There was a little girl by the shoreline with a blue bucket and a white shovel. He’d been swimming pretty far out, it was pretty hard not to take notice of her when her strawberry blonde hair was glowing in the sun like a beacon towards the beach. His first thought always had been that she’d had very pretty hair.
A wave stole his attention away just as fast as the girl did, and immediate the young boy was back on his bodyboard. He was swimming away, allowing the wave to gain momentum, and turned when he felt it’d gone on long enough to check. It was huge. He smiled. He remembered thinking—this is gonna be so fun.
It hadn’t been. He’d met the wave head on, confidently crashing into it and getting sucked in. He fell of his bodyboard and tumbled into the water. He may have heard the girl from earlier shriek.
When he’d managed to get to the surface and fill his lungs with air, more people had obviously gathered by the shore. A lifeguard was swimming out to him, and his dad was quick on the lifeguard’s heels. The girl from earlier had, indeed, shouted and garnered the attention of most of the people tanning on the sand. His parents had been included.
The young boy knew that he should have been grateful that he was alive. Maybe he should have been filled with gratitude that someone had cared enough to alert the authorities. But all he could think about was the surefire scolding he was going to sit through (for at least an hour no doubt) for worrying his pregnant mother and younger sister. Not to mention the one that would follow about him swimming out so far into deep waters in the first place.
“Are you okay?” The, admittedly heavily accented, lifeguard had asked, wrapping an arm around his slim waist. “Light headed? Breathing okay?”
“I’m fine.” He’d managed. His father had arrived now too, eyes filled to the brim with panic. He was internally counting down the moments until shift from concerned father into furious dad happened. “I just didn’t catch a wave right. No big deal. Didn’t hit my head or drown or anything serious.”
The lifeguard looked skeptical, but he was handed off to his father nonetheless. Almost immediately, the young boy found himself being taken back to shore.
“Are you okay?” It wasn’t his sister, nor was it his mother. The sudden sound of a female voice threw him for a loop. “I saw you get swallowed alive by that wave! It was really scary.”
He turned towards the same girl that he’d spotted earlier. Her hair was even prettier up close, falling down the sides of her face in princess curls that reminded him of Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. And she had hazel eyes that glowed underneath the sunshine too. She looked like a ray of light personified. Aurora would have been a fitting name, actually.
“I’m Hilary. Hilary Grayson. And I’m eight years old.” He was confused. How was he supposed to respond to that? Did all girls who saw boys wash out do this? “Hello! It’s rude! I told you my name. Tell me yours!”
It wasn’t enough to really shake him out of his near-death stupor, but the smile she gave him when he finally told her was kind of worth the shouting he had to endure from his freaked out mother afterwards.
~ ~ ~
Wallace “Ace” McCartney was nervous. He was fiddling non-stop with his fingers, gnawing at his bottom lip, and sweating bullets despite the air-conditioned café setting of his and Hilary’s meet-up. Two empty mugs rested in front of him as well, and, in hindsight, maybe the extra caffeine hadn’t been such a good idea from the get go. He was an absolute mess.
But at least he didn’t look like it.
His shoulder-length brown tresses were tied stylishly, albeit messily, into a man-bun that rested at the nape of his neck. A few strands may have escaped at the front and curled near the ear, but his younger sister had guaranteed that it added to his appeal—whatever that meant—and, considering that she had been the one to style and dress him for this little “event”, he’d been inclined to take her advice.
Ace kind of wished that she hadn’t put him in a dark sweater though. It was pretty hot outside, with the noon sun shining directly on him through the glass window, plus, he was already nervous. He felt like he was close to sweating up a river.
The clock on the wall said that it was five passed twelve. An entire twenty-five minutes before Hilary was set to arrive from spa date with her mom. He blamed the necks couple of bids to dribble from his chin on global warming.
Ace didn’t even know why he was so nervous.
Hilary was his childhood friend. They’ve known each other since they were eight-years-old. They met while their families were on vacation in the Philippines, and it turned out that they had been going to two different schools that had been just a couple of blocks away from each other. He’s seen her snort Coca-Cola out of her nose and she’s seen him stick his hand down his shorts to retrieve a tiny pesky crab. What was there to be so insanely nervous about?
The chorus to Thanks for the Memories by Fall Out Boy suddenly blared from his pocket. Ace jumped and got an evil eye from the nearest waitress when she saw that he’d almost spilled his drink. He bowed his head in apology before hurriedly digging out his phone. He gulped. It was Hilary.
