“I’m in love,” says the dark-haired little boy a little too loudly. I rap my feet against the hollow tiles beneath me and tune into the grumble and hum of the air conditioning. I tuck my hair behind my ears and pull my hood up a little further so I can rest my face on my palm. I feel the fluorescent lights exposing my bare freckled skin and I— he jabs his small finger into the spot above my elbow.. Jab… jab..jabjabjab.
“What? Antoni?!” I say and snap off my hood.
“You didn’t hear me Bel. I said “I’m in LOVE!” He looks at me with excitement. His eyes are big brown marbles beaming up at me. I give him a smile and add one packet to the tower of ketchups he is building.
“That’s cute, dude,” I say, looking out the window and scanning the parking lot for his car, “But, you aren’t in love.”
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because you’re too young to be in love. And you don’t even know love is.” His uncombed brows come together and he tilts his head. “Once you’re like my age and in a relationship, you can be in love then, okay bud? sound good?” I say, raising my eyebrows and reaching for my phone.
“No Bella!” He stomps on the floor making the ketchup tower wobble, “I know what love is and I’m in love now.” My phone tells me it is 8:32, but it’s hard to make out because of the cracks on my screen.
“Ok fine. Then what does love mean to you?” I ask. Not really expecting him to give me an answer, I reload the notifications on my phone, hoping I missed a call or a text. I see nothing. I put my phone face up on the greasy table and fully look at Antoni sitting on the stool next to me.
After taking a few seconds to think, Antoni states, “I think…I think love is when you give someone your most favorite things, the things that you like a lot, because you want them to have them.”
I think about that for a second and I think I am pleased with his response. Antoni looks at me like he is waiting for me to say something but before I get the chance my phone’s vibrations interrupt us both.
He didn’t even call me, I just got a text that said “here,” but I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. A week ago when he picked me up for our Winter Formal I got the same text that he was outside. When I told my dad I was leaving, he shook his head and said my boyfriend should have come to the door.
Leaping to my feet I tell Antoni, “He’s here Antoni, let’s go.”
“Wait, can I get something to eat, please? I’m still hungry.”
“Really Antoni? Now?”
“Pleeeeeease?” he pleads.
“Ahhh okay, fine, you can get something. I’m going to go outside to see Jared but meet us there when you get your food. Ok?”
“Thank you!!!” he gives me a quick squeeze and darts over to the counter.
I swing the door open to the outside and see the face I’ve been waiting to see. His lips and big hands come towards me and I am pressed against him, I forget my being annoyed at his lateness. One of his hands tightens around my sides and the other slides down.
After a couple moments together he says, “I was thinking we could just park somewhere, listen to some music and, you know, spend some time together.” I can’t tell if he actually slowly bit his lip or I imagined it. I take a step back, shaken from whatever spell he thinks he put on me.
“What? I thought we were going to see that movie with Antoni.. You told me you bought tickets.”
“Oh. Shoot. I totally forgot, I’m so sorry Babe,” he replies, with glassy and overdrawn eyes. He runs his hands through his hair and then places them on my face. Then I remember my annoyance at him being half an hour late to pick up me and Antoni.
“But I would really like to spend some time with you, just us.”
“Ya I know, Jared, so would I… But, I brought my brother tonight because I thought we were doing something all together. So let me check if there are still any tickets available.”
“No, Bella. You’re always with Antoni,” He says and swats at my phone. “Let’s just leave him here. We’ll pick him up in like an hour or two.”
“Uhh, no. I’m not gonna leave him here, We’re at a sketchy McDonalds, not exactly the best place for a 7 year old to be alone. Plus, I told him we would be together tonight and he was excited.”
“You’re so overprotective,” he mumbles, obviously an attempt to hurt me. It works.
“No I’m not,” I snap.
“Whatever, Bella. You’re really choosing your little brother over me?”
I don’t mean to, but hearing him say that, I can’t help but laugh. What a dumb question, of course I would choose Antoni over him. And as the door jingles with Antoni’s appearance, the one I pick, the one I will always pick, walks towards me with a big smile. But before he gets to me and before I can reply, Jared speaks.
“Whatever. I’m gonna go hang out with the boys.” And as I watched his unwashed car pull out of the parking lot way too quickly, I feel a tinge of guilt and embarrassment. I just told Antoni that I was in love with that boy five minutes ago.
“Why did Jared leave?” Antoni softly asks as he comes over.
“I told him I’d rather spend time with you, little guy.”
“Oh, okay!” he replies and stretches out his arm. He’s holding a vanilla ice cream cone, classic Antoni. For his birthday when our mom would ask what he wanted for dessert, it would always be a vanilla cone. But, it looks like he’s holding it out to me.
“For me?” I ask and he nods his head, his curls bouncing along.
“But, it’s your favorite Antoni.”
“I know,” he says and looks at me with those marble eyes the color of sweet sweet tea. And as I walk back to the car, ice cream cone in one hand, Antoni in the other, I say to him, “I love you, too, little guy.”