“Gabby vs. the Friendzone” is the updated, slightly-revamped version of my old short story “Eraser” written way, way back in June 2012. It was made in response to a prompt from my best friend slash golden boy slash bro slash the-Andy-to-my-Gabby. Here’s to you, Ichi – you are this baby’s daddy. I don’t wanna bother y’all too much… the rest of the notes are in the end, after the story!
Gabby vs. the Friendzone
Gabby vs. the Friendzone
You asked, Gabby.
It was nothing, really. You just asked.
It wasn’t a problem too. I just answered.
Then, you asked again.
A follow-up question.
This is the problem: I answered that, too.
It was the right answer, the true one, the not-lie, that had me realizing that I should’ve just answered with the lie anyway.
I said the truth, and you knew it.
That was what went wrong, I think. Because sometimes, the right answer doesn’t fix things.
Sometimes, it breaks.
Monday. I find a red ballpoint pen in my locker.
Three days after The Question, which here is a shortened version of ‘The Question I Stupidly Answered And You Rightfully Believed (You Weren’t Wrong to Believe It, But I wish You Were)’, this is what I see in my locker:
The same mess of canvas cloth, books, sketchpads, paint bottles, paint tubes, and my jar of pencils, pens and charcoal. Beside my favorite charcoal pen (because of course you knew which one it is) is a red ballpoint pen.
Our brand, our color and not brand new. It’s yours, I can tell. There’s a pink ribbon tied on it. So you. Besides, you’re the only other person who knew my locker combination. I always loved it when you dropped random notes on top of the stuff inside.
Thinking about you brings me back to last Friday, after The Question, when we were all awkward staring and stammering, until you excused yourself and left.
After that, you had sent me a text, saying “I’m home” just to tell me, as usual, that you arrived home safely. I always insisted you do it. You always thought it was unnecessary. You love me, so you always do it anyway.
Gabs, it sucks that you love me but I love you more, and now you know it. Maybe you’ve known it and now you believe it, but I don’t really give a flying F whichever way it is because it sucks all the same. Sometimes all the more.
The next two days after The Question were Saturday and Sunday. No text. No PM’s. Over the weekend, there was radio silence.
Maybe you didn’t know what to say to me.
I didn’t know what to say to you too.
I wouldn’t know how to reply to whatever you say without sounding desperate. There ya go.
So yeah – no text, no PM.
I had thought maybe it was an ‘End of Friendship’ notice. I’ve finally lost my best friend because I fell for the age-old tradition of falling in love with her.
But. This is something else. Today: a red ballpen with a ribbon.
I haven’t seen you yet – but it is early morning. I’m an early bird and you’re a fashionably late genius – huh. Did you get up early for this?
Why a ballpen?
Why your ballpen? I have my own, you didn’t have to give me a new one. Or… a used one, I guess? What kind of parting-apology-friendship-pity-whatever gift is a red ballpen?
I took it, pulled on the ribbon, and then it comes back.
Second year, right?
I was sitting on the lawn, sketching my own shoes, and then I noticed that beside my green chucks, there was a pair of little flowery doll shoes.
You sat beside me- no. You had been sitting beside me, and I had been too busy drawing to notice.
These were your first two words to me: “You’re awesome.”
You have a way of flustering me, Gabs. “I… I was just drawing my shoes, though.”
I took the time to properly look at you. The first thing I noticed was that your voice was high-pitched. Second, you were shorter – way shorter – alright, you were small. (You’re still small.) Third, you were wearing a long jean skirt, a shirt that says “The Angels have the phone box” and a pink beanie.
“But it looks so good!” you insisted. “I can never draw like that!”
A nerd? I thought.
So I asked, “Are you a first year?” in the hopes that when you say ‘yes’, I can tell you that they’ll be teaching you Still Life in class and you will improve a lot. I didn’t worry about your course because it was obvious.
Here comes the first surprise of many: “Nah,” you said. “I’m in second year. And I’m in Engineering.”
Way to break my impression, Gabrielle. The College of Engineering was a building over. You were in Arts grounds, blending in so well.
“I wanted to take Arts too, y’know.”
“I suck. And there’s no major in abstract.”
I laughed. You smiled.
“…or in origami. ‘Sides, I’m really good at Engineering!”
“Okay… so why’re you here, then?” I asked, trying my best not to sound rude and accidentally make you feel unwelcome.
“Checking out some stuff. I love watching people make art.” you said, eyes intent on my sketch.
I started drawing your shoes beside mine.
You were there the next day, and the day after, and we grew from that.
You followed me around the department on your free time and mine, when you can watch me work on both my art assignments and my personal projects, or simply to hang out with my friends. Sometimes we just sat there and talked about stuff while you did your own homework for once.
Somewhere in there is that one time you borrowed my red ballpen, because you’re picky and we share the same brand, and you took it away with you to class.
I never got it back.
Until three days after The Question, when I’m finally holding the same one in my hand. It had gone spare and battered, I see that now. I know you’re a neat freak when it came to papers and books, but the rest of your things were basically a dump site. Did you rummage your whole room for this?
There’s something on the ribbon, now that I’m noticing it.
Dammit, now I wanna barge in the Engineering department and demand that you talk to me.
Then, after three days of silence, you finally send your first text: ‘Allow me to apologize.’
Okay, maybe my opening should be less suspect. I know that it’s vague at best – but hey, you didn’t go looking for me, demanding for an explanation. Thanks for understanding, Andy. You’re a real one.
And I mean that. You’re a real one.
So I’m putting this in your locker now, sandwiched between the pages of your copy of Uncle Rick’s “The Mark of Athena”, which I knew you’re only halfway through reading.
You’ll remember this one, I’m sure. It’s that necklace – faded golden ring, long leather strip.
This was yours. No. This is yours, still.
Second year, months into our friendship. I noticed it and took interest, so I reached out and tugged.
You frowned at me then. “It’s not a doorbell.”
It looked like one, Andy – that was the joke! “What is it then?”
“Oh, uh… I saw it on Eden of the East.”
“It’s an anime.”
I was a nerd, Andy. But like, book and movie nerd. Was never really an anime nerd. Until you. “Yeah?”
“That’s a golden ring.”
“For whose finger?” I asked, joking, being a smart-ass. “Hulk?”
