Just Friends, Part One

As promised earlier, here is the first part of Just Friends.  Check back every Monday for another piece of Rachel’s story…

Rachel
They invited her to the wedding.

They invited her to the wedding.  Not him anymore.  Not Seth Huntington, the man she’d loved literally half of her life.  No, now Seth was part of Seth and Chelsea, a two-person entity that precluded who he had been before and that was speeding him joyfully to the altar.  Everything Seth did from now on would include Chelsea, for better, for worse.

Forever.

So they had invited her to the wedding.

Rachel couldn’t figure out why.  Well, she had a few guesses.  For starters, her brother, Grant, was the best man.  Her best friend, Abby, was Seth’s sister-in-law.  And, oh yeah, she’d spent all of her time, energy, and attention on Seth Huntington, on loving him, on caring about him, on wanting to be with him, ever since she was fourteen years old.

She thought about this as she drove to work.  She thought back to the day her parents had packed up the mini-van with all of Grant’s stuff, piled in themselves, and headed in the direction of the small university where her father was the academic dean for the honors program.  Yeah, Grant could have lived at home, but he had reasoned with them that since they weren’t paying for his education, they could at least afford to put him up in the dorm so he could still get the experience, even if it didn’t include the distance.

Rachel didn’t care if he felt like he was getting the experience.  She was just glad to be getting his room.  As soon as they dropped him off, she planned on going back home and moving his furniture out, moving her furniture in, and embracing the life of an only child.

Sweet.

“Grant, do you know anything about your roommate?,” their mother asked from the front seat, where she was already wiping away tears with a tissue.

“Nope,” he said, reaching out and pushing Rachel over in the seat once again, for old time’s sake.  “Didn’t even get his name until yesterday.”

“And that name is…?,” their mother asked.

“Seth Huntington,” he said.

“I recognize that name,” their father responded.  “He’s in the honors program, too.  Freshman… biology major, I think.”

“Sounds boring,” Rachel said, but with her braces and rubber bands everywhere, it sounded more like, soundzzz boringzzz.  Oh, well.  The spider web of neon pink rubber bands and metal sure beat the headgear she’d been wearing for the past three years, even if it made her sound like she had a lisp.  It just matched the rest of her, frankly.  She was a foot taller than all the boys her age and half the weight of most of them.  All elbows and knees and frizzy hair and (yes) acne, she was pretty sure she’d always be the poster child for “awkward stage.”  Which meant it wouldn’t be a stage at all but life.

Oh, well.  Again.

“Annnnnddd,” their dad trilled dramatically.  “We’re here!”

Sure enough, they were at the university.  Yes, they lived that close.  Yet their mother continued dabbing her eyes as though they were dropping Grant off halfway around the moon.

“Awesome,” Grant said.  “We need to head to the student center first to pick up my keys, and –“

“Already done,” their father responded, holding up the brass keys.

“An advantage to having a father on the faculty,” their mother said.

“Thanks,” Grant laughed.  “Room 310… third floor, then.”

They all got out, loaded up with boxes, and started heading that way.  Rachel got stuck behind and was moving slowly enough that soon, they all three were in the building without her… which meant that they didn’t see her trip over her own feet and land, as ungracefully as possible, right on her face.

“Hey!,” she heard from behind her.  “Are you okay?”

Humiliated and already sore, she picked herself up, looked at the mess of video games spread out before her, and turned to face –

Oh.  Him.  The most handsome stranger she’d ever seen.

He was taller than her.  Finally, a boy who was taller than her.  He watched her with soft blue eyes and a confused expression, as she continued staring at him.

“Wow, you fell really hard!  Are you okay?,” he asked again.

She blinked at him.  “Oh, yeah,” she said, embarrassed, putting her hands to her mess of hair, then looking over to Grant’s mess, all over the ground.  “I just tripped.  But I’m fine.”

“Here,” he said, “let me help you.”  And he bent down next to her and began repacking the box.  “I love this game,” he smiled, holding up Grant’s favorite. 

“Me, too,” Rachel lied.  She’d never even played that stupid game once, and –

“You need help getting the box in?  I only have this left,” he said, holding up his backpack.  “Already moved in.”

She nodded wordlessly and let him pick up the box for her. 

