Nowhere Near

The first night, Jun had been excited. She was a go-get-'em kind of girl - anything she wanted, she pursued until she had it, and continual success had made her believe that this, too, was something she could eventually make to work. She had already gotten further than most girls got just to convince the great Yamato Ishida to go out with her in the first place. Wishful thinking made her believe, for a while, that perhaps it hadn't just been her single-minded pursuit of him that had made him finally agree to go out with her, but perhaps because he hadn't run as fast from her chasing as he had from the others. For a while, she'd even believed he really liked her. Those days had been good days. What girl wouldn't be exhilarated at the idea of dating the perfect, golden-haired, blue-eyed Matt? Most people would have said he was the answer to a girl's prayer. However, Jun may have been a wishful thinker, but she was also observant, and she had observed a few things about her latest catch that were starting to make her doubt that idea.

As she closed her locker, she spied Matt and his best friend Tai ambling down the hallway in her direction, deep in conversation. From the looks of things, Tai was telling Matt about his latest soccer conquest, embellishing his tale by much shouting and pantomiming, jumping and running around in exhibition of his boundless energy. Matt listened to the story with a bemused smile and occasional chuckle at the way his friend was showing off, and a few of the other people in the hall laughed along with him. While Matt earned his popularity by calm dignity and a certain air of mystery, Tai charmed everyone with his exuberance and easygoing personality. Despite their differences in looks and disposition, they were still easily the most popular boys in high school, and it seemed natural that they'd spend most of their time together. Jun watched with a stab of envy as the boys engaged in a friendly shoving match, teasing each other over something. Matt never acted that relaxed around her.

As if just thinking that thought had drawn his attention to her, Matt suddenly glanced up at Jun.

"There she is," he said to Tai. "Looks like she's been waiting for me."

"Hey, Tai! Hey, Matt!" Jun called to them, waving at them with forced cheerfulness. "You're right on time."

"Hi, Jun," Matt called. "Looks like you're all ready for tonight, huh?"

Tai looked uncomfortable. "Maybe I'd better leave you two alone now. See you around, Matt. See ya, Jun."

"You don't have to go, yet," Matt said. "It's not like we're leaving right this minute."

"Nah, it's okay. I've got soccer practice in a few minutes anyway."

"Soccer practice doesn't start for another half-hour," Matt pointed out.

"Yeah, I know, but I want to get in some extra practice," said Tai. "You know, get warmed up. I'll see you tomorrow. Bye!"

"Bye, Tai," Matt called back. He sighed and turned back to Jun. "Sorry about that. I don't know what gets into him sometimes. He's usually not that anti-social."

"It's okay," said Jun. "I wanted to talk to you a while alone anyway."

Matt gulped. "You did?"

"Yup," Jun replied. "Come on. We need to get away where no one will bother us while we talk."

Jun latched on to Matt's wrist and began to drag him down the hall, ignoring the expression on his face. Not that it ever would have made any difference; when they'd first started dating, she never would have noticed. Now she noticed, and it simply made no difference. She dragged him over to an empty stairwell, one that was seldom used except by school personnel on their way to the basement and teenagers looking for privacy. The unwritten rule was that anyone who went there would be left in peace as long as they cared to be. They settled nervously onto the top step, one on either side. Jun stared off into space, her eyes distant.

"So... what did you want to talk about?" Matt managed, after several seconds of uncomfortable silence had gone by.

Jun's expression snapped back into awareness. "Oh. Um... I was just thinking today about you and me. We've been dating a while, you know."

"Yeah, I know," said Matt.

Jun nodded. "Long enough for me to get to know you pretty well. Long enough for me to really get to like you. Long enough to start thinking about where this relationship is going."

"Oh," said Matt, looking dismayed. "Is this going to be one of those conversations? You know how much guys hate those conversations. Can't we just go on our date without psychoanalyzing it?"

"No," said Jun firmly. "We've got to talk, and the sooner, the better. I've got something important to say."

"You do?" asked Matt nervously.

Jun nodded again. "I've been thinking about it all day, and I've got sort of a confession to make. See, Matt, I mean it when I say I like you. I like you a lot, and I'd be the happiest girl in the world if you felt the same way about me. I also know the truth when I hear it, and I know you don't feel that way about me. Every time I try to get near you, you push me away. You always say you have to be at band practice or you have other plans or you just need some time alone. I know you don't want to be with me, and if we stay together much longer, we're just going to make each other miserable. That's why I'm going to leave."

"You... you are?" asked Matt, surprised. "Man, I wasn't expecting that."

"You think I'm mean enough to force a guy to hang around when I know he doesn't like me?" asked Jun.

"You tricked me into dating you," Matt pointed out.

Jun blushed. "Okay, forget about that. I just thought... I thought if we could just get away from all the people, go to someplace romantic where it could be just you and me together, you would maybe learn to like me. But it didn't work, did it?"

