I wouldn’t consider myself superstitious, or the type to subscribe to ideas that paint the narrative of us not being in control. I like to think we have autonomy, free will—that kind of thing, and that the outcomes in our lives are dependent on our own personal choices and their corresponding actions. The events of this past week, though, had me questioning my entire belief system.
It started a few days ago, when I texted Camilla to see if she was free. I was used to the noes by that point, but I’m pretty optimistic by nature, so the motivation to get a redo for the sour ending of our breakfast date, wasn’t too hard to come by.
She responded pretty quickly, saying she was home, drawing—which I took to be a good sign because she’s only creative when she’s happy and happy was the mood I was looking for—but could use a change of scenery. So I grabbed my keys and rushed out the door, but when I tried to leave, my car wouldn’t start. My gently used, properly maintained car wouldn’t start. Turns out, the battery had died overnight, so I called to let her know I’d be late, which she was fine with it, but by the time I got it taken care of, she was babysitting for her friend and couldn’t get out again.
The next incident happened at work. I was wrapping up a meeting with one of the editors when I noticed her in the hall. She was near the mailboxes, finishing up her deliveries, so I grabbed my things and headed out the door, hoping to catch her before she reached the elevator. I called her name just as she was walking away, but when she turned around and took a step forward in my direction, the fire alarm went off, and we were ushered out the building. I searched around the sidewalk, trying to spot her in the crowd, but she was as good as gone.
Having this conversation in person wasn’t working out for me, so I settled for a phone call as a last resort, but dialing her number returned a call failed message. So as a last, last resort, I tried sending a text, but that failed too. An hour and a Simoogle search later, I found out there was an outage in my area that lasted through the night—bringing us to today.
Today was going to be the day. No matter what. I was making it happen. On the elevator, in the parking lot, in the middle of the mailroom for all I cared—as long as I got to tell her how I felt, I would’ve considered this mission accomplished.
I grabbed a table at the ‘burrito place’ where she, I mean they—Cassandra was tagging along—were meeting me for lunch. I was hoping to get her alone, but with as close as the two of them were, always in each other’s phones, whispering and snickering about everything, I figured doing this in front of both of them just saved an inevitable step.
I was so ready to finally have her consider me as more than just a friend, but when I looked straight ahead, and saw Cassandra heading my way without her best friend by her side, I couldn’t help but feel like there were outside forces at play here.
I leaped from the table, the fear of losing out on yet another opportunity flinging me down the sidewalk. “Where’s Camilla?”
She zipped past me with her face glued to her phone. “Still at the office.”
Still at the office?
I swallowed hard as my heart sank twenty feet into my stomach, terror growing inside as I followed quickly on her heels. “She’s not coming?”
“Nope,” she said, sitting down at the table, casually scrolling through her phone; oblivious to the fact that she was crushing my dreams. “She was late this morning, so Dungeon Lady’s making her work through lunch.”
Work through lunch…
Camilla being stuck sorting mail with her overbearing boss seemed like a bad thing, but maybe it wasn’t? Maybe it was my chance to get ahead of the game; to find out what she was thinking and how she was feeling—in other words, for me to get to work.
And what better way to get a job well done than a talk with her friend who was way too into her phone to know she was being interviewed?
I got back in my seat, warming her up with a little small talk. “You’re not eating?” I pointed at the empty space on the table in front of her.
“No, I had a big breakfast,” she said. “I just came ’cause Camilla was all worried about you having to eat by yourself. You know how she is.”
“Yeah, I do.” I smiled. That’s one of the things I like about her. “I bet she’s not happy having to stay behind, though; not being able to eat and all.”
“She’s fine.” She dismissed my faux concern. “She got good news today, so I don’t see anything messing that up.”
Good news equals good mood. So far, so good. I wonder what happened, though?
I pried a little more, trying to gauge Camilla’s ranking on the happiness meter, and get a few details in the process. “Something worth celebrating?”
She snickered like this ‘celebration’ may have been different from what I had in mind. “I’m sure she did that already.”
But I chalked it up to some inside joke between them and moved on.
“So then she’s probably free later today, right?”
“Maybe…” Her eyes rose slowly above her phone. “Why?”
The arching of her eyebrows and the sudden ability to look away from her screen let me know my cover was blown.
”Y’all hang out all the time, so why are you asking me about her schedule?” Her suspicion intensified. “Are you tryna ask her out or something?”
I could’ve played it off like I wasn’t, and bought myself some extra time to continue my research, but I’m not a fan of lies when the evidence proved otherwise, so I told the truth instead. “That’s the plan.”
I thought she would’ve appreciated the honesty, but when she said, “Salim, no. You can’t.” With an unexpected amount of concern in her voice, I knew we were on different pages, which I would’ve understood, expected even, had this been two years ago when we first met, and bad impressions were left on both our sides.
It started in the lobby, sometime in the afternoon, when she and I just happened to be passing through at the same time. She was headed to the mailroom, probably coming back from lunch, judging by the to-go cup in her hand, and I was on my way to my third meeting of the day.
Aahana, my wife at the time, surprised me at the door; angry that all fifty-seven of her calls had gone straight to voicemail. Our marriage, at that point, was in the worst state it’s ever been, and her slicing my tires after a very public shouting match was proof enough to anyone who witnessed it.
Cassandra though, was the only person who witnessed it.
So once word got out around the office, it didn’t take long for me to connect the dots, and write her off as a big mouth gossiper, and for her to label me as someone who says unforgivable things to his wife when he’s mad.
But I thought we moved past all that when Camilla came on board, and we actually got to know each other, so hearing her express so much disapproval toward the idea of me dating her friend, after all this time, stung a little.
I managed to find a laugh in the wound her response left. “Damn Cassandra, I thought you would’ve had my back.”
“You know I do.” Her expression softened. “Which is exactly why I’m saying this.”
So if she wasn’t still stuck on old misconceptions about me, what was it? Why couldn’t I ask Camilla out?
“Can you at least tell me why, then?”
Her eyes lowered to the table like she was about to deliver the worst news possible. “She’s seeing someone.”
And it was the worst news possible.
“She’s seeing someone?”
I wished I was dealing with a case of ‘overprotective friend’ because that was fixable with a conversation of some sort, but this? This… didn’t make sense to me, not based on what I saw. It did explain her limited free time outside of work, though, and why our phone calls were interrupted so often, but the signs, the vibes, everything else I got from her was saying the opposite, and I was sure I was reading her right. I wouldn’t have taken this step if I wasn’t.
And if this was the case—that she’s involved with someone—why wouldn’t she say anything? It’s not like a relationship is the kind of thing she’d forget about, nor is it something she’d hide, especially when she’s so forthcoming about everything else.
“Yeah… it’s… new… kinda…”
Unless she had a reason to? Something that was more than what it seemed, something kind of… complicated, maybe even like… having secret feelings for the person she’s not with.
“So don’t, Salim, it’ll just mess things up for her— y’all. I meant y’all— like y’all being friends and stuff.”
It’ll mess things up for her?
She tried to take it back, but her correction wasn’t quick enough; and this line about messing things up for Camilla—and only Camilla—sounded a lot like my earlier thought may have had some merit to it.
Our friendship was solid enough to withstand most conversations, I was sure of it, but me expressing my feelings, and her sharing them too at a time when she probably shouldn’t, I could see how that would cause a problem.
So I nodded in agreement, disappointed, but ultimately okay with her request, because as much as I wanted Camilla, I wanted her to be happy and stress-free too.
Cassandra smiled, seemingly relieved that I wasn’t a troublemaker. “For the friendship, okay?”
Besides, the future’s not set in stone…
“For the friendship.”
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