Author's Notes: Currently unfinished?
Jesse and I met freshman year. He lived downstairs from me in an enormous freshman dorm. There weren't a lot of guys to begin with but even so Jesse was special. A friend of mine that was seriously crushing on him introduced me to him. At first I didn't get it. He was decent looking with a strong, lean body and nice eyes, but he had this wild hair and a funny shape to his face. It took me less than an hour of talking to him to "get it."
From then on I counted myself among Jesse's most loyal fans. He was the sort of individual that you talk to and realize that he's going to do amazing things with his life. He's so enthusiastic about everything. He reads voraciously and loves to quote interesting statistics at you. Not only that, he thinks that everything you do is interesting. He is more passionate about your interests than anyone you've ever met before.
I had fallen for him and fallen hard. But Jesse, even being clueless, realized what was up and pretty much told me, straight up, that he wanted nothing more than friendship. That was between semesters. It hurt, it took me awhile to get over it, but in the end Jesse's friendship was worth enough to me that I could deal with some heartbreak to maintain it. I make it sound simple, but it wasn't. I had to watch him go on dates with other girls, I overheard him telling a friend that he thought I was great but the physical attraction wasn't there. Summer came as a relief from the pain, and I had a plan.
It was my last shot at the happiness I thought I might get from Jesse. I knew it was a very slight chance but I had to try. So that summer I did everything I could to make myself attractive. I had never been a vain person. At school I regularly wore sweats, pulled my short hair up, and most often went without makeup. This was my summer to turn over a new leaf. I went to the gym every day. I let my hair grow out and started to blow dry it. I experimented with eye shadows and liners, and even lipstick. I went as far as I could to make myself one of those classy, elegant girls. By the time August rolled around I thought I had succeeded.
Jesse had moved off campus and it took awhile for us to catch up. One of my girl friends, Melissa, was dating one of Jesse's roommates, Trent, and I thought that was my most likely window. I went to the apartment one Friday after classes with the intention of meeting up with Melissa for a movie. I wore a white dress with lavender flowers on it. It went to a few inches above my knees. It had a square neckline with two-inch sleeves. My hair fell nearly to my bosom and I had put some soft curls into it. I'm not a cocky, or even a terribly confident person, but I knew that afternoon, I looked good. I opened the door into the small, messy living room.
Melissa took one look at me and said, "I hate you. You look too good. I look like shit. Give me a few minutes to get ready." She disappeared down the hallway. I stood awkwardly for a few moments before I spotted Jesse down the hall.
"Jesse, hi," I greeted him.
"Oh, Emily, how's it going?" He spoke briefly and disappeared. I was shocked. Over the summer we'd talked on the phone, freshman year we'd spent late nights deep in conversation, and here, in person, he could say nothing to me but "how's it going?" I tried not to be offended. Melissa poked her head back into the living room, hearing what had gone down, and disappeared after Jesse. Trent ran in behind her and picked me up and spun me around.
"Wow, Emily, you look great!" You can always count of Trent for enthusiasm.
I strained my ears and heard Melissa and Jesse talking in the next room.
"Did you see, Emily's here?" said Melissa.
"Yeah, I said hi," he replied blandly.
"She looks good doesn't she?"
"I dunno. I think she looks the same."
Out in the living room my heart fell. It was yet another let down from someone I really cared about. Melissa and I left shortly after and I took to avoiding Jesse until I could get my feelings under control.
The weather had gotten colder. Classes had gotten tougher. A bunch of my friends were taken a trip to Ryan's house to go skiing and snowboarding for the weekend. (Ryan is another one of Trent's roommates.) Sadly I was unable to go. I love being a biology major but one of the "perks" involves hours and hours of chemistry studying every weekend. My roommate was having her boyfriend over and they were planning to have lots and lots of sex. I mentioned this to Trent and he graciously offered me a key to the apartment for the weekend.
"Are you sure?" I'd asked him.
"Why not? No one's going to be there. You can do all your studying, sleep in a big bed, you can even take a bath."
The thought of a bath put me over the edge and I consented.
Friday evening I showed up to the condo, arms laden with books, a duffel bag slung over my shoulder. I struggled to let myself in without dropping anything and managed to make it just inside the front door before collapsing.
"Hello?" said a male voice.
I gasped. "Holy shit Jesse, you scared me to death. What are you doing here?"
He was seated at the kitchen table studying. "I live here, remember."
