So, Maggie and I are (ostensibly) working on a letter game together, and it's been on the brain recently, so "write something" turned into this little scene between my character (Caela) and her best friend (Jimmy), with a guest appearance from Maggie's character (Caela's brother Rhyder).
Please forgive Rhyder's borderline derogatory comments. He's a good guy, but he can be kind of a dick.
There were three questions that Jimmy Rubel absolutely hated. One: “Do you have a thing for Caela Worthen?” Two: “Really? Are you sure?” and Three: “So, what, are you gay?”
As could easily be intuited, these questions usually followed each other in direct succession. Their answers, delivered in an almost aggressively bored monotone, were: No, I don’t; Yes, I’m sure; and No, I’m not gay.
But as May of Jimmy’s junior year grew closer and closer, something new cropped up.
“It’s official,” he said one day after school, climbing into Caela’s second story bedroom through the window, habitually touching the mezuzah he’d hung on the windowsill ages ago. “I have a new least favorite question.”
Caela didn’t look up from her Trigonometry homework. “Mm hmm?” she asked.
“‘Have you asked Caela Worthen to the prom yet?’”
Instantly, Caela’s whole demeanor changed. She straightened immediately, all but throwing aside her work. “Oh my God, you too?” she asked. Jimmy grimaced and flopped onto her bed.
“Three people today.”
“Three?” Caela repeated. “I should be so lucky; I got it from eight.”
Jimmy raised himself onto his elbows. “It’s not a competition, Cae,” he said in the voice of the long-suffering. She smirked.
“Yeah, but if it was, I’d win.”
“The point, Caela Evelyn Worthen–” She gasped theatrically, her eyes narrowing in displeasure. Jimmy ignored her, and continued speaking, “–is that something has to be done. Our staunch and steadfast denial is no longer working.”
“Our staunch and steadfast denial has never worked,” she had the nerve to point out, “James Malachi Rubel.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. When he opened them, he fixed her with a level stare. “Really?” he said. “Must you?”
“Hey, you started the Middle Name Skirmish,” she retorted. “I don’t know why you do that; you’re always going to lose.”
“How do we keep people from believing that we are, have ever, or will ever be anything other than entirely platonic?” he asked, ignoring her very valid point.
“If I had an answer to that question, don’t you think I’d have implemented it already?”
“I would never presume to speak to the complicated thought processes of the adolescent female br–ouch! What is this? What are – you attacking me with math, now, is that what this is?”
For Caela had balled up a page covered in Trigonometry scribbles and, using her best tennis serve, thrown it at Jimmy’s head. “Yes,” she said immediately, in response to his sputtering. “Maybe if I hit you with it hard enough, some of it will penetrate your skull.”
“You are evading the issue at hand,” Jimmy said in a prim and dignified voice.
“Look, Jimmy, I’m as irritated by it as you are, but what can we do? People are going to think what they’re going to think.”
“Yeah, but why are they going to think it?” Jimmy asked, his voice bordering on a whine. “We deny it at every turn, we’re never cutesy or – or – romantic, there’s no sexual tension, so why are people so determined to believe–”
“Because we’re one of those things, you know?” Caela said with a shrug. Jimmy quirked an eyebrow.
“No . . .” he said slowly. “I don’t know. One of what things?”
Caela sighed and scratched her head, screwing up her face in concentration. “You know,” she insisted. “Those things. Those – when you –” She sighed, frustrated, then raised her voice, yelling, “Rhyder!” When nothing happened for a few seconds, she yelled louder and more impatiently, “Rhyder!”
A moment later, a tall, gangly young man about a year older than Jimmy strode lazily through the door and leaned against the wall. “You shrieked, sis?” he asked around a mouthful of sandwich.
“What’s that thing called, that . . . literary device that’s like a stereotype but not exactly? The pattern thing?”
Rhyder frowned for half a second, then asked, “You mean a trope?” Caela snapped her fingers.
“Yes! Thank you! Trope.” She turned to Jimmy. “We’re a trope.”
