For Emily, Saturdays always seemed to be the days when most things went wrong. She didn’t exactly know why, but she was almost certain that there was some pattern, some sort of spiteful spirit that hated Saturdays, hated her, or both. This Saturday would be one of the most bizarre ones so far, but she didn’t know that yet.
The alarm rang, its screeching noises filling Emily’s bedroom. With a huge sigh, she pulled the cover off of her body and jumped out of bed. As she picked up her phone from the nightstand, she sighed again. Oh God, she thought. What now? She tapped various locations of the device’s large screen until she ended up in a text message chain with her mom, her brother and her younger sister. Her eyes kept trying to entice her to fall back asleep while she was scanning the lines of the last ten or so messages as carefully as she could.
Damn it, she thought as she got to the last message. That’s today? She quickly gathered her things, put on her favorite, pastel pink cardigan, messily fluffed up her hair as she ran past her large mirror and made her way downstairs.
“Good morning!” Her mom said with a slight smile. She was standing in the kitchen, as she usually did, preparing homemade waffles. Emily’s mother was a very good cook and baker, but waffles weren’t her strong suit, for some reason. Every time she tried (and she tried too much), they’d end up burnt or somehow taste of licorice. The thought made Emily grimace as she walked past the kitchen.
“Morning, mom!” she hastily said and made her way to the front door.
“Not so fast,” her mom shouted back from the kitchen. “Don’t forget your waffles!”
Oh, God. “Of course,” Emily replied with a sigh.
Ben was sitting on the side of his bed with his laptop firmly planted on his crossed legs. With the speed of a twenty-fingered person, he was typing away on an essay for school. He heard a knock on his room door and, while very annoyed by this, he still managed to calmly shout “Come in!”
“Emily’s here,” his mom said while peeking her head through the slightly opened door. “She says it’s important.”
Almost immediately, far too many thoughts started sprinting through his head: It’s important? What could that possibly mean? Was Em, his best friend since kindergarten, dying? No, that’s unlikely. But what if she was? Why wouldn’t she just call? Oh God, no, a call would be even worse. Still begging his brain to shut up, he trotted down the stairs and arrived in the house’s main hallway. A myriad of family photos plastered the walls, most of them from when Ben was still a child. His mom loved showing off pictures of his “little baby boy,” evidently in the most embarrassing ways possible.
“Ben!” Emily said hastily as he opened the door. “I need you to be my boyfriend!”
His what? His mind began racing again. Not only was that a very weird way to phrase that sort of thing, but it was also an extremely unexpected request in general. Emily, while insanely beautiful and extremely charming, wasn’t really known to start relationships with anyone. Ben occasionally talked to her about it. It didn’t seem to be her favorite topic, so usually, he’d lay off after only two or three questions. They weren’t necessarily the easiest of questions for him to ask her, either, because he was obsessed with her, almost uncomfortably so. Not in a stalker-y, watch-her-every-night, masturbate-to-her-daily sort of way, but in an I-love-you-and-I-want-to-marry-you kind of way. Of course, Ben (being who he is) was far too self-conscious to ever bring it up.
“You need to what?”, he responded quickly.
“Well,” she said and took a deep breath. “My aunt is coming to town and I may or may not have told her that we’re, uh, together.”
“You did what?”
“I know, I know. It’s bad.” She tutted. “The thing is that my aunt can be really annoying. She always goes on and on about my love life, about how I haven’t found a boyfriend yet, even though I’m already 19, and how that is absolutely unacceptable. So, I decided to put a stop to it.”
Ben closed his eyes. Fuck. Of course, it wasn’t what he’d hoped it was. Of course, she didn’t want to be his actual girlfriend. Who’d want to be? Nobody. Especially not her.
She was standing there, her blonde locks swaying back and forth in the breeze that the open front door let in, and Ben was lost for words.
She tutted again. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Well,” he started. How could he say yes to this? If anything, wouldn’t it just cause him more pain to have an entirely fake relationship than none at all? Maybe. But maybe, this could lead to something. Maybe, he thought, this could be like those cheesy romance films that he sometimes watched when he was in a particular mood. Maybe this could really be the start of something.
“What do you need me to do?” He asked.
Emily breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Let’s sit down somewhere,” she said quietly.
