I was bouncing a ball off the wall in my room the way I always used to. It was a way to focus my energy when I was really deep in a thought. I knew the dance was coming in a few weeks so I had to really dig deep into my core to find out what choice I’d make.
John had this really awesome hang out that we used when I had free time. It was a hidden area in the woods next the park. Nothing super secret, but the stumps let us lay down on something other than the ground. It was a really great spot. We’d probably hang out there all the time if it had a TV and video games around. I decided to drag him out and try to see what his thoughts were. Granted, I was a well aware of the fact that he was biased in this discussion so I had to take things with a grain of salt.
“Listen, John. Things are going really well with Ariel. She’s cute, athletic, and genuinely cares for me.”
John looks visibly off put. He sort of turns his head away, looking as though I’m taunting him.
“What’s your point, man?”
“I’ve been playing a dungeons and dragons campaign…”
“Not a big campaign, you know I’d tell you. Just teaching a girl how the game works.”
John leaned in, a bit curious as to my intentions.
“You’re kidding. I hope it’s not one on one. That would totally be sending the wrong message to a lot of people.”
“It is one on one but nothing of that sort is happening. But I feel like if I keep doing this, I’ll be entering a point where it’s almost cruel to lead her on any more. So I have to really think about what I’m doing.”
The look on John’s face was a mixture of annoyance and excitement. He knew that if I decided to pursue this new girl, he’d have a chance to be the rebound guy for Ariel. I finally caught him in a moment where I’d be able to confront him about this topic.
“You seem a bit off put, John. What’s happening?”
“I just don’t think what you’re doing is fair to Ariel, Erich. She should be the center of your attention or some one else’s.”
This was it. I caught him. I’m hoping what happens here is able to shove him on a path that won’t end in the same way my John did.
“John. If you like Ariel, just tell me. Don’t do something you’ll regret.”
“I never said I did. I just think that you being a playboy isn’t fair to her.”
“I’m not being a playboy. In fact, that’s why I’m here talking to you, John. Listen to me. I know that you like Ariel, it’s been evident for a while. She’s the full package. Don’t kill yourself with guilt because I’m dating her. I’d be crazy to tell you to forget your feelings. To be honest, the fact that you’ve been respectful of our relationship shows me how good of a friend you are. So please, just be honest with me.”
John was taken aback. I suppose it’s out of character for my 14 year old self to ramble so much but I got to be more talkative in college. I mean, when you’re sitting in classes and on computers all day, talking feels refreshing.
“I… I’m so sorry Erich.”
“Don’t be. You haven’t done anything yet.”
“I’ve been waiting eagerly for the day you messed something up. Instead of being there for you like you would for me, I was chomping at the bit to see you and Ariel break up. I had always hoped it was amicable.”
“I understand, John. I do. Trust me when I tell you that you’d have felt guilty for a long time if you broke us up artificially.”
John’s eyebrow raised. You could almost hear him question how I would know that based on the way his eyes studied me. Maybe it was time to place my trust in my old friend. I don’t know anyone else’s secrets like his, and there were plenty of them that he told me after high school. I suppose it was time to break the news.
“John,” I muttered as I sat up on my log, “I have something I need to get across to you.”
He sort of cocked his head, a bit confused as to what exactly I was about to say.
“I’m not 14 years old. At least not mentally. I’m actually the 25 year old version of myself that somehow ended up in my 14 year old’s body. I know this is going to be nearly impossible to believe so I’m ready to prove it.”
Not even a moment later, John was sitting straight up and looking me in the eyes. He was clearly skeptical but ready to take in whatever I was about to do or say.
“You told me after high school that the main reason you never tried was because you didn’t believe in yourself. This is because your mother keeps saying that your brother was golden boy. She never meant to put you down but you feel like you’ll never live up to be your brother. That pressure is causing you to seek attention by failing on purpose to make your mom notice you. It’s your biggest regret.”
A tear escaped his eye as he lowered his head. Through a tearful whimper, John whispered, “I just want her to pay attention. I’ll never be my brother.”
“And you shouldn’t have to be.” I placed my hand on his shoulder. “Be your own man. Become the vet that you know you’ve always wanted to be.”
John looked up and chuckled.
“Now I know you’re not lying. I’ve never told anyone that dream. Well, I haven’t yet. I suppose I tell you after it’s already too late, right?”
“It’s not too late now. Just make sure you study. College is a bit of a nightmare if your procrastinate. Plus biology is just unreal.”
