Cait sat in her English class, quietly watching the boy who sat next to her. Brayden had been her friend since childhood, because their parents were good friends and all that time exposed to each other with play dates had really paid off. Unfortunately, Brayden was her only friend, but Cait didn’t care. Because Cait had a secret – she was in love with Brayden.
At eighteen years old, it would have seemed inevitable to both their parents but Cait knew that Brayden had no clue. Besides, he was the most popular boy in school, dating the most popular girl, Dyan. They were such a cute couple, so perfect it was unfair that anyone should ever have to see them together. But for all that Cait loved him, she was also his friend and she wanted him to be happy, even if that was with another girl. It was hard to hate his relationship, going into its second year, when Dyan was such a nice person. If she had been a total bitch, Cait could have hated her. But she was simply too nice for anyone to hate – even the girl in love with her boyfriend.
And because Cait couldn’t hate either Dyan or Brayden’s relationship with her, it made her unreciprocated feelings all the more difficult to deal with. Because each and every day, her best friend sat beside her in all the classes they shared. Because each and every day, she ate lunch at the loser table all by herself, and had to watch as Brayden and Dyan kissed and talked and laughed together. And all the while Cait loved him. She couldn’t do anything but love him.
“Are you okay?” Brayden whispered to her as he noticed her gazing, at what he thought, was the closed classroom door behind him. Cait snapped out of her thoughts and nodded with a fake smile.
“I just can’t wait to get out of here.” She sighed, rolling her eyes as if to emphasise how long the day was. Even though her school day was far from being on her mind. They only had a few months left of school and Cait was beginning to realise that if she didn’t either confess her feelings to Brayden and give him the chance of accepting or refusing them, or move on with her life, then she might just lose him forever. She had no idea what college he wanted to go to, because the lazy sod thought he could travel the world for a year before having to decide, so she had no idea what would happen to their friendship between now and then. Her parents continued to hound her about where she was going, but she had this stupid thought of asking Brayden to travel the world with her, and so she hadn’t picked or applied to any colleges. She knew fine well it was stupid and brainless and irresponsible. But then, so was love.
“I know. Maybe we can hang out together after school?” He asked with a pleasant smile. Cait just about rushed out an agreement but pretended to think it over. It was Monday night and everyone in school knew that Brayden Cumberland spent Monday nights with his girlfriend, since she was beautiful and smart and set aside half her week for studying before the weekend came by.
Cait decided to be honest. “Don’t you usually hang out with Dyan on Monday’s?” She asked gently, trying desperately not to sound jealous.
Brayden laughed and flashed her that perfect smile of his. “Well, yeah but we thought since the sun is actually out, we might go down to the river with a few of the boys. I wish you’d come…you keep hiding yourself away like a hermit. I’m sure everything thinks I make you up.” He admitted honestly. Cait chewed her lower lip, not sure what to do. He was stunning on a daily basis; dark sandy hair, dark green eyes and a very well exercised body with abs to die for. How could she cope and contain her feelings seeing him at the river, with his shirt off and fooling around like a loon? He was too adorable and gorgeous for her own good. She should say no.
“Okay. I’ll just suntan at the side to prove my existence.” She blushed. He looked so happy at her agreement that she had to bite her tongue and refuse to open her mouth to speak again for the rest of the class. She didn’t want to ruin it by using her common sense and saying she couldn’t go.
All Cait could do, was sit back and hope that a miracle would come out of nowhere and stop her from the humiliation of having to see perfect Brayden and perfect Dyan Frances all loved up, half clothed, with their perfect bodies in the sun. But she figured it wasn’t likely to happen. She had rotten luck.
By midday Cait wanted to go along with Brayden to the river, confess her feelings and then dive into the river and never have to see him again. But that wasn’t going to happen either. He was so happy about her inclusion in the little ‘party’ that he wouldn’t stop talking about how great it was going to be. She wasn’t so sure she held that much optimism about it, but she kept quiet and blushed to the roots of her hair when he leaned over at the end of Math class and kissed her cheek. “Tonight is going to be great. And then you can hang out with us all the time. I hate seeing you so alone.” He frowned lovingly at her as he bounded out of the room and met up with his best friend, Grayson Dashwood at the door.
Cait slid out of the room, unnoticed and headed off to her next class, entirely unaware that she was being talked about. “You really have to stop doing that, you know.” Grayson sighed as he slung his arm around Brayden’s neck, keeping him close for the private conversation.