“He—hello?” He was pathetic. “Hilary?”
“Hey Ace! Are you at the café already?”
He nodded, but quickly voiced his answer upon realizing the act of stupidity. Ace could have sworn he’d heard someone laugh, but the café was fairly empty, so he assumed it was his own subconscious getting a kick out of the situation.
“Yeah.” He finally got out. Play it cool, he told himself before running a hand through his immaculate hair. His sister would have killed him if she saw that. “Haven’t been for long though, and I don’t mind the wait if you’re gonna take a while longer. You picked a pretty good place.”
Hilary laughed through the phone.
“That’s great! But, I actually called cause of the opposite reason. Mom and I finished early, and she asked me if I wanted to grab McDonald’s for lunch. I said I’d check if you were already at the café before giving an answer.”
“Oh.” He wanted to hit himself. That was smooth. “Well, I mean, you can go with her if you want. I brought a book.” It was a lie, but he could always just tell her that he had it on his phone if ever she asked where it went when they actually met up.
“Uh, no. I made plans with you first!” She laughed again. Ace smiled. “Besides, my little brother loves McDonald’s way too much that it’s a reprieve to actually get something else to fill my stomach with for a change. Favor though? Can your order me, like, the tastiest looking sandwich they have? I’m starved!”
“Yeah sure.” He’d signaled a waitress for a menu before she’d even finished speaking. “Anything you don’t want in it? You were never a fan of pickles.”
“Blech. Yeah. Make sure to have ‘em remove those!” This time, it was Ace that laughed. “Thanks! See you in five!”
Hilary hung up and he clicked his phone shut. He opened the menu and tried to convince himself that the sudden rapid beating of his heart was because he had no idea what to order for her and he was anxious not to get anything that she’d be forced to like. There was no way that he nervous because his best friend was arriving approximately fifteen minutes earlier than she was supposed to. No way. He was ecstatic, even!
And it wasn’t even a complete lie—seeing as he and Hilary had barely seen each other in the past ten months.
Actually, that was probably another valid reason for his nervousness. Ace should’ve taken note of that instead of using that lunch excuse. It was weak, even for his standards.
By the time he’d settled back into his comfy chair and ordered his friend a BLT (with an additional Caramel Machiatto for himself), he still had a good three minutes of waiting to do. Considering the ambiance, the silence and the lack of anything actively distracting him, Ace found it pretty easy to lose himself in thought.
~ ~ ~
Hilary was hanging out by the pool—it had apparently become a thing for their families to take vacations together. They ended up going to the same places anyway (their moms apparently looked at the same websites), so their families had just decided to make it official and plan trips together. It wasn’t like Ace and Hilary minded.
They were ten-years-old, and his best friend was looking to get some summer reading out of the way. Or, at least she called it summer reading. He doubted that Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was considered educational.
He wasn’t gonna judge her though. He’d caught her watching the movies earlier on in the summer and had freaked out when she’d admitted that she’d never read a single of the books. It was a good thing he always carried his around (just in case he was in the mood for a quick visit to the Wizarding World) though. Ace had leant her the first one, and now he was kind of regretting it. It had stolen all of Hilary’s attention.
Sneaking up to her side, he looked down to see that she was already at the part where Harry and Ron had met Hermione on the train. It was kind of engrossing, he knew, which was exactly why the opportunity was too good to let pass.
“Boo!” He shouted. She jumped. His book fell to the ground. He flinched. Worth it…maybe.
Hilary groaned as she picked up the novel. She dusted off the cover and groaned once again when she realized that she hadn’t marked the page. Ace chuckled before telling her, quite thankful that he’d snuck a peek before deciding to scare the living daylights out of her.
“You suck.” She outright said. “Have I said that before? You totally suck.”
“Oh no, I’m not taking this from the girl who’s sucking the fun out of summer vacation. I mean, reading is fun no matter the time, but you have duties as a best friend, you know! Now, as punishment for neglecting them, you’ll have to get thrown into the pool.”
“Yeah, ugh, no thanks.” Hilary flipped her strawberry locks at my face. She turned back to the book. “Buh-bye now.”
In his mind, he consoled himself that he had warned her. So Ace didn’t feel the least bit guilty when he snatched the volume away and swept his best friend up into his arms. From the background, he’d noticed that his sister, Denise, and her brother, Matthew, had taken notice of the roughhousing and were cheering. It was a good thing their parents were too busy cooing over his new two-year-old sister to watch them.
