We were in the back of a car, while our two friends were in the front. The four of us were coming back from the beach, and it had been a normal day for a bunch of 22-year-olds with few responsibilities – just hanging out without knowing or thinking about what was next. I say this because it wasn’t a special day. A good one, but not extraordinary in any way. Besides how I was feeling.
Alice was lying down with her head in my lap. She was asleep and I was playing with her hair, feeling like I wanted a million more moments just like this. I started dreaming about what it might be like. We’d make pottery together. We’d play tennis. We’d cuddle on the couch watching football in matching jerseys. We’d go on bushwalks, holding hands the whole time, talking about hypothetical worlds made of trampolines and fluff.
I knew Alice wanted to be with me. Not because I’d picked up all the obvious signs, but because she had told me months before in a letter (which I still have, in a shoebox in my cupboard). The letter essentially said, “I’m in love with you,” and I’m pretty sure my response – delivered verbally – was, “Don’t worry Alice, I’ll still be your friend.” I probably thought it was a very mature and compassionate way to handle things – I was 22.
The dumbest part was I already wanted to be with Alice when she sent me that letter, massively so. But for a variety of complex, interrelated reasons stemming from my fear of losing two best friends – Alice, and Hannah, my ex-girlfriend who happened to be a close friend of Alice’s too – I just never accepted my feelings.
But in the back seat of the car, looking down at her cute little ears, my dreams about Alice and I making pottery and watching football helped my initial fears fade away – only to be replaced by an even dumber fear. I finally understood how I was feeling, which meant I had also decided that telling Alice would go terribly.
This is how I imagined it:
“Alice, I love you and I want to be with you.”
“I’m sorry Nick, you’re a great friend but I’m in love with this hot rugby player who’s also a doctor and is really funny and cool. Also, I’m a bit annoyed you’re telling me this now and not six months ago when I poured my heart out to you in a letter, so how about we put a hold on this friendship.”
I didn’t have any evidence for this. But I wasn’t the most emotionally intelligent guy.
Weeks later, I had one of the most awkward and unromantic conversations of my life. It started with this absolute pearler: “Alice, I have something to tell you but it might make you sad.”
Alice’s face was grave, funeral-grave. I’ll never forget it.
I told her I wanted to be with her, but I understood if she’d moved on. She hadn’t, and she said exactly that.
I was thrilled but it was such a weird and awkward moment I didn’t really know what to do, so I just said: “Shall we kiss now?”
That was 12 years ago. Since that day we’ve made pottery together once, watched only a handful of football games (none of which Alice enjoyed), and been on a handful of bushwalks (moderate amount of hand-holding).
My dreams of having a full-time hobby partner never happened, but Alice has given me something much better: more love than I knew was possible. Alice texts me during the day telling me she loves me. She tells me I’m handsome, I’m the best boyfriend in the world and that she’s proud of me. She thanks me for everything I do for her and she gives me kisses, hugs and cuddles like breaths of air, like they’re just thoughtless, instinctual parts of being alive.
It makes me want to love Alice the same way, in many small ways. Almost every time she walks by I’ll put my hand on the back of her neck, give her a squeeze, or kiss a part of her that hasn’t got much attention recently – like a knee. Loving, and being loved that much, has changed me, too. It’s made me feel worthy of love, better able to love myself and, in some ways, better at loving everything around me. Now I wonder if I should have just gone for it when I first received Alice’s letter. But who knows if everything would have turned out this perfectly.