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When everyone else around me was backing away, he showed up, pulled me in, and taught me how to be happy.
The main thing that I remember about the night before I met Ryan is running. Bolting out of the front door of my house and taking off down the street. Running away from my mother’s voice trying to call me back. Running away from all of my problems. Attempting to run so far, so fast that I would leave behind the girl that so many people were pressuring me to be. But my running was forced to end when I noticed the moons reflection on something. Water. I had come to a pond. The pond where I had spent summers of my childhood. But now this place was not one for enjoyment but an escape. I kick off my shoes and throw myself into it. The chill was shocking at first, but after a while I began to feel my body relax. I floated on my back and stared up at the sky thinking of a simpler time. Sometime later on, I crawled up under a giant oak tree, curled up into a ball, and drifted off to sleep, feeling who I should be only hanging on by a thread.
“Do you think that she’s dead?”
“Nah. How could she be dead?”
“I don’t know, but she might have gotten mauled by a bear of something. You never know…….” I could feel myself slowly waking up. At first I thought that I was still dreaming when I heard the voices. But soon after I began to realize that there were other people around me. This thought became concrete when I felt a strong hand on my shoulder.
“Hello?” It was a boy. Leave me alone, I thought. This is my escape. Why are you even here?
“Ryan, I’m pretty sure that she’s dead.”
“No she’s definitely breathing.” My eyes fluttered open and I saw two teenage boys hovering over me. “See Jake, she’s alive.” I tried to sit up and was overcome by dizziness.
“Whoa there.” The boy name Ryan grabbed onto my arms to keep me from tipping over backwards. He was beautiful. I rubbed my eyes, and tried to remember how I ended up here. Suddenly I remembered the running. The floating. The sleeping.
I pulled my hands away from my face and looked over to him.
“No problem, I mean helping you from falling down is better than having to call the police because there’s a dead girl in the woods.” He smiled.
“Yeah, I guess there’s always something better than that.” Maybe this was going to be the point that my life turned around, and took a turn for the better.
“Um Ryan? It’s almost noon. I told my mom that I would be home by then. Do you need a ride?” Ryan turned to look at Jake and shook his head no. What did that mean? My heart is pounding so loud that I’m sure that the entire world can hear it.
“I’m going to stay here and make sure that she stays un-dead.” He looked back at me and smiled.
“Okay,” said Jake as he walked in the direction of the road which was hidden by trees. When he disappeared, Ryan looked at me.
“You can go with him,” I said. “I can make it home.”
“Well considering that you couldn’t sit up without almost falling over, I’m walking you home.” Seeing that there was no reason to argue, I shrugged and started standing up. “Do you need help?” he asked, already standing up himself. I opened my mouth to answer when his hands were around mine pulling me up. The next thing that I knew, I was standing on my feet across from him.
“Thanks.” I laughed. He was taller than I would have thought. And bigger. He obviously played sports. This thought caused my heart to sink. If he plays sports and looks like that, he probably has a girlfriend.
“So, you probably already got that I’m Ryan. What’s your name?”
“Katie.” We started walking through the trees.
“Okay Katie, so do you usually spend your time sleeping by ponds?”
I laughed. “Yes. I sleep by this pond at least once a week.”
“Oh really. Maybe I’ll have to try that sometime.”
“Maybe,” I said. We walked in silence for awhile, when he suddenly stopped.
“Are you sure that you know where you are going? Because right now I’m kind of debating on whether or not you are crazy.” He smiled at me. I hadn’t felt woozy again until now. I smiled back at him.
“I’m not crazy. We’re going to my house. I would know where it is.”
“Maybe, maybe not. You could just think that you have a house when in reality you are just a crazy girl who lives by that pond.”
“No. I have a house, I have a car, and I go to school. I don’t live in the forest.”
“Okay,” he said playfully rolling his eyes. “Well if you don’t live in the forest, where do you go to school?”
“Marriot High. I’m a senior.”
“Really?” Again he looked at me like I was crazy. I laughed.
“I go to Marriot High too, and I’m a senior. Why haven’t I seen you before?”
“Well, my family and I just moved back here about four months ago, in May. We lived here until I was ten though.”
“Hmm I don’t think I remember you.”
“Well, I was quite the little nerd back then.”
“Somehow I don’t believe that.” My heart began to pick up its rhythm again. What does that mean? I glanced over at him and saw that he was blushing, so I quickly looked away.
He cleared his throat. “So how did you end up at the pond last night?”
“You ran? All this way?”
“Yes. It’s not that far though. My house is right there.” I pointed toward where the brown roof of my house was coming into view. We walked in silence up the front stairs and onto the porch. I stopped and turned to face him.
“So thanks for not just accepting that I might have been dead.” He laughed.
“Hey it’s no big deal. I’ve pretty much always been known for my humanitarianism.” I smiled. “It was really nice meeting you Katie. I hope to see you around school on Monday.”
“Me too. Bye Ryan.” I opened the front door and smiled at him one more time and walked inside. Once the door was shut I leaned my back against it and sighed. Maybe my life was going to get better after all.
Once I could think straight, I walked though the hallway and into the kitchen. Sitting at the table was my mother, eyebrows furled, and arms crossed.
“Kathleen Hayes. Where have you been?” She gave me the ‘look’. The one that only moms can pull off. The one that means you cannot end this conversation until you explain yourself.
“At the pond.”
“The pond in the woods? By yourself? That’s very dangerous. You should understand that.” Slowly my reasons for running there in the first place began to return. I decided that I needed to end this conversation as soon as possible and that lying would not help me do that.
“It’s fine, I’m fine, that’s all that matters. Okay.”
“Katie, the way you have been acting lately is so, so unlike you.”
“I know, I know but I have a feeling that things will be getting better soon.”
“I hope so. Why don’t you think about how to make those changes happen while you clean yourself up. You smell awful.”
“Okay mom. Will do.” I turned around and walked through the rest of the house into my bedroom. I felt like my entire world had changed since the last time I had been in here. I turned on the shower and got I letting the pond water run off of me. I tried to think about all that had happened that day but my thoughts kept returning to Ryan smiling. The entire rest of the night, through dinner and my homework, all I could think about was how Ryan walked me home, and hoped to see me at school. Just everything. I could feel all of predetermined judgments of our return back to Virginia melting away. And for once, the idea of going to school on Monday, just two days away, excited me.
