"The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats
a strange protein; it rejects it."
- P.B. Medawar
I woke up on a roof. That was a first. I woke up next to a boy. That wasn’t. What was unusual about this time, though, was the fact that he was awake, blinking blearily at me, and seemed to be in no hurry to run off and never speak to me again. Interesting.
“Good morning,” Sebastian said.
“Morning,” I mumbled, sitting up. There was some space between us, but not much. When had I fallen asleep?
With every movement, my clothes chafed against my sunburn. I drew in a breath as my stiff back cracked, and then felt a little better. A little. “Sorry,” Sebastian was apologizing as I assessed my sore muscles. “I didn’t mean to keep you out all night. I just kind of fell asleep.”
“Same,” I said, pulling at my tangled hair. “Though I think I’d like to go home now. Get a shower.”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” Sebastian said, standing in a beat and offering me a hand. I took it, then helped him fold up the blanket. “Wow, you’re really red.”
I looked at him. “How are you not burnt?”
Sebastian shrugged. “I have a thing called a base tan,” he retorted. “Does it hurt?”
I considered lying, but replied, “Yeah. But only when I move.”
He took the blanket from me. “Best not do that, then. Stay there.” Shoving everything into his garbage bag, Sebastian continued, “That shower’s going to be hell.”
“Yep.” I sighed, looking down at my arms. “Good thing I don’t have plans today.”
“You don’t?” Sebastian asked, wandering back towards me from where he deposited the bag. “Wanna hang out?” he asked, then seemed to backtrack. “I mean, if you’re not tired of me yet. I totally understand if you are.”
I blinked. I should be tired of him. People rarely lasted more than a day without annoying me, but Sebastian wasn’t one of them. Which was quite a mystery, when I thought about it. “If you let me get a shower first and it doesn’t involve sun, sure.”
Sebastian looked relieved that I didn’t seem irritated. “Cool.”
“Cool,” I repeated, with a little smile. There were other people who never seemed to annoy me. Correction: there was one other person. There was one girl.
I grabbed the pizza and half liter of Coke left, then followed Sebastian down through the building. It was early, only a little past six, so no one bothered us as we made our way out and to the car parked in a lot down the street. The town was just waking up as we drove from it, stopping at a Dunkin Donuts drive through for some much needed coffee.
“So, you still hate the night time?” Sebastian asked, wrapping his hands around his warm cup.
“I don’t hate it,” I replied, plucking my own drink from the cupholder and sipping it. “I just don’t like it.”
Sebastian nodded, as if accepting the challenge. “I bet I can change your mind.”
I hated it when guys said that, but Sebastian’s tone was thoughtful and genuine. He wasn’t bragging; he truly thought he could change my mind. “What?” I said.
“Show you the beauty of the night.”
I gave him a sidelong look. “That’s cheesy. Or maybe cliche.”
Sebastian didn’t look embarrassed. “It was a Phantom of the Opera reference.”
I focused on the road, commenting, “Is that a play?”
“Wait, you’ve never seen it?”
“I don’t go to many plays?”
“It’s also a movie,” Sebastian told me. “And you’ve never seen it?”
“I don’t watch many movies.” I could feel his eyes on me, so I turned to meet them.
“Eyes on the road, Hana,” Sebastian scolded. “This is a serious issue, but not one worthy dying over. Also, you shouldn’t drink while driving.”
I rolled my eyes, putting the coffee back in the cupholder. “It’s coffee, not alcohol.”
“It’s one less hand on the wheel,” Sebastian argued, then returned to shaking his head and staring at me. “You don’t watch movies.” It was both a question and a statement. “How do you not watch movies?”
I gave a half shrug. “I find them hard to get into. Plus it’s such a time commitment. I like short TV shows.”
Snapping his fingers, Sebastian declared, “That’s what we’re doing today. Movie marathon.”
“Why? Why?” Sebastian echoed. “Because there are masterpieces you’re missing!”
I rolled my eyes. “If they’re boring, I’m leaving.”
“That’s fair. I’ll pick ones I think you’ll like. Trust me.” We parted in my driveway, and I headed up my path while Sebastian crossed the lawn. I turned the knob gently, praying that my mother was still getting ready for work. Slipping in, I pulled the door shut behind me with the barest thud. As I turned towards the stairs, my mother stepped out from the kitchen in her pantsuit and tight bun, raising an eyebrow at me. “Want to tell me where you’ve been?”
I sighed. “I was out with friends. I fell asleep. Sorry.”
“Which friends? Where?” she interrogated. Her eyes narrowed. “Were you drinking?”
“No,” I said truthfully. “Just hanging out and eating pizza, okay?”
“Were you with Anita?” she asked.
I paused, then said, “Yeah… yeah.” I hated myself.
Kim’s eyes seemed to soften. “Oh, good. She’s a responsible girl.”
“Yeah,” I said again.
“How was lunch with your father?” she asked, seeming obligated.
I shifted, didn’t meet her eyes. “It was fine.”
“Good. Well, I have to get to work,” my mom said, picking up her briefcase from the end table and stepping around me. “Next time you’re going to be out late, text, okay?” I nodded, and she added, “And there’s aloe in the medicine cabinet. You should put some on your sunburn.”
“Okay,” I said, finally retreating up the stairs. After a painful shower, I took my mom’s advice and smeared on some aloe. Dressing in my loosest, comfiest clothes, I headed over to Sebastian’s. Before I could knock, the front door opened, and Sebastian stood there, his hair wet and ruffled.
“Feel better?” he asked.
I nodded, feeling the wet line of my hair against my back shift. “Minus the sunburn, yeah.”
