Opposite of Always(4)

Because on one hand, it’s awesome knowing that my namesakes were these incredible men. An honor. A privilege.

But on the flip side, it’s possible that my parents did not comprehend the ridiculous amount of PRESSURE they were placing upon my freakishly narrow shoulders.

So, yeah, there’s that, too.


I’m Jack King. The guy sporting a five o’clock shadow and an old flannel jacket at a party full of people, sitting near the bottom of the living room stairs, holding an empty glass, semiwatching a basketball game playing on the TV, but mostly staring out into the kitchen, looking at— It’s always the same girl.


When we signed up for this college visit, I pictured Jillian and me finally getting time alone. That we’d spend the weekend together and she’d at long last see just how (sorta) charming and (semi-) cool and (relatively) interesting I was. That I’m more than just Friendship Material Jack, you know?

But instead, I’ve been sitting here for thirty minutes, alone, although in fairness, I’m not completely alone; there are quite a few people who keep bumping into me walking up and down the stairs. I swear I’m not normally this awkward, this antisocial.

Let me explain.

A Brief History of Strong Like

Jillian and I are best friends. We met freshman year in high school, literally bumping into each other (how horribly cliché, right?), our backpacks spilling their guts all over the hallway. I helped her gather her books and we avoided that whole bumping-heads thing as we stood up, only for idiot me to step on her backpack strap and send her crashing back onto her ass. If there was an embarrassment gun, we’d bypassed Stun and switched right to Kill. A few kids paused to gawk and laugh, and there I was, rapid-firing apology after apology Jillian’s way.

But she’d simply hopped to her feet, barked at our spectators to “keep it moving,” and introduced herself.

“Jack and Jill,” I said, putting it together.

“Ha.” She smiled. “Guess this was meant to be.”

“Sorry I didn’t come tumbling after.” I was far too giddy with my clever reply only to realize hours later that it was actually Jill who tumbled after Jack.

But Jillian didn’t seem vexed by my mistake. “We can always try again,” she said. Her smile upping its wattage, she added, “The tumbling part, that is.”

I knew then we had a chance at something amazing. But in keeping with my long-standing theme of almost, we had neither. Which is to say, three weeks later Jillian had a boyfriend.

Now maybe you’re thinking—who cares if she has a boyfriend, Jack? Tell her how you feel. Let her decide. Except the whole I have a boyfriend thing seemed an impregnable defense. I’m talking snipers on the roof, motion-activated lasers, trained attack dinosaurs, and a moat boiling with molten lava—impenetrable.

Because, major plot twist: Jillian’s boyfriend, Francisco “Franny” Hogan, is my other best friend.

I know, I know.

And I wish I could tell you this is a story about a horrible boyfriend (Franny) who doesn’t appreciate what he’s got, who treats his girlfriend (Jillian) like crap, who doesn’t deserve her. Or that he’d viciously stabbed me in the back going after the girl of my heart. Except Franny didn’t even know I liked her.

The truth is, Franny’s a good guy—hell, a great guy. Were I to pick someone other than myself to be with Jillian—like if Jillian and I were together and were playing that game where you pick one of your friends to take your place in the event of your untimely demise—I’d pick Franny for Jillian, every time. He’d take care of her. He’d love her. (That’s sort of a sick game, right? Let’s not play that again.)

Anyway, they’re a couple. An awesome couple. And I’m happy for them. I would never consider doing anything to jeopardize their relationship. No, I’m here for the Jillian-Franny love connection. The ultimate third wheel, the undervalued eleventh toe, the superfluous third nipple.

Until tonight.



Probably not.


The Thing About Stairs Is That They’re Up and Down

“Excuse me, man, but you’re sort of damming up the steps,” a voice behind me says.

“What?” I swivel around.

It’s a girl with bright eyes and shoulder-length curly hair. She’s wearing one of those sweater-dress things—except I think it’s just an oversize sweater that she’s cinched around her waist with a skinny belt. I recognize her from earlier, our student center tour guide.

“You’re blocking the stairs. You’re a very proficient human dam.”

“Sorry,” I mumble.

I scoot over and she applauds. “Oooh, he’s a motorized dam. Brilliant.”

“Surprise, surprise,” I say.

I wait for her to complete her trek down the stairs, but she doesn’t move. “If you like her so much, you should try talking to her.”


“I hear that talking to people usually alerts them to our existence. You know, as opposed to just staring at them like a deranged serial killer.”

“As opposed to a nonderanged serial killer,” I say over my shoulder.

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