“A trope,” Jimmy repeated.
“Yeah. Best friends to lovers. That trope. That’s us.”
“Whoa,” Rhyder interjected, straightening. “Uh, you two have something you want to tell me? I thought Jimmy was gay.”
“Still not gay,” Jimmy said, speaking over the end of Rhyder’s sentence. Rhyder’s comments on Jimmy’s sexuality were a long-standing joke between them. Rhyder smirked, and Caela glared.
“If you have nothing to contribute to the conversation, Rhyder, then–”
“What conversation?” Rhyder asked, taking another massive bite of his sandwich. “You called me in here because you couldn’t remember a basic English vocabulary word, it’s not like I have any idea what’s going on. No comments from the peanut gallery, please,” he said immediately, pointing at Jimmy, and it was Jimmy’s turn to smirk. The Worthens knew him so well.
“We were discussing ways to convince the populace of Torrey Pines High School that your sister and I have no romantic interest in one another. Suggestions?”
Rhyder chewed and considered. “You want to convince them or just get them off your backs?”
Jimmy and Caela answered at the same time. “Convince them,” was Jimmy’s response. “Either’s fine with me,” was Caela’s.
“Well,” Rhyder said after a pause. “You could pretend to date for like, two weeks, and then break up.”
Neither Jimmy nor Caela cared for that plan.
“I don’t think anyone would buy it,” Caela said. “Plus, I’d have to be all cutesy with Jimmy for two weeks. No offense,” she said to him. He shook his head.
“None taken. Plus, I’m like, this close, to convincing Andi Grenowitz to go out with me.”
“Andy?” Rhyder interjected. “As in Andrew? Gay.”
Jimmy threw the wadded-up Trig notes at him, but as he was not ranked in tennis, he missed.
“As in Andrea. I can’t be taking out another girl when I’m this close.”
Caela rolled her eyes. “You’ve been this close to getting Andi to go out with you since ninth grade, shinook.”
Jimmy sighed and shook his head. “Pathetic,” he said. “How long have you been friends with me? Schnook is how we pronounce that word in the language of my people, maven. That’s like, Yiddish 101.”
Caela stuck her tongue out at him.
“You could tell everyone that you can’t date Caela because she’s a dirty, dirty Gentile and your poor Jewish mother would have a heart attack and haunt you from the grave,” was Rhyder’s next suggestion.
“We don’t use the term Gentile anymore. We refer to you heathens as goyim. And Andi Grenowitz, the shiksa goddess who haunts me on this ephemeral plane, is also a Gentile.”
“Plus they’d turn us into star-thwarted lovers held apart by forbidden romance, like Romeo and Julia.”
Rhyder grimaced, as if in pain. “Star crossed, Caela,” he corrected. “And it’s Juliet. Juliet. How do you misremember one of the most famous characters ever put on stage?”
“Because it bugs the hell out of you,” Caela said with relish and a sweet smile. “Any other suggestions, O Fount of All Knowledge?”
“Jimmy could come out of the–”
“Still not gay,” Jimmy said loudly.
“Then I got nothing else for you, until James over here stops denying his true self. You’d better do it soon, Rubel. After all, the only reason I’m okay with you and my baby sister spending so much time alone together is because, as a homosexual, you pose no threat to her virtue.”
“I will take a ballpoint pen to your kidney and feel no remorse,” Caela said.
“What are you gonna do, draw on me?” Rhyder asked with a smirk.
“I could kick your ass any day of the week.”
“You and what little girls’ T-ball team?”
“You are aware you just admitted that a group of fifteen eight-year-old girls could take you out, right?”
Rhyder paused. “Shall we change the subject, Jimmy?” he asked after a second’s silence.
Jimmy, who had been caught up in something Rhyder had said a while back, rather than following the track of the siblings’ banter, took a moment to recognize that he had been addressed. “I’m sorry?” he asked belatedly.
“Say something mildly intriguing, Rubel.”