"Yeah, of course," my heart was still pounding. "I'm so sorry. Trent told me no one was going to be here. I'll
go.""You don't have to go right away. Stay for awhile," he said.
Now that the shock of seeing him had faded the pain of the last month began to set in. "Um, no I think I'll just go. It's fine, I told Katie I'd leave the room to her for awhile so I'll just go to Starbucks or something."
"Don't be stupid, stay here for a little while at least." He cleared his throat and I took a moment to really look at him.
"Are you okay, Jess?" I asked.
"Fine," he replied stiffly. "I've just got a lot of work to do this weekend." He coughed into his hand for a few moments and then turned and sneezed fiercely to the side. "ha-ckew!"
He sighed, "Thank you."
"I mean, no offense or anything, but you kinda look like hell."
"I'm just tired," he replied stubbornly. It was completely unlike Jesse to complain and even though we both knew that he was sick, heaven forbid he admit it.
"Right, okay," I sat down beside him and looked at what he was studying.
"English?" I asked.
"Humanities, Romantic Period." His breath quickened and his voice rose as he spoke.
"Great era," I commented lightly.
"Yeah... huh... re- really was." Unable to hold out any longer he leaned to the side and sneezed violently twice, covering his face with a tissue he'd been holding under the table.
As soon as he sat back up I seized the opportunity to rest my hand on his forehead. He was too tired to fight but I could tell in the expression of his face that he wanted to.
"Jesse, you're burning up," I scolded.
"It's nothing. You're overreacting."
"You're losing your voice, you keep coughing, you haven't been able to stop sneezing since I got here, and you have a fever... how am I overreacting?"
He looked at me with his bright, inquisitive eyes. "So maybe I'm a little bit sick, what do you want me to do?"
I looked across the table. "I want you to put away the work, for once, and take care of yourself."
It was the age-old battle that people were always having with Jesse.
"But I've got a test on Monday."
"Your health comes first," I stated firmly. "Sleep tonight, you remember sleep don't you? It's that thing that sane people do between midnight and 8 am."
"I've heard of it," he smiled.
I smiled back but it was a sad sort of smile. "Jesse, you work too hard. You need to give yourself a break every now and then. You're really overdoing it. I worry about you."
"Thank you for worrying," he said sincerely. "But you really don't have to. I'll be fine."
"Yeah you will," I stood up. "Cause you're done for tonight. I don't want to hear it," I said before he could even protest. "Why don't you go lay down in your room. I'll see if I can make you something... I'm guessing you haven't eaten today."
He grinned sheepishly and rose. He took a few steps to his room and paused. He was facing away from me and all I could see was his back arching. His shoulders rose and fell quickly and his hands went up to his face.
"Ha.. ha... kchew!" He sneezed powerfully. He continued to walk and I went into the kitchen.
After a few moments of poking through cabinets I realized there was absolutely nothing to eat. I nosed through my wallet quickly and then stuck my head into Jesse's room. He was lying atop his comforter reading a physics book.
"Jess, I'm going to run to the store. When I get back I'm taking your book."
He laughed. Like I was kidding.
I drove around for a little while trying to find a convenient store and finally settled on going all the way to Wal-Mart. I stocked up on tissues, soup, tea, cold medicine, and finally slipped a thermometer into my cart before checking out.
When I got back into the apartment I hesitated to call out in case Jesse was sleeping. Then I remembered whom I was dealing with. I went back to his room just in time to see him toss his book under the bed. I shook my head to convey the 'what are we going to do with you' idea. By the time I had walked into the room and over to the bed Jesse was coughing again. His coughs were highly congested and he winced, I imagined his throat must hurt and berated myself for neglecting to buy Halls. He finished and rested his hand on his head for a moment while he regained composure. His eyes had teared up from the pain of coughing and I could tell he was embarrassed by the position he was in.
I pulled the thermometer out of my bag and tore it from the case. No words were spoken between us, unusual for both Jesse and myself, as I turned it on and handed it to him. I sat next to him as he placed the thermometer under his tongue. He laid back and rubbed his eyes. I put my hand on his head and he rested against my shoulder. I stroked his hair and, while the thermometer counted, there was peace between us.
After a moment Jesse's eyes widened and he pulled the thermometer out of his mouth just in time to sneeze. He buried his head into the pillow at his side and muffled the violent sneezing that wreaked his body. He sniffled and restarted the thermometer. This happened again and again. It seemed that his temperature would never be effectively taken. Finally he blew his nose with determination and tried one last time.