You rolled your eyes. You’ve always been patient, but exasperated. “It’s a carousel ring. Old-timey carousels have these rings on them. If you manage to grab the ring, you get a free ride. Most romantics say if you get it, you get a wish granted.”
Cute, I thought. “What did you wish for?”
You just shrugged. “I didn’t get it from a carousel. I bought it in a store because one of the Eden characters had it and used it as a necklace.”
I remember the disappointment, then the bemusement. “Aw, man I thought you were cooler than that!”
You just laughed at me, and I like your laugh.
Did you know that by then, my friends think you’re my boyfriend? I always told them no.
Because, for me, we were just… friends. Who text each other every minute and spend free time together and chat with each other until witching hour. We were comfortable, easy. We were close for new friends, and I appreciated that.
I wonder if you’ve already been looking at me differently, back then.
You know, I look back and see things in a different light, now. After The Answer.
I remembered that one time I dragged you to help me pick an outfit for a themed party. The ones I found and tried weren’t quite special. But there was that one dress, knee-length, all white, with cute little pink flowers, that I paired with brown cowboy boots.
I said I looked awful.
So you put the golden ring necklace around my neck. Then you looked me in the eyes, and you said I was perfect.
With all that, can you blame me for glomping at you and telling you you’re the best boy friend in the world?
I wonder if you liked me then because I looked perfect, or if I only looked perfect because you liked me.
I wonder about a lot, Andy. I have so many questions now, but I’m working through them. These little trinkets I’m finding have so much more to them now.
There’s a lot to unpack, so I’m gonna do it one by one.
This time, here – your golden ring bracelet. I lost it once after you let me borrow it. It got buried in my dump site of a room. I had told you I’d find it and give it back, and somehow I never did.
And oh, I hope to God that you find the ribbon messages, because I mean all of them.
I’m slow, Andy. But I’m determined.
I’ll find them all, soon.
“Hey, Andy, where’s your better half?” one of my friends ask me and I shrug. He takes the silence as something else entirely. “Whoa, what did you do?”
You are too good in their eyes. They always automatically think it’s my fault.
I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy so that says something else about how angelic they think you are, because they refer to you not as my other half – you’re my better half.
Tsk. Or maybe they just like the pretty girl.
“Andy, what did you do?” – K repeats the question.
“I did nothing!”
You know Kobe. He’s always been a bit paranoid and obviously, he didn’t believe me. You know him, he’s your favorite friend of mine. A show-off on charcoal still life and likes it when you gush. You like it when you gush, too. And he gushes at your gushing. So I give that bit to you two. I’m not really the gushing type of guy.
“Nope, what did you do?” he asks, still. I wanted to sigh.
I did sigh.
“Look, we’re not talking right now.”
“Why? Did you finally tell her you’ve been head over heels for eight years?”
I glare, because… what else can I do?
“We’ve only known each other for two.”
I just glare forward at my locker, poute, try to glare harder, and then of course I fail, because glaring’s not really my thing either.
It’s hard to keep being tough after two absolutely adorable moves on your part, Gabs.
The Ring and The Ballpen make up two reasons why I love you.
“Oh, you did!” he says now, reaching to a conclusion by himself. He read me. He read me right.
“I didn’t. Not directly.”
“So she found out?”
“Atta girl, Gabrielle.” Kobe laughs. “Dense for two years.”
“Kobe, shut up.”
“I’m concerned for my wingman.”
Since when-? “I’m not your wingman.”
“No, you’re not. She is.”
“Gabby is a bro?” – You are?
“Don’t be sexist.” – Am I? I’m not!
“You haven’t made any sense so far.”
“She dumped you.” Kobe said, and-… did you?
“She didn’t. It’s more like a ‘no-comment’ kind of thing.”
“She dumped you.” he repeats, as if I’ll feel better.
“She didn’t.” I insist, because I’m pretty sure you didn’t. “Right now, she’s in the middle of apologizing.”
“Sorry means she dumped you.”
Wait. He has a point.
Did you dump me, Gabby?
“Um.” – is my wise reply.
“See? Andy, my friend, manic pixie dream girls go for bad guys. They’re made to soften hearts and you can’t soften something soft to begin with, so you, automatically, fall into the friendzone.”
WHAT THE FUCK.
What is he even talking about- oh God you’ll flip, you so will. You hate the term ‘friendzone’. You hate the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope. We both do.
So I look at him with my disappointed look and say, “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
He just waves it off. “You should fix yourself and settle cozy in the friendzone and be ready to be her friendly crying shoulder when she finds the bad guy who will make her cry as she attempts to soften his bad guy heart. She will love him unconditionally, but she will need the shoulder. That’s what guys like you are for.”
And, okay, I know – I know – this will be a low blow, but I still say, “Is that how it works between you and Mitch?”
Gabby, let me present: Kobe the childhood friend posterboy, who always claimed to be stuck in the zone. Always said that Mitch put him in there maybe six years back. He hasn’t been able to get out of it since.
But come on, we both know that’s just cliche entitled bullcrap man-pain.
He doesn’t get to hold this over the girl he likes because he never even tried telling her. He’s always so careful, he didn’t want her to notice, so she didn’t.
To be fair, in our case, though… I really don’t know how in the world you didn’t notice.
I mean, early on, I’ve been utilizing art – Gabrielle, hear this: ART – to convey that I am fascinated.
Did you ever notice that I’ve been sketching you in my notebooks? That the chibi girl in my bookmark is you?
Oh, right, hey, you did notice. You scold me when you’re talking about something serious and you find that I’ve sketched you on your own notepad. Then you see my notebook and it had a dooble of chibi you sleeping.
You said, “Stop drawing me, it’s creepy!”
I remember now. Operation Draw-G-Everywhere-to-Make-Her-See-I’m-Obsessed did have feedback: it was creepy.
I didn’t keep on it, because if it’s making you uncomfortable, that’s all the reason I need to stop.
Then, after three months, you crushed me with a hug and thanked me repeatedly.
“That was soooo sweet! I only found it now, I’m sorry I wasn’t looking!!!”
And all I said was “What?”
