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Joel leaned towards my face and licked my chin.
“What was that for!?” I asked astonished.
“You had a chocolate stain,” he stated, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to lick leftovers of my forgotten dark chocolate cupcake.
I was taken aback by both Joel’s actions and presence at the junior dance. After his parents died in a car crash five years earlier, the rest of the school avoided him like tragedy was contagious; I had been the only friend not to desert him. That night we were sitting very close together on a bench outside the blaring music and the throbbing dance floor.
“Why are you here?” I murmured, my wrinkled brow betraying bafflement.
“Isn’t that the eternal question,” he joked. Stroking a lock of my blonde hair he said, “Actually, I’m here to repay your favor. I love you Goldie.”
“Huh?” This was too much to handle. I was just Goldie, a nice nobody in a sea of our school’s somebodies. I was not brilliant (average smart) or breathtakingly beautiful (tall, thin, and awkward.) I was definitely not loveable, a least not by Joel. I didn’t know he thought of me as anything other than ‘one of the guys.’ My stomach fluttered as I sifted through my mind, what favor?
My musings halted as I watched Joel remove his jacket. I inhaled sharply as I saw the herringbone criss cross of many self inflicted scars on his arms. I felt stupid for never considering why he always wore long sleeves. I ran my index finger along the pink worms. I was his best friend and yet I never had known how much pain he faced. Now that I was near him I could feel it how raw and palpable his hurt truly was.
“After…it happened, my world imploded. Did you know that I was supposed to be in their car that day? I decided to stay home at the last minute, mom and dad were just going out for groceries. The guilt was insurmountable…” His voice had cracked and his shoulders heaved, his eyes glistened as they replayed the painful memories. I neither seen him cry before nor heard him speak of the circumstances of the accident. I could not breathe. “But you were my angel. You helped me stop,” he gestured towards his arms, “I don’t know if I would still be alive without you.”
“But I was just your friend,” I choked, noticing I was crying too.
“You gave me hope.”
I looked deep into his muddy eyes, and whispered I loved him too. More than anything. I always hoped that we would someday be more than friends. I knew our bond had grown even thicker after sharing sorrows and feelings.
Joel leaned in and kissed me. He barely grazed his lips over mine, but it was incredibly intimate. The kiss tasted bitter sweet, like salty tears and dark pain laced with a chocolate love that can only be shared between friends.