My feet hurt. Words like blush and violet and chartreuse and sapphire were swirling around in my brain. We had been shopping for three hours.
Melissa and I had been best friends since the 10th grade. We met in biology. She helped me pass the class and I told her bad science puns. It took me two months to realize I was in love with her.
Now we were 23 and it was wedding season. Her old teammate was getting married the next day and she didn’t know what she was going to wear. She wanted a new dress, but when she had woken up this morning, her car wouldn’t start. So she called me.
This is what you do when the girl you’ve been in love with for seven years calls you to tell you she needs a ride to the mall to buy a dress that she will look stunning in for a wedding she will go to with a man that is not you: you tell her you’ll see her twenty minutes. You roll out of bed, you cancel the lunch date your friend set up for you and you put on a slightly nicer outfit than she will expect you to be wearing. Always wear a slightly nicer outfit than she will expect you to be wearing. You get in your car and you drive to her house and you take her wherever she wants to go. Even if it means a three-hour shopping trip in five different stores. Even if it means you don’t do anything all day other than tell her over and over again that every dress looks stunning on her.
You cannot tell her she is beautiful, but you can tell her the dresses are.
You cannot kiss her, but you can make her smile.
So when she pops out of the fifth dressing room showing you the fifteenth burgundy dress — it was on the seventh one that I learned that burgundy and maroon are different things — you smile at her.
“How about this one?” she will ask.
“You look great,” you will say.
“You’ve said that every time!”
“You look great.”
Melissa’s smile grew. “I think this might be the one.” She stepped in front of a full-length mirror and twirled three times. The skirt of the dress filled up with air and the tiny gold sequins reminded me of the night skies we used to stare at in the summer. By the summer before college, I was usually looking at her instead of the stars. Watching her eyes glow with excitement. Watching as her lips slowly parted in awe. She was always too captivated by what was above us to notice my eyes glued to her face.
“Do I look fit for Penelope Andrews’ wedding?” she asked me, pulling me back into the present. Her teeth sunk into her bottom lip while her eyebrows lifted ever so slightly.
I did not know how to answer that.
Her teeth released her lip and then her lungs released all their oxygen in a heavy sigh. “How do I look, Tommy? Say something other than great. Tell me this one is better than the other ones so we can stop shopping.”
How did she look? I knew what I wanted to say. She looked like what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. Of course, I thought that whether she was wearing a sparkling navy gown or an old high school t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts.
“You look beautiful,” I finally admitted.
Her smile grew again and it didn’t fade away. She smiled as she bought the dress, she smiled the whole way back to her apartment and she was smiling when I said goodbye.
“I hope everything goes well tomorrow,” I told her.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll tell you all about it.”
And she did. She called and she told me about how the dress had worked out perfectly because it turned out she had just the right color ribbon in her dresser for her hair. She told me that her date had worn a black suit, which had bothered her because it clashed with her dress. She told me that she liked him anyway and that he was a great dancing partner.
We spent almost as long on the phone as we had dress shopping. I didn’t mind. Every time I closed my eyes I could see that smile. That smile was worth as many hours as she wanted.
So I told her I was happy for her. I told her to let me know anytime she needed a ride. I held in my disappointment when she said her car was fixed. I pretended that I didn’t hope she would call me the next morning and ask her to take her somewhere again.
And like the hopeless romantic that one has to be in order to love a girl for seven years and never tell her, to love her as she falls for countless men, but never you . . . I never reschedule that lunch date. Because the irony of the hopeless romantics is that we are never quite able to give up hope.