“One Hoboken special and a turkey club, no onions.” Mia’s voice rose over the sound of the crowd outside the food truck.
A warm California breeze blew in through the open window, smelling like fried onions and saltwater…and Mia’s orange blossom perfume.
Ben flipped two filets of chicken on the sizzling griddle before moving to work on the sandwich order. With a glance out the window, he saw it belonged to their last customer.
Relieved, he finished up the order, and fifteen minutes later, he was slouching into a folding chair at the back of the truck. He ran his fingers through his hair, let out a long sigh, and propped his feet up on a cooler. Mia pulled off her baseball cap, and her coffee brown curls tumbled around her shoulders.
Ben’s breath caught, and he studied his shoelaces like they held all the world’s secrets. Did she see the blush heating up his face?
“Busy day, huh?” She turned up the radio and kicked off her shoes.
Mia answered the knock at the back door, smiling at the delivery boy who brought their supper every night. “Hey, Jin.”
“Hey, Mia. Orange chicken and fried rice tonight.”
“Mmm. Sounds great.” Mia took the brown paper bag and handed him a twenty. “How’s your Uncle Cheng?”
“Still complaining about being too old to run a restaurant.”
“He’d go crazy if he didn’t have that place to keep him busy.” Mia chuckled and held up the bag. “Thanks.”
“Sure. See ya Monday.”
Mia crossed the truck and opened the fridge. “Want a Fuze?”
Balancing the takeout in one hand and the drinks in the other, Mia sat down across from Ben.
She dumped the Fuze in his lap then swatted at his feet. He pulled them off the cooler with an exaggerated groan. Mia hummed along to the Switchfoot song playing on the radio as she set the food out on the cooler and tossed Ben a set of chopsticks.
He tapped them against the cooler, channeling his inner Ringo Starr.
Mia shook her head and smiled. “You never sit still.”
“After seventeen years of friendship, you should be used to it by now.”
“Oh, I am. You have plans tomorrow?”
“Really? What about Lindsay?”
He let out a half-sigh, half-groan. “We’re not together anymore. Actually, I’m not sure we were ever really together in the first place. We hung out a lot, but we never really made it past the friend zone. Last week she sent me a text saying she was moving to Chicago, and I haven’t heard from her since.”
He didn’t mention how Lindsay had said a relationship between them could never work as long as he had feelings for Mia.
“She always seemed like a flake to me,” Mia said, taking a mouthful of rice.
“So why didn’t you say something?”
She shrugged. “I figured you knew what you were doing.”
“I never know what I’m doing.”
Mia laughed. “I’ve known that for years.”
Ben threw a fortune cookie at her, and she ducked, her laugh turning into a shriek.
He grinned and took a swig of his Fuze.
Mia picked up the fortune cookie and held it up for him to see. “Now look what you did. It’s broken. Do you expect me to eat a broken fortune cookie? It’s probably bad luck.”
“You don’t believe in luck.”
“Well, maybe not, but if I did, I’m pretty sure this would be it.”
“Oh, give it to me. I’ll eat it.” He grabbed the cookie and tossed her the unbroken one.
She smirked and opened it. “Hmm. ‘You will find success beyond the white elephant.’” She shook her head with a laugh and tossed the paper in the trash can.
“Cheng comes up with some good ones,” she said as she stuck the cookie in her mouth.
“Most of them don’t even make sense.”
“I know. That’s the fun part. What’s yours say?”
Ben cracked opened the cookie, surprised to see handwritten words instead of the printed ones that were usually tucked into Cheng’s cookies.
He silently read the fortune and felt his face heat up like the griddle at lunch hour.
You will find true love right beside you, where it’s always been. Take your chance before it’s too late.
Cheng must have deliberately sent the message. Whether he’d meant it for him or Mia, he didn’t know, but he’d gotten the point across.
Confusion gave way to anxiety as Ben glanced up at Mia and stuffed the paper into his jeans pocket.
“What’d it say?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Nothing.”
“So what did you want to do tomorrow?”
She let out a sigh and shook her head. “You want to hit the waves?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Definitely.”
She frowned “All right. Are you okay?”
“You’re acting weird.”
“I…I just realized I need to tell you something.”
He took a deep breath and met her gaze. How do you tell your best friend that you are in love with her?
Her sea blue eyes bored through his resolve, and he couldn’t formulate a single intelligent word.
His phone rang in his pocket, and he sprang to his feet. “I need to take this.”
“You don’t even know who it is?”
He was halfway out the door before she could finish her sentence.
Ben leaned against the side of the truck and tried to get a grip. What if he declared his love for her and lost his best friend in the process?
The door swung open and Mia stepped outside. She held up the slip of paper.
His heart raced as he realized he’d dropped Cheng’s message.
“I think I know what you wanted to tell me…”
Their eyes met and a slow smile turned up her lips.
He moved forward, his heart hopeful. “You do?”
A smile exploded across Ben’s face, and he pulled her close for their first kiss.
The Friend Zone
© Whitney L. Schwartz 2015
As seen in Splickety Love magazine, November 2015