“Do you think there’s a possibility that everyone is seeing something we’ve just missed?”
Both Worthen siblings froze at the question. Caela was still trying to formulate a response when Rhyder settled back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, and said, “Well, this is about to get interes—”
“Rubel, don’t you dare,” Caela interrupted, sounding panicked. “Don’t you dare. We have been best friends, platonic best friends for our entire lives. You cannot come in here raging about people not accepting that, and then admit romantic feelings for me ten minutes later.” And then, all of a sudden, her tone changed to indignation. “And you certainly can’t do it in front of my brother, are you nuts?”
Jimmy quickly held his hands up in defense. “I’m not,” he stressed. “Cae, I’m not. My feelings are as platonic as they’ve ever been. The thought of being romantically involved with you in any capacity is, like, the grossest thing I can conceptualize, and I am a guy who grew mold colonies off the office phone and the urinals in the boys’ bathroom. Romantic feelings for you are as anathema to me as a life of celibacy is to Rhyder.”
“I gotta say, Rubel, you sure know how to woo a woman. I should be taking notes,” Rhyder interjected from his stance against the wall.
“Not interested in wooing this woman, Rhyder,” Jimmy responded, not taking his eyes from Caela.
“Well, no, because you’re–”
“It’s just,” Jimmy continued, speaking over Rhyder’s predictable interjection “. . . this many people . . . can they really all be wrong when they’re all so convinced?”
“Yes,” Caela said immediately. “Yes, they can. You saw how popular Glee was.”
“The point is, how do we know, for sure?”
“Because,” Caela stressed. “We know. For sure.”
“I think I need to kiss you.”
Caela froze, completely unable to respond. “This just keeps getting better and better,” Jimmy heard Rhyder say in the background. “Who needs daytime television?”
“I – you – what?” Caela finally managed to say. “You want to kiss me?”
"Ew! No,” Jimmy said emphatically, recoiling a little. “We just went over this, Caela. Grosser than mold colonies? No, I don’t want to kiss you, who said anything about wanting? I said I think I need to. Vastly different.” Caela did not seem convinced. Jimmy sighed. “Okay, do you know how I realized I have the hots for Andi Grenowitz?”
“You looked at her?”
“Whoa, Caela might be the one who’s gay? A plot twist I did not see coming.”
“Shut up, Rhyder,” Jimmy and Caela said in unison.
“I realized how much I like Andi,” Jimmy continued, “because I kissed her.”
“On stage kisses do not count.”
“On the contrary! On stage kisses totally count! Do you know how many things are going through your head during an on stage kiss? Sightlines, blocking, timing, how gross the other person’s makeup tastes, if you get through that and there’s still a spark? That means something, Cae.”
Caela crossed her arms, still not convinced. “So you think, despite the fact that you’ve never had any romantic feelings toward me, that if you kiss me, there might all of a sudden be a spark that lets you know otherwise? And you came up with this grand idea because you’re allowing the student population of Torrey Pines to peer pressure you into a crush? Because that’s where we’re headed, Jimmy. We’re going to get peer pressured into dating. Is that really how you want this to end?”
“Nobody’s peer pressuring me into anything. And, as previously stated, I have no interest in dating you.”
“Yet you want to kiss me.”
Before Jimmy could correct her yet again, Rhyder stepped forward and interrupted.
“If I may,” he said, “I think Jimmy has a valid theory going here. Can’t know you like a girl til you kiss her, I always say.”
Caela made a sound of disgust at her brother. “Rhyder, you are a blemish on the face of human decency.”
“Aw, Cae, don’t flatter me! You’re making me blush!”
“Do you have a point, or are you just enjoying the sound of your own voice again?”
“Any reason both can’t be true? Okay, okay,” he said in response to Caela’s glare. “My point is, I think the kiss is a good idea. It has the potential to bring to the surface feelings heretofore uncovered.”
Caela’s eyes narrowed. Jimmy’s did too, as a matter of fact. Rhyder rarely agreed with him without an ulterior motive.