"Um..."

"That's what I thought," said Jun. "Listen matt, you don't have to stay with me if you don't love me! You've just been hanging around because you're scared of hurting me, right? Just because you know you'll feel guilty if you hurt me."

"Yeah... I've hurt too many people already," said Matt. "I've treated my friends wrong before. I wanted to start acting more like... more like a real friend. That doesn't make any sense, does it? And... it's not like I hate you or anything. Sometimes I'm glad to have you around. You don't have to leave if you don't want to."

"I know why you like having me around," Jun replied. "You're just using me for camouflage. As long you have me around, you don't have to let anyone else near you. I'm your shield against other people." She paused, weighing her next words. "I also help to keep people from figuring out the truth."

"The truth?" asked Matt. "Um... what truth is that?"

"About who you really love," said Jun. She turned her head a little, avoiding his gaze. "I always heard guys like that made good artists and musicians. I guess it's true."

Matt blushed slightly, but made a valiant effort to control his surprise. "Guys like what?"

"You know," said Jun, matching him with a blush of her own. "The ones who like other guys."

"Aw, man!" cried Matt, turning and hiding his face. "Why'd you have to go and figure that out?"

"Because I'm smart," said Jun. "Listen, Matt, you can trust me. I'm not going to tell anyone if you don't want them to know. I just... I just wish you'd told me sooner, that's all. I wish you hadn't left me to figure it out for myself."

"I'm sorry, Jun. I didn't mean to. I wasn't thinking straight, I guess. I was scared - scared of what people would do if they found out. I guess I thought if maybe I could get involved with someone else, maybe I could learn to be normal, or at least act normal. I thought maybe I could learn to forget."

"Forget?"

"Forget him."

"Oh, yeah. Tai," said Jun.

Matt gave her a forlorn look. "You guessed that too, huh?"

"It is sort of obvious," said Jun. "The way you smile at him... you never smile like that for anyone else. I used to dream about you smiling at me like that. Matt, why did you have to go and let me think I had a chance? You could have told me the truth, before I went and fell in love with you."

"Aw, Jun, I'm sorry," said Matt. "Really, you've got to believe that. I never meant to... Man! I've messed up again, haven't I? Jun... Jun, are you crying? Come on, don't do that."

Jun sniffled. "I'm not crying. Not really."

"Good. You shouldn't cry over me. Come here." He put his arm around her shoulders and wiped at her teary eyes. "It's not your fault I can't love you the way you should be loved. You're a great girl, Jun. There's gotta be someone out there who'll be able to treat you right."

"And what about you?" asked Jun.

"Me? Well... I guess it's time I started being honest, before I hurt someone else," said Matt. "I'm going to have to talk to Tai pretty soon. And hey, just think - you were my first girlfriend. Probably also my last. That's gotta be worth something, right?"

"If not first love?"

Matt sighed. "I'm sorry. I said that already, didn't I? This is just such a weird situation, and I don't know what to tell you that will make you feel better. Believe me, I don't want to hurt you, but it's like you said. We'd just be unhappy if we stayed together."

"I know," Jun sighed. She paused. "I guess we're not going out tonight, then, huh?"

"I guess not," said Matt. "I mean, if you really want to, I could, but there wouldn't be much point..."

"No," said Jun. "You have other places you need to be."

"I do?"

"Well, yeah. The soccer field is probably pretty empty this afternoon."

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"And your friend might be feeling kind of lonely, especially if he thinks you're out having a good time with me," said Jun. "You ought to go set him straight."

"I guess I should," Matt agreed. "It's about time I told him the truth, anyway. I wish I knew how he was going to react, though."

"It'll go better than you think it will. I've been watching him almost as long as I've been watching you," Jun replied. "But... if he does turn you down, I'll still be here if you want someone to comfort you. And I wouldn't mind if you still need someone for camouflage."

"No," said Matt. "Thanks, Jun, but it's time I started behaving honestly - with everyone."

"I hope you two will be happy together."

"Thanks." Matt began to climb to his feet, but Jun held out a hand to stop him.

"Wait up a minute," she said. "I want to ask you something... Matt, do you think I'm pretty?"

"What?" he asked, startled. Then he looked at the pleading expression on her face, and he smiled sadly. "Yeah, I do. I think you are pretty."

"And am I nice, too?"

"Yes, you're very nice," Matt agreed.

Jun sighed. "But it's not good enough."

While Matt was still trying to think of a response, Jun climbed slowly to her feet. She stood there thinking for a moment, and then, much to his surprise, bent down and kissed his cheek.

"I hope you know why I'm leaving," she said. "It's not because I think there's anything gross about you. People will say that if they find out, you know, but it won't be true. I'm leaving you because I love you, Yamato Ishida."

With that, she turned and ran down the hall, before he could see more than a flash of the tears in her eyes.