That’s when you shoved a thick Engineering textbook to my face and flipped it open to a flyleaf, where there was a sketch. It was a chibi you, surrounded by some squiggly sunshine rays, with a speech bubble saying “I CAN DO IT!”
“This is old.” I said.
“I know, sorry.”
“I made this when you were cramming for exams.”
“I know! Sorry!”
“Sorry for what?”
“Sorry I’m late.”
I snorted. “I doesn’t matter anymore…”
“Thank you, Andy.”
Then you gave me a kiss on the cheek that got me internally jumping up and down, freaking out.
After classes, I find the sketch in my locker. With a ribbon, again. I can see this is a thing, now.
But you found it anyway, Gabby. Better late than never.
Okay, so I woke up late on Tuesday. Haha… ha…
It’s been Day Four after The Question and it’s Day Two of The Apology (That Is Weird, I Know, But I Gotta Do This, Okay?), and I didn’t make it to your locker in the morning.
Good thing I found someone to send it over to you.
We’re in class and I’m cutting up ribbons when Jen leans over and says, “Your boy finally asked after you.”
Writing in ribbons is hard. I focus on that as I digest my friend and classmate’s words. “…What?”
“He sent me a text, asking how you’re doing.” she says, and she looks unimpressed, Andy. Like, totally done with my shit and yours too. Then again, Jen is always done with everything. Sensible, no-nonsense Jen. “Wait, that’s all he’s asking. Does he assume that I know the context of whatever this thing you’re doing is?”
“Anyways, I told him that you’re courting him for friendship.”
“I told him you’re here, drowning in ribbons, and you’re courting him for friendship because you love him.”
I just look at her. She’s… God, she’s not wrong, but. Still.
“He says he misses you.”
“Then he tells me not to tell you that.”
Too late, Andy.
I huff, and say, “I don’t deserve it.”
“Too slow.” is all she says, then her phone vibrates. “He says to tell you to stop feeling guilty.”
“I can’t help it! And… and- I’m not guilty, I’m just… apologetic.”
“How even is that different?”
“Just… just tell him that!”
Actually. I don’t know either, Andy.
I’m winging this as I go.
Jay texts me, five minutes later, only saying ‘Package delivered.’
I thank him, he’s a blessing. I was lucky to bump into him while I was running late earlier.
This one’s easy to remember, Andy. You know this photobooth print from Jen’s 18th birthday.
We went together. Everyone thought we were together together.
The photobooth staff even said: “You and your girlfriend, sir.” when he gave us the printout. You let me keep it, because you knew I had a wall of photos of friends already.
They all cooed at how cute we were.
Jen’s parents know you as ‘Gabrielle’s boyfriend’. Said you were a charming young man.
You kept saying “no”. They kept saying “Oh, but you’re getting there, right?”
We weren’t even walking down that road, I thought. How do we get there?
Remember the question before The Question? It wasn’t the first time I asked you that, or something in the lines of that.
“Jen told me to just let you date me already!” I asked you back then. “Sheesh, as if I’m friendzoning you, right?”
This time, this is what the ribbon says:
I said it already. I’m slow, but I get real good real fast, when things fall into place.
Like a Victorian Era clock – I need all the gears before everything clicks and it all works itself out.
I still think you really should have spelled everything out to me in the first place. But maybe you were afraid. It’s that one cliche. You didn’t want to ruin what we have.
It’s just hard, Andy. Realizing it all, all at once, after I’ve joked about it so many times already.
I hurt you, I know that. I didn’t mean to, but I did, anyway. For all my talk about guys and girls and friendships and entitlement to relationships, I can’t really believe that I’m doing this.
I shouldn’t be sorry.
But I am, and I can’t help it, and I’m sorting all these feelings out.
I’ll be ready to not be sorry, soon.
At lunch, there’s an elephant in my locker.
Not a real one, of course. A drawing of an elephant.
It was drawn in a leaf of your little black notepad with a silver glitter gel pen.
And, err – Gabs, baby, I’m sorry but it’s pretty badly-drawn.
Now I agree with what you said when we first met: we really need a Fine Arts Major in Abstract or Origami. You’ll be outstanding there.
Kobe peeks at my locker and whistles. “Is that an anteater, or if I look at it rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, a kangaroo… or maybe a washing machine?”
“Gabby made it.” I say.
And see, they all like you and adore you, because then Kobe resorts to “Oh, it’s cute, the little Pokemon thing!”
“It’s an elephant.” I explain.
And then Chubby is there, too. “Cute elephant. Outstanding work on cubism.”
“That will reach her.” – and I mean it.
“Um, remove the cubism bit.” he says, and you know he means it too. “Flipped horizontally, it’s a Gyarados, though.”
“You mean Onyx.” Kobe corrects him.
“Guys, this isn’t Art Interpretation.” I say, finally.
“…or Art Crit.” Chubby adds.
There. Yep. They interpreted and criticized your magnum opus.
Magnum Opus so far because the last time you attempted an elephant, it honest to goodness looked like a decapitated mouse.
Gabs, your artwork might just be a new form of Rorschach Test.
“Could you guys give me a moment alone with my best friend’s masterpiece?” I ask.
My friends didn’t budge.
“Could you guys give me some time alone staring miserably at a picture drawn by the girl who dumped me?” I try again.
“Aw, we feel you, man. We’ll be outside, so don’t cry too hard, okay?” Kobe says, then they all left.
Gabby, I agree with you: I have great friends. You can see the sarcasm in there somewhere, I know you well and you me.
I recognize this elephant.
Third year, I dared to take a peek at your Engineering stuff.
“Are you sure?” you asked, as if I was crazy.
“Yeah. If you can peek on my Art Crit essays, I figure I could look at your… whatever your stuff is.” I said.
I made the mistake of asking when you were working on math… thingies. You name it.
I’m an honest guy, so I blurted out: “I don’t understand.” after staring at your solved problem for ten straight minutes. Ten minutes, see? I tried, I did, super.
You laughed, then you sat beside me and started explaining.
I admit that I tried asking you just to show you I’m also interested. Then you tutored me and you were so good at what you do. Having you share this with me and having you say you appreciate my effort when I only said, “Cool, I still don’t get it!”…
All of that’s more than I asked for.
You’re great, you know – for keeping up with all the math stuff.
When you were done, I said, “Great, sorry, got lost somewhere anyways.”