“This building?,” he asked, pointing to the one her family had already disappeared into. 

“Yeah,” she said quietly.  “Third floor.”

“Hey,” he smiled.  “Me, too.”

And they made their way into the building and up the stairs, as he held open doors for her and carried Grant’s things, telling her all the while about the campus, about the town, about the church he’d already visited that weekend, telling her that she should check it out because they had a great college department.

It was her church.  Hallelujah.  She would see him again… maybe.  Because she was in the youth department, and he was –

“Good grief, Rachel,” Grant said, stepping in front of her.  “Did you get lost or something?”

Lost in his dreamy, dreamy blue eyes…

Rachel pulled her attention from the stranger’s eyes and stuttered, “Uh, no, just… fell down.”

“That sounds right,” he said.  Then, he noticed the stranger and looked back and forth between the two of them, a confused expression on his face.

“Um, this… guy… helped me,” she offered.

“Thanks, man,” Grant said, taking the box from him.  “Should’ve known my little sister couldn’t make it in here on her own two feet without some assistance.”

She felt her face blush at this, even as the stranger grinned.  “Oh,” he said, looking over at her.  “Are you moving in or just… helping out your brother here?”

“Just helping Grant,” she said softly.  “I’m not in college.  I’m only fourteen, and –“

But he’d moved on, like she’d suddenly become invisible.  “Grant?,” he said, grinning broadly.  “Room 310?”

“Yeah,” Grant nodded, smiling. 

“I’m your roommate, Seth.”

And she’d gotten to know him twice removed… but she’d still gotten to know him that day.  And she took every word to heart, every single thing he said, every moment, with unabashed infatuation and youthful adoration.

After they left Grant, she pulled out her phone in her corner of the mini-van and texted Abby…

I just met the boy I’m going to marry.

Back in her car, half a lifetime later, Rachel sighed at the memory and the very thought of marriage to Seth Huntington.

“Well,” she sighed unsteadily, talking to herself, “you certainly tried your best to marry him, Rachel.”

And she had.  She really had.

She became a normal fixture at the university over the years.  Grant humored her, thinking her presence meant she missed him, and because she always showed up with something their mother had cooked, both he and Seth welcomed her.  In time, she grew out of the awkward stage.  The braces disappeared, the acne was gone, and she figured out how to make the thick hair work to her advantage.  Instead of stumbling out of the house in the morning, all knees and elbows, she grew into the body that was doing her a whole lot of favors, moving with a gracefulness and poise that belied her innocence.  Grant suddenly became the most popular guy in the dorm when Rachel came by to visit, and there were always several sets of eyes that followed her coming and going as she followed Seth.

Over the years, as Grant and Seth’s friendship transcended college and followed them into adulthood, Rachel continued on as part of their group, falling more and more in love with Seth all the while.  He was godly, he was kind, he was responsible, and he was, by her estimation, what every man should aspire to be. She held onto hope that he would see her as more than Grant’s kid sister and that he would finally realize that he was meant to be with her.  

It had seemed hopeless until that morning, just a few years ago, when he had kissed her, when he seemed to finally want her like she wanted him, when it seemed like all of her dreams were about to come true…

… and then nothing.  Absolutely nothing. 

But she hadn’t given up.  Even when Chelsea started working for him. Even when he started dating Chelsea.  Even when it became clear that Seth and Chelsea were pretty serious.

Even now, with the wedding invite in the stack of junk mail that sat on her passenger seat.  She’d kept it in here for weeks now, convinced that if she didn’t take it in and put it on her fridge with all the other wedding invites (she was just that age, unfortunately), that it wasn’t really happening.

She hit gridlock traffic and sighed.  Looking at the invitation again, with its delicate edging and fancy embossing wouldn’t help. 

What would help would be looking up their wedding registry on her phone and making judgments on their success at marriage based on their choice of flatware and china.

You could tell a lot from flatware and china, after all.

Traffic began creeping along slowly just as Rachel found their names, clicked on them and began browsing.  Towels, dishes, gift cards, a universal television remote…

And just as she was crinkling her nose at that stupid item, she hit the truck in front of her.

………

You can get every installment of Rachel’s story in your email inbox by subscribing to the blog.  Part Two will be online in a week.  Happy reading, friends!

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