"Who in their right mind would make you an agony aunt?" Oliver asked me, laughing.
"Well isn't that supportive?" I replied, rolling my eyes. "Gee, I don't know what I'd do without your total support. Can you believe the amount of support that I'm getting from Oliver, Miley? It's an unbelievable amount. Absolutely mind boggling."
Oliver rolled his eyes right back at me, taking a massive bit of the sandwich that he'd bought. It both disgusted me that he even bought food from the school cafeteria, and that he ate it like that. Even it was funny sometimes.
"Okay guys, quit with the sarcasm," Miley said, sounding bored. I guess when you're made to referee verbal matches between your two best friends every day, it gets sort of tedious. Not that that's going to stop me from doing it, because it's just too fun. We don't mean half of the things we say. We're best friends, have been since kindergarten, and so we know each other well enough to be able to wind each other up. And I loved that we could.
I laughed, opening up the bag of potato chips that I'd bought from the shop on the way to school. "As it happens, I was the only one on the newspaper team that offered advice that was even slightly helpful. Hence why I was offered the job. I'm a very helpful person.
"Really? How come I've never been on the receiving end of said helpfulness?"
"Because I don't like you." I made sure to keep the smile on my face while I said it, just to show that I was actually joking.
"Charming," Ollie replied, the same grin on his face.
Miley sat forward, intending to break up the riveting conversation that was going on between me and my other best friend. "Well I for one, think it's a great idea. Providing you don't tell anyone to move to Peru or to have plastic surgery or whatever, I think you'll do better than Uncle Earl at a pork pie eating contest when he's had no meat for dinner."
"See Oliver? That is support. Miley said I'd do better than Uncle Earl at a pie eating contest when he's... yeah, I think that's a good thing." I raised my eyebrows at Oliver, just as he took another huge bite of whatever he was eating.
"Well I'm sorry Lilly. Next time I'll be sure to come up with some weird metaphors for you." Oliver grinned, his mouth full.
"Okay, eew," Miley said, her nose wrinkled and her brown curls bobbing up and down as she shook her head at him. "Didn't anyone tell you not to talk with your mouth full?"
Oliver shook his head, and took another bite, making his full mouth even more full. I turned to Miley, deciding that having a conversation with Oliver while he stuffed his face probably wasn't the best idea. I may be sick.
"So yeah, they've advertised on the website. I should get some letters to answer tomorrow." I explained, trying not to look to my right.
Miley smiled. "Well, if you ever need any help, I'm sure I can lend a hand. Because I'm sure there'll be a whole lot of problems going on at this school."
"Thanks Miley! I have to try and answer everyone, so I'm kinda hoping there won't be too many. Otherwise that's my social life down the drain."
Oliver swallowed everything that was in his mouth (the sound of the huge gulp practically drowned out everything else in the cafeteria) and laughed. "What social life?"
I rolled my eyes, a small smile spreading across my lips. "The small shred of a social life that I have right now will be down the drain if I get too many problems."
But how many people actually read the school newspaper anyway? Not many. And how many people are going to want me to give them advice? Not many. So I figured I was okay. Nothing I couldn't handle.
"All of these people want your advice?" Miley looked in shock at the sack full of letters that sat in the middle of her living room floor. Her reaction had been pretty similar to mine when I'd walked into the newspaper office and seen it. And carrying it to Miley's was no joke.
"Apparently so..." I said, looking down at the bag in disbelief. It was going to take me ages to even begin to sort out all of this. Making a dent in it was going to take me hours. You know what I said about my social life going down the drain? It had officially been swept away.
She knelt down beside it and picked up the first letter, unfolding it. "Dear Lilly. I have a problem. Me and my best friend are two of the most popular people in school, but I'm still not happy. Am... I mean, my friend is always putting me down and telling me that I'm stupid. And I don't like it. What can I do to stop it? From Popular-But-Prohibited."
I laughed and pulled the letter out of her hands, collapsing down on the couch. "Well Ash – I mean, Popular-But-Prohibited, the first thing that I'd advise you do is to come to school in your oldest pyjamas and do a dance on the tables in the cafeteria at lunchtime to the Macarena. Then I'd pour a blue slushie all over your best friends head. Serves her right really, doesn't it?"
"Lilly! You can't use your position to embarrass Amber and Ashley," Miley said, looking at me seriously.
"Why not?" I asked, sitting up and looking at her. It seemed a perfect opportunity to me.
She folded her arms, rolling her eyes. "Because these people are trusting you. And you're not supposed to know who they are. As obvious as they make it."
Ugh. She had a point. "Fine. How about this: 'Dear Popular-But-Prohibited... I think you need to figure out what you want. As you've found out, popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe you need to find yourself some friends who actually appreciate you. Or you need to talk to your friend, and tell her how you feel. The grass is always greener. Good luck with what you do!"