“I know. I hate math.” you shrugged.
I chuckled because I didn’t believe you.
You pouted – “Yes, I do! It’s just that somehow I’m good at it. I don’t even know why – or more importantly, how – but I hate it. Ugh, numbers.”
“Um, okay?” because I still didn’t believe you, because if I did, that would be so unfair… how are you so blessed with a brain like that?
You continued, “I mean, I took the course because I know I can handle it-“
“What about Arts?”
“I suck at art, you know that. I’m happy enough hanging out here and watching you guys be awesome.”
“So… you can handle that… ton of math things… alone?”
“Yep, mostly. Why?”
“I just wanna check out what you’re really dealing with, you know, when you’re not here gushing on art students and paintbrushes, or geeking out about some book or comics, or writing my essays for me.”
“I like writing your essays.” you shrug.
“Why?” – BECAUSE WHY. WHO ENJOYS ESSAYS?
“Because it’s funny, I always know what you’re about to make me write.” you said, grinning.
I frowned. “Does that mean I don’t have to dictate anymore?”
“Nah, I get a mere 75% right. Except the grammar. I get that 100%.”
“Of course you do.” was all I said, as I watched you go back to your maths.
You wrote a number 2.
I said, “You know, that makes a nice elephant.”
You looked at me and asked – because it sounded really crazy now, yeah – “Elephant, Andy?”
I took your pen, and right in the middle of your problem, transformed your 2 to a little elephant.
It looked badass, standing there amongst equations and formulas.
“I’ve seen people do that on TV.” you said.
Then I did – and we named it ‘Jumbo Dumbo’. You wrote 3.14 – pi – to challenge me, and I transformed it to quite a cool-looking duo of superheroes.You giggled. “Yours is better. Put a cape on it!”
Your pageful of equations became a doodle page and we didn’t mind that it was your latest assignment. We somehow managed to make a story out of it, the nemesis was a Godzilla I made out of f(x).
That quickly became one of our pastimes. When you’re too stressed by all the numbers, I make you happy with them instead.
The ribbon this time said:
No, you don’t apologize for that.
It’s easy to say that I would have helped you look, Gabby, that I just didn’t know if you wanted to, all the noble stuff.
But no. This one’s on me.
I didn’t try hard enough, never even made up my mind to try hard enough, to really go for it.
This one’s on me.
For Tuesday afternoon, I give you a reading assignment.
Only, I ran late. When I arrive, you’re already in your locker, probably realizing that there was nothing new.
And before I could abort mission, you turn around and see me.
I haven’t seen you for days and the first thing that came out of your mouth was “Poop.”
Andy. What… why. Why? Am I a poop? Do you hate me now?
You look shocked, and as for me, I’m a cocktail of five emotions: nervous, confused, apologetic, anxious and jumpy.
I said said, “Y-Yeah. Poop.”
I’ll assure this is a Spongebob reference: POOP – People Order Our Patties.
“Is ‘Poop’ like, ‘hi’, or something?” and I suddenly remember that I didn’t come alone. Knight it with me. You look from me, to him – he’s still the same, still tall and dashing and bespectacled and smart-looking and imposing – and then you look at me again.
Then you look at Knight again, this time, I see you eye the several books in his arms. Recognize some of the books are mine. You’d know. You always carried them for me.
When neither of us answer, Knight says, “Awkward.”
What the hell, right?
I shove a pile of papers to your hands. Tied and held together by the ribbon.
I can’t help it. I hug you and say, “Take care, poop.” Then I drag Knight with me and we walk away.
“What did you give him?” Knight asks, as we make our way out the college grounds and start the trek home.
“Notes.” I tell him. “Not notes for lectures, just… notes passed between… us. Our friends.”
Knight hums. “And what’s in those notes?”
“Nothing much, just…” I start, and then I check myself. It’s not nothing much, dammit. It’s… It’s a lot.
The first one is yellow paper with equations on the other side, it was an exchange between Jen and I.
“They’re stuff that made me really realize how others see me and Andy, you know?”
There’s one on typewriting paper. It was blank except for a fourth of it.
“Notes saying you two make a cute couple. Notes insisting you act like more than friends?”
It’s a lot, from Knight. He’s not a talkative guy. But he’s a good friend, and he sees through people, and I just nod.
The notes went on and on. Jen and Yssa and Ria pointing things out.
“You have one in there, you know.” I tell Knight. “The one in the Starbucks tissue.”
Knight chuckles. “Really?”
“Yep. Sorry I called you a rock.”
Knight thinks about it, then finally recalls it. “Oh, that one. Yeah. Well. Sorry for calling it a date, not in the way you meant it to.”
“It’s not, though. It’s downplaying friendship in favor of something – I quote – more – unquote.”
“You think it’s not?”
He shakes his head. “It’s not.”
The last note had been on graphing paper, written in mechanical pencil and a bit faded. It’s one that hit home, because it’s from Jen, and when was Jen ever wrong?
“A lot of people would disagree.”
Knight only shrugs. “I’m not like a lot of people.”
He’s quiet for a moment. I’m quiet with him. Knight’s one of the few people I can be with, when I need quiet.
“What did you put on the ribbon?” he asks.
I tell him.
“Do you mean it?”
I think about it. I never tell you things I don’t mean, Andy, but Knight is my sounding board here.
“I do.” I tell him, honest. “But it’s because I ended up unknowingly hurting someone important to me.”
“Going back, would you do it differently?”
“I don’t think so.” I say, and that’s just the thing, huh? “I don’t regret it. I feel sorry. But I’m not taking it back, because…”
Knight is smiling a bit, now. “Because?”
“Because that won’t be me.”
I miss cues. I don’t get those… feelings. I fall in friendship with people, because we have something in common, because we can have fun-silly-serious-intimate conversations. I trust, and I become comfortable, and I stay and keep close and warm.
It’s almost what other people make it out to be, only it isn’t. I know it isn’t.
Knight offers an arm to me, and I tuck myself to his side.
He’s a lot like me, I’m starting to see now. Before, he was just this cool and quiet but snarky friend in my circle, distant, but the past few days, spending time together with him, I got to know him a bit better.
I feel like maybe he’s been here, somehow. He knows what it’s like, intimately. Knight… works a bit like me.
