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Creative Corner: “Emma vs. The Love Triangle”

Or a semi-autobiographical tale of unlikeable characters

Welcome to Creative Corner, where I share some of my past (and maybe future!) creative pieces with you. At one point, this particular piece — “Emma vs. The Love Triangle” — was my favorite short story that I’d ever written. Now, I’m not totally sure it holds up…especially after I wrote this. In any event, it’s a short(ish), fun read that I hope will get a laugh out of you.

I originally penned it for a class (Advanced Fiction Writing Workshop with the best guest professor EVER Daniel José Older), where it was pretty well-received. I remember one classmate specifically saying that the characters were Seinfeld-esque, aka very unlikeable, but they said that was because I made them so realistic. Funnily enough, the main character is based on me, and the other characters are derived from people I knew in high school. We probably were all pretty unlikeable then, tbh, so I’ll take the compliment/critique.

Two years after I wrote this story, it was published in Sequoya, the St. John’s literary and arts magazine. I was also the grad assistant in charge of the magazine that year, which led to me publishing the piece under a pen name. See, I knew my parents would want a copy of that year’s magazine since I had worked so hard on it, buttttttttt I didn’t want them knowing I wrote this particular story. Yep, classic Aimée move. At the on-campus reading for the magazine, I wore a “disguise” but then revealed myself to be Natalie Casablanca (my ABSURD pen name). I thought it was hilarious, but all the little undergrads were probably like, “Who is this old weirdo?”

It’s now been another two years since that issue of Sequoya was released, but I’m not going to alter “Emma vs. The Love Triangle” at all. Although I’ll admit, reading a piece in which my 21-year-old self tries to evoke the voice of my 17-year-old self definitely makes me cringe at times. HOLY COW I just realized that I was closer to being 17 when I wrote this than I am to being 21 now…………………………that’s upsetting. Let’s get into the story then, shall we?

“Emma vs. The Love Triangle”

When you’re a stubborn girl like me, the last thing you ever — and I mean ever, ever, ever — want to do is admit that you were wrong. Especially when it has to do with that overwhelmingly obnoxious species we hardheaded women all detest so much: boys.

But where did you go wrong, Emma? You’re so smart. I didn’t think you even made mistakes.

Yes, I know. I am pretty close to perfect — most of the time. But alas, I have failed myself. I thought I was stronger than this. I thought there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I’d let this happen. But here I am.

I, Emma Hudson, am in love with my best friend.

It hit me when I was least expecting it, yet it’s almost as if I’d been expecting it all along. It was something inside me I’d been trying to repress for so long. But all it takes is getting screwed over by one conniving asshole to make you see what your heart really wants…even if your head is screaming, “No, no, NO!”

We became super close in eighth grade while going through two pretty nasty middle school breakups (which actually seem really silly in retrospect), and have talked pretty much every day since then. He’s cute enough, I guess, but I never before saw anything more than a friendly face in those deep brown eyes and that curly, dark mop. All kinds of people, including our mothers, have often accused us of liking each other, but we’ve always both denied it vehemently. I once told my mom I would rather eat my foot than date him. Aaaand look at me now.

But just in case this wasn’t already rom-com enough for you, get this — he has a girlfriend. It’s just fantastic, right? And she’s such a little bitch. He’s been on-and-off obsessed with her since the first time they dated in eighth grade — God knows why. I think she’s downright awful.

Naturally, she and I used to be very good friends. That’s the way white girls do things. Your moms force you to be friends from a young age, by middle school you’re inseparable, and then in high school you either stay close or become enemies. Charlotte and I went the enemy route, and we never looked back.

So anyways, let’s take it back to when my big realization hit me. Alejandro (the guy I’m in love with) and I were hanging out after school. We don’t normally do stuff like that, but I had something to get off my chest.

We were ridin’ around in his white Hyundai (a total grandma car, by the way), on our way to pick up his little brother from middle school band practice. Typical Alejandro just had to stop by T-Bell on the way — disgusting. The stench of formerly-frozen beef and beyond-processed cheese was not helping me feel any less uncomfortable about revealing my secret to him, but I didn’t have a choice now. We were all alone, parked in front of the school’s band hall, and he was not letting me back out again.

“All right, Emma. Spit it out,” said Alejandro, licking the last bits of the nasty beefy crunch burrito off his fingertips.

It really wasn’t something I could just “spit out.” I tried to ease him into it. “Well…you remember that night I went over to Carson’s house? Back in December?”

“When you gave him back his Gameboy or whatever?”

“PS Vita,” I corrected. “But that’s not important.” I took a deep breath. “Well…we may have…umm…taken our relationship to new heights.”

Alejandro cackled. “Relationship?” he scoffed. “What relationship? I thought the whole reason you even gave him back his stuff was because he dumped your little white ass.” He peered over and tried to get a better look at my butt in the seat of the car. Raising his eyebrows, he smirked at me. “Excuse me. Your large white ass.”