The following day, I busied myself to keep the day from dragging on, which it did anyway. When I had done everything that I could possibly think to do, I took my physics book and went to read on the roof. There was a part of our roof that was flat which slanted upwards from all sides. My brother and I occasionally went up there to talk and study. Determined to pass more of the day I focus on the words in the textbook. But my mind kept returning to who I would be seeing at school tomorrow. Part of me understood that excitement would, in the end, only hurt me more. However, the other part won and I allowed myself to be excited anyway.
The next thing that I knew, the sun was setting and my brother was climbing up next to me.
“Did you know that you have been up here for about,” he looked at his phone, “six hours?” Austin was two years younger than me, but we had a very close relationship. Unlike other brothers and sisters that I know, we rarely ever fight. I could tell him anything and he told me everything.
“Great. Well, I must have just lost track of time.” I started to prepare for the climb back down when Austin grabbed my arm.
“So what happened yesterday? You left unhappy and came back with the attitude that everything was going to work out.” I looked down and focused on the grainy look of the shingles.
“Nothing happened.” I looked up at Austin who raised his eyebrows. “Okay, well I felt like I needed to get away, so I started running and……” I proceeded to retell the story of my run and meeting Ryan. When I finished Austin was silent.
After a few minutes, he said “So did you go swimming?” He laughed.
“Is that really all that you got out of that story?”
“Sorry, so you met this guy Ryan. Ryan McNabb?”
“I don’t know what his last name is. He never said.” Austin looked at his phone.
“Mom’s calling me. We should probably get down.” I led the way from the roof and back onto our porch, where once again my mother was waiting. After scolding us, we ate dinner and I promptly went off to bed. As I fell asleep, I relived my running. It was almost as though I could feel the wind blowing back my hair once again. And suddenly, there I was, dreaming, but running into Ryan’s arms.
There it was. The same as it has been since 1954. Marriot High School. Physically, it looks the same, with it’s large red brick walls and stone pillars. But now, when I picture Marriot, I imagine that it is a beautiful place where everyone is happy. I take a deep breath, and walk inside. I see Ryan immediately, walking toward me. A smile spreads across my face as I raise my hand to wave at him. He does the same, I start to say something when he walks right past me. My smile fades and I look around to see him talking to two girls standing by a row of lockers behind me. One of them caught my eye, and laughed. I blushed and ran off, with my head down, to my locker. With as much speed as I could muster, I threw my books into my backpack and went off to class. I walked into first period and knew that all eyes were on the blushing, brown-haired new girl. I drop my backpack onto the floor and sink into my desk.
“Wow. Looks like someone is having a good day already,” whispers the girl next to me. Samantha Newark. I’m not going to say that we were ever friends, because we weren’t and we still aren’t. I dislike her, she dislikes me. She laughs to her friend sitting beside her. I bite my tongue, knowing that I will most likely regret anything that I say to her now.
I open my backpack and take out my English book and use it to hide behind.
“Okay so my guess is you are just a really weird girl.” Ryan laughed I put the book down hard and stared at him.
“I guess so.” I put the book back up.
“Um okay. Is anyone sitting in the seat in front of you?”
“Hi Ryan,” Samantha said, “Are you in this class now.”
“Yeah. I had to rearrange my schedule.” I put my book down again and looked at the desk. “So Katie, were your parents worried about you on Saturday?” He seemed genuinely concerned so I decided to drop the whole angry attitude.
I sighed. “Sort of. Well, my mom was at least. She was worried because I had been at the pond alone.”
“Good thing that Jake and I happened to show up, or you might still be there.” He smiled. “And you might actually be dead by now.”
“Come to think about it. Why were you there? You couldn’t have wanted to go swimming. It’s too cold.”
“That didn’t stop you,” he said chuckling.
“No, but I didn’t have someone nice enough to tell me that it is freezing.”
“True.” He turned to face the front as class begun. Suddenly, I had forgotten all about him with those girls this morning. The only thing that I could think about now was the way his shirt perfectly matched his green eyes. Even though, I could feel Samantha’s eyes attempting to burn holes in me, I ignored it. Instead, I drew pictures with my finger on the desk.
The class seemed to go by quickly because before I knew it, everyone was packing up their things, preparing for the bell.
“So you said that you had to rearrange your schedule?”
“Yeah. It’s completely different now.” He pulled the sheet with his classes printed on it out of his pocket, and handed it to me. I looked it over hopefully, and quickly returned it to him.
“We only have this class together.”
“Really? Well that’s no fun.” I laughed. The bell rang loudly causing me to jump. I slung my backpack onto my back and walked towards the door with Ryan walking beside me. Once outside, I turned right and he turned left. I walked the opposite from him. I walked away from the boy with the beautiful green eyes, and the dark brown hair.
Do the clouds always move against each other? I’m laying in the grass on the side of my house. Next to me is the ladder I was planning on using to climb up to my spot on the roof, but after deciding that it would take too much effort, I forfeited the idea. Instead, I resolved to lie in the grass and study the shapes in the sky. So far I haven’t found any, but I don’t have anything better to do.
The rest of my school day had past uneventfully except for the fire alarm during fourth period. Turns out some kids were attempting to smoke in the bathroom. They were obviously caught and everyone watched in earnest as they were taken away by the school police officer and charged with possession of illegal substances. After that incident though, my day past slowly. Government, Spanish and Physics all seemed never-ending. After English this morning, I didn’t see Ryan again which saddened me although I was trying to force myself not to care.
I close my eyes and feel the sun on my face. Soon after though, I feel the sun disappear behind a cloud and I realize how cold it is. I shiver, look at my phone, and stand up. Once I walk into the house I put my phone down on the table, and place my ellowbows on it and rub my eyes. The table is shaking. I pull my hands away from my face and look around. Nothing else is though. Then I hear a thud as my phone falls onto the floor in mid vibrate. I see the picture of my best friend, Aly, flashing. Quickly, I reach down and answer her call.
“Katie! How are you? I’ve barely heard anything from you in days.” Aly’s voice was a mixture of concern and displeasure.
“Hey Al. Sorry I’ve been kind of, well, distracted. Other than that I’m okay. Mainly I’m just lonely. Virginia is awful,” I pause. “Well for the most part.”