He gives my shoulder a squeeze. “I know you said you’re winging this, but… I really think you have it figured out.”
“Thanks, Knight. You’re my hero.”
“Hah.” he chuckles, then pokes my cheek once and says, “Don’t.”
“I still think that you shouldn’t apologize.” he says ever honest. “But I understand you’re doing this not just for him, but also for you.”
I laugh. He’s the first of my friends – our friends – to get me like this. “I think I am, yeah.”
I understand a bit better now, Andy.
I know exactly what to get you next.
Wednesday. You timed this one on a morning when I don’t have classes but I hang out at school.
You gave me a mix, Gabs. Oh my God. It’s a CD, decorated with glitter sharpie doodles, with a label that says: “Penguin: A mix for Andy. From G.”
The pink ribbon is wrapped around the plastic case. I’m saving that for last.
Okay. I’m calling this “The Promised Mix” because this is the promised mix. I’ve made you… what, five mixes already? In an effort to use music instead – but you still didn’t have a clue. You thought I really just like compiling playlists.
But you also promised me a mix from you, right?
Well, I didn’t know I’d be getting it now.
Inside the case, there’s a folded piece of paper with the track list and annotations written in your neat handwriting.
I don’t waste time. This is too good. I take out my laptop and my earphones, find a nice spot, and then I read your note as I listen to your latest present.
(PENGUIN: A Mix for Andy)
Disclaimer: You know my music taste. You know I only know mostly pop songs. I tried to be ~cool~ for you, Andy! This is me at my ~coolest~!
TRACK 1. Cute Is What We Aim For: “Time”
Did I ever tell you that this is my favorite track from the first mix? I didn’t think you mean every word. Sorry.
TRACK 2. Dashboard Confessional: “Write It Out”
Because you are, right? You are writing it out – you do it everytime. I love reading your stories and anecdotes, even listening to the ones behind your paintings. If I read your story about us, don’t patronize me. Just write it. Let me know all I’ve missed. Be honest. Your story deserves the truth.
TRACK 3. Placebo: “Special Needs”
Sometimes the way you describe me flatters me too much. You always tell me that I’m great and smart and perfect and all that, and when one time you said I’ll be successful, I felt like you might just as well be saying that I’ll go lengths and places and I’ll forget you.
No. I won’t.
TRACK 4. Jann Arden: “Insensitive”
Because I am insensitive, in a way. This would be how people see me. Dense. And naive. And blind.
Things would be different, if I knew better. But I don’t really know how different, what might change. So I’ll stop apologizing for that part now.
But also! This song is here because that one time we belted this song together in karaoke is a memory that’ll never fail to make me laugh out loud. We’re artist and engineer for a reason, alright.
That time is a metaphor for this little skirmish: We sucked, but we killed it.
TRACK 5. City & Colour: “The Girl”
This is for you, from me, except you’re not a girl. I would have made a female cover if it wouldn’t destroy your ears.
TRACK 6. Coldplay: “The Scientist”
This is for you, from you, because you always say that a mix sucks if this song isn’t in it.
It’s a really sad song though Andy wow like… stop… D:
TRACK 7. Simple Plan: “Astronaut”
I think back to last Friday night when you answered my question. I know now. I made you lonely. I didn’t mean it but you felt like that, anyway. I know you don’t think it’s my fault. I know that, too.
Now I’m not really talking to you yet and I know I’m making you more upset. Let me show you more of what I’m just knowing. This is my way of demanding space, I think. As soon as I can, I swear, I’ll pull you down from up there.
TRACK 8. Amanda Palmer (Live in Prague): “Creep”
I wanna share the best cover of your favorite song on earth.
Also, because you’re so fucking special.
TRACK 9. Fall Out Boy: “Sugar, We’re Going Down”
This is the first song we both fangirled together over. I remember that the moment you said you loved FOB, I knew we’d hit it off.
Am I more than you’ve bargained for yet?
TRACK 10. Michael Jackson: “Ben”
I’m glad I have you.
TRACK 11. Mandy Moore: “Only Hope”
You first saw me cry when we were watching “A Walk to Remember”. You held me through it. I was such a baby but you hugged me because you were manly and you had to hide your own tears behind my hair.
Oh, yes. I’ve always known. Ohohohoho~
TRACK 12. Coldplay: “Shiver”
This one was in the second mix you gave me. Again, I didn’t know you meant every word.
I can’t tell you to stop waiting. I can’t guarantee that I won’t shiver. I don’t want you to change – you’re perfect. Don’t always let me get my way.
And I see you, Andy. I always do, but your eyes aren’t mine and I’m sorry but my perspective wouldn’t change so easily. I won’t be able to see you as you see me so fast, if ever.
Is that okay?
Because that’s me, Andy. And I want to be okay.
TRACK 13. Zac Brown Band: “As She’s Walking Away”
I bet you scolded your heart because it told your mind to tell your mouth what to say but it ended up wrong. But I don’t blame your heart.
TRACK 14. Amanda Palmer: “Vegemite”
BECAUSE HOW COULD YOU?! IT TASTES HORRID!
TRACK 15. Coldplay: “Us Against the World”
You love it when I sing this to you, even though I suck. Know that I love doing that. Know that when you’re falling asleep in your artwork and whenever you’re calling in the middle of the night for a song, I love singing for you.
TRACK 16. Steel Train: “Bullet”
It’s spot on and it’s us. And you’re my best friend, Andy. I know that the whole universe knows that.
H2G2 Reference below:
Sometimes I feel like you’re 42 – an answer I got before I computed the question. Now I’m quite sure that 42 is the answer to 6 times 7, and I’m just as sure that you’ve been my best friend for the past two years, possibly since forever.
But there are other questions, you know, to which the answer is 42; same, you can be other things for me.
It took billions of years to compute what the question to 42 is.
You’re not a billion-year answer, don’t worry, and I’m good at math, so please give me some time. I’m solving for it.
TRACK 17. Bowling for Soup: “Shut up and Smile”
We’re getting ice cream after this.
And I’m hugging you if you let me. SO LET ME!
TRACK 18. Christina Perri: “Penguin”
Because thanks. Sorry. And I love you.
