“Guess who I ran into at Safeway?”
I stop making my near-famous sweet potato soufflé and look up at my dad, who just walked into the kitchen with a bag of groceries in each arm.
“Who?” Mom asks as she puts the finishing touches on a green bean casserole. The kitchen smells absolutely amazing, with the turkey roasting away in the oven and yeasty dough for the rolls rising in a bowl on the kitchen counter.
“Guess,” Dad insists.
“Don’t make us guess, that’s silly.” My older sister, Brianne, is hands-deep in pie dough.
“Carson,” Dad says, “and I invited him to have Thanksgiving dinner with us.”
I feel my heart jump, a little stronger than it probably should have, considering.
“He’s in town?” I glance at Brianne and see a half-smirk.
“Is he coming to the movies with us, too?” Mom asks. My family has a long tradition, started when my siblings and I were just kids, of going to see a movie after Thanksgiving dinner, then coming back afterward to have dessert. It seems like the weirdest tradition ever, but we all love it.
“I didn’t ask. Quinn, I hope you don’t mind my inviting him without asking first.”
“Don’t be silly, Dad,” I say. “It’ll be awesome to see him again.”
“How long has it been?” Mom asks.
I have to think for a moment. “Two years? Maybe three?”
“I always thought you two should be a couple,” she says.
“Mom, he’s just a friend.”
“Yeah,” Brianne confirms. “Just a friend.” The smirk makes another quick appearance, this time accompanied by a raised eyebrow. I crinkle my brow quizzically and turn my palms up at her.
“Still…” Mom says. “You guys were closer than most married couples.”
She’s right about that.
We were a thing for so many years: Carson and Quinn.
Not a romantic thing, mind you, just the absolute best of friends from the time my family moved into this neighborhood of Portland the summer before second grade. Carson was standing at the bus stop when Brianne and I walked up the first day of school. He sat next to me on the bus, then was at my side for the next ten years.
Carson and I were soon inseparable, hanging out almost every day after school. He was the yin to my yang. I remember a summer between sixth and seventh grade when we would lie on the hood of my dad’s car every evening after dinner. We just looked up at the sky and talked, about everything and about nothing at all. Every damn evening for an entire summer, and we never once ran out of things to talk about.
Even in high school we were never boyfriend and girlfriend. That would have been unthinkable. We never did anything involving romance except talk about who we loved and console each other through breakups.
We did kiss once, though. It was at a birthday party in seventh grade. They were playing a stupid game called Seven Minutes in Heaven. When it was your turn, you would randomly draw from a bowl containing each of the other gender’s names on slips of paper. That’s the person you’d have to go into a darkened closet with for seven minutes. Now that you knew who you’d go with, you would roll the dice to see what the two of you would be doing. One for talk, two for hold hands, three for hug, four for spoon, five for kiss, and six for French kiss. Like I said, the game was stupid.
Everybody got one turn. For my turn I drew Malcom Turner’s name, then rolled a three. Malcolm and I dutifully went into the closet and hugged. It was weird, and we were giggling the whole time. Very non-romantic. Heather Simkins drew Carson’s name then rolled a five, giving me an odd feeling I couldn’t quite define. That definition came when they emerged seven minutes later with red faces, and I felt the first twinge of jealousy I’d ever had regarding Carson.
When Carson drew my name just minutes later, I held my breath. The die stopped on a six and everyone howled because they knew we’d both hate the idea of being forced to kiss. French kiss, no less. We both protested, to no avail. It was quickly proposed that a monitor be sent into the closet with us to ensure we completed our given task.
I’ll never forget the scared look in Carson’s eyes when he stepped in front of me just as the closet door was closing. I felt his arms wrap around me, then heard him whisper, “It’ll be okay. You can pretend I’m Ronnie.” Carson knew I’d had my eye on Ronnie McAllister that year.
So we kissed.
It was weird and much more exciting than I expected, and I immediately felt flushed. After a couple of minutes, our “monitor” must not have heard the sounds she was expecting and said, “Don’t forget the tongues.”
That made for the most thrilling five minutes of my life. At least up to that point, and to be honest, maybe even now.