“For the most part? What isn’t horrible there then?” I explain to her about Ryan and tell a summarized version of our meeting. I barely finish when she laughs.
“He found you when you were sleeping by a pond and probably looked half deranged?” I could tell she was smiling. “Well Katie, that is an interesting meeting. Some first impression you made.”
“If I would have known that two guys my age were going to be there the next morning I wouldn’t have gone there.”
“Still having issues? With your parents or what?”
“Yeah but it’s not just my mom and dad. Like I said Virginia is lonely.”
“Didn’t you have friends when you lived there before? I mean, what are they like now?”
“Different. The girl who used to be my best friend in elementary school, Natalie, now follows every move of Samantha Newark. And the others have either moved away, changed schools, or have become drastically different people.” I think about Spencer Herald. The boy I was in love with when I was younger. He was one of the boys trying to smoke drugs in the bathroom today. Now he wears pants that sag down to practically his knees and has multiple piercings as well as a tattoo.
“Okay so what about this Ryan?”
“It’s weird. Neither of us remembers ever knowing each other before. He seems nice enough but today it seemed like Samantha liked him. So who knows.”
“I guess you’re right. But just try to get through this year and before you know it we will be roommates at East Washington University!” Aly squealed with excitement. I had almost forgotten about EWU. That would be something to take my mind off things. I will focus on making this year go by quickly and moving out into the real world.
I hear a knock on my door. “Katie. You need to get up.” I roll over and look at the clock. 7:50! I throw the sheets back and jump out of bed. Opening my closet I grab the first clothes I see and put them on quickly. I run a brush through my hair and choose to forget makeup today. I grab my backpack and sprint towards the door.
“By the way Katie, Dad took your car this morning so you have to walk.” I glare at my mom. Surely that would have been nice information to know before now. I run outside and it’s raining. I think of how miserable the twenty block walk to school will be. How could this day get any worse?
I’m about a block away from my house when a car pulls up next to me. At first, I think the worst and try to decide how to best defend myself. But when the driver rolls down the window, I recognize him.
“Need a ride?” Ryan smiles. I nod. “Come on.” I run around the front of the car and get inside. “Did you not realize that it’s raining?”
“Er, not until I was already outside.”
“And what’s with you and running places? I thought you told me that you had a car.” The thought of my car made me silently curse my parents.
“Apparently my dad took it this morning. And I woke up late so running was my only option.” He laughed.
“I guess it’s a good thing that I drove this way this morning isn’t it?”
“Yeah I guess so.” I look down at my hands and take deep breaths. I am in Ryan’s car. The car I’m in is Ryan’s. Oh gosh.
“So you usually drive then?”
“Everyday. Well, except for today.” He looked over at me and smiled.
“Are you cold? I have an extra jacket in the back seat if you want it.” I was about to refuse when I felt myself involuntarily shiver. He laughed and reached into the backseat to grab it, and handed it to me. I put it on backwards so that it covered my front. Another involuntary shiver went through my body as I slowly warmed up.
“Thanks. Seems like you just have a solution to every problem.” I laugh. “First, the whole walking me home to make sure I got there alright, then giving me a ride, and now your coat.”
“And it seems like you are just a very unprepared person.” I jokingly roll my eyes at him as he pulls into the student parking lot. As we approach the first empty spot I notice that Samantha is parked right next to it. Please not there, I think.
“Ugh not there,” Ryan says to my surprise as he bypasses the spot. I grin at him.
“Samantha is parked right there. She seriously stalks me.”
Still smiling I say, “Wow. It seems like a lot of people at this school are pretty big Samantha fans. Why aren’t you?”
“Like I said, she stalks me. Plus, the fact that she’s crazy.” I just smile and look at the window as we pass her. Her face was a perfect Polaroid moment.
Ryan parks his car in the next empty spot a few down from the first. He gets out and waits for me as I pull my backpack out. Of course, it gets stuck so I’m forced to fiddle around with it to remove it. When I finally put it on, I walk over to Ryan.
“So thanks again for the ride. I really appreciate it.” We walk from the parking lot and into the school. When the hallway splits, I begin to walk toward my locker, and he starts to walk the opposite way.
“Wait. Where are you going? English is this way.”
“To my locker. I need to get my book.” He shrugs and starts to walk in the direction of my locker. I grin and walk with him. When we reach it, I open it and take out my book.
“Looks like you’re prepared for something at least,” he says. “What’s this?” He reaches up to the top shelf and takes down the magnetic whiteboard my mom had given me the first day of school. It was still in it’s packaging.
“That was my first day of school present from my mom.”
He turned it around in his hands. “Can I open it?” I shrugged and then nodded. He tore off the wrapping and uncapped the marker. He glanced over at me, smiled, and wrote on the board. Quickly, he placed it inside my locker and shut it.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “What did you write on that?”
“You’ll see next time you open your locker,” he smiled. “Let’s go to class. There’s no better way to start off a day than Shakespeare.” I smile slightly, shake my head, and walk off to class with Ryan by my side.
After the bell rings for my final class to end, I walk to my locker anxious to see what Ryan wrote. I fumble with my combination but eventually get it right. There in large block print is a phone number. Below it is the note
This is for the next time you need a ride
I quickly put his number into my phone and gleefully shut my locker. I can’t stop smiling the entire walk home.
I hear a thud on the door. I open my eyes and sit up.
“Someone’s here to see you, Katie.” My dad looked uncomfortable in his black suit and tie. Even though he denied it, both Austin and I knew that he had been pushed into law school by his parents. In reality, he would have given anything to be working outdoors. This always proved to be a source of contention between my parents.
Standing up I brushed my light brown hair out of my face. Pulling on my sweater nervously I walked out of the room, and to the front door. The area was vacant.
“Are you sure dad?”
“Huh?” He looked up from his examination of a crack in the wall.
“No one’s here.” I gestured around us.
“Oh yes, yeah. Um….maybe he’s with Austin.” He? My palms started to sweat. I hoped, but I knew that it couldn’t be. Why would he be here? At that moment I heard the obviously male yells of victory. Confused, I climbed up the stairs, and looked directly into the family room, just at the moment that another victory yell ran through the air.
“I can’t believe that just happened. You’ve really never played this game before?” Austin asked my visitor. He sat slumped on the couch staring at the TV screen flashing winner.
“No. This would be the first time.”
