It felt a bit melodramatic to call Race Higgins your enemy, but it was near enough to the truth. The truth was that you had liked him, once, maybe even more-than-liked him, but, as you grew older, the qualities you had once liked in him became obnoxious. It used to loosen you up when he made stupid jokes about whatever was happening, but now he was little more than a class clown who couldn’t take anything seriously. As you grew up, friendly roasts began to sound a little more serious, and, by the end of high school, he was the nearest thing you had to a sworn enemy.
You managed to fight with him about anything, from the correct translation of your Latin homework to the DC and Marvel cinematic universes. It was fun, sometimes, but mostly just exhausting. Sometimes, you wondered if it wouldn’t just be easier to get along, for your friends’ sake, if not for your own, but then he would make some ridiculous comment about how Parks and Rec was better than The Office and you would remember that he was the worst.
He was annoying at track practices, when his hair was impossibly curly, and his eyes glittered with happiness, and he insisted that his team needed half of your soccer pitch to practice for field events. He was annoying in class, when he argued with the teacher about the underlying racism in Anthony and Cleopatra and, sure, he may have been right, but who cared about correctness when you went about an argument in the completely wrong way.
(“You,” Katherine would say every time that you brought this up. “You care about correctness, especially when it’s opposing Shakespeare.”
You ignored her. What mattered was that it was Race arguing with the teacher, and he was always wrong, even when he was right.)
He was especially annoying at parties, when he’d flirt with anyone who breathed – except you, of course. The way he nonchalantly joked with everyone else, and pretty much ignored your existence, except to tease you about your hair or something you had said, made your blood positively boil.
(And, Davey was wrong: you weren’t jealous of anyone, not even a little bit.)
He annoyed you at parties, but his absence from Jack Kelly’s annual Halloween party left a gaping hole. You were dressed as Jim Kirk, from Star Trek, and you had expected him to tease you as soon as you got to the party, insist that you had yourself pegged wrong and that you were definitely more of an expendable red shirt, than a royal yellow. You would respond in kind, with a snarky comment about how he had less personality than a Vulcan commander and all would be right in the world.
But, he didn’t show. Or, if he did, he managed to keep quiet the entire night which, considering who you were dealing with, just made the former more likely. Towards the end of the night, you found yourself leaning against a wall in the living room, talking to a girl that you kind of knew, dressed as Wednesday Addams, and a boy that you didn’t recognise, in a full Batman costume, face-covering cowl, and everything. Maybe, you had had a little too much of the definitely not kid-friendly punch that Romeo had whipped up, or maybe you were just tired, but, when the conversation lulled, Race popped into your mind.
“Hey, you haven’t seen Higgins around tonight, have you?”
“No,” the boy answered, clearing his throat. “I mean, no, I haven’t. Why?”
Maybe it was the alcohol, but you were almost certain that his voice was pitched a little lower than it had been earlier in the conversation. You frowned, it was probably the alcohol.
“No reason, I just feel like everyone’s here and he’s, like, not. It’s weird. And, it’s so uncharacteristic of him to let a night go by where he’s not the centre of attention.”
You winced a little at the harshness in your tone, and the boy must have picked up on it, too.
“You’re being kind of hard on him, don’t you think?”
You rolled your eyes.
“No, I’m giving him the same treatment he gives me, all the time. And, besides, it’s not like I haven’t tried to get to know him – it’s not my fault he’s the biggest douche canoe this side of Canada.”
You couldn’t see the boy’s face in his costume, but you thought that he might have been frowning.
“What do you mean ‘tried to get to know him’? From what I’ve heard he’s a pretty dope guy.”
You scoffed. Did people still say dope?
“Dude, I think I would know. We used to be really good friends, like, maybe even best friends when we were in middle school, and then I guess he just lost interest, like he always does. He’s got the attention span of a studious gold fish, I swear.”
“Well, did you ever talk to him about it? Maybe, it was just a miscommunication kind of thing.”
“Ugh, as if. If he stopped talking to me, it isn’t my job to figure out what his issue is. I just,” you huffed in frustration. “We’re all here, having a good time and making fools of ourselves and he’s just missing in action. Although, I bet if he did come to this party, he’d be dressed as Peter Pan, the boy who never fucking grows up.”
