From the Desk of Athena

10/2/17

“What have you got to lose, Annie?” Peyton looked concerned, eyes focused on her friend’s face, mouth creased in the corners, holding tightly to her judgment. “Why don’t you just – I don’t know – go to coffee or something? It doesn’t have to be dinner.”

“But he asked me to dinner. I don’t think I can just up and change the plan,” Annie sat cross-legged on her dorm room floor, folding clothes intently to avoid making eye contact with Peyton. If I keep ignoring the subject, eventually, she’ll have to stop pushing.

“Who says you can’t?” Peyton’s back slid a little against the side of Annie’s dresser. Her blonde hair knotted temporarily behind her shoulders and Annie caught a glimpse of an imperfection in her friend’s otherwise impeccable façade.

“I don’t know. Isn’t that, like, a rule? I’m not the one trying to set up this date. Anyway, I don’t even want to go.”

“But why? Tyler’s… decent. Okay, he’s more than decent. I’m just not seeing anything blaringly wrong with the guy.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point?”

“That I don’t want to date him, okay?” Annie shut the dresser drawer with more force than she meant. Peyton didn’t seem phased.

“I don’t get it. Please help me understand.” Annie was quiet for a moment, attempting to choose her words carefully. “You don’t want to date Tyler or you don’t want to date… guys? Or –”

“I don’t want to date anyone,” she thought that sounded simple enough – not that Peyton was going to accept that as an answer. The two college freshmen had only met a month prior, but they’d spent nearly every moment together since Welcome Week. Connected by a shared love of Greek mythology, the unlikely pair might never have explored the possibility of finding common ground otherwise. Peyton excelled in every stereotypically feminine aspect of young adult life: perfectly highlighting her soft, oval face with complementary makeup products and her slender, elegant frame with form-fitting crop tops and skirts in pretty pastel shades. She had no problem donning high heels and a tight dress for a night out – even if their destination was an entirely unsophisticated house party two streets down and even if some drunken idiot had spilled beer all over her at the same house the night before. Though she was never outright boastful, Annie knew she relished in the attention she got from any and all men who vied for a date with her. To the outside world, Peyton was fearless; not that she was perceived as the kind of girl that needed to be afraid of anything. “Blessed by God right down to her toenails,” Melanie Haines once described her while getting high on a stranger’s couch.

Most believed that Annie envied Peyton – Melanie had even gone as far as to insinuate that Annie had forced the friendship in order to “absorb Peyton’s beauty, like that thing of when a girl finds another girl so attractive that she tries to kill her to wear her skin, right?” Melanie was high a lot.

But alas, to the disappointment of many, this wasn’t some kind of budding romantic relationship – or a deranged plot of extreme jealousy – but a bond of two kindred spirits on drastically different life paths. Annie, raised by an imposing single father, was deemed a tomboy in the schoolyard long ago. She didn’t mind this label: it meant she fit into a category, and she felt more comfortable being “in” with a crowd than branded a friendless loser. However, as time passed, she found herself growing less concerned with the opinions of her peers and more determined to create an identity for herself outside the girl’s soccer team. She was a leader by nature – her father wouldn’t have allowed her to be anything less – and spent most of her teen years starting various adventure clubs at her high school. Annie made a point of forging her own course, whether that was as the head of the hiking club, the student sailors association, or even during her brief stint on the boy’s wrestling team, which she only quit because of the onslaught of unwanted male attention. This was, unfortunately, the only part of her life with which she was uncomfortable.

Despite her tough reputation, Annie would get the occasional date request or admission of love from various friends – some girls, but mostly boys. Each time there was a significant social event on the horizon, she dreaded going to school and hearing those shaky words, typically consisting of something like, “I know you don’t normally do this…” or “I really like our friendship, but…” That feeling tore through her body and extended through her limbs. The fact was: she was never interested. Not in boys, not in girls, not in anyone. And unfortunately, at some point or another, she had the unpleasant task of trying to explain this to anyone who stepped inside her inner circle.

“…anyone, anyone?” Annie could feel Peyton’s stare and hear the absolute absurdity of what she was trying to say echo in her friend’s mind like the unfinished plot of a terrible rom-com script. Peyton needed the entire, polished screenplay. She wasn’t going to grasp the concept as quickly as Annie hoped.

“Right,” she looked up from a freshly folded pair of jeans. “I’m just… it’s not a priority.”

“I mean… I just figured you were really, really shy,” Peyton’s brow furrowed.

“I’m not. I don’t hate people, I just –”

“I know you don’t hate people, you love people, you’re great with them,” she paused. “What I mean is – I thought we were going to do this whole college dating scene together.”

“It’s not like I don’t want to go out, Peyton.”

“No… you’re right. I’m just – is it bad to say I’m disappointed?”

“I guess not. I wish you weren’t.”

“So does this mean you’re, like, never going to want to –”

“I don’t know what it means. I don’t try to understand it. In fact, I barely think of it at all. I just don’t feel the need to seek out… or get into anything. I never really have, and I’m fine with that.” She felt her cheeks getting familiarly red. She didn’t intend to work herself up. Peyton was a friend: a good friend.

“Alright, sorry. I think I wanted us to be in this whole game together.”

“It’s your game. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines and cheer you on, I just don’t want to be on the team,” Annie smiled, hopeful. Peyton smiled back, a glint of uncertainty held tight against her concealed teeth.