Throughout the entire thing, I never once thought of Ronnie McAllister.
We never spoke about that kiss until we were older and could look back at it and laugh. I always wondered whether Carson had found it anywhere near as electrifying as I had.
“Do his parents still live here?” Brianne asks, snapping me out of my daydreaming.
“No, they moved across town.”
“He bought them a house,” Mom adds dramatically. Carson had evidently done well for himself in Silicon Valley, where he’s been since he graduated from Stanford. His startup had exceeded everyone’s expectations and had its IPO two years ago. The money involved was going huge, but all Carson could talk about was how proud he was of his team.
“Jesus, he’s got looks and money?” Brianne quips. “Maybe I should marry him. If I can talk Kevin into it.”
I give her an evil glare. Right on cue, her husband walks into the kitchen and says, “Talk me into what?”
Brianned use to call Carson a “little twerp” when we were kids. He was a scrawny boy but grew into his body when he joined the swim team in ninth grade. From that point on, he had that swimmer’s body women love so much. I can’t help but wonder if he still has it.
Carson and I grew apart a little in high school because of boyfriends and girlfriends, then we went our separate ways for college. The last time we spent more than an hour or two together was during winter break our senior year, when a bunch of our old high school friends rented a cabin for a ski weekend. On the last night, two of the gang decided to hook up, which meant Carson and I had to share a bedroom—and a bed.
It was awkward at first, but at least it was the middle of winter and we both had layers of clothing on. Once we climbed under the covers, though, we lay there staring up at the ceiling with the light of a full moon streaming in through the window. It was wonderful, like that summer when we were kids, lying on the hood of my dad’s car and talking.
We lay awake for a couple of hours, mostly complaining about our college boyfriends and girlfriends. He had just been dumped two weeks earlier, and the pain was still surface-level. I tried to help him through it as best as I could.
“Do you even know what you’re really looking for in a girlfriend?”
Carson thought for a minute, then surprised me by saying, “Quinn, I would love to find a girl who’s exactly like you.” He paused, then quickly amended his statement. “Except not you, obviously.”
“Because that would be weird.”
“Exactly,” I said, maybe wondering a bit whether it would really feel as strange as we both imagine.
“Maybe we should do one of those still-single pacts like in the movies.”
“One of those whats?”
“You know, where if we’re both still single by age forty we’ll get married. Just so we don’t grow old lonely.”
“Hmm… except no sex, right?” I asked. “Because… weird.”
“Of course not. A platonic marriage.”
“A platonic marriage. I like that.”
“But what about kids?” he asked.
“I’d be in my forties! And we’d have to have sex, because I’m pretty sure that’s a prerequisite.”
“I want kids, though. A couple of them.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said. “I remember when we used to talk about living near each other as adults so our kids could be friends.”
Carson laughed. “I’d forgotten about that. Okay, so let’s make it thirty-five years old and artificial insemination.”
“I don’t want to be having babies in my mid-thirties. My body would never recover.”
“Excellent point,” he said. “You definitely don’t want to do anything to fuck up something that awesome.”
It was the first time Carson ever indicated that he’d actually noticed my physical shape.
“When did you ever look at my body?”
“Once in a while I sneak a peak. A guy can appreciate an incredible body without feeling the urgent need to be inside of it.”
The very thought gave me a strange chill, and I had to force my attention away from the image in my head. “You think I have an incredible body?”
“Yeah, it’s definitely a 10 out of 10.”
“Thanks,” I said. “And quit looking at it, you perv.”
He laughed. “So thirty then?”
“Thirty years old, and artificial insemination. Deal?”
I thought about it for a minute.
Neither of us took it seriously. It was just a funny conversation that was forgotten by the time we hit the slopes the next morning. But I do have to admit there have been times over the last decade where I found myself wishing the man I was with at that moment was more like Carson.
Nowadays we still talk on the phone every couple of weeks, getting caught up on what’s happening in each other’s life. About a year ago, I had a sex dream about him and it left me feeling unsettled for a solid week afterward. And of course calling my best friend to talk about that dream, to sift my way through the vague uneasiness it left me with, was out of the question because he was the subject of the dream.