By Mackenzie Rossero, For The Miami Student

Riley and Emily met in third grade.

She was the tallest student in their class. He was the shortest.

They were never anything but friends. Riley played cupid throughout elementary and middle school — setting his friends up with Emily and good-naturedly tagging along on their dates.

First, it was Ty. She liked him longest. Next came Andrew, Kyle and Cory. They worked as a trio, following her around the playground and serenading her with a version of “Jenny” that replaced “8675309” with Emily’s own phone number. They found it in the school directory. Finally, there was Jack. That didn’t last too long.

All throughout grade school, Riley and Emily sat together. Not by choice — that was simply where their teachers assigned them. He teased her and she kept a tie-dyed notecard taped to her desk with a tally mark for every remark he made.

Then, somewhere along the way, things changed.

Riley remembers the first time he saw Emily after having gone to separate, private high schools. He’d grown past 5’ and no longer had braces. Riley defines this night as a turning point, when he began to see her differently.

It was soon after that, at a community production of “Beauty and the Beast,” that Riley realized how much he liked her. They sat next to each other in the theater. Emily fidgeted, unsure of what to do with her hands.

“She’s not a diva kinda girl,” Riley explains. “I’m not one for those kind of girls.”

When Riley asked Emily to be his girlfriend, they were standing outside in the rain. In retrospect, the whole thing seems very dramatic. It was sophomore year of high school, March 15, 2013. They had been at a birthday party for a mutual friend. 

Riley waited until the end of the party. His ride home was long gone and Emily had a car waiting for her. 

“I feel like we should be better friends than this,” he told her. “We’re closer than friends now. We should start dating.”

Admittedly, it was awkward. But Riley was elated and smiled his entire, rainy walk home.

Two months later, he told her he loved her.

Nine months after that, their first Valentine’s Day was nearly a disaster. It began with Riley locking his keys in his car, forcing them to miss their dinner reservation. The night ended with him cooking an Italian meal after a quick trip to Giant Eagle. He made angel hair spaghetti, Emily’s favorite.

There were rough times. When Riley’s parents decided to get a divorce just a month after he and Emily began dating, he questioned everything. What was the point of dating someone, of loving someone, if you’re just going to get divorced? What was the
point of love?

Emily got him through it. Riley was welcomed into her family. He knows her grandparents and attends family dinners. Her siblings feel like his own, especially her younger sister, Catherine — he buys her a birthday present every year.

And times got rougher still. When they ended up at Miami together — a decision they each made independently — Emily feared that a continued relationship with her high school boyfriend would jeopardize her college experience.

They discussed this. Taking slow laps around South Quad, Riley was sure she was going to break up with him. Later, Emily admitted to considering it but knows she would have chosen otherwise. 

They’ve both changed in the last three years, grown in different ways. Emily cut her hair. Riley grew 3 inches taller.  Emily’s gotten weirder — in the best way possible — and still childishly laughs at bad jokes. Riley’s gained confidence in who he is, no longer terrified of offending people by
speaking his mind.

They’ve outlasted all of their high school friends’ relationships, a victory they revel in.

Riley admits that referring to Emily as “his girlfriend” is an understatement. There should be another, better word to describe what she means to him.

Until then, “best friend” will have to suffice.