Harmony Jones and Mateo Jones are practically the same person. They have the same family name, the same dark brown eyes and golden chestnut hair, the same love of sugar cookies, and the same hatred towards Step Brothers. Harmony thinks Will Ferrell is overrated, and Mateo thought the drum kit scene was plain stupid. They bonded over their mutual dislike of popular movies. They’re underdogs themselves at school, so they’re always rooting for low-budget films with quality acting. Harmony and Mateo are often mistaken for twins, but that assumption is entirely false. Although they look and act the same, they don’t feel the same way about each other. Or at least, that’s what Harmony thought. She was so wrong.
“Don’t make me call the nurse! You gotta take your meds,” Mateo urged, handing her the little measuring cup filled with orange liquid.
“It tastes like death. No thanks.”
Shivers ran through Mateo’s spine at the word. It was loaded with pain and suffering and fear, his fear of losing Harmony, one way or the other.
She didn’t know it, but she had been on his mind since they decorated the sidewalk at school with orange and pink chalk. He wanted to tell her when they made hand turkeys in kindergarten, when his father got into a car crash and she squeezed his hand so hard in the taxi on their way to the hospital from game night at her place, and when her date John Denver stood her up at junior prom and he got to dance with her instead. His dad recovered from his broken rib, but Harmony never recovered from losing to Mateo playing pictionary by one point.
“I need you to stay positive, okay? And part of that is believing that treatment will make you better.”
“You’re delusional, Mateo,” No, I’m in love, he thought. “Stage four is conclusive. I’d rather not live a lie for the rest of what’s left of my life. I’ll drink the plague-flavored syrup if you promise to talk about something else.”
Mateo shrugged. He hated his uselessness—standing by idly when his best friend, shrieking in pain, held on so tight to the nurse’s hand till it bruised, and he couldn’t do anything about it. He hated that he was too afraid to tell her how he felt about her and how he always will, no matter what happens.
She was everything to him, and he couldn’t bear to lose her—as a friend or as a part of the world.
“You know, if we ever got married in a hypothetical universe where we had actual feelings for each other, we’d be the Jones’ squared!” Harmony laughed. Dating Mateo had never occurred to her. He was too familiar to risk falling for. She never thought about him like that, but she never rejected the idea either. It never crossed her mind.
Mateo held an introspective stare for the longest time when Harmony uttered the words ‘actual feelings.’ Did she really not feel a single spec of love towards him? Was he so undesirable because he badgered her over choosing Star Trek over Star Wars? Harmony’s seemingly light joke took a toll on Mateo, and he froze the second she finished her sentenced.
He searched his mind for the right thing to say, if anything, before it’s too late. Keeping this secret gave him a sense of security. He didn’t have to face reality, and he avoided rejection by doing so.
I’m taking too long to respond, Mateo realized, biting on his inner cheek to buy himself some time.
He contemplated two scenarios. In the first one, he’d profess his love with a good old trip down memory lane. In the second one, he’d tell her how he feels with three intense words.
But his better judgement failed him when Harmony snapped her fingers in his face to bring him back to reality.
“Er, um, this is cool. I mean, you’re cool,”
Nope, that’s not it, chief, Mateo scolded himself. “No, that’s not what I meant. Are we cool?”
“What? Why wouldn’t we be? Are you okay?” Harmony said, looking at him with a concerned expression.
He cleared his throat. “I’ll start over. You’re the coolest girl I know, and you’re the only girl that I can’t act cool around. You wreck my mental balance. My head gets foggy around you—”
“Gee, thanks! I think that’s what you should’ve went with on my birthday card instead of a pug eating a rainbow cupcake.”
“I’m trying to tell you that I love you, in a non-platonic way. Like, the opposite of platonic, but not in a dirty disrespectful kind of way. I value you more than anything. I respect you even when you totally cheated in Scrabble on Friday. Yeah, I saw you take out a T from your sock. My point is, I’ve always wanted to tell you, but I was too afraid to hear what you have to say. I still am, so don’t say anything,” Mateo let out a nervous laugh to ease his anxiousness. It didn’t.
Harmony answered faster than he anticipated she would. “Look, I don’t want any Fault in Our Stars melodrama in my life. I think I’m way past my sappy freshman year phase. I don’t know why you’re doing this to yourself, Mateo. Go love someone that’s sticking around! Why are you wasting your energy on a soon-to-be dead girl? Do me a favor, and start thinking about someone else.” Harmony never intended to sound spiteful, but she was so hurt from accepting her own mortality and misleading someone she cared about. She blamed herself for not interrupting Mateo more often when he said something starting with, ‘When you get out…’
“You really put the Harm in Harmony, hun?” He scoffed.
“You’re right. I did. I harmed you by entertaining your false hopes, and I harmed my parents by dragging them into suffering and debt.” Her speech began to slow down from her trying to contain her tears from falling. She wasn’t angry at him. She was angry at herself.
Mateo inhaled deeply. “That’s not what I meant. You harm yourself by blaming everything that’s happening on you. You have a right to feel things other than pain! Tell me how you feel, and I’m going to be okay with whatever it is. And you should be too.”
She held his hand with the same force she did on the taxi ride across Seattle's suburbs to this very hospital, eight years ago. She took a deep, hopeful breath and said:
“I feel loved, and I choose love.”