You never did understand why anyone, let alone, someone as handsome and active as Alfred F. Jones would ever hang around someone like you, the complete opposite of the kinds of girls guys like him hung out with: self-conscious, plain, and a little on the chubby side.
Oh, who were you kidding? You weren’t just a little chubby; in your mind, you were basically a walking muffin or a blueberry or even a blueberry muffin altogether. “A little chubby” didn’t do your size any justice. It didn’t even help that when you had tried to improve your weight in the past, it never did any good. You had already given up on becoming stick-skinny.
Even so, Alfred still stuck around whenever he could, making sure the two of you got some time alone and away from those name-calling classmates of yours.
“So, _____________, what do you want today?” he asked once the two of you were out of school.
You shrugged and continued walking. You didn’t really like it when Alfred walked with you after school because 1) until you were out of view, all of your classmates could see you, 2) whenever you opened your mouth to talk, your breath always sounded as though you had just come back from running a mile, and 3) because it was just plain weird.
“So that means I get to pick what we do then?” he asked in your silent place of an answer.
“Yeah. Sure. That’s fine,” you quickly said trying to hide the fact that your breathing was already starting to sound laborious.
“Hmm, let me think…” Alfred thought aloud. “Oh! How about we go to the aquarium?!”
You gave your friend a weird look. “The aquarium? You mean like a…?” You stopped yourself from saying that last word. There was no way Alfred would have been serious about going anywhere like an aquarium with someone like you. Unlike a theme park, going to something like a zoo or aquarium required patience, something Alfred didn’t necessarily have.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s within walking distance, isn’t it?” Alfred brought up. “It’ll be fun. I haven’t gotten a chance to go in a while because of sports and school and stuff.”
“Speaking of school, don’t we have an exam coming up? I think we should study for that, don’t you think?” You hoped maybe academics would be able to get Alfred’s mind off of his tendencies to get distract but not this time.
“Nah, that can wait,” he said. “Besides, thanks to you, I actually have a B in biology. I can get through the year with bombing a test.”
You sighed. “You really want to go, huh? You’re being serious?”
“Of course I’m being serious, _____________!” Alfred beamed. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. It just seems so…weird.”
Alfred raised an eyebrow. “What’s so weird about wanting to hang out with my best friend?”
That I’m your best friend, you thought, but you didn’t say it aloud.
You had to admit: being in the aquarium was very relaxing. There weren’t any crying kids or smells of popcorn and corndogs to make your stomach growl. There was just a bunch of fish in the tanks.
Lucky fish, you thought. You don’t have to worry about looking pretty because you already are—most of you, anyway.
“Whoa! ____________, come over here!” you heard Alfred say. You promptly went over.
“What’s up, Alfred?” you asked.
“Here!” your friend beamed and pointed to what appeared to be a rock covered with all kinds of little sea creatures in the corner of a large tank.
You narrowed your eyes and pursed your lips. “Alfred, there are so many fish you can pick, and you just had to tell me to look at a rock?”
Alfred shook his head. “No, look closer!” he said. “There’s something inside!”
“Huh?” When you bent down and looked more carefully at the “rock,” you noticed that there was some sort of slimy-looking thing coming out of a crack. It was then that you realized that it wasn’t a rock at all. It was more of a shell.
“It’s an abalone,” Alfred grinned. “Pretty cool, huh?”
“It looks nasty,” you said.
“You know they’re related to shellfish? I read about them in our biology book.”
“And check it out! They even have one of the shells for display!” On that note, Alfred led you a little ways down the hall where some displays were set up in glass containers.
“See?” He pointed to a case where a hollow shell filled with the prettiest opalescent swirls of blues, greens, and purples you had ever seen lay propped against a shelf.
“Oh…” you breathed. “It’s beautiful…This thing came from that ugly-looking abalone?”
Alfred nodded. “Pretty amazing, huh?”
“Yeah…” you murmured.
“It kind of reminds me of you.”
You frowned. “It’s because I’m ugly, right?”