“You suck. I think that’s all the defeat that I can handle for today,” Austin said turning to look at me. “He’s all yours Katie.” He stood up from the couch and left the room, winking at me as he left.
I took at deep breath. “Hi Ryan.”
“Hey,” he said walking over to me. “This must have fallen off your backpack in my car this morning. I was going to call you but then I remembered that I don’t have your number, and I knew where you lived so,” he paused, “I though I would just bring it over.” He placed the silver button which read “Portland Pride at Portland High. PH Juniors 2010” in my hand. “It seemed like something you would want back.”
“It is thanks,” I smile up at him. We stand in silence for a few moments. “I got this my last day at Portland High. My friend, Ally, said I needed to put it somewhere I would see often so I remember where my real home is.” I look down at the button and think of that day. It felt like so much had changed since then.
“Oh well, I figured it was probably important to you.”
“Yeah, thank you.”
“I like your house by the way. Except I think I made an enemy of your brother.” He laughs.
“He’ll get over it,” I smile. “Do you want to see the rest of the house?”
“Sure.” I take him around to the different rooms, only pausing when we reach my bedroom. He walks in and looks at the pictures on my dresser. He picks up one, looks at it, and then turns to me. “What is this of?”
“Cross-country camp last year. That’s Portland High’s team.”
A grin flashes across his face. “So that’s the real reason you run so much.”
I roll my eyes. “Come one, there’s still one more thing for you to see.” We go out to the backyard, where the sun is shining again. I grab the ladder and his face becomes confused. I place the cold, steel ladder up against the house with a clank, and start to go up.
Noticing he is not following I say, “Well, come one.” He shrugs and follows. Once on the roof, I slide down into my favorite spot. Soon after, Ryan slides down next to me.
“This is my favorite spot. I come up here to think.”
“About what?” I look at him.
“School and family. Just life in general.”
“Uh huh. So what are you thinking about now?” Oh gosh. I can’t tell him that I’m thinking about how the blue in his eyes matches his shirt. Or how muscular his arms look.
“Um….” I blush and look down.
“Because I know what I’m thinking about.”
“And what is that?”
“I think you’re…..” We both jump when I hear my mother’s voice. Unbeknownst to either of us, we had leaned closer together. He clears his throat and backs up.
“Katie, It’s time for dinner. You’re nice friend can stay too.” I sigh and Ryan looks like he’s trying to say something.
“We’d better go down or she’ll come up here,” I smile. “Do you want to stay for dinner?”
“Sure. I would love too.” He smiles back and we begin our descent.
“You are welcome anytime, Ryan,” my mother says smiling.
“Thank you Mrs. Hayes. Dinner was great.”
“Oh please call me Tina.” Ryan smiles. We both are standing in the doorway to the kitchen when Austin gets up from the table and walks passed us, playfully hitting Ryan’s shoulder.
“I want a rematch,” he said and walked up the stairs. Ryan waves goodbye to my parents who are clearing off the table, and we walk toward the front door.
“I like your family,” he says smiling.
I laugh, “Yeah tonight was fun. I guess my family can be okay sometimes.”
“I guess so,” He looks at me.
Feeling his eyes on me, I look down. “Maybe we could do it again sometime.”
“Sounds good,” he says, opening the door. “Next time at my house.” I couldn’t hold back my smile. He started to walk out the door but then promptly turned around. “Hey do you need a rid tomorrow? It would save you a run in the rain.”
“Uh…yes I do. Thanks.”
“Okay,” he smiles and starts walking away. “See you tomorrow Katie,” he yells. I close the door, take a deep breath and run into my room, shutting the bedroom door. I feel my phone begin to vibrate in my pocket and fumble trying to pull it out. Ally.
“Tell me everything.”
The sound of my alarm clock wakes me up from my happy sleep. I sit up and rub my eyes remembering all that had happened yesterday. I feel giddy inside. In an attempt to calm the butterflies I walk into the bathroom. Slowly I brush through my knotted hair as I look at myself in the mirror. I put on some mascara, pop some zits, and brush my hair over my shoulder. Breathe. Deep deep breaths.
I open my closet door and pull out the first thing I see. It’s a blue sweater that I bought with Ally back in Portland. I can still hear her saying “Look Katie! It’s cute and comfy!” Then I remember our conversation last night. She seemed nearly as excited as I was. Silently I laugh to myself and walk to the kitchen.
Austin sits alone at the table shoveling pancakes into his mouth. “So when is your boyfriend going to be here?” He asks with a smirk.
“In ten minutes. And he’s not my boyfriend. We are just friends.”
“Well in that case do you think I could get a ride?”
I hesitate not wanting to say yes but not wanting my feelings to be obvious. “Probably.” But Austin doesn’t overlook my hesitation.
“Actually on second though, I’d rather not intrude on your friend time together,” he replies putting quotes around the word friend. I just shrug it off and walk to the refrigerator. I grab the syrup and sit down at the table opposite of Austin. By that time he is finished and heads out the door.
“See you later.” He waves and shuts the door behind him. I glance around the room as I chew a piece of pancake. How does this house look the exact same as it used to? The brown cabinets, the grey tile on the floor, and even the missing paint above the doorframe still exist. I’m lost in my examination when I hear a quiet knock on the door. I look at the clock, Ryan shouldn’t be here yet. It’s probably Austin, he just forgot something. I put another piece of pancake in my mouth and hurry to the front door. I open it and there stands Ryan. I try to hurriedly swallow the pancake in my mouth. Without success I motion for him to come in. We walk into the kitchen and I finally am able to swallow.
“Sorry,” I say. “You’re early.”
He smiles. “Yeah I had to drop my little sister off at school earlier than usual this morning. Sorry that I caught you off guard.”
“No problem. I didn’t know you have a little sister. How old is she?” I look at the table and grab my dirty plate and run it to the sink. Next the syrup is put away in the bottom shelf of the fridge. I try to hide my face from him. Sisters are a sore subject for me.
“She’s six. There’s a big age difference between us.”
“Oh.” I look down.
“Hey are you okay?”
I take a deep breath. “Yes. I’m fine.” After cleaning up, I say “Okay I’m ready to go.” I go to pick up my backpack but Ryan beats me to it.