“Put me down! Put me down! WALLACE put me down now!”
He walked towards the edge of the pool with a cheeky grin. Oh, he was planning to. He dumped her into a shallow part of the pool, and she shrieked all the way until she made impact with the surface of the water. A huge splash erupted, and he shared a laugh with Denise and Matthew at her expense.
“Ah! I can’t believe you did that!”
“I warned you!”
“You are such a jerk!”
“Why thank you. I try hard.”
She hit the water with palm of her hand, but smirked as she reached out. She’d jumped, and managed to grab hold of his wrist. Payback hurt, considering that he belly-flopped, chest first, into the water. It was her turn to have a laugh.
He surfaced from the pool to her loud giggles. Denise and Matt were losing it over at the kiddie pool. Ace watched Hilary clutched at her sides, trying hard to contain the laughter that was refusing to cease. He tried to blow his hair out of his eyes, but all it did was flop back, so he swept it aside. It was worth it, at least.
Hilary always looked best when she was happy. And he felt his heart flutter as he watched her enjoy herself and relax. It almost made the accompanying stinging in his chest worth it. Almost.
“I’m gonna get you for that, Hil!”
“Catch me if you can, sucker!”
~ ~ ~
The last time he and Hilary had truly “hung out” was around the time they were both starting College. She’d gotten into Columbia for Architecture, and he was going to Sarah Lawrence for Literature. They were in one state, but distance had never been the issue from the get go. It had been time.
They had tried the first month, to try and find a middle ground and meet-up in some obscure café that Hilary had read about on Pinterest, but on the first weekend he’d been tutoring and the next she’d had a paper—until, well, they’d given up and decided to just meet up on the breaks.
Which was fine until they started joining organizations that took even those few long weekends away. It actually got to a point where they hadn’t even been properly communicating on Messenger.
He’d been playing Lost in the Rain and cussing a storm in his bedroom when his phone suddenly notified him of a text. It was currently Spring Break and Ace had decided to spend the entirety of the break at home with his family. He’d cussed louder, considering that the monster had caught up with his little boy character and killed him, but it had at least given him the opportunity to check his messages. His eyes widened when the screen lit up and displayed his best friend’s name.
It was short and straight to the point, but he couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that there was something behind the message. Either way, he’d agreed almost immediately and shot her off a big fat yes before going back to his video game and continuing on with his f-bomb tirade.
Or, that’s what should have happened. Instead, half-way through the same level he’d died at earlier on, he’d realized what he’d just done. He’d agreed to meet up with Hilary. He’d agreed to meet up with Hilary.
Hilary. The girl he’d known since he was eight-years-old. The girl he’s had a crush on since he was ten-years-old. The girl he’d pined after all throughout middle school and high school. Yes. That Hilary. He’d agreed to meet up with that Hilary.
What had he been thinking – or, rather, why hadn’t he been thinking?!
Now, Ace was actually sat in a café and waiting for Hilary Grayson—who, in good timing, had just walked in and looked exactly the same as the last time he’d seen her. He was going to have a panic attack.
~ ~ ~
When he walked into the building on his first day of high school, he’d had a lot of expectations. He would ace all his classes (live up to his name and all), and he would leave a legacy on the swim team that would inspire future swimmers. Most important of all, though? He would finally tell Hilary about his feelings for her.
Ace was a senior now. And while he had the stellar grades and was made swim captain—that last one was becoming a bit more of a problem. Especially with senior prom coming up.
That hadn’t meant that he hadn’t tried though. Because he did—Ace tried really hard. But every time he’d talked himself into doing it and heckling up enough courage, one look at her had him deflating. Hilary looked at him with a trust that’s based on their strong friendship, and sometimes it terrified him that a confession would damage their relationship far more than was fixable. And while he had confidence in the strength of their friendship, it was a valid worry that she’d treat him differently if she found out he had feelings for her.
It had to change though. He needed out of the friend zone and into the boyfriend radar.
Sadly, nothing was going according to plan.
They were having lunch in the cafeteria. Hilary was in her usual place in front of him, and they were in their usual table outside. He’d planned to just let it out—confess and then ask her outright, because batting around the bush didn’t really help his situation, but she’d sat down and groaned. Of course he had to ask why.