As she finally entered the house, and they started making their way over to Ben’s living room, she felt a kind of unease course through her body. It wasn’t the bad Saturday waffles kind. She couldn’t quite put her finger on what this feeling was, but she felt her heart beating faster when they sat down on a rickety, brown sofa.
She knew, of course, that Ben didn’t enjoy this whole situation. She knew that he wasn’t the best liar, and she knew that he didn’t enjoy lying all that much either. But this was different, she thought to herself. Emily never understood what, if anything, Ben felt for her. It wasn’t that he was secretive about his feelings, it’s that she was incredibly bad at reading them. To her, it was weird that so many people automatically assumed that she was amazing at talking to people, making conversation, and understanding what other people want. But this wasn’t really the case. While Emily did love hanging out with people, the part of her brain that was meant for understanding people’s feelings was probably being repurposed to store excessive amounts of Ariana Grande quotes. And it made her feel bad, too, because her best friend Ben was absolutely packed with feelings.
While poking at a small hole in the brown fabric she was sitting on, she recalled a situation from a few months ago. She and Ben were in the park, and there was some sort of spring festival going on. She had dragged him out to it because, even though she didn’t necessarily like taking this role in his life, she’d often try to take him out of his shell and help him fight his anxiety. During that festival, he had a full-on panic attack (the kind of thing that she, as an avid Ariana Grande listener, did not understand), which caused him to run off and hide.
Was this really such a good idea?
“Okay, so,” she said and let out a big sigh. “Let’s talk relationship. What kind of boyfriend do you want to be?”
“I’m sorry?” He said, flustered.
“Well, I didn’t tell my aunt that many lies about you, so the whole thing is pretty open. You can be super caring, or, you know, the bad boy type.”
“The bad boy type?”
“Yea, like, uncaring and aloof, you know? Maybe wear a leather jacket.”
“A leather- have you met me?” He responded in playful disgust.
“Okay, super caring it is, then,” she laughed and moved her hands around in the air as if writing something down on a giant, invisible notebook.
Honestly, super caring was exactly the kind of boyfriend that she actually wanted. Of course, she would never say this out loud, but occasionally she dreamed of the perfect storybook romance. Romeo and Juliet, just without all the tragic stuff. Just like that one Taylor Swift song. While she’d fooled around with some of her girlfriends once or twice, she’d never actually had a relationship with anyone, especially not a guy. She didn’t really know why, either. She briefly wondered if any guys had ever been visibly into her. Maybe she’d just missed it.
She’d also never admit this, of course, but Ben seemed like a fairly good candidate for the position of the super caring boyfriend. He was innocent, sweet, and he had the mane of an extremely gentle lion.
Uncomfortable silence had set in between the two, as it sometimes seemed to do. It didn’t help that Emily had one of those weird thoughts again. Very occasionally, she’d have this intrusive image in her head: Ben, lion-like as he looked, not-so-gently on top of her. Sometimes he’d touch her breasts; sometimes they’d be kissing. Was she sexualizing her friendship? Maybe. Was that bad? She didn’t know. She also didn’t know if she cared yet. After all, she didn’t mean to. It just kind of happened every now and again. If anything, didn’t that speak to her fondness of Ben?
In an attempt to quickly change the subject on her mind, she started telling a story about her aunt.
“You’re going to love my aunt,” she said sarcastically. He looked at her with a sense of dread in his eyes. “Okay, one time, we were at this restaurant, the whole family all packed into this corner booth, and she would not stop pestering the poor waiter with question after question about the most ridiculous stuff! Every time she waved him back over to our table, he looked more and more tired of her shit.”
“That’s actually kind of horrifying,” he responded and shook his head slowly.
In the early evening, Ben found himself sitting at a big dinner table, straight across from an overly cheerful looking lady. If he had to guess, Em’s aunt was probably around fifty-five years old, maybe a little older. She was slightly hunched over the table, resting one of her arms on it. That’s not how you sit at a table, young man, he heard his own aunt’s voice echoing in his head. Clearly, Emily’s aunt didn’t care, and from what he’d been told, this wasn’t surprising.
