*the friend zone

It is a prison of sorts; an open prison. There are no chains that bind him; there are no bars, no peeling walls, no heavy locks. And yet he remains captive, bound to the ground, an unwilling prisoner. He is in some sort of meadow, he thinks. All around him, lush vegetation thrives. There are beautiful trees towering over him, and rose bushes wafting pleasant scents his way. A clear stream flows quietly a few feet away from him, and the air is rich with bird song. There is beauty all around him. But a beautiful prison is a prison nonetheless.

He sometimes forgets that he is in captivity. His surroundings constantly lull him into a sporadic state of numbness. And when he emerges from this haze, when his mind is clear and he realizes the tragedy of his position, he pushes himself to his feet and heads for the opening that will lead him out of his captive paradise. That is the beauty of his prison: he can leave whenever he makes up his mind. But he has never been able to. As soon as he approaches the edge of the woods, his captor appears. She neutralizes his efforts with an easy smile. It is as though she reads his mind. She touches his arm. She laughs and blushes away his feeble attempts to compliment her. And then she turns him around gently and leads him back to the unseen shackles of his cell. He cannot imagine what possessed him to think of leaving.

But no more. Today he must break out. He has built up immunity to the sweet things that keep him constrained. He strides purposefully to the edge of the clearing. He throws one last glance at the fortress that has held him all this time and shakes his head in disbelief. He keeps walking. He knows what it will mean to pause mid-step, to hesitate even for a second. When the opening comes into view, his composure slips, and he breaks into a run. But just before he can reach it, his captor materializes out of thin air. She appears in a halo of beauty and serenity, so unnerving that he feels himself stutter and stop.

She smiles. She bats her eyelids and giggles coyly. Her hand trails across the uncovered skin around her chest. She teases him. She blows smoke at his flimsy efforts to break free. She plants a splotchy kiss on his cheek. She compliments him. She makes him promises. She shows him the gift he had given her; the one that she has kept since then because it means the world to her. And finally, she puts a gentle hand on his shoulder and turns him around. Let’s go back home, she whispers, and for a moment, he thinks it might be best. He almost turns to go with her. Her smile is so enticing…

Suddenly, a nearby clump of bushes splits open, and a man comes rushing out. He looks ragged and uncoordinated. His eyes dart around, resting first on the woman that has kept him imprisoned for an eternity, and then on the clearing that promises his freedom. He looks at the other man, and they nod at each other with understanding. They are not the only prisoners, their eyes tell each other. They make a mad dash towards the opening, together, hearing behind them a furious roar. But they do not look back, until they have burst through to the other side, and the brightness of reality, of freedom, is almost blinding.

It is a prison of sorts, an open prison. He must remember never to stray into another one of those again. Which reminds him. He has a few of his own prisoners to check on.

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