“I’ve got it,” he says. “No need to lose that button again.” I smile at him. Could he get anymore perfect? I climb up into his truck and he tosses my bag into the backseat. “Looks like you are more prepared today.”
“Yup. I’ve got my coat, I knew how I was getting to school today, and it is not raining. I think I about covered everything.”
He laughs. “Well the rain thing you couldn’t control but for the coat and school thing, I give you props.”
“Why thank you.” Suddenly a drop of water lands on the windshield.
“Looks like a good thing that I offered you a ride today.”
“Looks like a good thing that I said yes.” I look over to him and smile. By then we had reached the school’s parking lot and once again, there was Samantha Newark staring us down. But unlike the last time, I smile and let myself feel proud.
Ryan carries my backpack for me into English class where we continue to talk about our families. He tells me more about his sister Sophia and his brother Caleb who are both much younger than him. I tell him more about Austin but skip over my problems with my parents. I don’t know him well enough for that yet.
When the bell rings for class to end, I grab my bag and start to leave. Ryan stops me.
“Do you want to hang out on Friday? I could show you where I go to escape.”
“Well it seems only fitting since you know that I run to that pond.” We both grin.
“Great. I will pick you up at six.”
“Great.” We walk out of the classroom and go our opposite ways. But this time when I turn to look back at him, Ryan is turned watching me leave too.
The next two days passed slowly. I was too eager to spend more time with Ryan to focus on anything school related. Thursday the cheerleaders tried to recruit me, followed by speech and debate. Each group seemed less than disappointed at my refusal. After refusing the invitation to try out for volleyball, a girl who sat behind me in physics approached me.
“Seems like you have no interest in anything right now. I’m not trying to sound mean, it’s just something that I’ve noticed. I’m Grace by the way.” She smiled at me.
“Hi Grace, I’m Katie. And it’s not that I don’t want to join anything I just don’t have the time right now.” She followed me to my seat in the cafeteria and sat down next to me.
“This is a strange question but do you remember me?”
“Um, not really. Should I?”
She smiles. “Probably not. I went to elementary school with you though. We were in Mrs. Till’s class together in fifth grade.” Suddenly it clicked. I remembered this girl.
“No way,” I say turning to face her. “Grace Tanilee! You were short, and you had glasses and your hair was always so pretty.”
She blushes. “Yeah that would be me.” I was so excited to re-meet someone who hadn’t changed since I had known them. We spent the rest of lunch reminiscing and catching up with each other.
When I got home, my parents weren’t as happy as I had thought they would be that I had made a new friend. My father asked when we were going to spend time together. I responded that I didn’t know. They seemed distant today. I casually tried to bring up my date with Ryan that night, but my mother’s face grew cold.
“Why would you possibly think that that would be okay Katherine?” She stood up knocking the photos she was looking at to the floor. My father scrambled to pick them up.
I stood looking at her confused. “Um. I assumed that it would be okay.”
“And why? Why would you assume that?”
“You seemed to like him on Tuesday night at dinner.”
“Yes but today Katie? Today of all days.” Her face grew angrier with each word. I stood shocked. I glanced over to the calendar and recognition flashed into my mind. September 5th. I had walked in on my mom quietly crying this morning. Both my parents had taken the day off of work. Austin hadn’t gone to school. Oh no. “You forgot, didn’t you?” My mother was crying now, but her face was hard.
“I…..I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy.”
“Too busy to remember that today is the day that your sister died.”
“I…..I try not to think about it too much.”
“Well maybe you should think about it more. Obviously you have forgotten her.”
“No. I haven’t,” I barely breathe out. Tears fall from my eyes.
“And you of all people. You were the last one to see her alive. I told you not to go. You could have saved her!” And with that I’m running again. I hear my mother begin to sob uncontrollably and crumple to the floor. There is only one place I think to go. But my tears blind me and I stumble. Feet from the pond, I trip on a root and fall to the ground. Without the energy to get up I crawl under the oak tree and feel the bark.
“I’m sorry Mary.” My tears overwhelm me and I allow myself to sink into the memories that for so long I have tried to hide.
The warm breeze drifts around us rustling the leaves of the trees. Sunlight filters through the gaps in the branches. I splash into the water.
“Come on Mary! Don’t be such a baby.” Mary stands with at the edge of the river with her toes barely grazing the water.
“But Katie, I’m not a very good swimmer and mom said that there are rapids lower down the river.” I laugh at her. At eleven years old, she is much more cautious than one would expect. Despite the four year age difference, we spend a lot of time together.
I swim over to the bank and grab her hand. “Mary, I promise that you will be fine. I will make sure that nothing happens to you. Now, do you trust me?”
“I trust you,” she says. She comes into the water and soon she is splashing around just like me. After a while we lie on the bank and look up at the trees overhead. “I can’t believe mom didn’t want me to come. This is so much fun.” I sit up on my elbows.
“Hey do you want to go see if there really are rapids down there?”
“I don’t know. It seems kind of dangerous.”
“Mary come on. I promised you that everything would be fine. That includes going to look at the rapids. Plus how bad can they be?” She hesitates for a moment. “I also promise that I won’t tell mom.” That perks her up a little bit more.
“Alright.” At my insistence, we walk down to where the rapids are. I didn’t want to take any unnecessary chances. When we got to the beginning, they were worse than I would have thought. “Wow, how bad do you think it would be if one of us fell into those Katie?”
“Bad. Really, really bad.” We walk down farther and the rapids increased in intensity. After a few more minutes, we come to an old bridge built across one of the worst sections of the river. “Should we cross it?”
All traces of nervousness have left Mary’s face. As mama’s little girl, she rarely gets to experience anything out of the ordinary. She nods.
“Do you want me to go first Mary?”
She pushes me aside. “No I want to go first.” She jumps up onto the bridge and crosses about halfway. She stops and looks down at the rushing water. That’s when I hear the snap. It only takes me a moment before I realize what is happening.
“Mary!” I scream to her, but when she turns to run, the wood, rotted with age, folds sending her into the rapids. Her head bobs underwater and she lets out a gurgled cry. I run up and down the river screaming to her with no luck. She is okay, I think, the rapids aren’t really that bad.
Suddenly two kayakers appear. “What are you doing down here? It’s extremely dangerous, especially alone.”
“My sister,” I sob. “She fell in.” In moments, one of the kayakers has called 911 and the woman sits me down on a rock and puts her coat around me. As she turns to talk to the man, I grab her hand.