“Might I remind you both that there are certain biochemical responses that happen as a result of external stimuli? Physical contact between two people comfortable with one another produces endorphins and feelings of attachment.”
“But not a spark, Caela,” Jimmy insisted. Caela rolled her eyes.
“Your ‘spark’ is nothing more than a surging mass of hormones and chemicals.” It was Jimmy’s turn to roll his eyes.
“You have nothing of the poet in you, you realize that, right?”
“But I’d bet she could use some, eh, Jimster?” Rhyder interjected, his meaning made blatantly clear by an excess of eyebrow waggling and rib elbowing.
“Okay, get out,” Caela said, pointing imperially toward the door. Rhyder feigned innocence, looking wounded.
“What?” he asked.
“Out! Get out!” Caela repeated, physically ushering him across the threshold. “I have used up my daily quota of patience for your licentiousness. Begone!”
“Don’t I even get to stay and watch?” he asked, incredulous. Caela responded by slamming the door in his face. “Take notes, Jimmy, and report back to me!” he yelled through the wood.
“You really want details of your sister’s kissing abilities?” Jimmy called back. There was a pause.
“Yeah, okay, scratch that. I don’t want notes.”
“Didn’t think so.”
“Need I remind you that I haven’t agreed to this?” Caela asked then.
“C’mon, Cae,” Jimmy said, his voice quieter and gentler. “It’s ten seconds of your life. And it’s me. You trust me, don’t you?”
Caela softened. “Of course I trust you, Jimmy. This is really that important?”
“I think it is,” was his simple reply. “I’m, like, 99.8% positive that I know the answer, but I want to dispel that lingering little bit, because I don’t want to get peer pressured into dating you, or developing feelings for you. I want to be 100% firm in my resolve.”
Caela hesitated just a moment longer, then sighed. “What the hell,” she said with a smile. “It’s not like it’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever asked me to do.”
Jimmy grinned, remembering a Halloween party, a seashell bra, and a goat. “Sad, but true. Okay. A couple ground rules.”
Caela raised an eyebrow. “Ground rules?” she repeated. “Really?”
“Don’t worry; I’ll be following them, too. First, we speak of this to no one.”
“We should have sworn Rhyder to secrecy, but yes. Agreed.”
“We can blackmail him later; it’s fine. Second, if you feel anything non-platonic, anything at all, you have to say so. So we can assess the likelihood of it being purely a biochemical response to external stimuli.” Caela stuck her tongue out at him. “And third–”
“Third?” Caela interrupted, crossing her arms. “You said a couple. A couple is two.”
“Couple can refer to any number between two and –”
“Which one of us is in an Advanced Placement math course? A couple is two.” Jimmy sighed.
“Fine, then, I don’t have a couple ground rules, I have three. Satisfied?”
Caela nodded primly. “You may continue,” she allowed.
“Third, you have to treat this, like, legit, okay? No pecks on the lip, a for real kiss. Don’t half-ass me, Worthen.”
“I draw the line at tongue,” Caela warned. Jimmy looked appalled.
“I’m testing for a spark, Cae, not trying to run the bases.”
“Good, because I’m pretty sure I’d have to slap you, and then castrate you.”
“And having had a knife applied to my package once already this lifetime, I have no desire to repeat the experience.”
After a beat, Caela let out a breathy laugh of disbelief, shaking her head. “God, this is the weirdest pre-kiss conversation I’ve ever had,” she told Jimmy.
“It’s certainly the weirdest one I’ve ever eavesdropped on,” came Rhyder’s voice from the other side of the door. Without taking her eyes from Jimmy, Caela aimed a well placed kick just below the doorknob, prompting an exclamation of pain and a long string of Yiddish cursing. “Shtup-ing son of a nafke, migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter–”
Caela peered inquisitively at Jimmy. “Did he just tell me to turn myself into a chandelier? Am I translating that correctly?” But Jimmy only shook his head in despair.