TRACK 19. Relient K: “Crayons Can Melt On Us For All I Care”
You made me laugh, Gabby, and you know what? It’s not a sloppy job for your first mix. Yep, you wasted ten seconds of my life with that last song, but the other minutes… it had all been nice.
I miss you. You probably know that, but it feels good saying it out loud.
Your ribbon this time said:
No. No, you don’t.
And even if you do, I think it’s the thought that matters, and frankly enough, you’re the girl that gives it her all everytime. There’s always a little extra: a candy when you buy me drinks, an eraser when you gift a set of oil pastels or brushes, a poke on my nose after you give me a bear hug, a smiley after each message, a spare pair of shoelaces with my birthday sneakers.
That makes you who you are and I’m glad you’re, I quote Miss Perri on this one, my penguin.
I love Airheads: Cherry flavor. You love it too. Willy Wonka is godawful expensive stuff, but you love Blue Raspberry.
Although we both have favorites, I know we’ll pounce on any flavor we encounter. Except Pink Lemonade. We detest Pink Lemonade.
For this item, I bet you’ll see the Airheads logo in your locker, and you happily grab the thing…
It is empty! It is nothing more than a wrapper!
I can hear your voice now: ‘YOUNG LADY, STOP WALKING ALL OVER MY HOPES AND DREAMS!’
Airheads. Is. Your. Fault. Andy. You were the one who got me addicted! You bought this whole box and offered me some and practically introduced me to heaven. Now my bag ain’t my bag without Rainbow Nerds.
For this one, you’ll find the wrapper is crumpled. I just folded it properly enough to fool you. When you unfold it, you’ll find a note written inside, in permanent marker, in all-caps.
ANDY GAVE ME THIS LITTLE PIECE OF HEAVEN. I WAS GLAD HE GOT A WHOLE BOX BC I HAD TO ASK FOR MORE. THIS CHERRY AIRHEADS IS MY SPECIAL GATEWAY AIRHEADS. ANDY TOLD ME HE’D HATE TO SEE SPECIAL STUFF THROWN AWAY. HE THINKS I DID THROW THIS AWAY. EHEHEHE. A NERD. –G”
Yes, Andy. I kept it All this time! My gateway Airheads is not lost forever.
Geez. All the littlest things.
Now, I’m not that evil. So! tucked on your Percy Jackson book is a newly-bought, untouched, Blue Raspberry airheads with a pink ribbon wrapped on it.
You’re welcome, nerd.
Wednesday had my earliest dismissal from classes: 2 PM.
Ninja, Gabby. Over nine thousand. I hoped to catch you but no, even when I’m early, you’re earlier.
And when I got your latest item…
OH HELL WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?!
When was- Oh, right. Okay. Calm now.
Gods, you never told me about this.
A receipt from the comic book store downtown. A whopping thousand for the omnibus volume of WATCHMEN.
You kissed me on the left cheek five times and another five on the right. Then the tip of my nose. Then maybe tried to kill me by suffocation – all when I gave you that gift for your 18th birthday.
All because you’re a nerd and a geek and a fangirl – you’re Gabby, blind to fancy dresses, high heels and make-up but will kill and sell your soul for a special issue of some comics.
Sheesh! I removed the price tag but didn’t hide the receipt! I’m so stupid.
A thousand. For my best friend. Other people would say that’s too much, for a student. My friends wouldn’t have believed in me.
I’m Andy, forever broke – but I managed to scrape off savings to spoil you.
I’m supposedly the rich boy. You’re the scholar from a financially-challenged family.
But I’m the one with the sloppy hand on budgeting and you’re always the one who gets a gig whenever and wherever to work part-time and earn her keep. You’re street smart. I’m a sloppy accountant.
You’re part of my art supplies – I spend money on you. You often reprimand me but I shrug it off, and you take it upon yourself to force me to pay dutch with you.
How did it make you feel when you saw how much I spent on you?
I imagine you felt like kicking me in the head, but nah – I got kisses.
So, knowing that, thanks for the consideration, I guess. Thanks for appreciating how much I’m willing to give.
I’m not after the kisses.
I really just love seeing you smile.
There’s another new item in my locker: a brand new paintbrush, and I gaped at the price.
GABBY, YOU RICH SCHOLAR!
The ribbon tied to it said:
But you do, Gabby.
I know you never ask. I give, anyway. And let me clear this up, I used to want something in return. I used to want you to see that I give a lot, and that I’ll give more, to make you see that I’m worth keeping. That you should keep me. That I should get you.
Somewhere along the way, I grew past that.
“I don’t think friendship is a stepping stone. I don’t think it’s something less. I think it’s something different.” you told me, one time, a late night discussion somehow leading to that. “It’s not a zone with a gated border you break into and out of. It’s a cozy blanket you share with someone, you can fold it and tuck it in your bag and take it with you to places.”
That was a wake-up call, for me.
I realized that you’d keep me, with or without the giving part.
And that’s enough.
Thursday: the sixth day.
Can you believe that the only things we’ve said to each other is POOP?
This morning, I’m running with Knight, so I sent Jen to come to you. Her studious, straight-up, no-nonsense ladyness and Engineering-student-ness must be a stark contrast against your Art Dept. While I blend in completely, my other friends stick out like sore thumbs in there.
She’s gonna hand you a paper folded many times, held down with a pink ribbon.
When you untie the ribbon, you’ll find a long line of coupons.
That’s permission to like, bonk me on the head, for free, when I do something stupid because I’ve missed a cue or something.
That’s permission to tell me the truth, that’s me telling you I won’t run away next time.
Because I know I did. Specially when I ran after The Question, after the Answer.
There’s no blame game here, though. It wasn’t my fault, wasn’t yours either.
But we can avoid it, you know, moving forward.
We can sort it out together, without the burden of Questions (mine) and Answers (yours) and hiding (on your part) and running away (on my part) and emotional whiplash (from us both).
So when I hurt you, even if I didn’t mean it, you know I want you to tell me. For Free!
Hey. Hey, Gabs? Did you just give me-
A 24-piece Chalk Pastel box? The quality kind? Really? REALLY?!
Jesus, Gabrielle – where are you getting all the cash? Did you rob a bank? Dig up a treasure chest? Open your coin bank?