The boy flinched, and you wondered for a second if you had gone too far.
“That’s harsh. You should try to give him a chance, maybe he actually wants to try to get to know you, again,” he said, before drifting off like some mysterious faerie. You weren’t sure when during the conversation the girl had left, but, soon, you were standing alone. You stood there for a moment longer, wondering idly about who that guy thought he was, anyway. You finished the drink in your cup and sauntered off to find some more of that magic punch, not giving the boy in the Batman costume a second thought.
The conversation only drifted through your mind again the next morning, when you woke up, groggy and confused, on Jack’s couch. Maybe you were a little harsh, but you had given Race the benefit of the doubt, once upon a time. He had been one of your closest friends, once upon a time.
You still remembered the last proper conversation that you had had with him. You were twelve, sitting in your bedroom and playing video games, when he paused the screen and turned to you with an oddly determined look on his face. He asked if you had heard the rumour that someone was spreading around school, that you and he were dating. You said you had, still a little confused, and he gave you this intense, unforgettable look, before asking what you thought of it all. You laughed at the idea, telling him, perhaps a little dishonestly, that it was super gross. He was like your brother, you said. You didn’t think much of it, at all. Why would he care, anyway? He had that pretty girl, Zoey. Finch had said that he had seen them holding hands at Sarah J’s party, so you didn’t want to ruin anything for him by admitting that you sometimes wished that the rumours were true. You pressed play and kicked his ass in Tekken.
The next Monday, at school, he acted like nothing was wrong, but, after that, the pair of you started to drift apart. You stopped playing video games together, playful barbs became antagonism and, by the time you reached high school, you had nothing left of the friendship that you had once shared. It was sad, sure, but you weren’t a chaser. If Race didn’t want to be your friend, then so be it.
You didn’t think again about the conversation with Batman boy, or what you might have done wrong to get Race to hate you, until a few nights later, when you were sitting at home alone. You were trying to convince yourself to get up and get something done, maybe cook dinner or do your homework, for once, but, instead you were scrolling through your unexciting Instagram feed. You idly double tapped on a few photos, exhaled out of your nose in lieu of laughter at some stupid memes, and then you reached a picture that Albert had posted, from the weekend’s party. It was him and a couple of other boys grinning at the camera and you were about to scroll past, when you saw a familiar costume. It was yellow and black, with the tell-tale Batman logo on the front, but, this time, the wearer had the hood off. Shit. Shitshitshit. There, in the Batman costume was Anthony Higgins. You had accidentally complained about him to him. Sure, you and Race weren’t the best of friends, but you didn’t want him to think you were an asshole.
You fumbled to your contacts app and called Katherine. She’d know what to do, you were sure of it. After she had got done laughing at you, she offered you a solution: Talk to Race and apologise for what you had said. You knew, logically, that that was your only option, but you really wished that the world would end before you had to apologise to Race Higgins. You couldn’t stomach texting him and figured that you could just grab him after school the next day.
The day went by a little too fast, and, before you knew it, the bell had rung to signal the end of your last lesson. You resigned yourself to your fate and made you way to Race’s locker, which was just a few doors down from yours. He was alone, thankfully, and looked more than a little surprised to see you heading his way.
“Hey,” you tried to smile when you reached him, but you were sure it came across as more of a grimace.
“Hi,” he answered, barely looking at you as he moved books from his locker to his bag.
“Race,” you tried again, putting a hand on his forearm to stop his fairly violent rifling. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” He glanced down at where your hand touched his arm and sighed, turning to you, looking a little deflated.
“Fine. What’s up?”
You took a deep breath.
“Look, I didn’t know it was you that I was saying that shit to at Jack’s. And, I know it was shitty of me to be saying that to anyone, but I didn’t mean most of it. You’re on my nerves half the time, and making fun of me the other half, but that was mean. I’m sorry.”
He looked shocked, and a little pensive.
“It’s, um. It’s okay, Y/N. It just made me kind of sad that we aren’t friends anymore. I mean, we were good together.”