When Emily’s mom came into the room from the kitchen, she was carrying a large tray that held a variety of sweet pastries and cookies. Homemade, Ben assumed, waiting to bite into one of those chocolate croissants. Emily’s mom set the tray down in the center of the table and pointed at it with an open hand as if to say There you go, dig in. So Emily and her sister did. After they finished selecting something they liked, Ben also felt comfortable taking a croissant.
A chocolate cookie in her delicate fingers, Emily’s aunt turned to Emily. “So,” she began while raising her thickly overdrawn, black eyebrows. “How have you been, my love?”
“Well, school’s been going pretty well. I’ve only gotten good grades this semester, and my classes have been bearable.”
Her aunt started smiling wide. “A perfect student as always! I expected nothing less of you, dear.”
Emily provocatively rolled her eyes and sighed. Her aunt didn’t seem affected by that at all. Instead, she continued smiling as she bit into her cookie. “And you, love?”
Confused for a second, Ben realized that she was talking to him now.
“Me? Oh, well,” he stuttered. “School is also going great for me. Emily and I are pretty much on the same level in terms of grades and stuff.”
“On the same level, you say? Maybe that’s why you two get along so well! For years now, I’ve been absolutely positive that you two would make the cutest couple. And now it’s finally happened, God bless.”
Emily sighed, louder this time. Ben let out a stifled chuckle. I wish, he thought to himself.
As the conversation continued over dinner, followed by coffee, Ben felt himself zoning out from time to time. As he continued to observe Em and her aunt conversing, he felt his mind wander to a different world without his control.
A world where him and Em really were a couple. A world where, against all odds, they’d happily been together for years, with their own apartment, with floor-length windows and a balcony. They’d sit outside in the evenings, eating ice cream and sipping on cocktails. They would laugh and share stories of their day while watching the sunset over the park. They’d go into town on the weekends and eat at that little Italian place he keeps wanting to go to. They’d never fight anymore, because they’d be happy. He’d never cry alone, never wonder why he was too stupid to tell her how he felt.
Emily grabbed his hand. “We’re going upstairs now,” she said and got up from her chair.
Even though he knew it was fake; even though he knew that her hand in his meant nothing, it felt good. He craved contact like this, with someone he really cared about. He’d hug Emily more if it wasn’t for his fear of being overbearing. Of being a nuisance. Why did he have to feel that way?
Emily dragged Ben behind her as she walked up the stairs, her palm still resting in his. When they got to the door of her room, she still hadn’t let go of his hand. Why? Was Ben just reading into things again, or did she enjoy holding his hand? Surely not. She’d never enjoy that, he told himself. Then, as he frequently did, he told himself to stop telling himself things like that.
Emily finally let go of his hand upon entering her room. This was one of Ben’s favorite places to be. Sometimes, he’d imagine him and Em cuddled up together on her bed, sharing a blanket, watching a movie or playing GTA.
He thought about this kind of thing a lot. Of course, he also thought a lot about the fact that he thought about this kind of thing so frequently. Was it bad to have these thoughts? Was he risking ruining his perfect friendship with Emily by making some big romance out of it in his head? Was it unfair to her to keep quiet about it? As they sat down next to each other on the bed, he tried to let these thoughts fade.
“Thank you so damn much, man,” Emily said and let out a sigh of relief. “What a nightmare.”
“Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad.”
“Did you hear what she said?” Emily put on a very bad, fake British accent. “I was absolutely positive,” she mocked. “My dear.”
Ben couldn’t help but laugh. “She’s not that bad! I thought she was nice.”
“Oh shut up, I know you.” Did she? “People like her drive you mad! You never miss out on an opportunity to hide in your room. You don’t like her.”
Maybe she did know him. And maybe it was this realization that made him unable to think about the words flying out of his mouth. He let out a quiet, but emotional sigh, and said “I like you, though.”
Emily turned and looked into his eyes. As he stared back, he could see a tiny reflection of his face in her brown irises. “I like you too, Ben. You know that,” she said.
Maybe she didn’t know him after all. He focused intensely on her face. What if this was the moment to be honest? What if, in the light of this fake relationship, he could finally be true to how he felt? Anxiety boiled up inside him. This was a panic attack just waiting to happen. But he had to try. Right?
“No,” he said and gently took her hand. “I really like you, Em.”