Once again his eyes took that desperate look and, with a streak of boldness, I pressed my finger under his quivering nostrils. A look of calm came over Jesse's face although his warm, swollen nose still trembled with irritation.
The thermometer finally beeped and I pulled it out of Jesse's mouth to reveal a whopping 103.1 degrees. I removed my finger from beneath his nose and Jesse turned and sneezed violently to his side. "AACHEW!"
"Bless you," I told him reaching for a bottle of water I had bought and taking two Tylenol from my purse.
"Take these," I told him. "We need to bring that fever down."
He swallowed the pills and lay back, coughing once again. I read through the label on the cold medicine to make sure he could take it with Tylenol.
"Would you like one of these too?" I asked him. "It'll help your coughing and sneezing a little."
He looked up at me with his beautiful blue eyes. "Yes please," he said, having entirely surrendered his pride to his pain. I gave him the pill and told him to lie down.
"Jesse," I told him. "I imagine you don't like being babied so I'm going to go to the other room and trust that you'll call me if you need anything."
"I'm sure I'll be fine..."
"Jesse," I hissed.
He sighed. "I promise."
I smiled at him, feeling terribly motherly, and told him to get some sleep. I disappeared into the next room with a book.
After about twenty minutes I could still hear him tossing and turning. I peeked into the room (he didn't see me) and saw that he had kicked off the covers. His face was flushed. I figured that he was feeling the heat now that his temperature was starting to go down so I went into the bathroom and dampened a washcloth with cool water. I came into the room and he stopped moving. I placed the cloth over his forehead and untangled his blankets.
"Is that any better?" I asked, unsure whether I had helped.
He closed his eyes. "That feels really good. Thank you."
I left again and read a book on the couch. I felt myself drifting off and looked at my watch. I set the timer for four hours, which would be the time to take Jesse's temperature again.
For the rest of the night I got up every four to five hours, woke Jesse, took his temperature, and give him some more Tylenol if necessary. Sometimes I slept in the interims, sometimes I read. I was exhausted but the look on his face when he fell asleep comfortable made it all worth it.
At about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon I woke up to hear Jesse coughing. I looked at my watch and cursed that I had slept through the last alarm.
I quietly pushed my way back into the bedroom. "Jesse," I whispered.
He was sitting up. "Hi there," he said hoarsely. "What time is it?"
"About four in the afternoon."
"Wow, I can't believe I slept all day."
"You really needed to. How are you feeling now?" Before he could speak I interjected. "And cut the 'fine' bullshit. How do you really feel?"
He swallowed. "Awful."
"Can you eat? I'll make you some soup."
He sniffled thickly. "That sounds great. Are you sure?"
"Of course," I insisted, smiling.
I went to the kitchen and prepared some chicken noodle soup. As I carried it into the room I stumbled over some junk on the floor and a bit of the steaming liquid on my hand.
I inhaled sharply, hoping Jesse wouldn't notice my clumsiness. Of course he did. I swear that guy notices everything.
"Are you okay?"
"Oh yeah. It didn't really get me."
He smirked. "Liar," he chided. "And you blame me for trying to be stoic."
I was a little uncomfortable with the topic so I smiled briefly and then said, "Shut up and eat your soup."
He finished and I moved the bowl to the side. "Think you can sleep some more?"
He shook his head. "I'm tired of sleeping."
I chewed my lip and thought. "I'd consent to your reading a book so long as it's not for school."
"My head hurts," he said, making the sad baby eyes.
"Alright, well then what can I do for you?"
"Well," he fumbled around for the words and I could tell he was embarrassed by what he wanted to ask. "I saw that you brought your guitar. Do you think, if it's not too much trouble, you could play something for me?"
My lips curled in an unstoppable smile. "Of course," I said, glowing inwardly.
I retrieved the instrument and proceeded to play the sweetest songs I knew, singing along in a quiet voice. His eyes watched me blissfully.
"I love to hear you play," he told me between songs. "It's something I really missed this summer."
I did not respond but only went to the next song. He soon fell asleep again and I finished the last few lines and made to leave. A moment before I rose to depart I reached over and stroked his warm face, finally planting a kiss on his burning forehead.
I went back outside and called Melissa's cell. Trent answered the phone.
"You're a horrible liar," I told him after his greeting.