“Boys suck.” Well then. “I mean, I don’t mean generally, because you obviously don’t suck, but…yeah, guys suck. They won’t leave me alone, and it’s not my fault that I don’t want to go to prom with any of them, you know?”
He gulped. Ace didn’t like where this was going. Not one bit.
“I’m flattered, obviously, but sometimes it just gets annoying, you know? Some of those guys don’t even know me, but they ask me anyway. How can they even say they have feelings for me if they don’t understand the first thing about me? It’s just—ugh!—so frustrating.”
“Well…I mean, maybe they’ve been watching you from afar?”
“Life isn’t some rom-com Wallace. If they liked me, they should have made an effort to get to know me. I would have at least respected their efforts if they did. Why can’t most guys be like you anyway? I mean, we’re best friends and there’s nothing going on between us, but you didn’t have to like me to get to know me! What’s stopping those bozos?”
“We met when we were eight, Hil! We probably didn’t even know what a crush was at that age.”
“Point aside, will you just go to prom with me? To get people off my back?”
Ace gulped. He wanted to bang his head on the table. This was really not how he’d wanted this to go. Hilary was ruining his confession. And while, sure, she’d just asked him to prom—this going as friends scenario was exactly the one he’d wanted to avoid. But what was he supposed to say—NO?
“Wait, weren’t we going from the get go? I just kind of assumed we already were.” Hilary laughed, and Ace forced one out too. “Should I make this special or something? Should I pick you flowers?”
“Oh Ha-Ha! Funny you.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “But thanks, this means a lot.”
~ ~ ~
She squealed, as excited girls did, and dashed towards him. He stood and extended his arms, ready for the tackle hug that he was sure to receive. Hilary had gotten stronger though, considering that he had almost fallen to the ground with just the sheer force of the impact.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! You’re actually here!”
“Well, I mean, I think so? Unless I actually succeeded and can actually astral project now—that would be so freaking badass.” She hit him and he laughed. His palms were sweaty. Thankfully, none of mom’s spaghetti.
“You are such a jerk.”
“Thank you. I take pride in the title.”
She took her seat in front of him, and he offered her another smile. He hoped it didn’t look as strained as it felt. Her sandwich hadn’t arrived yet, but his coffee had. Ace pushed the mug towards her, but she refused. Stating that: “Eew, no. I’m still a tea girl all the way. How dare you!”
And while nerves still continued to eat away at his sanity, he had to admit that it was great to see her again.
“So,” She started. “Tell me about Sarah Lawrence! How has the hipster artsy life been treating you? Are you now planning to live in Brooklyn and open up a book shop on Halsey street? You should know your duty as a best friend by now, Wallace McCartney!”
“Man, you skip right to the gossip and hard questions, don’t you Hilary?” She swatted at the air, but urged him to continue.
“Well, grades have been fine. Nothing that interesting to report. No girlfriend, no new best friend, my roommate and I are in a passive aggressive post-it war about throwing out pizza boxes and not hiding them under the bed for late night snackage purposes, oh! And I actually am planning on building a little fiction inspired café in Brooklyn, so there!”
“You dork! That was a joke!”
“Yeah, well, it’s the truth. And because you have now mocked my new dream of making Butterbeer Frappes, you don’t get any discounts or perks for being the owner’s best friend.”
“Oh! The horror!” She cried out mockingly. “What will I ever do without my blue chocolate chip cookies!”
A waitress coughed to earn their attention, a tray in her hand with Hilary’s sandwich. They had the decency to blush at the ruckus they were making, but thanked the lady as she walked away. Ace stuck his tongue out when Hilary gave him a look that told him the situation they’d found themselves in was his fault. He tried to convince himself that the renewed blush on his face was from residual embarrassment—and not the megawatt smile that his best friend had given him.
“So, ugh, how about you? What’s been going on with you?”
Hilary’d just taken a bite of her sandwich as he’d asked. This of course led to an immediate need for a tissue. Lettuce fell from her lips as she tried to speak, and bacon fell from her sandwich—which (the mere thought of it falling to the floor) caused her to squeak. Thankfully, nothing happened with the mayonnaise.
Ace laughed, and Hilary glared. She knew that he’d done that on purpose.
“I hate you.” She managed, setting down her food and wiping her mouth with a napkin. “I really do. Like, why did I even miss you? Why’d even wanna meet up with you?”
“Because you love me?” His stomach clenched.
“Oh yeah. Right. That’s why.” It unclenched.