I’m freaking out here and I’m turning to a useless ball of emotion, oh my God.
For a while, I stopped and stared at the brand new box, because you could be trolling and the box could have something different inside.
So I open it, and the ribbon says:
Oh. Okay. Yes, Gabby, it was a heart you broke.
But hey, you really did give me a new set of chalks, and all in mint condition. Really brand new.
Thank you very much.
You’re a clumsy girl, Gabby.
One time, you stepped on my charcoal and we had to run like the devil was chasing us, to buy replacements because the project was due in two hours.
Once, you lost your own shoe when we were at the market. I still don’t know how you did that.
Once, you bumped into Kobe while we were all working and the domino effect that happened rendered our group’s theme to be “Abstract Art”. It was supposed to be “Realism”.
Every now and then, you trip on flat ground.
Once, you forgot that you left your ceiling fan open. Overheat. Then you suddenly had a rather nice ceiling décor.
Once, we were carrying one of my big paintings – it was taking its sweet time drying, and we had to move it right away – then you stumbled, and for some reason we ended up dropping the painting. When we first lost grip of the canvas, both of us kept shouting, “OH GOD THE PAINTING!” but we saved it. Thankfully.
Another time was when I did the big mistake of letting you help me carry pots. Yeah – you remember that, do you? OUR POTS – CLAY POTS! And we were both carrying, like, six fragile clay pots each and then there you go, tripping. Like the Jack to your Jill, I went stumbling after, and one thing led to another but it was pure salvation of the pots. We ended up on the floor screaming “POTS! POTS! POTS!” while at it, and then when no pot was harmed, we sighed and thanked every God we knew.
We were so happy that it wasn’t until after turning over the pots into the studio did we notice that I had sprained an ankle (AND I WALKED ON IT TOO!) and you had damaged your boots forever.
Once, you were so excited to tell me some news about Jen and her boyfriend that you just dropped down next to me and accidentally sat on my chalk pastels in the process.
I remember hearing the sound of my heart shattering then… so now I know why you’re apologizing for the broken and shattered heart by new chalks.
The conclusion here is: I am partly responsible in all this, Gabby – because even knowing how clumsy you are, I handed you my heart – and how were you supposed to take care of it when you didn’t even know it was in your hands?
Yeah, you kind of broke it, alright.
But you’re practically the one picking up the pieces and gluing it together again so don’t feel so bad.
Some people just walk away, and you’re not some people.
You’re Gabrielle, and it’s because you’re you that you had that heart to bend and break in the first place.
I tell Knight that I won’t be going home with him today.
He asks, “You’re done sorting things out?”
“You’re gonna talk to him again?”
I take a deep breath and nod. “Yep.”
He nods. “Okay. Good luck.”
I turn to leave. I start walking.
I don’t make it five steps before I’m whirling around again and blurting out, “Hey, Knight? You ever had a friend fall in love with you without you getting a clue and you didn’t know how to deal with it and you blamed yourself for being dense as a brick wall but you know you shouldn’t. But it just feels so bad? Because they’re a wonderful person, they make you happy. Why can’t you just love them back? Like, you ever asked yourself, maybe it’s you? Maybe you’re-”
“Stop.” Knight says, and this time he’s smiling. “You’re not broken, Gabby.”
“I kissed a guy once, someone I knew really well, someone who’s been with me for a really long time.” he tells me, and he says it like it’s an afterthought. “And I realized he’s not for me. That is not for me. And that’s okay. We’re okay. We’re gonna keep being okay.”
“Wouldn’t it be… nice, though?” I ask.
“Maybe. Maybe not. I think what’s important is that you just do you, for you. The people who really love you? They will keep loving you.”
“It’s just… Andy and me… we’re so good together. Everyone can see it. I can see it.”
“Yes, but can you want it?”
“No.” and I mean it. “I feel like everyone else thinks I should, though.”
“Well, screw them.” – Okay, Knight knows how to make me laugh.
“Gabby.” he starts, sighing. “What is it that you always say about the friendzone?”
“That it’s a bullshit concept and it should die?”
“I want you to say that again, but slowly.”
“It’s a bullshit concept… and it should die.”
“Good. If Andy doesn’t agree with that, he’s not worth all those nice ribbons.”
Knight is my hero.
And you, Andy – you’re my best friend. And I’m sure you’re worth all the nice ribbons.
After classes, as I was busy with my locker, Kobe says, “You should stay here and wait for Gabby.”
I snort. “We’re not talking, remember?”
Then I look at his face and notice that he’s serious.
Damn. Really. Ninja, Gabby. I’ve been thinking that for days now. How did you manage to make Kobe your co-conspirator?
“Alright, I will. Thanks.” is all I say before he walks away.
Ten minutes and the whole hallway is empty besides me and the lockers.
I check my watch out of lack of something to do.
When I looked up-
“HOLY-…” I blurt out, because you were standing in front of me. But I don’t curse, not much, so- “Banana.”
“Really, it’s banana now?” you ask.
“How did you get here?!”
You blink up at me. “I… walked?”
“HOW?!” I ask, because. How. You only raise an eyebrow.
“Andy, I walked by placing one foot in front of the other-“
“Alright, stop. You just go appearing in front of me and you scared the bananas.”
“Bananas is better than calling me poop, ya know.”
…and that brings us to this moment – finally, because right now I’m staring at you as you struggle to take something out from your bag.
You hand it to me.
“Last ribbon?” I ask.
“Last ribbon.” You nod.
This whole thing was not just for me, it was for you too.
“Yeah.” I say. “You shouldn’t be.”
I take both your hands in mine, lean back against the locker and slide down to sit on the floor, my knees against my chest. You’re short enough not to have to crouch down, but you sit in front of me in the same way, our shoes touching.
“Andy, I don’t know how you managed to fall for me.”
“You-… well, you could always get up.”
“I like the floor. It was so accommodating.”
“Yes, I know. BUT. You’re telling me to get back up now so we could get a move on, aren’t you?”
You bite your lower lip and furrow your brows, then you nod.
Because this was what went wrong, Gabs: I screwed up.
You were reading something, one of my manga, and you said that the main characters were just like us, minus we are not in a shoujo manga.
Then you asked, “But it’s not like I’m friendzoning you, right?”