"It's Emily I guess." He laughed. "How am I a liar?"
"You told me there wouldn't be anyone here this weekend."
"That's right I did. So?"
"So obviously there's someone very important here."
"You've got a point. How could I have overlooked that key detail?"
"Trent," my voice raised. "It's not funny. Do you know what kind of position this puts me in?"
"An awkward one?"
"I may be stating the obvious but Emily, you're still there. Why didn't you leave if you're so damn uncomfortable?" His tone remained level while mine rose angrily.
"He's sick. You knew that Trent. You knew he was sick, you knew I'd stay here with him. But what am I supposed to do? I was almost entirely over him. This weekend is undoing weeks of progress. I'm falling for him all over again." A tear trickled down my face.
"Emily, listen to me." Trent was finally serious. "You did a good thing by staying. First, because he needed you. Second, and I know you realize this, whether or not he has feelings for you, you need him in your life. It's not a question of easy. You're a better person when you're around him. And he's a better person around you. Don't sacrifice your friendship because you're scared of being hurt."
Tears were streaming down my cheeks when I said, "It's too late to avoid being hurt."
The conversation was over shortly. I wasn't really angry at Trent. I was angry with myself for being the weak sort of chick that couldn't get over lame crushes. I laid down on the couch and fell asleep.
That night passed pretty much the same as the one before. I woke Jesse up three times, took his temperature, and gave him some pills, all silently. He was too exhausted to speak to me and I was too stupid to speak to him.
At around 5 am I collapsed on the couch without bothering to set my alarm. I fell into a deep sleep.
"Emily," a voice whispered and touched my shoulder.
I slowly opened my eyes and looked around until I saw the source of the voice. Jesse had crept out of bed and stood, crouched next to me on the couch.
"How are you feeling?" I mumbled sleepily.
He smiled kindly. "Better, thank you. It's little chilly in here though."
I sat up and motioned for him to sit next to me. I pulled my blanket over him, keeping some for myself. I looked at my watch. It was nearly 9 am.
"Wow, time flies when you're asleep." I commented.
"You were out," he laughed.
"When I sleep, I'm hard core," I smiled.
He whipped around quickly and sneezed behind him. When he leaned back I felt his forehead.
"Are you sure you're feeling better?"
"It was just a sneeze, Emily."
"Well, you feel normal."
"I really feel a lot better," he told me again.
"I'm glad," I smiled, trying not to look right at him.
"Emily," he tried to call my attention back to his face. I consented and turned to him.
He took a breath looking down and they met my eyes with his gaze again. "Thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. You didn't have to stay, I think you probably didn't want to dedicate your weekend to being my nurse, but you did. Most people wouldn't have."
"We're friends Jesse," I told him simply and coldly. "It's what friends do."
"I guess that brings me to my second point. I'm sorry."
This took me by surprise. "Sorry," I repeated. "You don't have to be sorry." I thought of a couple things that may have prompted him to say it but couldn't figure out which was motivating him.
"I'm sorry because I think I hurt you."
There was a pause while I gathered my thoughts. I'd always been able to be honest with Jesse and I was now. "I've never considered myself an attractive person," I told him. Looks just aren't important to me. It was a stupid idea but I thought that making myself pretty might win you over. I became vain this summer in a way I've never been before. I could look at myself and like what I saw. It just hurt me to think that wasn't enough for you."
I willed myself not to cry and succeeded. Jesse could tell, I'm sure, what was going on in my mind, but at least there was no physical proof.
"Remember yesterday when I told you I missed hearing you play this summer?"
I nodded, biting my lip still afraid of the tears that hid from view. He leaned over and took my hand shocking the emotion right out of me. "It's not the only thing I missed. I missed the things you say to me. I missed the conversations we have. I missed the inspiration I get from just being around you."
At this point the attempt not to cry lost out entirely. Tears trickled down my cheeks and I didn't even care.
"When Melissa asked me if I thought you looked great I told her the truth. You looked the same. You've always been beautiful to me. It took me some time to realize it but, it's the truth."
I wiped tears from my eyes and tried to smile through them. Jesse laughed.
"Why are you crying?"
I sniffled and said, "I just never thought anyone would ever say that to me."
He laughed gently and put his hand behind my neck. I leaned in and rested my head on his shoulder. He stroked my hair and soon we both fell asleep. It was the most blissful sleep I'd had in months.
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