“What? No! What the—That’s not what I meant at all!”
Your previous misinterpretation left Alfred in a state of stuttering. It was strange seeing him at a loss for words. It was even stranger to see the state of his face. It looked like he was almost blushing, but it was hard to tell in the blue glare of the aquarium.
“Wh-What I meant was, you’re always trying to shut yourself out, ______________,” he said. “Even thought I call you my friend, you still don’t want to show yourself to me.”
You blinked. “That’s because there’s no need to,” you said. “Face it, Alfred: I’m so different from you. You’re athletic, good-looking, popular…I’m just a….a fat, good-for-nothing loser.”
“______________, don’t put yourself down like that,” Alfred said. “You wanna even hear me finish my analogy?”
You couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright. There’s nothing else to listen to anyway.”
Alfred let out a long sigh before speaking again. “It’s because I had to pry so hard to get to you,” he said in a soft voice. “It look a lot of time, a lot of patience, but when I finally found what I was looking for, it turned out to be something beautiful on the inside.” He gestured to the iridescent abalone shell sparkling in the dim blue light.
“I mean,” he smile in an almost bashful kind of way, “I could go on, but I’m not good at this kind of romantic stuff.”
“Romantic?” you repeated. “You’re seriously not talking about me, are you?”
“You see anyone else around here?”
You smirked. “You have a point.”
Alfred sheepishly scratched the back of his head. “The thing is, ___________, I like you. No. I love you.”
Oh no. You had to be dreaming. There was absolutely no way in the entirety of time that Alfred F. Jones would have said that to you.
“Alfred, stop joking,” you said.
“I’m not joking, ____________. I’m being serious.”
“You’re just doing it so I’ll keep helping you with your grades, right? Is that what this has been all about?”
Alfred gave you a genuinely funny look. “_____________, if I wanted to exploit you, I might have said something like this from the very beginning. You know me. I’m not that type of person.”
“No, you’re not…” you mumbled. Just like what Alfred had done to you, you had also had to do some looking past what he was like at school. On the inside, Alfred was rather childish and sweet all in one. He loved games and movies that most people would have called “nerdy” or “geeky.” Both of you know something about each other that most other people would never have expected.
“I guess I really screwed things up, didn’t I?” you smiled. “You’re telling the truth, aren’t you?”
“Yep,” Alfred grinned.
“Well…then…” You shuffled nervously in place. “Perhaps it’s time I confess something, too.”
“I love you, too, Alfred.”
“Aw, yeah! Score!” your friend burst out at the top of his lungs startling the other visitors in the aquarium. Other than a few odd looks, however, everything went back to normal.
“Did you have to do that?” you hissed. “That was embarrassing!”
“Sorry,” Alfred apologized. “I got a little too excited there. I was afraid you weren’t going to return my feelings.”
You gave him an are-you-crazy look. “Why would you think I wouldn’t return your feelings, Alfred? You’re a great guy. You’re funny, your sweet, you’re fun to be around, and you get all of my jokes…”
“It’s probably the same way you thought I wouldn’t love you in the first place,” Alfred replied. “I thought maybe you hated people like me since I’m so loud and obnoxious. Isn’t that what you first said about me?”
“Oh yeah...” you mumbled.
“But that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s official! This was a successful date!”
“This was a date?”
“Of course, it was! What, did you think it was for a science project? No! I was just afraid if I said it was a date, you would have chickened out or something.”
“Well, I can’t say you were far off,” you admitted. If Alfred said anything of the sort, you would have thought something was wrong with his head. Then again, your head was still spinning about Alfred’s confession only a few minutes ago. This was all too good to be true.
“But, Alfred?” you piped up.
“Maybe next time, you should use a better analogy—one that doesn’t have to do with shellfish.”
“But the shells are pretty just like you!”
“Now you’re being sappy,” you snickered. “But that’s alright. That’s one thing I find so interesting about you.”
“Then everything’s fine!” Alfred beamed.
“Yep,” you smiled. “Everything’s just fine.”