Femi fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, her heart pounding. This was it—the moment she would finally confess her true feelings to Nathan. She had rehearsed the words in her head a thousand times. But now, sitting here with him under the oak tree, doubt crept in.
What if this ruined their friendship? What if he didn’t feel the same way? Nathan meant so much to her; she couldn’t bear to lose him.
Femi snuck a glance at him. The fading sunlight illuminated his handsome features—the warm brown of his eyes, the curve of his jawline. Sensing her attention, Nathan turned and gave her a quizzical look. “Everything okay?”
“Oh! Um, yeah, everything’s fine,” Femi stammered, feeling her cheeks grow warm. Get it together! She scolded herself. Just tell him how you feel!
She took a deep breath. “Actually, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”
Nathan angled his body toward her, his expression open. “What’s up?”
This was it. The moment of truth. Femi’s mouth went dry, heart hammering against her ribs.
“Well…I…” She faltered, the words drying up in her throat. Nathan watched her patiently, but she couldn’t seem to form the sentences she had practiced endlessly in her head.
“I just…really value your friendship,” she finished lamely.
Nathan smiled warmly. “I value yours too, Femi. I’m glad we can always be open with each other.”
Femi nodded, swallowing her courage. She had chickened out again. The truth remained locked away, an aching weight upon her heart.
They fell into lighter conversation as dusk settled around them. But Femi’s thoughts were far away, full of regret over her missed opportunity. She had to tell Nathan how she felt…just not today.
Over the next few weeks, Femi agonized over her failure to confess to Nathan. She began avoiding their usual hangout spots, worried she would lose her nerve again.
Her brother Tayo noticed her distraction. “Everything okay with you and Nathan?” he asked one evening. “I feel like I haven’t seen you two together lately.”
Femi shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “Oh, just been busy I guess.”
Tayo studied her for a moment before nodding slowly. “Well let me know if you want to talk. Nathan’s my best bud, but family comes first.”
Femi smiled weakly. If only Tayo knew.
At night, Femi lay awake, imagining all the ways she could admit her feelings to Nathan. Sometimes, fantasy Nathan reciprocated passionately; other times, he politely turned her down, not wanting to hurt her. Both scenarios left an ache in her heart.
Nearly a month had passed since the awkward encounter under the oak. Femi knew she couldn’t avoid Nathan forever. She had to face her fears.
That Friday after class, she made her way to their special spot, legs feeling like jelly. Sure enough, Nathan was already there, book in hand. He brightened when he saw her.
“Femi! Where have you been?”
“Oh…around,” she mumbled, sitting next to him. Their shoulders brushed for a brief moment, sending sparks down her spine. Get it together, she reminded herself.
As the afternoon melted into evening, they fell back into easy conversation. Femi kept stealing glances at Nathan’s handsome profile. The dying sunlight glinted off his dark curls, accentuating his strong jawline and the warmth in his brown eyes.
Come on, just tell him! Her heart pleaded.
Femi took a deep breath. “Nathan?” Her voice came out barely above a whisper.
He turned toward her attentively. “What’s up, Femi?”
Her courage wavered but she forced herself to push through. “I need to tell you something. I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I was too scared to admit it…”
Nathan gazed at her evenly, waiting for her to continue.
Say it, say it now! Femi’s mind screamed. But the words had abandoned her once more.
“I’m thankful to have you in my life,” she said instead, hating her cowardice.
Nathan’s expression was tinged with what she thought might be subtle disappointment, but it quickly faded into an easy grin. “You’re one of my best friends too,” he replied, playfully ruffling her hair. “I’m glad we can always be real with each other.”
Femi nodded, even as her heart fractured. One day she would find the strength to tell him the truth. But not today.
That night, Femi cried into her pillow with frustration. Why was it so hard to just say three little words to Nathan? Whenever she worked up the nerve, doubt and fear choked her.
She knew deep down that Nathan likely didn’t share her romantic feelings. To him, she was just his best friend’s little sister. But Femi’s heart stubbornly clung to a thin thread of hope that maybe there was a chance he felt the same spark she did.
Over the next several days, Femi pushed herself to keep trying with Nathan. She practiced saying the words out loud when she was alone – “I love you.” She pictured Nathan’s handsome, smiling face as she confessed. Sometimes it gave her a rush of courage; other times, a wave of nausea.
Her friends noticed her distraction. “What’s going on with you lately, girl?” her roommate Sasha asked one night as they studied together.
Femi sighed. She had never told anyone about her feelings for Nathan. But she was tired of bottling it up.
Haltingly, she confessed to Sasha about her long-hidden crush. “Do you think I should tell him?” she asked nervously.
Sasha tilted her head thoughtfully. “I can’t say for sure if he feels the same. But keeping it to yourself is only causing you pain. Maybe it’s time to take the risk.”
Femi knew Sasha had a point. She couldn’t expect anything to change if she didn’t speak up. After talking it through, she resolved again to tell Nathan the truth, no matter how anxious it made her.
The next Friday after class, Femi practically vibrated with nervous energy as she approached their spot under the oak tree.
Nathan looked up with a smile that melted her heart. “Hey Femi, how’s your week been?”
“Good,” she managed, her throat already dry. She just had to say those three little words…
Femi opened her mouth, but shockingly, a different sentence came out. “How is, uh, basketball practice going lately?”
