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Going Back

Joe didn’t approached Ariel again, which was fine with her. He was weird and kind of loner anyways, she thought. He wasn’t like her at all and she didn’t like him back, so it was okay that she rejected him. But, it did make her realize how many times she had to see him. It was already awkward having never talked to him ever since they were kids and suddenly he asks her out? So weird, she thought.This guy had no idea what he’s getting himself into with her.

He was easy to read. Afterwards, he didn’t speak to her, but he couldn’t pretend not to notice her and she realized that fairly quickly. She’d noticed when he would occasionally steal a glance at her while they went to school. It was pretty obvious since she would purposely stare back at him and ride her skateboard without looking at where she was going. It paid to have memorized her route, but it backfired on Joe. She noticed where he ate at lunch was perfectly parallel to where she ate lunch. She noticed that even when they didn’t have a single class together and that the school was so big that it was easy to get lost, there would be awkward moments where they passed by each other. She noticed he had strange friends.

By the time they went back home, the game of Cat and Mouse resumed. She would stare at her little prey every chance she got and waited for his squeaky response. He would never talk, but it was fun to watch him squirm. Prom was coming up fast and she was waiting for him to break his composure but he never did. Perhaps she was being a bit harsh on the naive, little boy, she thought. But he didn’t have a chance with her! She did not want to be in a relationship at all. The idea of her being in any kind of romantic relationship made her queasy. No, she wasn’t pessimistic about love, just a bit immature. Not a lot of people knew just how childish she was and she wanted to keep it that way.

A few days passed by and prom was just around the corner, and so was Joe. It was after school and while slowly riding her board down the road, Ariel realized Joe was lagging behind. Perhaps it was a few meters or even a whole block, he had been distancing himself more and more from her. She turned around and waited for him to turn the corner and saw him huffing and puffing on his bike.

“Hey,” she called out. “Why so slow today?”

Joe pointed at himself with a shocked expression.

“Yeah, I’m talking you!” She answered. “Why are you lagging?”

“No reason,” he shyly replied. “Just tired I guess.”

Ariel gave a disgusted look and sighed. To his surprise, she came over on her skateboard and rode by his side. “C’mon,” she said lowly. “We’ll walk.”

It was an awkward couple of blocks with neither one willing to bring up a conversation. Joe was too scared to anger her, and she didn’t want to talk anyways. With no one talking, walking seemed like beating around a dead bush.

Joe was the first to break the tension. “Why are you walking with me?”

Ariel didn’t look at him. “Don’t know. Bored I guess.”

“Oh…” he only responded. “But …anyways, thanks Ariel. It was nice of you to wait for me. You know you didn’t have to. It’s not like we’re friends.”

“No, we’re not,” she spat.

“Then why did you?” he asked, hoping she would give an answer. She didn’t.

“Your name is Joe, right?” she asked, purposely dodging his question.

He nodded his head in response. “Yeah, we’ve known each other ever since middle school.”

“Joe…” Ariel looked at the ground and scrapped her board. “How come you’ve never talked to me before?”

Joe gripped on his bike handles and gave an awkward sigh. “I was scared I’d say something stupid.”

She peered over and saw his face brightening up like a cherry. “Your face is all red.”

He touched his cheek and felt the heat. Quickly, he tried to cover his face with his hoodie and patted his cheek, hoping the blush would wear off soon. At first he wanted to tell her that it was because he was scared to admit his feelings to her but he didn’t want sound too eager. She had already rejected him once, and Joe was not about to be rejected again. Not when he’s already progressed so much in such a short amount of time.

Ariel thought it was cute though, how innocent and naive he was. He actually patted his cheek so roughly, she could see him pout just a bit. The game had resumed, and she was having fun trapping her prey and making me squirm. He was just too easy.

“So…you’ve liked me for a long time, huh?” Ariel asked, hoping for his cheeks to flush once again.

“Um…,” trying to think up an answer and not turn tomato red at the same time was proving too much of a task for him. “Well…”

He laughed and  tried to continue, hoping to just barely mumble an answer but Joe couldn’t finish.The conversation got a little too dangerous for him, and all he could do was stop talking. Ariel looked at him and realized she couldn’t continue making him so uncomfortable.

“I’m kidding,” she muttered softly, but enough for him to hear which instantly made him smile.

“Oh,” he immediately nodded to her and let out a deep breathe.

Changing the subject she asked him, “how well do you get along with your folks?”

“As well as any teenager, I guess,” he laughed, gripping onto his bike handles. “Why’d you ask?”

“My parents suck,” she mumbled, almost low enough that he couldn’t catch it. “They only care about my brothers.”

“I have an older brother too and an older sister,” he interjected. “Ever since I was little, it felt harder and harder to live up to them, and they’re much older than I am so it was hard to talk to them.”

Ariel stared at Joe. “Did your parents ever ask why aren’t you more like your siblings? I always got that!”

“All the time!” he huffed. “I was never outgoing like my sister, or sporty like my brother and they make me feel bad about it all the time. Just once I’d like for them to leave me alone and let me figure myself out.”

Ariel took a minute to respond to him. “You don’t normally talk this much, do you?” she asked him sincerely, to which he laughed slightly.

“Nope,” he shook his head responsively. “Do you?”

She shook her head. It had been a long time since she met someone she could talk to as easily as he had made it. They talked some more about their families and soon enough, they had passed more than a couple blocks. By the time she realized it, she had almost walked him home. They were at the street corner when he decided to ask her about prom again.

Hoping this time he didn’t sound too eager he asked her, “So, are you going to prom?”

“Probably not,” she shrugged. “None of my friends are going.”

“Oh,” Joe’s shoulders dropped and he gave a sigh but quickly asked, “Well…did anyone else ask you to go?”

“No,” she reaffirmed him, shaking her head. “Just you.”

“Then maybe, if you didn’t mind… and if you’re free…. you can reconsider my previous proposal?” he said bracing himself,and gripping the handles of his bike.

There it was, her mouse caught in an accidental trap that not even she could have thought up. She had him at the palm of her hand and she could lower the boom right there, with no regret. Ariel placed her skateboard on the floor, stood up straight without looking too eager and gave a little cough.

“Maybe…” she answered, even to her surprise.

“R-really?” he stuttered, hoping that it wasn’t just his head messing with him. .

“Maybe,” she reiterated. “I’m not sure if I want to go with you. We’re not even friends.”

Her bluntness caught him off guard, and he had to think of something reassuring to say. Even if she didn’t reject him now, she might if he couldn’t think of something to say. Sure they weren’t really friends, but that it couldn’t ever happen, right?

“We could be?” he said finally. “I mean, it’s not like we’re strangers right?”

“…maybe,” she repeated. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. See you around.”

And she rode away without giving him a real answer, but that was okay because Joe wasn’t even expecting an answer that wasn’t no. Maybe, she said. He was elated! As long as there was hope, he was happy.

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