“Please, please tell me honestly. Is she going to be okay?”
She sighs and kneels down in front of me. “You want the truth?” I nod. She stands up and looks straight into my eyes. “I’m sorry.” That’s when the uncontrollable tears start.
Katie!” I can hear someone calling my name, but I don’t respond. I feel hands on my shoulders and I don’t need to look to know who it is.
“It’s my fault that she’s dead. We shouldn’t have gone. I shouldn’t have even thought about it.” I sob into Ryan’s shoulder. He puts his arms firmly around me.
“No Katie. It’s not your fault.”
“It is. It is,” I mumble. “I’m a horrible person.”
“No you aren’t. If I believed that then I wouldn’t be here now.” I continued to cry and he held me tighter to him. The sun was setting and his body was warm against mine. I felt myself giving in to sleep. My tears began to stop after my tear ducts were drained. Ryan continued to hold me until I slowly fell asleep.
Painfully I wake up. The dark light of sunset is filtering through the leaves above my head. I slowly sit up and rub my eyes. I can sense Ryan looking at me out of the corner of my eye. I play with the grass between my fingers.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“There’s no reason to be. Katie look at me.” He grabs my hands. “It was not your fault. You can’t blame yourself for anything.”
“How did you know?” I look across at the water.
“Austin called me. Although he didn’t tell me much just that you had taken off and he was unsure where you had gone. He said you had gotten into a fight with your mom.”
Tears form in my eyes again. I whisper, “She’s right you know. I’m starting to forget Mary. It’s my fault that she’s dead.”
“How is it your fault Katie?” Ryan shrugs his shoulders at me.
“I convinced my mom to let us go. I suggested looking at the rapids. I said that we should cross the bridge.” I turn to look at him, my eyes pleading. “But I didn’t know. I didn’t know that the bridge wasn’t safe.”
“I know you didn’t. That’s why it’s not your fault. You didn’t know. You didn’t make the bridge break. You have to stop blaming yourself.” I sit in silence blankly staring down at the grass. Ryan takes a deep breath and then says, “Okay so when I was twelve, my little brother and I were riding in a go-cart on my grandpa’s farm in Montana and I was driving. Caleb was five and my mom had made this big deal about how I had to be extremely careful. My older cousin had built a little jump and without even thinking about it, I drove off of it. Well, the go-cart flipped and landed on top of Caleb. He broke three of his ribs but I was fine. I blamed myself for so long. I controlled going off of the jump. It was my fault. But this, this wasn’t yours Katie.”
I look over at him. “How can you be so sure,” I whisper.
“Well, did you know that something bad would happen when you convinced your mom to let you two go?”
I pause, “No.”
“Did you know that the rapids were so dangerous?”
“And did you know that the wood on that bridge was rotten?”
I look down, “No.”
“Exactly. Now give me one good reason why it would be your fault.” I don’t answer but continue staring at the ground. “That’s what I thought,” he says quietly.
We lean back against the tree, my head slightly on his shoulder. I sigh.
“I’m not sure why you care so much. I’m not worth it.”
I look at him and he is looking at me. His blue eyes are penetrating. I feel like they are peering right inside of me and for a moment I feel almost embarrassed. The breeze flutters my bangs into my eyes and Ryan pulls them out of the way. His hand lingers on the side of my face and he leans in. Softly, he presses his lips against mine. And simultaneously, the army of butterflies in my stomach erupts. But it’s an eruption of joy, and for that moment all the sadness in my life is blown away.
He pulls away and whispers, “You are worth it.”
“Are you going to go to the Homecoming dance with Ryan?” Grace and I are playing tic tack toe on the front cover of her physics book. I smile.
“I’m not sure. I mean I don’t really know like what we are.”
“Oh yeah because you guys,” she looks around and draws a picture of two stick figures kissing.
I laugh. “You can say it Grace. We kissed.”
“I know I just thought it might be more dramatic if I drew it.” She smiles at me. In the past two weeks, Grace and I have become close friends. We have spent countless hours looking at old photo albums and laughing at home movies. Other than Ally, she is the only person who knows about Ryan and me.
“It is more dramatic. I like it.”
She looks down at her book and then her eyes snap up to meet mine. “Did you hear about what Samantha did when she found out that Ryan drove you to school?”
“No.” I lean closer to her, curious.
“Okay so you will think this is funny. I did. So she sees you two together and she got really upset that he didn’t park by her and so she goes, takes her moms credit card, and then spends so much money on clothes that she reaches the limit on the card and now she has to drive her grandpa’s car.” That is pretty funny. I had seen her driving around in a faded brown clunker of a car. I laugh. “Why?”
“Oh this is the best part. Kara told me that Samantha bought the new clothes in an effort to look nicer than you so that Ryan would like her. As if Ryan likes fake.” We both laugh together. It has been really nice to have another girl around to talk to again. Talking to Ally on the phone just hasn’t been the same as a face-to-face friend.
“Wow. Some people kids.” We laugh harder. In one of Grace’s home videos of our fifth grade play, Samantha leans up to the microphone and said that same line after a girl named Olivia flubbed her lines. I guess some people just never change.
Walking to my car after school, I pass by the car that I assumed was Samantha’s grandpas. Sure enough there was the queen bee Samantha Newark herself fumbling with the key. I watched as she dropped the key into a puddle. She slammed her books down on the top of the car and sent papers flying everywhere. Part of me wanted to taunt her but the nicer part of me won out and I began to help pick up her papers.
“Thanks,” she said looking down blushing. I just smiled and walked over to my car. It was no sports car. It had dents, the paint was scratched, but it worked for me. I got inside and set my backpack on the passenger seat when Ryan smashed into the driver’s window. I jumped clear out of my seat and Ryan kept tapping on the window with a goofy grin on his face.
I rolled the window down. “That just scared the crap out of me.”
Quickly he replies, “Sorry. But what are your plans for tomorrow night?”
“I think I’m free.”
“Great! Would you like to accompany me to my sister, Sophia’s dance recital?” I grinned at his formality. “And then I can show you my escape spot.”
“I would be honored.” I smiled and shook my head.
“Okay I will pick you up at let’s say six o’clock?”
“Sounds like a plan.” He smiles and starts to walk away but turns back.
“Wait I need you to promise me something.”
