I closed my notebook, shut my laptop, and for the first time in hours got up form my desk chair. My take-home exam was done, and I needed a drink.
Luckily, my friends and I had been drinking every night since Friday. Clearly, we were all graduating seniors who cared deeply about finals week.
I was greeted at Alex and Joey's house with a glass of champagne and a shot of Jack. A-Team had just returned from their last lesson and a few of the most well-connected B-Team members had been invited to join them at the bars that night.
"Hey," CJ put his arm around my waist after I tossed back my shot.
"Hi," I instinctively leaned back against him, "How was your last lesson?"
"Susan made us cake!" CJ piped up excitedly.
"So you guys finally got your post-lesson drinking with Steve and Susan?"
"Old news, that was B-Team a month ago," I smirked.
"But did you get a cake?" CJ tossed back.
"I am a little jealous because I'm going to guess Susan is a pretty good cook," I admitted. We hadn't gotten a cake.
"You guessed right, she made this seven-layer crepe cake that was amazing!"
"Susan and I are remarkably similar," all year, people had been saying I reminded them of our coach, and as the year went on and Susan and I became closer, I began to see it myself. We even dressed similar for the pro show at the Ohio Star Ball in November, "I'm a good cook, so I assume she is too."
It was lightly raining as we made our way to the bar and I flipped up the hood of my cropped lightweight sweatshirt. I was squished in our booth between Alex and Alison, but I could tell someone was trying to catch my eye from across the table.
When I excused myself to go to the bathroom a while later, CJ followed. I didn't make it to the bathroom before CJ cornered me. We seemed to have the same conversation that we've had a million times: me yelling at CJ for being a crappy friend, CJ apologizing, CJ telling me about his current mental state, CJ being vague about Sarah, me yelling at CJ for being stupid about Sarah.
Our conversation continued to my favorite drunk food place, Menna's, and when CJ offered to walk me home. The earlier light rain had thickened, and we walked back with our arms around each other. When we encountered the awning of one of the coffee shops on my route home, CJ put his other arm around me to pull me under it.
Temporarily shielded from the rain, time seemed to slow: my arms were around CJ's shoulders, and his around my waist, pulling me impossibly close. We were laughing and the gravity between us went unchallenged. The darkness of 2:30am couldn't hide the unmistakeable flash in CJ's eye and the way our heads were naturally inclined toward the other's. I could have sworn CJ was going to kiss me. I leaned in toward him; half daring him to do it, half wanting him too.
But our lips never touched. May times we had been in this similar place, stopping chemistry from completing a reaction right at the last moment. CJ's conscience was the perpetual buffer.
But maybe that reaction had ran its course. We had done our time as more-than-friends, however brief as it had been. And maybe that experiment shouldn't be conducted again.
Despite the nature of the experiment, I had hoped all along that friendship would be the outcome. He said he did too, but I couldn't help the nagging feeling that CJ couldn't separate friendship from "feelings" when it came to me.
"I keep thinking about something you said last night," CJ said, sitting down again on my porch bannister.
"I said lots of things last night," I wracked my brains, trying to think of what words were sticking in CJ's mind. I sat a foot from CJ on the banister.
"I just keep thinking about how you said you weren't the prettiest girl in the world."
"Well, I'm not, there's no way my love life would be four years of failure if I was-"
"You're beautiful. I should have told you more," CJ's hazel eyes locked with mine.
"You told me twice," my lips turned upward in the shadow of a smile and the shadow of a memory, "That's more than anyone else."
"I think we both know the most recent time," CJ said confidently.
I nodded. As dark as it was on my porch, it had been just as dark in CJ's room one night when he looked me in the eyes and said it.
"What was the other time?" CJ asked.
"Purdue's competition, our first one together. You had known me for less than a day. I came out in my red standard dress and you just said it. You didn't say that I looked beautiful, but that I was."
CJ took my hands in his, "Kaitlyn, you're the most beautiful girl I know. And I'm so glad I know you."
"I'm glad I know you too," our fingers intertwined, "I wouldn't trade our friendship for anything."
"I don't know where I'd be right now without you."
CJ got me talking about makeup school, and I ended up crying and in CJ's arms.
"I just want to do what I'm passionate about, I want that every minute of every day."
"I want to be as passionate about my job as you will be about yours," CJ smiled at me as I wiped an inevitable tear from my cheek.
"It's what I live for: the people and things that I'm passionate about," it was ultimately the combination of alcohol and three days until graduation that had me in tears. And maybe, just maybe, it had something to do with the guy holding me in his arms. There was no one else I had opened up to in sic an intimate way. And even though I didn't get any fairytale ending, I didn't regret it. I didn't want a fairytale, with a white knight and a magical kiss. I wanted friendship. I thought that was easier to obtain than a white knight and magical kiss, and sometimes with CJ truly challenged that assumption. But then there were nights like this, where I felt like friendship would win out in the end.