He grimaced. “Sorry about that. Guess I should throw a tube of sunscreen into that trash bag.”
Rolling my eyes, I followed him into his house, looking around. It was the first time I had been there; until then, all I had seen was the inside of Sebastian’s room. It dawned on me how strange that was.
“You want something to drink?” he asked, leading me past the pictures in the hallway to the kitchen. I didn’t get a good look at them, but I caught a glimpse of Sebastian smiling next to an older boy in one of the frames. “We have pop, water, iced tea… milk.”
“Milk,” I repeated, smirking.
“Are you making fun of milk as a companion to popcorn, or do you actually want milk?” Sebastian asked, tilting his head.
I laughed. “Making fun of it. I’ll just have water, thanks.”
Sebastian’s kitchen was less organized than ours, but also seemed less used. There were no dirty dishes in the sink, and the stove wasn’t splattered with grease - it was spotless. Sebastian pulled two glasses from the cupboard and filled them, then gestured with his elbow towards a large bowl of popcorn. “Want to grab that?”
“Sure,” I said, taking it and following him to the living room. “So what are we watching?”
Sebastian set the glasses down on the wooden coffee table, moving aside a few mail-order catalogs to make room. “I thought if we were going to start from scratch with you, we should start at the beginning.”
“What’s that mean?” I had to ask, not hiding my skepticism.
Settling back on the couch, Sebastian turned on the TV and opened Netflix. “Black and white movies.”
I groaned. “Please no.”
“They’re so old,” I complained, leaning my head back against the cushion. “And boring.” I paused. “All the voices sound weird.”
Sebastian was looking at me, remote in his idle hand. “Are you done?” I scowled at him, and he continued, “Black and white movies contain some of the most iconic classics ever. And some of them are actually good.” I was still unconvinced, so he added, “Look, if you don’t like this one, I’ll never make you watch another black and white movie again.”
“Alright, fine,” I agreed, folding my legs up into an indian style position. “Let’s get started, then.” Sebastian navigated through a few menus and settled on His Girl Friday. He was about to hit play when I asked, “Is this an old chick flick?”
He considered the question for a minute, then replied, “No, I don’t think I’d call it that.”
“Does it center around a guy and a girl falling in love?” My voice was laced with derision, and I made no attempt to correct it.
Sebastian rolled his eyes. “Do you want me to summarize, or do you just want to watch?”
I shut up and let him hit play, taking a handful of popcorn. We worked through the whole bowl as we watched, and our hands brushed a few times. I began to wonder if maybe I was the one in a chick flick. When it was over, Sebastian hit stop and shifted on the couch to look at me.
“So, what’d you think?”
“It was good. I actually didn’t mind it,” I said, a little surprised at finding that was true. “Very feminist.”
“I thought you’d like that,” Sebastian replied, his face lighting up. “Hilda’s so badass. I love when she tackled that guy.”
“But she was going to quit her job just to be that other guy’s wife. She loved that job.” I frowned. “I don’t understand how you could love someone so much that you’d put aside all your passions just to, what, stay at home? Wait around for them to finish work?”
“Well, she didn’t quit in the end.”
“I know, but… It’s hard for me to comprehend,” I admitted.
Sebastian looked at me. “You wouldn’t do that, even for love?”
“No. I mean, if she did quit, she wouldn’t be the same person he fell in love with, right? He fell in love with Hilda the ruthless, witty, journalist. Not Hilda the housewife.”
“Maybe he just fell in love with Hilda in all her forms,” Sebastian pointed out. What a romantic.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I don’t understand relationships.”
Sebastian put the remote down and pulled one leg up onto the couch so he could comfortably look at me while talking. “Have you never been in one?”
“Not exactly. It was… complicated. From start to finish,” I blurted before I could think better of sharing this with Sebastian. It was kind of nice to finally tell someone, even if I did so in vague details.
“Huh,” he replied, looking surprised. “Well I guess that’s what happens when you love someone. You compromise. Sacrifice.”
I frowned. “Maybe I’m too selfish for relationships then.”
Sebastian quirked a little smile. “I doubt that.”
Maybe I just didn’t want to acknowledge anything else.
I made it almost all the way through Sebastian’s next pick, When Harry Met Sally, without comment. I actually enjoyed most of it, until the last scene sent it all crashing down. I reached over and hit pause. “This movie had such potential,” I complained, staring at the couple kissing on New Year’s after professing their love. “A male-female friendship that lasted for twelve goddamn years and they had to go ruin it by falling in love.”
“How is that ruining it?” Sebastian asked, his brows drawing together at my intense response. “It’s romantic.”
“Why can’t guys and girls just be friends anymore?” I demanded. “They were so close. But no, everything has to turn into something more.”
Sebastian stared at me. “Guys and girls can just be friends. But everyone’s looking for some kind of deeper connection and commitment, so if they already get along and are both straight, then it seems like a logical choice to make it something more, right? I mean, there’s not a ton different between best friends and dating. It just gets better, more interesting.”
“If there’s not a ton different, why not just stay friends and not complicate matters?” I shot back. “Besides, friends can have connection and commitment.”
Sebastian blinked at me. “Wow, I hope the next movie isn’t this controversial for you.”
“What is it?”
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
I made a little noise of resignation and sank back into the couch. I wanted to argue more, to try to impress upon him how much I disagreed with romantic relationships being the be-all, end-all of human connections. But he sounded so sure, so idealistic, that I couldn’t be the cynical voice in his ear jading him. It was enough that I knew that people who didn’t want more than friendship existed. It was enough for now, anyway.
Sometimes, I wanted to say, friendship is the only thing that matters.