I looked at him confused. “Um. Okay.”
“Please take a day off of running tomorrow.” I smile.
“Alright. I think that I can do that.”
“Good.” He softly hits his hand on the side of my car and waves as I roll up my window. I watch him walk away in my rearview mirror and once I’m out of the parking lot, I start belting out the happiest song I can think of.
Ding Dong. Austin answers the door. “Hey Ryan. Come back for a rematch?” I hear Ryan chuckle.
“Not exactly,” Ryan replies. “Maybe next time, but I think it’s pretty clear who won last time.”
“Oh sure. I forgot you are in love with my sister.” Austin points to the kitchen table where I am sitting, with my hand covering my face, and walks away.
It is quiet for a few moments.
Ryan breaks it when he says, “Are you ready?”
I stand up. “Yes.” I grab my coat and we walk out the door.
As we are walking out to his car, I say, “I’m really sorry. That was really awkward.”
Ryan laughs. “Don’t worry. Remember my sister is six so she will most likely say something awkward tonight too. Just a heads up.”
“Well thank you for that warning.” I stare out the window on the way to the dance center, thinking about how new everything is to me even though I lived here before. The old Dairy Queen is gone, and so is the indoor roller rink. Both have been replaced by fancier buildings advertising newer things. Ryan parks in front of a huge building that I don’t remember ever seeing before.
As we get out of the car, I ask him, “Is this building new?”
“Yeah it’s relatively new. I think they built it three or four years ago.”
“Oh.” Once inside Ryan gets our tickets and we wait to be ushered to our seats. “Aren’t your parents coming?”
“They’re already here actually, with Caleb. But our seats aren’t by them.” He looks strange when he says that. But I guess it is kind of early for me to meet his parents. I mean we aren’t dating officially or anything.
We are led to our seats which give us a direct few of the stage.
Once we are both seated, Austin turns to face me. “So, there’s still so much that I don’t know about you. Like, what’s your favorite color?”
“I would probably say green. But not forest green, like neon green. What about you?”
“This is weird, but I like black.”
“You like black? That’s not even a good color.” I smile at him.
“Hey now, you asked the question and just replied honestly.”
“Alright then, your favorite color is black.” He smiles back at me.
“That would be correct,” he pauses. “What is your favorite plant?” He grins.
“My favorite plant?”
“Yeah, like a flower. What is your favorite flower?”
“Orange lilies. Those were Mary’s favorite.” I look down.
He hesitates. “When I was little, every summer my cousins and I would all go spend a week at my Grandma’s house in Tennessee. And every summer she would make us help weed her garden. Her favorite flowers were lilies so that’s what her entire garden consisted of.” Then the lights dim, and the dance instructor walks onto the stage. She introduces herself and talks about all of the hard work her dancers have put in to make this night special. First comes, the least experienced girls who were anywhere from toddlers to teenagers. But, Sophia wasn’t in with them. When the next group came on stage, Ryan leaned over and pointed out Sophia. She pranced around in a pink tutu with her blonde hair up in a bun. She certainly surprised me with her talent.
“How long has she been dancing?” I whisper to Ryan.
“Since she was four, so about two years.”
“Wow.” Next is the advanced group with most of the dancers performing their moves on point shoes. I clap loudly when the groups come out to take their bows at the end. Ryan whistles for Sophia, and I stand up.
When the lights turn on, Ryan leads me down to where he promised to meet Sophia. Within a few minutes, she runs out and hugs him. He kisses her head.
“You were great, Soph! I’m proud to be related to you.”
She smiles up at him with one of her front teeth missing. “I almost fell this one time, but then I got my balance back so I didn’t. It would have been sad if I knocked myself down.” It is then that she looks over and sees me. “Oh Ryan is this your friend?”
“Yeah this is Katie.”
“Hi Sophia,” I wave to her.
“Hi Katie,” She turns and looks up at her brother again. “She looks a lot like Bethany. Is that why you like her so much?”
His smile falters, “You’re funny Sophia. But you better go get changed so mom and dad can take you home. I will see you there okay?”
“Okay. Bye Katie.”
“Bye,” I say quietly.
As we walk out to Ryan’s car, he surprises me by grabbing my hand.
I look over to him, “Who is Bethany?”
Once again his happy expression falters and staring straight ahead, he says, “Oh…er….she’s my cousin.”
“Oh.” The drive back to my house is mostly quiet. He asks me a few more questions about my favorite things, such as my favorite food. I reply that I like Mashed Potatoes. Then he asks about my favorite desert, and I say ice cream. I can’t help but feel like something is slightly different. His usual humorous self has been replaced by someone serious. He stares straight ahead at the road and seems distracted.
When we get to my house, I start to get out of the car feeling disappointed but he stops me.
“Sorry I might have seemed kind of distant. I was just thinking about things.”
I half smile at him, “That’s okay.”
I feel disappointed again, “I will see you later I guess.” I get out of the car and walk up to the front door. I turn around and see that he has already driven off. I open the door and go into my room, all the while fighting back tears.
I’m sitting on my roof while the sun is rising because I needed some fresh air. Ever since last night, I have been thinking about what could have possibly been going on with Ryan. So far, I haven’t come up with any logical reason.
My phone vibrates in my pocket; I pull it out and read the text message from Grace.
So...how was it? Do I need to draw more pictures in physics? ;)
Well he was acting super weird toward the end. Although he did hold my hand for like four seconds. But then he drove away before I even got into the house.
Hmmm sounds like it didn’t go as well as hoped
Not in the least
Do you want to go get ice cream later and we can talk about it
Yes! Ice cream and a deep conversation sounds like just what I need
Okay meet me at dairy queen at noonish?
Sounds good see you then!
Right after I put my phone down it starts vibrating again. It’s Ryan calling me.
“Good morning! Where are you?”
“On the roof why?”
“Ah that’s perfect! Look at the garden in the front of your house.” I lean up so that I can see the front garden. There I see hundreds of orange lilies planted spelling out the word dance? I smile. Ryan is standing behind the flowers looking up at me. “So what’ll it be?”
“What do you mean?”
“Will you go to the homecoming dance with me?”
Suddenly everything from last night is wiped out of my memory. “Yes. I would like that a lot.”
“Good,” he smiles. “I have to go take care of some things but I will call you later. Okay?”