Ugh, why did she wimp out again? The rest of their conversation passed in a frustrated blur for Femi. When they eventually parted ways that evening, she felt tears prick her eyes.
“See you next week?” Nathan asked with a smile, oblivious to her inner turmoil.
“Y-yeah see you,” she choked out, already berating herself as she walked away alone.
Why was this so hard? At this rate, she would never confess her true feelings to Nathan. Femi swiped at her damp cheeks in frustration. She had to keep trying, no matter how often she lost her nerve. One of these days, the words would finally come out. It was just a matter of finding the courage within herself.
Nathan leaned casually against the oak tree, but his mind was anything but relaxed. Ever since that charged moment with Femi a month ago, he’d been on edge. He kept replaying their awkward conversation, analyzing her hesitant words and furtive glances. What had she wanted to tell him that day?
He resumed scanning his textbook, but the words blurred together. With a frustrated sigh, he snapped the book shut and raked his fingers through his hair. His thoughts drifted to Femi—her warm brown eyes that crinkled when she laughed, her radiant smile that never failed to lift his spirits. Feelings he had long suppressed now churned within him.
Nathan groaned inwardly. This was dangerous territory. Femi was his best friend Tayo’s little sister. She was family…wasn’t she? So why did he find himself counting the minutes until he could see her again?
These past few weeks apart had only intensified the longing. He had to talk to her, to make things right between them again.
Just then, Nathan spotted a familiar figure crossing the quad—Femi. His pulse quickened at the sight of her. She approached almost shyly and sat down next to him.
“Femi! Where have you been?” He hoped he didn’t sound too eager.
“Oh…around,” she said vaguely, not quite meeting his eyes.
They eased back into friendly conversation, but Nathan sensed a new tension in the air. He caught Femi stealing furtive glances his way from under her long lashes. His heart skipped a beat every time.
Get it together, man, he chided himself. Don’t mess this up.
“Nathan?” Femi’s soft voice broke through his thoughts. She bit her lip nervously, then continued, “I need to tell you something. I’ve felt this way for a long time, but I was too scared to admit it…”
She trailed off, cheeks flushing. Nathan’s pulse roared in his ears. This was the moment he had agonized over for weeks.
“You can tell me anything, Femi,” he said gently. “Whatever it is, I’m here for you.”
He thought he saw relief mixed with fear in her eyes. But then her expression shuttered. “You’re one of my closest friends,” she finally said.
Nathan exhaled, cursing his foolish hopes. Of course that’s all she had meant to say. With a lightness he didn’t feel, he ruffled her hair. “You’re one of my best friends too.”
Femi gave a small smile that didn’t reach her eyes. They sat in loaded silence as dusk deepened around them.
Walking her home later, Nathan ached to pull Femi into his arms, to admit how he really felt. But the words remained locked away. She was his best friend’s little sister. He had to remain in the role of her big brother.
Still, as they said goodnight, he found himself gently tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. Her eyes fluttered at his touch. Nathan stepped back hurriedly before he did something they’d both regret.
“See you around, Femi,” he said with a casualness he didn’t feel.
“See you,” she echoed softly. He thought he detected a note of longing in her voice. Or maybe it was just his imagination, hearing what he wished were true.
With a final glance over his shoulder, he walked away, his footsteps heavy with regret. There were words left unspoken between them, feelings yet to be revealed. But not today.
Back in his apartment, Nathan kept replaying the evening’s interaction with Femi. Had he imagined that vulnerable moment when he thought she was finally going to admit her feelings? Wishful thinking, probably.
With a groan, Nathan flopped onto his bed and dragged a hand over his face. Get it together, man. This isn’t just some random girl you’re daydreaming about. This is Femi—your best friend’s sister.
But no matter how many times he repeated it, that logic couldn’t erase the surge in his pulse when Femi was near or the goosebumps that prickled his skin when her arm accidentally brushed against his. Nathan was fighting a losing battle against his heart.
He knew nothing could ever happen between them. Tayo would never approve of his best friend dating his little sister. But the thought of keeping his distance from Femi made Nathan’s chest physically ache. He didn’t know how much longer he could ignore his growing feelings.
The next Friday afternoon, Nathan waited under their oak tree, equal parts eager and apprehensive to see Femi again. His breath caught when she arrived, shyly tucking a loose curl behind her ear. Man, she was so beautiful. It wasn’t fair.
They chatted lightly about classes and friends, carefully avoiding any intimate topics. But the undercurrent of attraction buzzed between them like a livewire.
As the sun dipped lower in the sky, Nathan knew he should walk Femi home soon. But he desperately didn’t want this moment between them to end.
“Can we talk for a bit more?” he found himself asking.
Femi seemed surprised but nodded, leaning back against the tree beside him. Nathan’s arm brushed against hers, sending sparks skittering across his skin.
He turned toward her, heart pounding wildly. “Femi, I…”
I have feelings for you. I think you feel it too. We can’t keep pretending there’s nothing between us. The unspoken words crowded his throat.
Femi watched him intently, cheeks flushing. “What is it?” she asked softly.
Now was the time. He had to be honest with her, and himself.
“I…” The sound of nearby laughter made Nathan startle, the charged moment shattered. “I should get you home before your brother starts worrying,” he finished awkwardly.
Femi’s face fell, but she nodded. They walked in disappointed silence back to her dorm.
One of these days he would find the courage to admit the truth, Nathan promised himself. But not today.
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