“Anyways, with me? Huh, nothing that interesting either. I mean, grades are good—duh—and my professors are being total dicks, as per usual, but well, uhm, there is one thing that’s new, and that’s kind of why I wanted to meet up with you.”
“I’m hurt!” And though he said it with fake offense, Ace had to admit that he actually was a bit was. It may have been immature and pure wishful thinking on his part, but he’d kind of hoped that she’d missed him as much as he’d missed her. “There’s a hidden agenda to this rendezvous?”
“Oh don’t get dramatic, it’s nothing big!”
“Uh-huh. Sure. I’ll be the judge of that. What do you need?”
“Uhm, I kinda…maybe…sorta got myself a boyfriend?”
“Oh? Is that—wait, WHAT?!”
Ace’s world stopped. Everyone in the café stopped. Time must have stopped—because his heart sure as hell did! Hilary had on such a sweet smile, she was biting her lip sheepishly, and she had a soft blush on her cheeks as she absentmindedly twirled on a stray lock of her hair. It was as frustrating as it was adorable.
Hilary had a boyfriend. How the hell did that happen? When the hell did that happen? The shock must have been obvious on his face, because soon enough she’d launched into an explanation.
“He’s, like, the coolest guy ever. He’s into all the things I am, and he’s just so sweet too. For our one month anniversary, he took me out on a date and bought me flowers and just pushed with the whole shebang, you know? And his name is Luke, and I’d just loved it if you met him!”
He knew that that should have been his cue to talk, but it really hadn’t given him enough time to process.
He’d pined after this girl for years. He’d flirted with her on and off for years too. Despite the fact that he’d never made a move on her, there had always been that calming thought in his head that she was his in some sort of way. And now, now, he’s suddenly been hit (more like knocked out) by the reality that she had never been his—that she was someone else’s to call his. She was Luke’s.
Somehow, his world was both crashing down and building itself up at the same time. As if his world were a building with infinite floors, and as the top of the skyscraper began to topple over, new floors just kept growing and growing as each one fell. His chest was constricting, he felt like he wasn’t getting enough air, and the ground below his feet felt like it was giving way to eggshells. Sound was distorted, and his mind was fuzzy.
Ace forced out a small and clutched at the side of the table to keep himself grounded. He tried to snap himself out of the downward spiral of a thought train.
“That’s great!” It sounded off to him, but she seemed too distracted by thoughts of Luke to notice. “How long has this been going on?”
“Around five months. And, I swear, it’s been the best five months of my life!”
And again, Ace wasn’t quite sure how to take that. He knew how he was supposed to react. He was supposed to be ecstatic for her—because, well, she’s happy and he’s supposed to want her to be happy—but, well, it was kind of hard to do that when the world was falling apart around him. He was supposed to say something. She was asking him a favor, right?
“Wait, I mean, that’s great and all, and I’m really happy for you, but why do I have to meet him?”
She looked taken aback. Did it come out wrong? He wondered. Did it not sound sincere? He calmed down when her posture gave way and he hit her in the shoulder. It was all in good fun and she was messing with him. Just like how they’d always been.
“Cause you’re my best friend, duh. Why wouldn’t I want you to meet him?”
Fair point. And it would be suspicious if he declined. But how was he even supposed to begin telling her why it was probably not a good idea to meet this Luke fellow? It wasn’t like it was the best idea to suddenly blurt out: “Hey Hil, ugh, I don’t think that’s a good thing to do. Cause, you know, I’ve been kind of in love with you since forever, and, yeah—there’s kind of a conflict of interest here.”
“How would I even meet him, Hilary? It’s not like I have to time to make it out to Columbia.”
“Well, ugh, he’s kind of here. I invited him to meet my parents, and he’s at my house right now. I was thinking you could come over tomorrow, you know? Give him your seal of approval as my best friend and make it all official. I really think you two would get along.”
Ace sighed in defeat. Hilary was giving him that look—the one she gave him whenever she needed him. The look that she gave whenever she was relying on him to come through for her. It hurt, and he felt a fist clench around his heart. But he knew that there was no way that he was going to disappoint her. He’d never done it before, and he wasn’t about to start now.
“Sure.” He responded. “But I’m gonna give him a hard time. It’s part of my job.”
She squealed. She stood up, reached over the table and hugged him. She was so happy as she chanted “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” into his ear. Ace hid a sad smile and hugged her back.
…is that sometimes they don’t like you back.