I tried to hide my reaction, to keep my breaths even, not let my body show how tense I’d become at his question. He was my absolute, hands down, best friend. But I wasn’t sure he was who I wanted to be my boyfriend.
“Cory, of course I’ll go with you. I’ve never missed one of your birthday parties.” I made my words light and airy, the exact opposite of how I was feeling that moment.
“No, Kenzie, that’s not what I meant. I want you to go as my date.”
It was suddenly one hundred degrees hotter than it had been just seconds before and my lungs decided to work overtime. Cory apparently didn’t notice my freak-out, as he kept talking.
“I know we’ve been waiting, but we’re both sixteen now. I don’t want to wait anymore. I want to be with you.” He reached over and took my hand. This wasn’t a rare occurrence; we held hands every now and then. He was my very best friend and I loved him. But a lot of the time I wasn’t sure if the only reason I loved him was because I’d been trained to do so. But on that afternoon, as we sat on that wall, when his fingers slid between mine and gripped me tightly, I knew he wasn’t thinking about our friendship. He wasn’t holding Kenzie’s hand, the girl who he’d pushed over in the sand box when we were five. No, he was holding Kenzie’s hand who he wanted to be romantic with.
Be romantic with.
I couldn’t even fathom it, let alone try to put it into words.
How could I tell my best friend in the whole world, on his birthday, that I had no idea what I wanted? That even though we’d basically been primed for this our whole lives, I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted? If he was something I wanted?
Easy: I couldn’t.
I just smiled at him, gave his hand a squeeze, and let him come to whatever conclusion he would, fully knowing I was taking the coward’s way out. When his smile widened and eyes sparkled, I knew I’d started something I wasn’t sure I had the power to stop.
Mr. and Mrs. Wallace hadn’t spared any expense when it came to Cory’s birthday party. They’d rented the ballroom at the local golf club, complete with DJ and dance floor, photo booth, and a wait staff walking around with silver platters of finger food that most of the kids attending couldn’t have identified if they’d tried. It was, in a word, fancy.
My birthday party the weekend before had been much more my speed. My parents had let me take five friends to Busch Gardens. We’d ridden roller coasters until we couldn’t walk straight. It was awesome. Cory had come, along with my friends Becca, Holly, and Todd. Becca and Holly were my best girlfriends, and Holly practically begged me to invite Todd. I figured it couldn’t be bad to have another guy there so Cory didn’t feel too out of place. It was a lot of fun, and nothing like the formal affair I was currently observing from my strategically scouted spot where I was doing a fantastic job of holding up the wall.
I watched as my classmates and friends danced in the middle of the room, colorful lights flashing around them. It looked as though they were having fun, but I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable out there like them. My body had always been a mystery to me and I’d never figured out how to properly control it. Sure, I could walk around just fine, but trying to coordinate so many limbs to move at the same time and make it look smooth? I would never be good at that.
Cory was in the middle of the crowd, dancing as if he’d been practicing his whole life for this performance. He’d always been so good at things like that. He was entertaining, confident, and fun to be around. Everyone wanted to be his friend and nearly everyone was. Every person invited to his party coveted their invitations and knew he’d treat them all as if he were genuinely pleased they’d managed to make it. He was a people person, through and through.
I saw my parents in the far corner, only lit by the flashes of light coming from the DJ table, talking with Cory’s parents. Our moms were talking to each other while our dads did the same. It was a vision I’d seen my entire life. It was comforting to a point—something I could always count on. But it was also redundant. I wondered if the people I was friends with now—Cory, Holly, and Becca—if that was it for me. I loved them all, but would I ever have more connections with different people? I hated feeling trapped at sixteen, but it was something I was experiencing more and more each day.