We chuckled a bit and talked about what happened during our times in high school. John truly felt guilty when I told him about his previous plot to break up Ariel and I. He confirmed with me that he would feel much too guilty to actually date her after that. I do feel bad that I never kept up with her. She really is one of the best memories I have of high school.
After a bit, I told him that I started liking Lisa Monroe after I had left Ariel. At that point it was too late because we were going to different schools, but we still admitted our feelings for each other.
“Ok, bro, this is a lot tougher than I had thought,” John mused playfully. He was pretty excited to know about my secret.
“You’re telling me. Without a job or school to worry about, my dating life really does take front and center.”
“You don’t have to worry about school? Screw you man. Tutor me with your damned college education.”
“I’m not a teacher, I’m a computer engineer. Maybe I can get a better job if I go to a better college this time around. Then again, having to go back for another four years is…”
“Hang on. Who are you dating in the future?”
I give pause to this. After high school, I never had a real relationship. I had a few crushes and flings but never anything substantial. It really was a part of my life I wanted to improve on but never had time to with the job hunt.
“No one. I never had enough time to put into dating. This may be the best part about coming back. I have time to focus on meaningful relationships.”
“We’re in high school, man. Freshman year at that. Let’s just try and get kissed for now and worry about the whole meaningful bullshit later. I’ll try and think on this with you. Thanks for this, man.”
We parted ways. I knew that I had to try and talk with each of the girls. I don’t want to treat this as a competition. This has to be something that comes from the heart. To treat it as anything else would be unfair for everyone involved and that is something I intend to avoid if I can.
That Monday, I was taking Lisa through one of the last dungeons I had planned for her. We ended up getting distracted due to the fact that she just got a new dungeon crawler and I had to see how good it was.
“I’ll heal if you want to tank, ” She cheerfully said while setting up her character.
I smugly turned and mentioned, “Actually, I’ll go with the very flimsy assassin. If you’re a good healer, it shouldn’t be an issue right?”
“Don’t come looking to me when you die every three seconds, you cloth wearing weakling.”
The way we sat, our legs touched. It was just subtle enough to go unnoticed by some but for me it was a glaring moment of intense intimacy. I know, I just scream out computer engineer virgin, but this was a big thing for me. She purposely was sitting in a way that she could feel me, and that was as much affirmation as I needed.
I died a whole hell of a lot. I’m talking about once every new room I died. It became a joke that she wasn’t healing well enough but I knew it was just that I had no armor viable enough to tank with. She ended up nearly sitting in my lap with the way we would playfully shove each other. It really felt like I was hanging with both a girl and a close friend. The atmosphere was surreal.
For the first time I went home feeling a twinge of guilt. It really felt like I was leading her on in a way that was cruel and that I was betraying Ariel. The time was quickly approaching for me to make a choice, so I vowed that I would not return to Lisa’s house before the choice was made.
The next day Ariel and I went to the local skating rink. I chuckled at the fact that this felt like an old time date idea, but Ariel insisted. The only issue was that I had no idea how to skate.
I was constantly flopping around the floor like a baby seal while Ariel did her best to instruct me. After about an hour, I found myself keeping pace with the normal flow of traffic around the rink. She was able to teach me how to skate in under an hour. I was in awe at her patience and ability to understand me.
As we went to sit down, she coyly reached for my hand. I turned in a bit of surprise and saw her looking away.
She very quietly admitted, “I just feel like we should hold hands in public.”
“Claiming what’s yours, huh?”
“You’re such a weird guy. I love it.”
We both silently looked at one another before she turned away in a full blush.
“Y-you know what I meant. I love that you’re weird. That’s all I meant.”
“Let’s grab some food. It’s on me to thank my beautiful teacher for showing me how to go from a salted slug to a seasoned veteran on the rink.”
She finally turned to me and gave me a face that told me she disagreed with the word veteran. I suppose I do deserve that, being a 25 year old and still needing a 14 year old to learn how to skate. Yet she had no idea.
The next day was our class pumpkin carving. It also became the day that I’d have to make the final decision on who I was going to pursue. John told me that he thought about it and couldn’t give me an unbiased answer so to just trust me gut. He would respect me choice either way.
I walked on the bus and saw two open seats. One was in the front of the bus right next to Lisa who was silently looking down at her phone. The other was in the back of the bus next to Ariel who was sitting across from John. The seat I chose would ultimately be the girl I chose.
After careful consideration I chose…
Ariel – Chapter 3A
Lisa – Chapter 3B