"Much better," Miley smiled, picking up another letter and scanning it.
"In a nauseating kind of way," I muttered, picking up a pen and scrawling my answer on the back of the letter. I'd type it up later.
She laughed. "Okay, in order to help you, I'm going to write notes of what I think should be the advice on the back. And then you can write it up."
That sounded like a plan. It halved the work that I had to do anyway. I turned back to my letter, which was from Mr. Torn, and immersed myself in his problem, which basically consisted of choosing between his girlfriend or this girl he met at a party and had a connection with. Well how was I supposed to know? I hadn't met any of them! I couldn't choose for him!
We worked our way through half of the letters in about an hour, making a pile of the ones that we'd read, and leaving the ones that we hadn't in the sack. It was tedious work, being an agony aunt, and suddenly I didn't want the job anymore.
It was when we were almost finished that a distraction (in the form of Oliver Oken) came along to distract us. He walked in, did a double take at the pile of letters that was beside us and then sat on the small area of couch that my feet weren't draped over. "Is this Hannah fan mail?"
"Oddly... no." Miley replied, not taking her eyes off the paper in front of her. "It's Lilly's."
"What has Lilly ever done?" Oliver asked, earning himself a kick from me.
I put down the letter that I'd been engrossed in, wiping my hand over my hurting eyes. "They all want my advice. Apparently not many people in this school have friends to ask advice from."
"They just think that someone who doesn't know who they are will judge their situation with less bias," Miley said, sounding scarily like Ms. Kunkle for a second or two.
"Not really. I'm making up most of this stuff, so it's hardly fair advice, is it?" I stated, sitting up properly so that Oliver could have some more couch space. "Why do so many people have problems?"
Oliver laughed. "Because it's what happens when people grow up. They get themselves in situations that they need help with."
"Well I shouldn't have to help them all!" I cried, throwing my arms up in the air.
Miley smiled, and finished annotating a bit of paper, folding it back up and putting it on the pile that we'd read. "You're like their saint Lilly. Embrace it. They come to you with all of their problems and you solve them."
I rolled my eyes, as Oliver picked up a letter. "Well I wish they wouldn't."
Three weeks later, I had had just about enough. There wasn't a second of the day that I wasn't approached by someone who wanted advice of some sort. Whether it was girlfriend problems, or what flavour smoothie they should buy, I was asked it. As if I cared what flavour smoothie they bought.
So it was with little surprise that I announced to my friends that I was giving up. I couldn't do it anymore. I had barely left my room for almost a month, and I couldn't miss out on any more weekend shenanigans. Three Hannah Montana concerts had gone by that I'd been unable to attend, I'd missed countless lunchtimes, and to top it all off, Miley and Oliver now seemed to be harbouring a secret that I wasn't allowed to know about.
"But why?" That was Miley's reaction.
"Because I've had enough! Sorting out other people's problems has caused way too many of my own, and I think that I need to put myself as my priority."
"Well... if you're sure." That was Oliver's reaction.
It was pretty much all I was getting out of Oliver these days. As if he had something on his mind. But obviously, I'd been so involved in other people's lives, that I'd been neglecting the lives of my friends. Which sucked.
"I am sure."
And I was.
I couldn't keep on trying to juggle everything. It was great extra-credit, but I was barely keeping up with my homework. And my social life was gone. And my mom and dad were worried about me. And my eyes were hurting because of my lack of sleep and my hours staring at the computer screen.
I told Mr. Reed – the newspaper editor – and he seemed to understand. Well he's the one who had to sort out all the letters, and so he had to. There were hundreds.
Anyway, he made me promise to do just one more. And then handed me the sack that had cumulated that day, saying that I could pick any one that I wanted out of there.
So, it was that night that me and Miley found ourselves sorting through all the letters for the last time.
"What about this one?" I asked, holding up one from someone who called themselves Miss. Charity and spoke about the hardships of living to help other people. Didn't I know it.
Miley shook her head, and continued to rifle through the letters, as though looking for a certain one.
I sighed and carried on looking, finding one from someone who spoke of the bad dandruff that they had, one from a guy who wanted to know why everyone was obsessed with Hannah Montana, and another from someone who rambled on and on about how horrible it was to be short and smart. God, was there nobody normal in the whole school?
"Okay, I'm doing the next one that I pick up." I said, not caring whether Miley was looking for a specific one or not. She looked up at me, some sort of emotion evident in her eyes, but I looked away before I could work out what it was. Picking up one that was on the top of the pile that Miley had yet to search through, I flipped it open and walked over to the computer that was on her desk.
