This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 14. I spent two hours on this story; this is the third draft. The prompt: “Write about platonic (non-romantic) love.”
Image from bowlingalleyusa.com
A thunderous BANG echoes through the alley, followed by a dozen loud thuds. Another strike!
Jessica cheers behind me and our four opponents groan.
I turn and fist pump the air. Loud bangs and skids of other bowling balls being tossed down neighboring alleys reverberate around me as I stroll to the ball return. Jessica and I high five and do a little hip bump in celebration. Like always, we are crushing it. Then I go over to the seat where Mary Sue sits.
“Well done, babe,” she says and kisses me full on. While taken aback—Mary Sue is usually pretty modest when it comes to public displays of affection—I go with it. She tastes like strawberry flavored pepperoni pizza.
“Why do we always let Jessica and Evan be on the same team?” Rhonda asks, head in her hands. Next to her, Kenji shakes his head.
Freeing myself from Mary Sue’s aggressive mouth—I’m going to need to ask her about this later—I say, “Because you guys aren’t evil enough to deny two best friends from teaming up.”
“Maybe we should be,” Kenji says, thoughtfully. “Maybe then the rest of us would stand a chance of winning for once.” Rhonda nods, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Ten minute break guys?” Jessica asks. She and her boyfriend Patrick have already stood and begun walking out of our lane’s pit.
We all agree and scatter off to different corners of the bowling alley; some of us go use the restroom while others refill drinks and refresh our orders of nachos and pizza.
Fifteen minutes later, Mary Sue, Rhonda, Kenji, and I are back in the pit digging into the fresh food and drinks. I scan the alley but can’t spot Jessica and Patrick anywhere.
“You guys see where Jess and Patrick went off to?”
Mary Sue shrugs and Kenji shakes his head.
“I saw them walk out to the parking lot when we first took our break,” Rhonda says, her mouth half full of nachos.
I roll my eyes but smile. Sighing overly dramatically, I stand and say, “I’ll go get them. They can suck face all they want except when we have an important game to win.”
Bits of nachos burst from Rhonda’s mouth, Kenji snickers, and Mary Sue shakes her head. I laugh and walk out of the pit. Mary Sue rushes after me.
“I’ll join you,” she says, smiling and linking our arms together.
I return the smile, and we quickly make our way out the front door of the bowling alley. Washington’s evening air is freezing and bites at my exposed skin. Echoes of yelling fade.
I turn. Jessica is a dozen feet away, standing next to the wall of the bowling alley. Patrick is stalking away from her into the parking lot. Frowning, I start making my way to Jessica.
What the hell just happened?
Patrick spots me and scowls. “You win, asshole. You happy? You fucking win. You can have her. Fucking unbelievable.”
I halt and look from Patrick to Jessica. She looks away.
Oh shit! Not again.
I turn to Mary Sue, and ask, “Can we have a few minutes?”
She nods, her mouth tight, and walks back into the alley.
I resume walking. Patrick’s mustang fires up and peels out of the parking lot. I reach Jessica.
She shrinks to the ground, her back to the wall. Her eyes are red and puffy and wet.
I slide to the ground next to her and lean lightly against her shoulder, trying to offer some small, familiar comfort.
Minutes pass in silence before Jessica says, “I thought he got it. I thought I finally found someone that really got it. He said he did. Said he’d never be jealous of you, of us. Turns out, he only thought he could do that. He couldn’t.”
I nod. I want to put my arm around her, pull her in, comfort her, as all best friends should do. But I resist. Doing that didn’t go well the last time.
“He was no different than Paul, or Miguel, or Stuart,” she continues. “Why does this keep fucking happening to me?”
I shake my head. “You’ll find someone too. Someone who understands.”
She scoffs. “I’m starting to believe that’ll never happen. You’re so lucky Mary Sue gets it.”
Silence descends on us again. Jessica sniffles and stares up at the stars. I fiddle with a piece of concrete on the ground.
“I’m sorry,” I finally say, not knowing what else to say.
Jessica closes her eyes and shakes her head. “It’s not your fault.”
“It feels like it is though.”
“Well it’s not! So just drop it.”
I snap my mouth shut, look away, and scoot apart a few inches. Jessica rarely loses control like that.
Jessica sighs. “I just need to be alone for a bit, okay. Please.”
I nod before climbing to my feet and shuffling away. Just before heading in, I look back at my best friend since kindergarten when she saved me from a bully by shoving him into the sandpit. She was looking back up at the stars.
I hate not being able to help her. I hate that our friendship is the cause of her pain.
Walking back into the alley, I nearly bowl over Mary Sue. I start mumbling an apology but come up short. Mary Sue is looking at me with a piercing, accusatory gaze.
“Did you kiss her?” she asks.
My mouth drops open and my brain stops working. After a few confusing moments, realization dawns on me. I crumple to a nearby bench and bury my head in my hands.
Why the fuck to do people find it so hard to believe Jessica and I are just friends?