David steps off the bus to see his friend, Paul, standing in the middle of the square with a box at his feet. He walks over and greets him with a hug. “Hi Paul.”
“Hi David,” his friend acknowledges with a smile. “Didn’t Mel come with you?”
“No, she had to work. She said she’d meet us here,” he bends down to fiddle with the tied laces on his green canvas shoes, hoping to avoid any questions.
“Hi!” Paul shouts.
David stands to see four more of their friends approaching. He hugs them all as he greets them. “Chrissy, Vickie, Tom, Greg.”
“Didn’t Mel come with you?” Chrissy asks as she looks around, expecting their friend to be there.
“I was just telling Paul that I texted her yesterday. She said she had to work this morning. She should be here soon. In fact, there she is,” he says as he breaks into a nervous smile.
“Sorry I’m late,” Mel says as she receives hugs all around.
“You’re not,” David says as he hugs her last. “It’s been so long. It’s sure good to see you.” He steps back to look at her face.
“You too,” Mel replies without looking at him.
“I know the rest of us haven’t seen each other since we graduated,” Paul says with a furrowed brow, “but I would have thought you two would have. You’re closer than the rest of us.” He looks to see his two friends looking away from each other in embarrassment.
“Geographically that is,” Chrissy says quickly at Paul’s faux pas. “You live in the same building.”
“Well, yeah,” David says with a glance in Mel’s direction.
“Our schedules haven’t been the same,” Mel says with a blush.
Everyone glances at each other as Mel and David look down.
“Why are you two acting so weird?” Paul feels a slap on his arm and turns to see Chrissy giving him a warning look. “What?” he shrugs in confusion.
Chrissy raises her eyebrows and nods toward David and Mel, hoping to make Paul understand.
“What?” he asks again.
“Get a clue,” she whispers loudly.
“Oh come on!” Paul scoffs. “You two can’t still be upset about the skydiving.” He turns to face David and Mel.
Mel tilts her head slightly as David says, “No.”
“So what! David wimped out in the end and Mel manned up,” Paul laughs as he places his hand on David’s shoulder to give it a rough squeeze. “It’s about time Mel showed you up. I knew she’d been holding out on us all these years.”
“I haven’t been holding out,” Mel disputes.
“Yes, you have,” Paul contradicts. “He’s been challenging you in sports for years and you’ve been holding back. It’s obvious why.” He watches Mel frown, sees David looking at Mel with wide eyes and his friends all looking back at him with warning looks. “You’re such good friends that you don’t want to make him look bad. You don’t want to make any of us look bad.” He steps toward Mel and lifts her chin to gaze at her. “When are you going to learn that we’re all grown up?”
“What do you mean?” Mel challenges.
“You’ve been the mother of our group long enough. You’ve counseled us when we’re down, nursed us through injuries of all kinds and helped each of us be the best we can be. You’ve done your job well. We can handle it now.” He kisses her on the forehead and says, “In fact, we’re here to fulfill one of the items on my bucket list that I’ve been wanting to do for some time. You’ve shown me for years that I matter to you…it’s time I tell you,” he pauses to reach into the box he brought, turns around, looks down at the sign and reads it aloud with a smile, “You matter.”
“Cut it out,” Mel responds with a shy laugh.
“I mean it,” Paul kisses her on the forehead again and turns to see everyone facing Mel, holding a sign for her to read.
“Group hug!” Chrissy exclaims.
A few moments later, Paul instructs, “Okay. I know it’s a little uncharacteristic of me, but Mel inspired me with this bucket list item. We’re here at one of the busiest areas of the city to tell everyone we see that someone cares about them. Let’s get out there and tell everyone that they matter!”
David stands back and watches as his friends disburse. An hour later, he finds himself at the far end of the square from Mel. He looks down, swallows hard and starts walking toward her with his sign held in front of his chest.
She turns around to see him walking toward him and tilts her head in wonder.
He sees his friends turn to watch while continuing to walk toward her. Finally, standing in front of her, he studies her face in silence for several moments.
“What are you doing?” she asks with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry about the last three months. I shouldn’t have been upset. It was stupid.”
“It’s okay,” she replies quietly.
“No, it’s not. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. I should have told you a long time ago. It’s time to say…you matter,” he swallows hard and whispers, “to me.”
She looks down, trying hard to stop the tears.
He takes her in his arms and holds her for several minutes.
“Okay then!” Paul shouts as he slaps his two friends on the back. “Now that that’s settled.”
David looks down to see her wet cheeks, wipes her eyes with the hem of his tee shirt and kisses her briefly on the mouth. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” she blushes.
“I think it’s time we ate, don’t you?” Paul says as he pulls them by the hands to lead them across the square.
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