Though feeling a little warm in the cheeks, I shot him a look that wiped the goofy grin off his face almost immediately. I wasn’t really in the mood for playful sexual harassment this time.

He sighed and asked, “Emma…did he go down on you?”

“No.”

“Did you go down on him?

I smacked him on the arm. “Oh my gosh! Who do you think I am?” I haughtily tossed some of my long, chestnut hair over my shoulder. After a pause, I admitted, “It’s…actually worse than that.”

Alejandro looked as if he was going through some mental list of sexual acts; his forehead was all crinkled up in confusion. Finally, realization came over him. “Emma, are you still a virgin?”

I turned to him with big puppy dog eyes. “No,” was my quiet reply.

For a moment, Alejandro looked genuinely terrified. Then he looked a little hurt, and eventually, he decided to chastise me. “I can’t even believe you right now,” he said, and then suddenly turned to look at me. “You know what? You know what you’re going to do?” He rolled down the window next to me. “I want you to take your common sense and throw it out the window. Because you have no common sense anymore. None.

I laughed, thinking he was just teasing. But no! Next thing I knew, I was tossing invisible common sense out of the window, screaming, “Goodbye, common sense,” while Alejandro sat there, arms crossed, with a satisfied look on his face. It wasn’t long before we were both laughing hysterically, though. I knew he wouldn’t actually be mad at me. After a minute or so, however, he got serious.

“Has he even talked to you since then?”

“No,” I muttered. “I’ve tried texting him, but he barely responds.”

“He’s just such a dick,” Alejandro said, shaking his head. “You really do deserve better. I hope you know that.” He cast me a meaningful look. His dark brown eyes bore into my olive ones and lit a fire right in my core. “And I’m hoping you learn from this mistake.”

At that moment, his little brother opened one of the rear doors, and our conversation was over. I couldn’t get those words out of my head, though. I just kept playing them over and over and over in my mind.

“You really do deserve better.” Wow. It sounds like he really cares about you.

I know…but of course he cares about me. We’ve been inseparable for four years. The question is, does he see me as anything more than a friend? Because after that instance in the car, I know for sure that’s how I see him. It’s just so nice having someone actually care…

So anyway, the past couple months since that afternoon have been pretty anticlimactic. Every day, Alejandro complains to me about how Charlotte is too afraid to even kiss him, I not-so-subtly tell him to kick her to the curb, and he doesn’t listen. I’m at a loss here. Every upperclassman in the school is quickly hunting down prom dates, but I refuse to go with anyone who’s not Alejandro. Seems like a smart strategy, right? Considering his prom plans have only been set for months. And meanwhile, in a particularly nasty trick of fate, Alejandro’s best friend, Mark, has developed a crush on me.

Mark is the kind of guy who watches The Big Lebowski every weekend and jacks off to anime porn. He’s ghostly pale, a little bit on the chubby side, and refuses to wear anything other than Birkenstocks on his feet. Ever. But I mean, he is very nice. I would maybe — and that’s a very tentative maybe — give him a chance if I weren’t already head over heels for his best friend. Then again, his best friend is head over heels for some dumb bitch. But I digress.

So Mark asked me to go to the movies with him, and I knew from the get-go I wasn’t going to lead him on one little bit during this “date.” I definitely could not run the risk of having him think he had permission to ask me to prom. It was all going to work out, though; I had the perfect plan to friendzone him once and for all.

Step One: Pick a movie that isn’t the slightest bit romantic or overly emotional. Step Two: Go to a daytime showing of said film. Step Three: Don’t let him buy you anything.

So here I am now, chilling in my kitchen, waiting for Mark to pick me up. I glance at the clock. 1:30 PM on the dot. I hear the F-150 roll into my driveway. I was praying he’d be a dick and just honk the horn, but of course he has to be all corny and come ring the doorbell. I yell goodbye to my dad from the bottom of the stairs and dash out the door so as to avoid any interaction between the two of them.

“You know, I’ve never been to the movies on a Saturday afternoon before,” Mark says as he backs out of the driveway into my street.

“Oh, it’s my favorite time to go!” I interject, maybe a little too excitedly. “Tickets are so much cheaper,” I add.

The rest of the ride to the theater isn’t too horrible, I guess. We talk about band and Pokémon — probably our only two shared interests. I’m just thankful he doesn’t insist on getting out and opening the car door for me when we arrive.

“Two tickets for The Lorax, please,” I hear Mark say.

Shit. Pay attention, Emma! There goes Step Three!

Well…a free movie’s a free movie. I kind of just let that one slide.

However, I do not let him buy me any concessions. I’m hankerin’ for an Icee, but my desire to friendzone this dude is much stronger.

So we see the movie, which is fine. It definitely stays true to Step One; ain’t nobody gonna try to make out with you during a Dr. Seuss flick! And there’s no doubt in my mind Mark knows he’s in my friendzone now.

