand his ground that Lexa and he were merely friends. Alana simply ignored him.

“You’re fucking, aren’t you? Boys and girls aren’t ever friends unless one is gay or they’re fuck buddies,” she argued. Sawyer insisted this wasn’t true to no avail. “Which one is it Sawyer?”

“Neither! For Christ’s sake, Alana. We have been together for two years. Lexa and I have been friends for three. She was there for me during times when I had no one. She got me out of a black hole. She’s the one who encouraged me to dance with you the night you and I met. We’ve never so much as bat an eye at each other romantically or sexually. I’m so tired of arguing about this. You make me so happy but I don’t think you realize that Lexa makes me happy too. Every time we argue about this, it makes my depression and anxiety skyrocket. But you don’t seem to care one bit. I love you but if you can’t accept that Lexa is my friend then this is over. Figure it out,” Sawyer snatched his jacket off the barstool and took off to go home.