Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Valerie peered down at the open text. Her eyes frantically took in the words, line by line, and no matter how much it was willed, she couldn't read any faster. Not without glancing over text. Not without it making sense. Her foot tapped against the table subconsciously while her heart hammered in her chest at the buildup of events that led to what was taking place in the story she read.
The page was turned in a hurry to lessen the time her eyes separated from the words. Her body stiffened against the chair and due to her posture (something she swore to be more cognizant of), her back began to ache, emitting a dulling pain. But Valerie ignored it along with her surroundings, including the sound of footsteps that neared the table she currently occupied.
Her heart lept when the entirety of the book was torn from her possession. How someone could possibly muster the audacity to tear something from her that she was clearly indulging in was baffling. A frown set into her features with the start of derogatory remarks spilling from her mouth before she took a glance up at the perp.
"I don't think you want to finish that sentence," he warned playfully. The words died in her throat and it was an effort to retain the frown under the warm glare of her best friend, Jaden.
She watched him as he took several steps back towards the other side of the table to take the seat across from her. It was the smile, that damn smile, that made her frustrations disappear as if they didn't exist.
The cafeteria chair created a loud sound as it scraped against the tiled floor. It earned the duo glances from those around them within the university's dining area.
He continued to wield the book in his hand. The smug look he now wore was a taunt for her, a beckoning for retaliation. But instead of acting on it, Valerie opted to wait for an opening. She loosed a breath before muttering, "you're right, they were too mundane for the likes of you." She intertwined her fingers while resting them against the table with the intention of lessening the reach between her and the book. "I should create new words to describe you."
He feigned hurt. "Ooh, the defamation."
"Only a fraction of what you deserve."
"For. . . "
His brow rose. "For?"
She failed to think of something even remotely fitting as a response to his question. Words she wanted so badly to mutter sat against her tongue and like the previous times before, Valerie swallowed them and attempted to bury them deep.
Somehow, it always dug its way back to the surface. There was comfort in pushing it to the side and declaring the timing wasn't right. Except it seemed to never be right.
The deep brown eyes of her best friend continued to gaze into hers and for a moment, she'd forgotten he asked a question. He waved the book and coaxed her for an answer. Her gaze shifted momentarily to the object and the desire to have it back within her possession returned full force. His actions were a ploy. A taunt. And yet, she fell into it, but to her surprise, she managed to tear it from him after quickly extending her arm out and leaning into the table.
A happy squeal sounded from her in victory.
His smile didn't falter. "I let you have it."
"Keep playing with me and this book will be lodged in your throat." Valerie took the bookmark resting against the table and placed it inside the book. She felt the pull to open the text to continue where she left off but wanted to embrace the company of Jaden more.
"You wouldn't risk ruinin' it."
Valeria shrugged. "You might be right." "I'm always right," he said with a smile.
She watched the way the skin crinkled by his eyes. A snicker left his lips. For a moment she wondered what his expression would be, what his reaction would be, to the words that wanted so badly to be heard. Valerie instead sat within the silence that settled between them. It wasn't uncomfortable. Each other's company, whether it was in silence or filled with a plethora of friendly insults being shouted, was what they were both accustomed to and have been for over a decade.
"So tell me," he started while pulling his lunch from his bag. He removed the lid from his bowl and forked his food absentmindedly. "The book you were glued to that I provided. . ." his voice trailed off once he glanced up from his food. Valerie glared at the bowl's contents while the smell engulfed the air around them.
She beamed at the sight of him pushing the bowl towards her. "You spoil me," Valerie told him and placed a forkful of the pasta into her mouth. The taste was cause for the approval nod she gave him.
"And you repay me with insults," he chuckled as she pushed his food back towards him. Jaden motioned towards the book. "Do you like it?"
Valerie waited until she finished chewing before responding. "God, yes. The two best friends becoming enemies, and wanting to kill each other."
"And Vincent basically having the qualities of a psychopath." His food remained untouched. She noticed the excited glint in his eyes.
"Elijah, too," she added.
He shrugged, considering. "You don't think his actions were justified?"
Her mouth fell open in surprise. "Come on, Elijah turned on his best friend."
"Vincent killed his girlfriend-"
His face remained unchanged and she laughed. "So I'm assuming you think it's okay for Elijah to be killing people, that that's justified, too?"
Jaden shook his head. "Of course not, whether he's right about these people being monsters or not. "
"Right, so while Elijah is out killing people, all Vincent is trying to do is stop his ex-best friend after he tried to turn him in and kill him."
"But," he thought for a minute while his eyes briefly eyed the book still resting on the table as if re-reading the words inside. "Vincent loves using his power on people."
Valerie chuckled at his weak retort. He wasn't entirely wrong. "Yeah, I mean, I guess they are both-"
"Villians," they said in unison, referencing the book title. The eye contact held for a brief moment and for Valerie, it meant the world to be under that stare. Her body warmed with the harbored feelings just before noticing the questioning glance from her best friend and she began to panic inwardly. Did I stare too long? Was I giving him a funny look? Valerie wondered. She became aware of every muscle in her face and attempted to keep it neutral.
She tore her eyes away to cast a downward glance at the book continuing to rest on the table. Meanwhile, he finally began to eat.
The right time wouldn't appear in bold lettering out of thin air. Although, she hoped it would. Perhaps there'd be some sign from a higher power that would tell her to speak her truth and everything would be okay. More than anything, she hoped it would all be okay.
"I should tell you something." Valerie's words came out slow as she considered it while she spoke.
Her heart pounded in her chest. All this time she'd been content with deciding the timing being wrong, but perhaps it had to be chosen. By her.
She looked up from the book to meet his gaze. His mouth was full of pasta. Valerie wanted to laugh at the sight but the words that once again found its way to the tip of her tongue weighed on her emotions.
The words were there and ready to be muttered. All she had to do was open her mouth. With all the courage she could muster, her lips parted in preparation to speak.
The words once again died in her throat at the sight of a pair of arms wrapping around Jaden. Curly, dark hair shielded her view of him as the woman leaned to plant a kiss on his cheek.
Valerie tore her eyes away. Her stomach plummeted. There was no right time, especially to confess feelings for a man with a significant other. That fact, for a moment, was unintentionally gone from her mind. She wanted to laugh even as her eyes burned with the threat of tears lining her vision. But she smiled through it while Felicity greeted her. She pulled a chair and planted herself beside him.
"You wanted to tell me something?"
Valerie looked up to find the question being directed at her. It took her some time to find her voice again and more so, an answer to his question that wasn't a complete lie. "Your pasta, it might be a tad bit undercooked."
He scoffed even while a smile spread to his lips. "Says the woman who favors Vincent over Elijah."
"What does that have to do with your pasta not being cooked, though?" Felicity inquired. Jaden looked to her with disbelief and prepared to answer, but she shook her head and added, "we can hash this out along the way to class."
Jaden groaned but nodded his head in agreement. He began collecting his belongings. Valerie didn't move and looked at nothing in particular while they rose from their seat. She felt his gaze shift to her.
Valerie cleared her throat, an attempt to free herself from the lump that began to form there. "You two go ahead," she started and motioned towards the book, "I'm going to try to get a few more pages in."
His bright smile returned. The sight took her breath away every time. "Good, we must talk about that ending." And with that, they turned away.
She watched his retreating back until her vision blurred with tears.
This time, she didn't hold them back.