I heard five words today that I haven't heard since I was 7. "Will you be my friend?"

It wouldn't have been as bizarre if it had been a seven-year-old asking me, but it was a person just as old as I am. I almost laughed at them, thinking it was a joke. I looked down at my shoes, embarassed because I thought I might be getting hit on, but I couldn't look them in the face, because I was worried they might be mocking me. She was absolutely serious.

We had been talking about mundane things. I had dropped an egg on the floor this morning while making breakfast, and she sympathized with me over the clean up. It takes forever to get the last bit of that egg-whitey slickness off of linoleum, and she understood. We were waiting for the ten-minute timer to run out on the radiation counter we were using for an experiment in our junior physics class. We had been lab partners since the beginning of the school year, but the other experiments didn't have as much waiting time as this one, so casual conversation was a little sparse until now. After I'd finished my egg story, she described the wonderful bagel she had had that day for lunch. There was a short silence after she finished describing how she liked to pick the sesame seeds off the bagel. She'd obviously passed the ball to me, but I'd dropped it and we both ended up staring at it as it sat on the ground.

Then she looked up from her notes, looked at me with an expression that was too serious to be serious, and asked me "Would you be my friend?" I was shocked into shoe-gazing, but after I recovered from that, I looked back at her and realized she was waiting for me to answer. I didn't even know people asked that question. I always thought friendships began in crises, not mutual agreement. One of my best friends became a friend after she asked me to go with her to the doctor for an electrocardiogram. She was terrified of doctors, and I sat there holding her hand as the nurse wired her up and switched on the machine. I became close with another friend after he was bashed in the head with a beer mug by an angry Brazilian at a gaijin bar.

I didn't exactly know how to answer her. Was this how she asked people on dates? Did she just want to break the awkward silence? If I took her question seriously, was she going to break out in giggles and tell me she was kidding? Does she have no friends? This has got to be some sort of joke, I thought.

I just ended up saying "sure", as though I got asked it all the time.

The only conversation we had for the rest of the lab was about radiation counts and assignment due dates.

I suppose she was serious, but I just couldn't accept that people asked such innocent, naive questions. I wish I were innocent enough to have answered her honestly. I kept thinking there was something more to her question than she was saying, but there more I think about it, the more I think she just wanted to be friends. I'm still amazed by her question. I don't think I could ever ask the same thing to anyone. I wouldn't feel ok opening a door that wide. It's just asking for someone to walk in and rip some stuff off.

I don't know what I'll say to her next week in the lab.