“Doing what?” Brayden frowned, keeping his own voice low as he realised that his best friend had something important to say. They moved over to the side of the hallway, not caring if they were late for their next class. This sounded serious.
“Kissing her like that.” Grayson clarified, only to sigh and shake his head as Brayden wrinkled his nose at the accusation, as if it was such a disgusting thing. He protested, as he always did, that she was his best friend, but that wasn’t good enough anymore. “I know. I’m not saying don’t show affection but just be careful. The girl is in love with you Brayden. She’s been in love with you for years. Don’t screw it up.” He warned him that he could lose his best friend if he wasn’t careful. And knowing Brayden as he did, he knew that he would never want to hurt Cait, but he was going to if he didn’t wake up. Soon.
But Brayden didn’t take the warning well. He pushed Grayson away from him and shook his head, refusing to listen. “That’s not funny Grayson. This is Cait…little, innocent Cait and she’s not in love with anyone. She’d tell me if she was.” He claimed, about to move off when Grayson caught his arm. He was being an idiot.
“Not if that person was you…and already dating someone else. Come on man, you’re really saying you’ve never noticed before? The blushing, the sly looks, the way she stares at you?” Grayson asked, trying to let him into the insight that he got everyday, the little obvious signs that Cait was in love with him. How could the guy be so dense to never have noticed? “I just want you to be careful. I know you don’t ever want to hurt her, but you’re going to if you keep being an ignorant ass and not paying attention to what you’re doing to her.” He asked him to be logical and think about it. Cait wasn’t the kind of girl who would twist situations to suit her and she wasn’t the kind of girl to break up a happy couple just for her own ends.
“And what am I doing?” Brayden asked gruffly, burying his hands in his pockets as he listened. He really didn’t want to hear any more, but he wouldn’t be accused of hurting Cait.
Grayson knew that he was losing Brayden, that he didn’t want to listen. He raked a hand through his hair and tried to explain how lucky he was; to have a girl like Cait in love with him and yet respect him enough to let him have happiness with someone else. That was rare. “You’re confusing her. You’re dating Dyan but you’re all over Cait whenever you’re with her. You’re lucky that Dyan understands it…and you’re damned lucky that Cait is so sweet because any other girl would try and break you and Dyan up in order to have you for herself.” He had a whole lot more to say, about how he was always kissing Cait’s neck and shoulders and cheek and hands…how he was always holding her hand when they were together…how he whispered to her when they were in public. It confused him. It had to be confusing Cait. And she was a nice girl, she deserved better than being led on by her best friend.
“You know, I never understand why no-one likes Cait…she’s the best friend I’ve ever had. But I’m warning you Grayson, don’t mess with her. I don’t know why you’re lying about this but it’s not funny.” Brayden accentuated his words with a push at Grayson’s shoulder. He was about a head taller than Brayden and stronger, so it barely nudged him at all but the threat was clear. “I told you before that I’d never let anyone date Cait if I thought they would hurt her…well you’re on that list. So get your eyes off her and move on.” He warned Grayson to keep away from Cait, and although he didn’t say it, Grayson had to grind his teeth at how jealous his friend sounded.
“You’re a real ass. I’m trying to be a good friend and let you know that you’re about to hurt the one girl you actually love,” Grayson sighed and noticed as Brayden bristled at that accusation. He told Dyan he loved her all the time, but it wasn’t anything like the love he had for Cait and Grayson knew it. He also knew that Brayden didn’t understand what love was; he just said the words to make Dyan happy. “And you’re twisting it into something else. But fine, you don’t want the advice, don’t come to me when she’s sobbing her heart out because she’s misunderstood the signals you’re giving her.” He took a step away when he remembered the threat his best friend had just given him.
He remembered that night all too well. A year ago, at one of Brayden’s party when a casual comment about how nice a girl Cait Hepburn was had had all of Brayden’s friends threatened with dismemberment if they ever even contemplated asking Cait out on a date. But he wasn’t going to stand for it. Grayson turned back to Brayden and gave him a little piece of news he seemed to be missing. “And if you think you could stop me from dating Cait, if I really wanted to, then you’ve got another thing coming. You will never control who I like or who I date.”
Brayden stood there, shocked, as Grayson took off for his next class without even a backwards glance. He wasn’t sure what had just happened but he knew their friendship was in trouble if he left it to end that way. “Grayson!” He called his friend back, an obvious apologetic tone in his voice. But Grayson kept going.