“Pidgen Yiddish insults. This is what the language of my people has come to.” He raised his eyes heavenward. “Merciful God, forgive me, I did not mean to so misuse my You-given gifts here on earth. Also,” he redirected his attention to Caela. "You remember henglayhter, but not how to pronounce schnook? How the hell does your mind work?"
"Should we get to it?" she asked, direct as always.
"Yeah," Jimmy said, suddenly nervous. "I guess we should."
“Okay, I’ll . . . follow your lead, then, I guess? God, this is weird.”
“Lie back and think of England?” Jimmy suggested with a smirk.
“I’m sorry, I thought you wanted me to participate,” Caela quipped, and Jimmy laughed.
“Ten seconds,” he said, as a way to dispel the awkwardness. The corner of her mouth rose.
“Ten seconds,” she repeated. He took a deep breath, and reached for her, but she pulled away. “Make sure the curtains are closed,” she ordered. “If anybody sees this–”
“Good point,” he said, striding to the window and pulling the drapes shut. “Okay,” he said on an exhale, turning back around to face his best friend. There was nothing left but to do it. It had, after all, been his idea.
He cupped her cheek in one palm, the way he might have with any girl he was interested in, and tilted her face to his. Then, softly, gently, he kissed her.
She responded almost immediately, and – his best friend was a surprisingly good kisser. Not surprising in that he’d thought she would be a bad kisser, or a tentative kisser, but just in that he hadn’t thought about her in direct relation to that particular skill set. But Caela Worthen knew what she was doing.
Her hands settled on his waist, which made sense. His were on her face and in her hair, and that was enough arms in the upper torso region unless they planned on entwining, which wasn’t really on the agenda. He focused on the feeling of her hands on him, her hair under his fingers, her lips against his, and he counted slowly backward. 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . .
When he got to 1, he pulled away slowly, and opened his eyes. She was watching him with an almost appraising look. “Well?” she asked after a moment, and he exhaled.
“Nothing,” he said with a shake of his head, letting his hands fall to his side as hers did the same. “I mean, you kiss very well, don’t get me wrong.” She smiled.
“Thank you,” she acknowledged. “As do you. I’d say . . . 8.6.” Jimmy took a step back.
“Excuse me?” he demanded, crossing his arms. “8.6? I am at least a 9 on the kissing scale, thank you very much!”
Caela shook her head, trying to hide her smile. “You’re a little tight-lipped,” she critiqued.
“Well, you move your mouth too much!” he retorted in indignation.
“I’ve had no complaints thus far,” Caela informed him, “and I’ve been doing this a bit longer than you have.”
“8.6,” Jimmy muttered, his eyes narrowed. Caela laughed.
“But no spark?” she asked, and Jimmy shook his head with a smile.
“Nope,”he said, popping the P. “I enjoyed it, it was pleasurable, but no released endorphins over here. You?”
“Same,” she said with a nod of her head. “So, I guess that’s that.”
“I guess it is,” Jimmy concurred. “See you tomorrow at the coffee stand?” He headed for the window, opened the curtains, touched the mezuzah, and began clamoring out as Caela offered an affirmative.
“Your turn to buy or mine?”
“Mine, I owe you one,” he said from the tree limb. “Oh, and before I forget.” Caela looked at him expectantly. “Want to go to prom with me?”
"You don't want to go with Andi?"
"God, of course I want to go with Andi, haven't you been paying attention? But it is not in the stars. Greg Wilkins already asked her, the rat bastard. So? What do you say?"
“I say, a chance to get people off our backs, spend an awesome night dancing and partying pressure-free with my best friend, and annoy the crap out of the student populace by attending prom together while simultaneously denying a romantic attachment? I’d love to!”
Jimmy grinned. “I thought you might. See you tomorrow.”
And he dropped to the ground, landing lightly with years of practice.
“Afternoon, Jimmy,” Caela’s father called through the open screen of his office window. Jimmy gave a brief wave.
“Afternoon, Mr. Worthen,” he replied, then shoved his hands in his pockets and headed home, whistling.