"Dear Lilly. I have a problem. And I know that's why a lot of people write into you, so to you, I'm probably just another dilemma on a bit of paper. But I just... I need this advice. Okay, so I've been friends with this girl my whole life. She's one of my best friends and she's pretty and funny and smart and I know that I can tell her everything. But there's one thing that I want to tell her that I can't. I can't bring myself to do it. I love her. For the past few years, I've been really good at hiding it. But then my other best friend found out, and won't let it go, and says that I should tell her. But I don't want to ruin the friendship that we have. What if she doesn't love me too? It seems stupid, writing it out on paper, but it's something that I'm torn over. Do I tell her and have her laugh at me? Or do I not tell her and wonder what could have happened for the rest of my life? Signed, More Than Friends."
I opened up a word document and then chewed on one of my nails slightly before beginning to write.
Dear More Than Friends,
First of all, I'd like to say that it's definitely not stupid. I see your problem, and I have to tell you that I can't tell you what to do in this situation. Because I don't know this girl, and I don't know you, and I can't tell you which would be the absolute best thing to do. But I think I'm in a situation like you myself, and I'm at a loss of what to do too.
I do, however, know that in situations like this, you need to follow your heart. And from what I've read, it sounds like your heart is telling you to go for it. Your heart is telling you that you really like her and that she's pretty and funny and smart. And I know that it's totally mortifying to even think about her breaking your heart. But if she's your best friend, she won't want to hurt you. And you never know... she could be feeling the exact same way.
What's life without a little risk?
In your situation, that's what I'd do. I'd tell her. But I'm not you, and you may see a dozen reasons why you shouldn't. So, More Than Friends, my advice to you would be: follow your heart. It'll lead you in the right direction.
I wish you all the luck in the world.
Pressing the send button on the computer, I sent the question and advice to Mr. Reed, ready to appear in the newspaper the next day. And then I turned around to face Miley, who had been unusually quiet throughout the whole thing.
"Did you mean what you said?" she asked, a weird look in her eye.
I wrinkled my nose. "Say what now?"
"Just wondering," she shrugged, picking up the letters that I'd ignored and putting them all back in the sack.
Did I mean what I'd said? That I was in a situation like that. The words had just typed themselves; I hadn't really thought about what I was saying. But did that make them any less true, or even more true, because I'd subconsciously written them?
I knew right away that that's what my situation was all about. My best friend, that I'd known my whole life, who was cute and funny and sm... oh, who am I kidding? He's not totally smart, is he? But two out of three isn't bad. And I did like talking to him, and being with him and hanging out with him and having him around...
Oh, I was pretty much in love.
In fact, if I hadn't known better, I'd have said that the letter was written by me. Because the situation seemed so familiar.
Oh my God. I liked Oliver. I liked Oliver.
The newspaper was handed out in homeroom the next morning. I saw my final column, the letter that I'd written last night printed there in black and white. So it was real. I had had that realisation last night. That realisation that my best friend maybe wasn't just my best friend.
Something jabbed me in the back and I turned around to find Oliver leaning forward to speak to me.
"Hey Lills, can I talk to you?"
What could he want to talk to me about? Unless Miley had spoken to him! What if she'd told him all about what I told him last night? I nodded, and turned around in my seat just as the bell went.
Everyone around us got up, ready to go off to the next class. I remained sitting down, wondering what he'd wanted to speak to me about, and Oliver did too. Eventually, I had to get up, following Miley out of the room. Oliver followed.
"I have to get to English," I said quickly, turning to face him. "You could talk to me after?"
He nodded, and we went our separate ways down the corridor.
He was waiting for me outside of English. I hung back in the classroom, trying to work out what I was going to say. Turns out More Than Friends was right. Once you'd admitted it to yourself, it was much harder to hide it.
I should have known that he'd know that something was up, because he walked in once everyone had left, sitting on the desk that was in front of mine. "I need to... speak to you."
"Me too," I nodded, taking a deep breath.
"You wanna go first?"
I shook my head. "Do you?"
I bit my lip, looking down at my patterned Converse. He stayed silent too, neither of us wanting to speak first. To break the silence first. But one of us was going to have to crack at some point. We couldn't stay quiet forever.
Figuring that if I left it to Oliver, we could be here for ages, I lifted my head and stared into his eyes, trying to pluck up the courage to do it. To tell him.
He stared right back.
I took a deep breath, barely noticing that he did so at the exact same time.
"I like you."
The three words rung across the empty classroom, and as they registered in each of our heads, shocked expressions on our faces mirrored each other.
Then, wordlessly, he slipped off of the desk, stood right in front of me, dipped his head down and kissed me.
More Than Friends?
I'd say the advice I gave him was pretty dang good.