“Piss off.” He shouted back, actually going so far as to flip him off. Brayden stood there, unable to understand what was happening, unable to understand Grayson, until someone bumped into him and he reluctantly made his way to his next class. He had to fix this. Immediately.
Cait sat in study hall, going over some homework she had been given that morning. It was eerily quiet in the room, since the two bad boys and jokers of the class were sitting at opposite sides of the room, glaring at each other. She had never seen Grayson and Brayden not talking to each other before, and she couldn’t help but glance at each of them, about as far apart as they could be without one of them leaving the room, and sigh. This was her fault. She knew it the same way she knew that any attempt she ever made to make friends always backfired. “Is this because of me?” Cait leaned across to Brayden’s side of the table, whispering the words in the awkward silence of the room.
Brayden had barely looked at her since walking into the room and she was beginning to think that he hated her for something. But he just turned and stared at her, a little shocked looking. “What?”
“Are you fighting with Grayson because you asked me to hang out with you guys? I can just go home, Brayden. I don’t want to rock the boat.” Cait explained gently, surprising him into a breath of relief. He had really thought for a moment that she knew about his argument with Grayson over her. He wasn’t sure he could handle that as well as his best friend not talking to him. They were his only two best friends in the whole world, if Cait joined Grayson in the silent treatment, he would go mad.
“Honey, it’s not you, okay? It’s just…something else.” He lied unconvincingly, wrapping his arm around her shoulders and planting a kiss on her temple. When he looked over at Grayson, worrying over their fight, he noticed that his friend was shaking his head and frowning. Then he realised.
Brayden took his arm from around Cait and sat back in his seat, wondering what to do. He was always tactile with Cait, it was a product of spending their entire lives together and the trust between them. He didn’t know how to be around her and not be tactile. He was going to have to sit with his arms crossed all day and barely look at her to accomplish it, if he wanted to be friends with Grayson again. “Brayden, you don’t have to hide things from me. I’m a big girl. What did you and Grayson fight about?” Cait asked so sweetly, laying her hand on his arm, that he found himself having to bite his lip in order to stop himself from reaching out to her. He just wanted to hug her for looking so innocent and being kind to him. No-one treated him the way she did, not even Dyan.
“Something stupid. If I tell you, do you promise not to get mad at me?” He wanted to make sure that their friendship wouldn’t be hurt by anything he was about to say. He was already losing Grayson, he wouldn’t lose Cait too.
“Of course, silly.” Cait pinched his arm and he found himself laughing and shying away from her for it. She was trying to teach him not to be stupid enough to keep secrets from her, or to be embarrassed about saying things to her. They shared everything; every secret, every wish, everything, no matter how embarrassing or ridiculous it seemed. He guessed he deserved the reminder.
“Alright,” Sitting up straighter, Brayden glanced across at Grayson, who was scowling at him. Probably for laughing, no doubt. Wasn’t he even allowed to laugh with his best friend anymore? He decided that talking it through with Cait was the only sensible thing to do. “Grayson told me that you’re in love with me. Which is ridiculous and mean and stupid. But he said it and he said that I’m confusing you because I’m so…tactile all the time, with you. And that I’m going to hurt you if I don’t stop.” The words rushed out of him, so that he didn’t back out like the chicken he was. And when he finally turned to look at Cait, she wasn’t laughing and she wasn’t angry. At least she didn’t look it.
“Oh.” Was the only thing she said.
Brayden watched her closely, for any hint of what that meant. She was too darned pretty for her own good. He hated seeing her looking so serious; she should always be smiling. She was that kind of girl. Bubbly, sweet, feminine. But tough in her own way. “You promised not to be mad at me.” He reminded her, waiting for the inevitable scolding he was going to get.
Instead, Cait turned to him with a soft, loving smile. “I’m not mad at you, Brayden. And I’m not in love with you.” She clarified, making him laugh in relief. He knew that, obviously. That wasn’t what he was worried about.
“Of course you’re not.” He agreed instantly.
“Maybe a crush…but not love. Not yet.” She confessed gently. She had been thinking about it as he talked and she realised that she wasn’t head over heels yet, not totally and completely in love. Just appreciative, caring and crushing on her best friend. Who was absolutely shocked.
Brayden did a double take before daring to register her words. “What!?” He asked, outraged, shocked, and very much caught off guard by the confession. Grayson had been right.