I said, “No, you are – but we’re just basically friendzoning each other. All friends do that. Because they’re friends.”
That wasn’t the screw-up. You even laughed. It was an inside joke between us, because we both don’t really believe in friendzoning and shit like that.
The screw-up came when you asked, “Aw, yeah, but it’s not like you mind. My friendzoning’s not tearing you apart like this, right?”
And stupid me, I answered with the truth:
“That’s exactly the situation here, G. I’ve been internally miserable since last year.”
I forgot to add the tone of sarcasm and it was too late. I said the truth – raw and fresh – the last gears you needed for your mind to put them together, for everything to click into place, for you to make it all out. You’re smart like that. So quick, too.
When I looked up from my work on the desk, you were staring at me from your position on my bed. There you were – that was the first time I saw you as someone who knew.
You were looking at me, slightly open-mouthed, and you said, “Andy, that was serious.”
“No.” I said, on reflex. So used to hiding. “No, it’s… It’s not really-”
I tried to go on, but you muttered, “And I didn’t-… I never-… I don’t even-… wait, shit.”
“How long?” you asked, and it was so soft, so… concerned.
I only shrugged. “A year. Give or take. I think. I didn’t want to tell you, because- Well, because I knew you didn’t- wouldn’t-… I didn’t want to screw this up. This. Me, you.”
You stopped to consider. “Me? Really?”
Meanwhile, I didn’t have much to consider. “Why not you?”
You shook your head, and it’s the first time in our friendship that I saw you so unsure. Almost scared.
Finally, you say, “I gotta go home for now.” As if that was the epiphany.
“I’ll go with you-“
“No, please. You know that I know my way out.”
I didn’t watch you go, but I listened to you shifting, picking up your things – I felt you go to stand beside me – you always kissed my cheek when we say goodbye. But this time, you didn’t, you just walked away. I listened again: you opened my door and left it open, you called out to my mom to tell her you’re going, she insisted I go with you but you said that I’m caught up in an important homework and you’ll be just fine, then you said goodbye, and then I heard the opening and closing of the front door.
It was so… quick. So simple. And from such a minor slip-up.
And now, you say, “I want to keep this, Andy.”
Me too. Because this is really beautiful.
It’s my masterpiece and probably the most important work I’ve ever done: you and me. We worked for it.
“I don’t want it to end either.” I say.
“I can’t be what you want me to be for you.” you say, and I know you mean it. “And I won’t apologize for that.”
“I know.” – I think, somehow, I’ve always known.
“And that’s okay?”
“That’s okay. That’s you.”
“Then we’re back.” you smile. It’s a smile that takes my breath away and it doesn’t hurt, because it’s for me. “Right?”
“Yeah, but don’t ever not talk to me for six days straight again. Drove me crazy.”
“Sorry for that.”
“Nah, the Airheads made up for it, and chalks? Really?” – I say, leaning closer. “Where’d you get the cash for that?!”
All this time we hadn’t let go of each other’s hands.
It’s a nice feeling.
You start with, “Well, you see, Knight-“
“Oh and yeah, Jen was telling me you replaced me with Knight.”
“No!” You laugh. “We were just paired together for a project, and then while at it, he received this little freelance job recreating a tattered hopeless blueprint and he asked for my help. We’re working on it together and he’s been a fix in my room for a while because, y’know, Knight is Knight and he’s ‘much gentle very man wow’.” You roll your eyes. “I thought I was finally going to see his room and I can sell the info to the fangirls.”
I clicked my tongue. “We would’ve made money from that.”
“But it’s alright. We share the talent fee.” you shrug.
“And the fact that you told him everything?” I said, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, he can be trusted. About some stuff.”
“Me stuff. I’ll tell you someday.”
I pout, and you pinch my cheeks, but I catch your hands again.
“I love you more.” you assure me. “How about you? What went up?”
“Well, everything went down.” I admit, and you raise an eyebrow. “Kobe and Jay and Chubby won’t stop babbling about how miserable I am because you dumped me.”
You blink. “What?”
“They think you dumped me!”
“Technically, yes… but I told ‘em to lay off you and they know the full plan and they promised to be quiet about it. Then were really supportive.”
Yeah. OF COURSE. UGH.
God, my friends are assholes.
“Well, were they mean?” you ask.
“No, they were very nice.” I answer, because if I tell you they were shitheads, you’ll find them cuter. I’ll deal with ‘em myself.
You smile again. “I’m glad.”
“I’m glad too.” because I am.
“I’m happy too.” Because I really am. “And as promised, ice cream and a hug?”
“YEAH!” you say, jumping up to your feet giddily and pulling me with you. “Then afterwards, my place – you gotta watch me and Knight work on our thing, it’s looking so damn good and we’re half-working, half-fucking-it-up.”
“Sure.” I say. Anything to get rid of the silent nights without your chatter. While at it, I’ll be glad to hang out with a dude who won’t make fun of me. Knight will be a perfect bro.
We walk across the hallway and out the university to our go-to ice cream place, my arm around your shoulders and your arms around my torso.
We cling to each other because we’re in love, but in different ways.
We may not be made for each other, but we got ourselves over a big leap and we’ve worked on this thing we have between us.
We have this.
We’ll always have this.
First off, I wanna thank my sister-by-blood Aliyah – for being my sounding board, my sister-by-choice Ate Glerren – who gave me the push to look back on my old works and see that they’re good enough, for my family for supporting my crazy writing spree, and for all the readers who read and loved this story in its unpublished, unpolished, unedited glory through the years.
I was younger when I first wrote this story.
It was about Andy, all in his point of view. While I wrote this as a middle finger to the “nice guys falls in love with the manic pixie dream girl” trope, reading it over the years, I realized I should have written from Gabby’s view.
In the original, Gabby gives Andy a giant rubber eraser “For Big Mistakes” in their last scene. She says it’s for her mistakes. In the end, it’s still Gabby, in a way still holding herself accountable for someone else’s feelings for her.
It’s been years now, I’m a different person. I’ve learned to apologize less, for who I am, for how I don’t work like most people. It was cathartic, erasing the whole bit with the eraser, and having Gabby hand one last ribbon instead.
She’s not sorry for being herself.
I hope we learn to love ourselves like she does.
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