On the way home, as we pull into our neighborhood, he asks me if I want to go over to his house.

The fuck? He thinks he’s still in this?

I instantly start sweating, racking my brain for any and every excuse in my repertoire. But then, like a gift from God himself, comes a text from Alejandro, asking me to go to his house. “Oh, Mark…I’m sorry. I have to go to Alejandro’s.”

I hear a ding! noise, and Mark checks his phone. “Hey, look at that!” he exclaims. “He asked me to come over, too. We can go together!”

“Great,” I say through clenched teeth, wishing I was one of the trees in The Lorax.

My heart skips a beat when a shirtless Alejandro opens the door to his house for us. Believe me, he’s as skinny as skinny can be, but that’s just how deep in I am. Not even the slightest bit of muscle definition and I’m still turned on.

Anyway, he brings us upstairs, throws on a t-shirt (sigh), and sits us down on the game room couch. Mark and I are both wearing looks of confused suspicion.

“Guys…I did it,” Alejandro finally says after a very long bout of silence. Panic suddenly swirls in my mind.

What does he mean, “did it?” Did what? There’s no way he and Charlotte had sex; they’ve only kissed, like, twice! She doesn’t deserve to be his first…

Mark’s voice brings me back to reality. “Oh, man…you didn’t fuck her? There’s no way!”

To my immense relief, Alejandro bursts out laughing. “Bro!” He bends over, clutching his side. “Why would you even ask that? The hell?” He can barely get his words out from laughing so hard. Mark is right there with him, all keeled over and hysterical. I’m just nervously chuckling — like you do when an old person makes a joke about dying — still anxious to know what he actually did.

“Nah, y’all,” Alejandro says after calming down. “I ended it. No more ‘Charlejandro.’”

Mark gets up and gives him a big hug. None of Alejandro’s friends like Charlotte, Mark especially, so this is like music to his ears. As you can imagine, then, this is like the fucking Vienna Boys Choir to my ears. Instead of looking as elated as I feel, though, I decide to cross my arms and smirk.

“I told you so,” I chide.

Letting go of Mark, Alejandro rolls his eyes at me. “Come here,” he says as he pulls me off the couch into a hug. I just about melt into a little puddle of Emma onto the carpet. Oh, man. The sweet smell of Old Spice Aqua Reef, the warmth of his tan skin…I could stay like this all day.

Mark coughs obnoxiously. Alejandro and I quickly let go of each other and sit down on opposite sides of him.

After we all quietly check our phones for a minute, Alejandro says, “So…SSB?” We both say, “Yeah,” quickly get up, and start setting up the Wii.

For the next hour or two, we don’t talk about anything other than Super Smash Bros. No Charlotte, no weirdly intimate hug — none of that comes up. At long last, though, my prayers are answered: Mark says he has to leave.

“Emma, you need a ride home?” he asks with a hopeful look on his face. “I’d be more than happy to take you.”

Shit. It is time to go home. Accept the offer, I guess…

“Yeah, that’d be gr — ”

“What?” breaks in Alejandro. “Why can’t you stay a little longer? I’ll take you home.”

Thoroughly surprised at this sudden development, I frantically look back and forth between the two guys. Mark, Alejandro. Mark, Alejandro. Responsibilities, desires. And right when I think I’ve finally made up my mind to stay…

“You can help me figure out how to ask Brianna to prom!” says a smiling Alejandro.

It takes me a second to process that. “Wait…what?” I ask.

“Well, I mean, she was always my next choice after Charlotte.” He cocks his head. “Haven’t we discussed this?”

I smile in that kind of pissed off way that girls know means trouble but that stupid boys think is just a regular old smile. “Right. Of course.” I grab my Vera Bradley wristlet off the coffee table. “We’ll figure that out later. I really have to go.” I walk to the stairs. When I realize Mark isn’t following, I turn around and clear my throat. He quickly tells Alejandro goodbye, and we exit the weirdly tense scenario.

I don’t feel like talking to Mark on this ride home, and I think he finally gets the hint. I’m devastated. Because even though I’m mad as hell at Alejandro, I’m still just as in love with him as ever. All I’ve been asking for for months was for him to break up with Charlotte, and now that he has…what now?

I guess a girl with balls would just tell him how she feels. There’s something so powerful about honesty, about coming clean. I wish I had said something. I wish stupid ass Mark hadn’t been there. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of what Alejandro would think, of what everyone would think…

Oooh, but I thought you didn’t like him? You told me you would never in a million years fall for him! I thought he just wasn’t your type?

I wish those voices would shut up! I wish I didn’t struggle so much with jealousy. I wish —

Jealousy. Hmm…

The maroon F-150 pulls into my driveway.

Now or never, Emma.

“Hey, Mark?”

“What’s up?”

“Do you want to go to prom with me?”

Originally published on September 30, 2020

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