In every book, there are characters in the periphery—characters whose stories aren’t told because the main focus is elsewhere. But this doesn’t mean their lives aren’t worth reading about. While my main book, Only A Kiss, revolves around Katie and Chris, I want to dedicate a few blog posts to stories of these unnoticed characters, stories on the side. They don’t necessarily appear in the book, but they are present in the scenes that unfold.
This third story (well, part two of the third story anyway) is about Megan, Katie’s BFF, who appears throughout the book. She’s strong, opinionated, and decides she wants to help out her fellow students with their love lives through an advice column (also because she’s bored and wants to do something exciting). This story takes place during the fourth story or chapter of Only A Kiss: Making My Way—when they are all in college.
Dear Jane: Advice for the Lovelorn
Megan could feel the waves of nervousness coming off Alex, who was seated next to her. They were in the university auditorium watching the play, The Importance of Being Earnest, staged by the drama club. Katie and her boyfriend Andrew were on the other side of Meg. It wasn’t meant to be a double date, but when Alex, eyes on the ground, feet shuffling, and hands in his pockets, asked if she wanted to hang out, Megan quickly suggested the play. At least that way, she wouldn’t have to really talk to him and she’d have her best friend next to her, right? Plus, it was an English requirement!
Boy, was she wrong. It didn’t help that Alex was so tense, he hardly uttered a word, or that the play was a romance. A satirical one, but still, a romance. Awkward was an understatement. She could already imagine herself writing to Dear Jane:
I am on a date with an excruciatingly shy guy and I don’t think I can stand it any longer. He hasn’t tried to talk to me, he just stares at his feet. What makes him think he’s ready to “hang out” when he clearly can’t handle it?
Maybe because she was so used to answering the love problems sent to her, her mind quickly composed an answer from the no-nonsense Jane.
Man up (or in this case, woman up!). This poor boy obviously likes you—or was made to ask you out on an unfortunate dare. Either way, turn this situation around. Talk to him, find out what will take his eyes off his feet. Talk about his shoes. How can he not have anything to say about what he’s been staring at all night?
She’s right, Megan thought. No wonder Jane was so popular. She told it like it was and actually offered some decent advice. It was a good thing Katie told Megan not to use her real name for the advice blog. Hiding behind a different persona wasn’t just liberating, it actually felt as if someone else was doing the answering for Megan.
After the play, Katie and Andrew wanted to try a new burger place right outside school. “It’s so near, let’s walk it,” Andrew suggested, slinging an arm around Katie.
Megan’s eyes widened. Walk? That meant even more time spent in uncomfortable silence with her date of oh-so-many-words. As they made their way out into the cool, cloudless night, Megan peered at Alex who was ambling along next to her, his hands in his jean pockets once more.
“Thanks for coming with me,” she offered, trying to keep her voice steady, not the booming tone she usually took. “I thought I was going to be stuck with those two lovebirds all night.”
Alex smiled, sneaking a glance at her. “You’re welcome.”
When he didn’t say anything else, Megan soldiered on. “Have you been to this burger place before?”
Alex nodded. “Chris and I went once. It was really good.”
“Really? What did you have?” This was like pulling teeth, but Megan sensed he was slowly growing more comfortable. Or at least she hoped he was!
“I got one with wasabi. It was interesting.”
“Oooh, yes. Or maybe I can get mine with something sweet.”
“Like marshmallows?” He wrinkled his nose, surprising Megan and making her laugh.
When they crossed the street outside school to get to the restaurant, Megan’s eyes quickly scanned the spacious, well-lit area. Tables and chairs in light wood were separated by dotted glass partitions and the delicious, crisp smell of frying bacon and meat patties greeted her nostrils. Katie grabbed a table that was just vacated and Andrew signaled to the waiter to wipe it down. Before Megan could pull out a chair, she spied Chris in a corner at one of the other tables. He was eating alone. Without thinking, she bounded over to him.
“Hey, Chris! Come join us! Katie and Andrew are with me.” She watched as something that looked disturbingly like pain filled his dark brown eyes, but just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished. Megan frowned, thinking she must have just imagined it.
Are you seeing things now? Remember to focus. You’re supposed to be there with Alex. You didn’t even tell him you were going to say hi to Chris. But then again, this might be a good idea. He and Chris are friends, right?
“Alex is with me,” Megan offered as Chris stood up to press his cheek against hers.
“That’s great!” He grinned, all laid-back and easy once more. She must have imagined it then. “He’s been dying to ask you out, you know.”
Megan rolled her eyes. “Stop making this more awkward than it already is, Chris!”
He laughed and waved a hand at his half-eaten burger. “Let me just gather this up and I’ll join you guys.”
When Chris sat down next to Alex after kissing Katie on the cheek and shaking hands with Andrew, Megan noticed how her date’s shoulders loosened up, his eyes no longer zeroed in on his shoes. He was also laughing at whatever Chris was saying. She barely tasted her burger (she chose the wasabi because of what Alex had said on their walk over, but it didn’t seem like he even noticed) as she sat there, frustrated. Wasn’t he supposed to be her date? Then another thought struck her: did this mean she was a bad date? It had been clear from the start that Alex liked her. But now that he was actually spending time with her, did he realize she wasn’t worth his time?
What right do I have to run an advice blog—a wildly popular one, but still!—when I can’t even figure out what’s going on with my date?!
I don’t know, honey. You tell me.
Her urge to sulk was strong, but she just talked to Katie and Andrew instead. Figured she could get through the evening then forget about it tomorrow.
As they were walking back to school, Alex reached out and touched her shoulder. Lightly. As if he were afraid she would whack him. “Megan, I’m sorry about not really talking to you back there. I felt bad for Chris and needed to keep him occupied. You know how it is.” His smile was apologetic, the look in his eyes sincere.
This would all have been reassuring if Megan knew what the blazes Alex was talking about. But before she could ask him, her mind zoomed back to what she thought she had imagined when she’d asked Chris to join them. The pain in his eyes had felt so real. What did it mean? Was he having problems? She had to ask Katie what was going on.
When she turned to call out to her best friend, it suddenly fell into place: the way Katie twinkled up at Andrew, the smitten smile on Andrew’s face as he leaned in and kissed Katie on the nose. No it couldn’t be. She snuck a glance at Alex who was scowling at them and told herself she had to get him alone and interrogate him. Now.
To be continued…
Missed the first three On the Side stories? Read them all here.