He met your eyes, and you were struck by how much you had missed the way they shined when he was being sincere.
“Yeah, uh, me too. We made a good team. I miss that.”
He looked like he was going to say something else, when Albert came up behind him and put two hands on his shoulders.
“Race and Y/N? Having a civil conversation? I’m entering the lottery on the way home, because today is a day for miracles.”
Race rolled his eyes at you and you laughed.
“Fuck off, DaSilva, you’re not even old enough to get a ticket,” he said jerking the boy’s hands off his shoulders.
“Yeah,” you agreed. “And you waste enough money buying coffee to flirt with Elmer at Jacobi’s.”
“Nice,” Race laughed high-fiving you, and Albert stuck his tongue out at you, before stalking off because he didn’t have a good comeback to dispute the truth.
There was a beat of silence, and before it started to get awkward, Race spoke again.
“Uh, if you’re serious about being friends again, we should hang out some time, maybe go to the arcade?”
You smiled at him, brightly.
“You sure that’s a good idea, Higgins? I’ll smoke you in ice hockey, like I always used to.”
“Uh, you wish. I’m the ice hockey king, baby.”
You punched him in the shoulder and made plans for that weekend. That had gone better than you had expected.
It wouldn’t have been true to say that you had changed your mind about Race right away. You had fun with him, from that first day at the arcade, onwards. It was still a little awkward and there was always a little tension in the room, but you worked through it. You were seniors, you could be mature, if you tried.
(Although maturity certainly seemed to be in short supply when you and Race giggled, together, at the matching sixty-nines that you got on your history pop quizzes, or when he whispered “that’s what she said” in your ear at almost every sentence that came out of Mr Bunsen’s mouth in bio.)
You didn’t hate him, not that you ever really had. You hated that, now, his stupid jokes made you laugh, because you were included in them. You hated the warmth you felt in your chest when you said something that made him laugh, and you especially hated that crinkle at the corner of his eyes when he smiled at you, sincere and earnest.
You, realised, gradually, that you and Race had never been enemies – you just responded to what you thought was his hate in kind. It was easier to keep roasting one another, when neither one of you broke the cycle. That conversation at the party had been a turning point, for both of you.
Although, you still seemed unable to talk about the elephant in the room. You and Race never discussed how the animosity had begun between the two of you. Bringing it up would force you both to admit how stupid you had been, and neither of you were very skilled at admitting fault. It was easier to ignore it, to dance around it, than it was to deal with it. It was on your mind more often, now.
You wondered what had really happened, because something had to have happened, right? The more you thought about it, the more it made sense. People don’t just stop being friends and turn to enemies, like flicking a switch, especially not two fiercely loyal people, like you and Race. You didn’t mention it, though, for fear that you would slip back into old habits.
You liked Race, you realised, even if the two of you were incapable of having a conversation about emotions. You grinned at one another in private moments of understanding, warm with that feeling you get when you spend time with someone who has the exact same sense of humour as you. It was really good to be his friend again, until it wasn’t.
The argument had started by accident. Race was coming over on a Thursday, after school to work on a project for history. You were determined to get better than a sixty-nine for this one, even if that was the golden number. When Race had rung the doorbell, your mum had welcomed him in, pleasantly surprised to see him. You always had a feeling that she was sadder about your losing Race than you were. She was convinced that the two of you were soulmates, even when you were kids in the playground. She called it a mum’s intuition. You called it heteronormativity, but, anyway.
She chatted his ear off as she waited for you to come downstairs, talking about how much she had missed having a boy around, and how glad she was that the two of you had patched everything up. You caught the tail end of the conversation as you made your way down the stairs.
“What ever happened between you two, anyway?” your mum had asked, innocently enough.
Race laughed uncomfortably.
“Oh, I guess she just got too busy for me. I’m glad we’re friends again, now, though.”
Your mum agreed, and you fumed. Almost as soon as you had pulled your bedroom shut behind you, you gave him A Look. He was alarmed.
“What?” he asked.
“What do you mean ‘what’? Do you seriously think it’s my fault that we stopped being friends?”
He scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably.
“Oh, about what I said to your mom? I mean, yeah, it kind of was. You stopped inviting me over or replying to my texts, so I just figured you were busy,” he sounded unsure of himself.
“You stopped talking to me, Race. Was I supposed to be super nice to you when you always acted like you’d rather be anywhere else when I was in the same room as you?”
“Are you being for real? We were fine, we were doing great, and then you started hanging out with Katherine or Davey instead of me, which is fine, but it was so not my fault.”
“You pretty much begged for space that day when you asked me about the stupid rumours about us dating, or whatever!”
He ran a hand through his hair.
“I cannot believe we’re talking about this. We were twelve, we were stupid!”
“And, now, you’re deflecting,” you replied. “We were best friends, Race. I just wanna know what happened between us.”
He sighed and flopped on your bed like a petulant child. His blue eyes were stormy, and they looked familiarly intense.
“Fine, it was kind of my fault, I guess.”
You kept yourself from fist pumping.
“It’s just, I felt so stupid!” he continued.
“What do you mean?” you asked, gently, this time, sitting at his feet on the bed.
“So, that day? When I asked you about the stupid middle school rumours?”
You nodded, motioning for him to go on.
“I had the biggest crush on you, and I figured that that was your way of letting me down easy. I was like your brother, right? It sucked. And, whenever we hung out, after that, I just felt so frustrated. I was mad at me, for being stupid and catching feelings and making everything weird between us, but I guess it was easier to just lash out at you. It was dumb, but I don’t think I like anything in the world as much as I like you, you were the first person that I ever felt any anything for. It sucked.”
He scrunched his eyes shut and looked ready to disappear.
“Wait,” you said, still processing his words. “’Like’, as in, present tense?”
He sat up straight.
“I – what?”
“You said like, like present tense like, like currently like.”
He cleared his throat and his eyes scanned the room, as he searched the walls for something.
“Uh, slip of the tongue, whatever. You said like way too many times just then.”
You waved your hand. Semantics.
“Do you, um, like me, as in like-like me, present tense like me, Race?”
He sputtered for a moment, and then swallowed drily.
“I guess, it’s stupid. It kind of never went away, if you can believe it.”
You could believe it. It wasn’t hard to believe, since you could relate. He was waiting, nervously, for you to say something, but your words didn’t seem to be working. Instead of speaking, you moved across the bed, so that you were sitting next to him, both of your heads leaning against the wall.
“I, um,” you took a deep breath. “Uh, same.”
His head snapped to yours and he searched your eyes for humour. He sighed, shakily, and then let out a soft laugh.
“’Same?’ I practically confess my love to you and all you’ve got is ‘same’?”
His eyes twinkled with mirth.
“Well, what else do you want me to say?” you protested. “That I don’t hate you? That I never wanted to hate you? I just figured that you didn’t want to be my friend, anymore.”
“God. We are idiots.”
“Yep,” you agreed.
You sat in silence for a moment, letting the realisation of what you had just admitted wash over you. Race suddenly turned to you.
“So, what happens now?”
You shrugged, still not meeting his eyes. You weren’t sure what you were nervous about now, but the tumble of feelings in your stomach insisted that looking at Race’s eyes would ruin you, so you stared at the white wall in front you.
“Because,” he said, putting a hand on your knee like he was bracing himself. “I kinda wanna make out with you, like, romantically?”
A laugh bubbled out of you and you turned to him, finally. You had been wrong, before, about the consequences of meeting his eyes. They weren’t storm-blue anymore. They were blue like the sky on a sunny a day. They were blue like the ocean, when you’ve spent months away from the sea. They were a sight to behold.
You turned your whole body to face him and gently slipped a hand to the back of his neck, playing with the blonde curls there. You leaned into him, and just before your lips met his, you muttered a word, just loud enough for him to hear.
You leaned in and kissed him, with years’ worth of hidden feelings, and he smiled against your lips. You pulled away after a bit and looked at his eyes. His pupils were blown wide, but they were as blue as ever. You wondered how you had ever pretended to dislike eyes as beautiful as his.