“Remember when you had a crush on Jake?” my cousin Rose asked.
“Me? What about you? You had it way worse than I did.” I replied, a smug look on my face.
I looked over at her, taking my eyes off the road only for a second. Her red hair blowing in the wind, almost matched the red creeping up her face. “Ha! I knew it! After all this time it still makes you blush!”
“You know, Jessica, I’ve thought a lot about it over the years. If a girl is going to have a crush, why not have it be her cousin? That’s safe and doesn’t leave room for any entanglements that might later cause a lot of pain.”
I pondered Rose’s words as we continued cruising down the highway in the snazzy metallic blue convertible we rented for our road trip. At first I thought she was crazy for suggesting such a thing. We weren’t kids any more. As I thought about it more, the better the idea became. So, here we were, cousins and best friends, taking the trip of a lifetime.
Eventually I got back to our conversation. “Yeah, I think you’re right. I think for me it was more like a yearning for an older brother to look up to, someone to protect me, watch out for me. I misconstrued those feelings for a crush.”
“Funny, how after all these years, it still makes me blush.” Rose said quietly.
We settled into a comfortable silence, taking in the breathtaking scenery; the deep blue sky, the rolling green hills, the aquamarine of the ocean, on California’s picturesque Hwy. 1, heading toward Port Lobos. We were traveling from Southern California up to Oregon. Deep conversation, as well as laughter made our time together sweet.
The friendship that started the day Rose found me crying in some bushes at our Grandma’s house had grown steadily through the years. Thinking of that time now, brought a smile… My mind wandered back…
“Hey Jessica, what’s wrong? Why are you hiding here, crying?”
Startled, I looked up to see the cousin I admired from afar. She had come looking for me? Wow… I always thought she was so beautiful with her creamy complexion, red hair, and deep blue eyes. I also thought she was a bit stuck up. That day I learned I couldn’t have been more wrong. At sixteen, she was four years older than me.
As Rose sat down next to me, I swiped at the tears on my cheeks, angry and embarrassed. “Uh, I was playing Monopoly with the younger kids and I flipped the board because… because… it wasn’t fair!” I said, my words coming out in a rush. I felt my face turn fifty shades of red. “I’m hiding because I’m so embarrassed. I should know better than that! I should be an example to the younger kids, not acting like a spoiled brat!” I started sobbing.
“Hey, Hey, it’s alright. It’s your age,” she said as she took me in her arms, smoothing the hair back off my head in a gentle, motherly gesture. Here I was, a ‘plain Jane’ with my freckled face, and stringy blonde hair, but she was treating me like I mattered!
“Sure, I went through the same thing at your age. Your body is starting to change and it can really mess with your emotions. If you ever need to talk, you can sit down and write me a long letter, or if your folks let you, give me a call. I know it’s long distance, but I’m sure they wouldn’t mind once in awhile. And I promise to write you back, and call you sometimes too, just to see how you’re doing. OK?”
“Wow, really? Thanks.” I said, snuggling into her just a bit more.
After a bit we got up from our cramped place and I went and apologized to the kids for my behavior. Rose stood with me, and our friendship was sealed.
I came back to the present (some forty years later), chuckling.
“What?” Rose asked.
“Remember how our friendship started?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, laughing.
I started laughing too. It’s a good thing we had arrived at our destination, so I could stop the car. We were doubled over, we were laughing so hard… and really, it wasn’t that funny. That Monopoly game wasn’t fair! I was glad for it though; it brought me the best friend I had ever had.
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