The late afternoon sun warmed his back and his spirit as he took the stairs to her second floor apartment, three at at time. Once at her doorstep, he idly wondered what he’d say, now that he knew what he knew, but instead of stopping to think it through, he found himself knocking insistently, even opening her door a crack when he didn’t hear her come immediately to the door.
“Tom?” she called, her voice tinny and distant. “You’re early, and I’m elbows deep in the chicken enchiladas.”
“No,” he replied, entering her apartment, and shutting the door behind him.
“Miles!” she called. “Come be my guinea pig.”
He took a deep breath as he entered the kitchen. She was poking at a steaming dish of enchiladas with a knife and fork. Perfectly backlit by the sun, she blew strands of her honey colored hair out of her eyes, concentrating on the food before her.
Sheila was his oldest friend, one that had seen him through three girlfriends, a career change, and the loss of twenty pounds of fat (and a gain of seven pounds of muscle). They had never dated, or talked about dating. Not because there was no chemistry between them, but they had always dated other people, and found they had put each other in the friend zone. No flirting. No sexual tension. Just friendship.
“Tom’s coming over for dinner — “
“Obviously,” he said, quietly and without rancor. He had figured this might have been the case.
“And I need you — “
He would have preferred her to stop right there.
Because that meant she perfectly expressed how he felt about her.
But she continued on “ — to tell me if this is any good,” and lifted a piece towards him. He had no choice but to walk closer.
Her eyes were expectant as he bent forward and took the bite of enchilada. He chewed slowly, more to gather his thoughts than to appreciate the food.
Miles had thought it strange, at least for the first part of their friendship, that he was never tempted to drunk dial or drunk text her when he was in between girlfriends or when he found himself momentarily bored by one of them. As years passed, she had been his closest confidant, a window into understanding the women that he dated.
And now that it had been nearly half a year without a girlfriend, he saw clearly what he wanted in a woman. He wanted someone like Sheila. Her kindness. Her smile. Her humor. Her heart.
He wanted Sheila for himself.
The chicken enchilada was delicious (she had refined her culinary skills over the years) so he nodded his approval. Sheila beamed at him; and he melted at her happy expression. So he leaned forward to close the distance between them and placed his lips on hers.
The moment was over much too quickly, but he was grateful that it wasn’t just him that was into the kiss.
Sheila’s face was mixture of euphoria and confusion when he pulled back. She shakily put the fork, and he managed to grin shyly.
“You have really some kind of timing,” she muttered, turning away from him and walking towards the kitchen window.
“Yes,” he said. And waited.
After a moment, she whispered “Miles.” It was like a statement and a question. He approached her slowly.
“Sheila,” he said. “I caught you off guard. I’m sorry.”
Her back was still turned as he put his hand on her shoulder, and kept it there.
“I don’t even know what to say,” she mumbled. “I have a boyfriend who I really…how long have we know each other? What on earth prompted this — “
Three sharp raps on her front door made her start. Miles surprised himself by smiling. Sheila turned to him, her eyes cloudy. Miles squeezed her shoulder.
“I’m not sorry I kissed you,” he said. “But I will do whatever you want me to do. Say whatever you want me to say when he comes through the door. I’ll leave, even, if that’s what you want me to do. But if you feel the same way about me, cut him loose.”
“What?” she squeaked.
Miles was gripped with a sense of confidence previously unknown to him. He did not question this confidence — he simply gave into it.
“You heard me,” he said. “If you love me like I love you, cut him loose.”
Sheila stared at him for a few moments before brushing past him and leaving the kitchen. Miles followed her out of the kitchen and stood behind her as she stopped in front of her door.
Another three knocks. Sheila turned to see Miles, hands in his pockets, waiting patiently. He gave her another grin.
“Why now?” Sheila asked.
“It took me years to figure it out,” he said. “But its always been you.”
Sheila opened the door a crack to reveal Tom, a young man of mostly all muscle, standing before her. She smiled nervously at his puzzled expression.
“Hey babe,” Tom said. “I’m early for once.”
“Yeah,” Sheila said. “I made chicken enchiladas.”
“Nice,” Tom said. “Smells good.”
“Yeah,” Sheila repeated blankly. She shifted her weight, which placed Miles in Tom’s line of sight. Tom smiled at Miles. They had been friendly in their few interactions. Miles suspected that Tom even liked him.
“Whatcha doing here? Trying to steal my girl?” Tom asked, clearly joking.
Sheila turned to look at Miles, throwing him a panicked look. Miles just smiled, and rocked forward on his heels. When no reply from either Miles or Sheila seemed forthcoming, Tom’s face fell.
“What the hell is going on?” Tom demanded. “Sheila, let me in.”
Sheila regained the power of speech. “I’m sorry Tom — “
“What the hell are you sorry for, babe? Just let me in.”
Sheila seemed to wilt against the door, but did not budge. “Tom — “
“Sheila, what’s he doing here?”
“Miles just came by — “
“What’s he doing here?” Tom repeated, clenching his hands. “What’s he — “
“Tom, I’m in love with Miles,” Sheila replied with a calmness that contrasted her demeanor. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but I just realized it myself. Its true.”
Tom gaped at her. “Are you kidding me?”
“She’s not,” Miles said quietly. Tom directed his gaze to him.
“Just want makes you think you’re involved in this conversation?” Tom demanded. Miles opened his hands and held them up in an expression of surrender.
“Tom, I’m so sorry, but please — I think its best if you leave,” Sheila said quietly.
“Leave?” Tom asked.
Sheila pushed her fingertips against her temples, as if to hold a headache at bay. “Yes,” she said. “I know I’m not handling this well, but please — “
Tom pointed at Miles. “Outside. Right now.”
“No,” Sheila protested. “He doesn’t have to — “
“Yes, he does,” Tom said. “If he thinks he’s stealing you from me without a fight — “
“Okay,” Miles found himself saying. He moved past Sheila.
“Miles!” she exclaimed. “You don’t have to do this.”
Miles had just crossed the threshold of the door when he looked at her and winked. Sheila surprised all three of them by smiling. This infuriated Tom even more, who clenched his fists.
“I want to do this,” Miles said. Dropping his voice so only she could hear, he whispered, “Poor guy. I’d want to punch me too.”
As Sheila watched Tom punch Miles in the jaw, she was astonished to realize that Tom’s attempt at machismo didn’t bother her — not in any fundamental way. She was merely grateful that the newly realized love of her life was not the jealous type.