“Okay.” I watch him hang up and drive away in his car. And I feel happy again.
Grace and I sit across from each other at a table in the crowded, new Dairy Queen eating our ice cream. After telling her about the Homecoming dance we opted to celebrate with banana splits.
“So how did he know that was your favorite flower?” She picks up her spoon and shovels a piece of banana into her mouth.
“He asked me yesterday.”
“Oh right tell me about that. What made that whole date bad.”
“It wasn’t all bad. I mean, like I said, he did hold my hand for a few seconds. But for the most part, he seemed really out of it, especially when his little sister mentioned his cousin Bethany.” At the mention of his cousin Bethany, Grace nearly chokes on her spoonful of ice cream.
She coughs and stares at me. “His cousin Bethany?”
“Yeah,” I look at her confusedly. “What’s so surprising about that?”
She looks away from me and mutters to herself, “He has a cousin named Bethany too?”
“Too? What do you mean by that?” My brow furrows and I’m sure my face has re-formed into the confused look I gave my parents when informed we were moving.
“Well I’ve just heard, through the grapevine and all, that he dated a girl named Bethany from the other school in town. I guess it was pretty serious but then all of a sudden they broke up.” She gives me an apologetic look.
“I still don’t understand. I’ve dated before too. Granted I’ve only had one boyfriend and it wasn’t serious, but it’s still dating.”
She shrugs, “I wouldn’t worry about it.” But because of her reaction I’m starting to. She avoids eye contact and it increases my nervousness. She appears to almost be hiding something that I should know. Grace turns to look at the entrance to the restaraunt and quickly looks at me. “I don’t know if you have to worry about Bethany or not but you might need to worry about that.” She gestures with her head to the couple that are in line to order. My nervousness spikes when I notice that it’s Ryan. In Dairy Queen. Laughing with another girl. Who is wearing his jacket.
My breath catches. I stare wide-eyed at Grace. “We need to go now!” She nods and we begin to get up but we quickly realize that there is no way to leave without them spotting us. Grace points to the bathrooms as her phone rings. I shoot her a warning glance.
“It’s my mom. I have to go pick up my brother in five minutes.” She once again looks at me apologetically.
“Go. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Alright. But text me later.” With that she stands up and walks out of the restaurant. I hear her and Ryan exchange greetings but his sounds strained and unnatural. Almost like he is worried that she might tell someone she saw him. My heart thumps against my chest and I suddenly feel like a spy. Quickly I move booth to booth until I can easily get to the bathrooms without them noticing me.
I feel stupid sitting in the bathroom. So I decide to just make a break for it. I slowly push open the bathroom door and make a break for the door. I’m sure that it looks like I’m trying to outrun the police or something but at this point I don’t even care. I get to my car and quickly pull away. Once stopped at a stoplight, I push my bangs out of my face and open the windows to get some fresh air. It’s nothing, I tell myself, Nothing that I need to worry about. But for some reason I can’t seem to shake the feeling that something isn’t right. I’m not officially his girlfriend, but I’m still nervous. As a lie in bed that night, all I can think about is what could possibly be going wrong. I toss and turn in my sleep, constantly awaking with the nervousness returning. Once I wake up with the surprising thought that maybe Ryan isn’t as perfect as he seems.
Ryan and I sit side by side on a bench at the top of a hill. You can see the whole town and even the pond. This is how Ryan and Jake knew that I was down by the pond that first day. It really is the perfect escape spot.
I shift my sitting position so that I can be facing him. “So tell me more about you.”
He smiles, “My name is Ryan and I live in Virginia.”
I interrupt him. “No you weirdo. I mean things that aren’t obvious. Like, tell me more about your family and your childhood, things like that.”
He fakes surprise, “Oh so that’s what you meant. Next time you should be more specific,” I glare at him. And so he raises his palms in surrender. “Alright, Alright. I wasn’t born here. I was born in South Carolina, but we moved here when I was two so this is my home. My parents are pretty, um, formal, I guess. They know what they want and will do whatever work necessary to get it. I’ve played soccer since I was six so for twelve years. And I’ve only ever stopped when I had surgery two years ago because I tore my ACL.”
“Interesting Ryan from Virginia.” I grin at him. He grins back.
“So now it’s your turn.”
“To tell you about my life? I think that you’ve heard enough.”
“But what about your childhood. And living in Oregon for eight years?”
I think. “Well I guess, when I first found out we were moving to Oregon I was really mad because my friends were here.” I grimace thinking about how they changed over the years. “But then once we got there, I loved it. I made friends so easily there which is not normally a talent I posses. I got to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t have if we would never have moved.”
I pause, “Like swim in the freezing ocean on the Oregon coast and travel to see the Redwoods on the way to a cross country meet.” I smile as I pause, “And I won Homecoming duchess my freshman year.”
“Really?” He draws out the word, adding emphasis. “So you have a reputation to live up to this year?”
“I guess so.” I laugh and look out at the town. I re-shift my position so that we are both facing the same way again. We are quiet for a few minutes, until Ryan reaches over and takes my hand.
“Well, I’m glad that you moved back or we never would have met.”
I smile at him, “That would’ve sucked.”
He laughs and agrees. He puts his arm around me and I lean against him.
“Oh just one more question.” I look up to him. “Will you be my girlfriend?” I smile wide and nod my head yes.
“I would like that,” I say still smiling.
“Me too.” Then he leans down and kisses me again. I feel strangely nervous but I’m still completely overcome with happiness. I am Ryan’s girlfriend. I am happy.
We sit quietly next to each other for a long time. We watch the bright pink and orange lights of the sunset spread out across the sky. When the sun has completely slipped behind the horizon we look for constellations in the stars. The wind blows softly through the trees and I shiver. Ryan takes off his jacket and hands it to me, despite my refusal. I slip it on over my own. It is the same jacket I wore the first time he gave me a ride. It is the same jacket that some other girl was wearing.
“How about this one?” Grace and I are walking through the mall looking for dress stores so that we can buy our dresses for homecoming. She was asked by Jake to go so we are all going to go together. We walk into the store that she points out and begin to sift through the hundreds of dresses. She holds up a long, green dress and points to me. I playfully roll my eyes and take it from her hands.
Soon enough we both have piles of dresses in our arms. We have a store employee unlock dressing rooms for us and begin to try on the dresses. The green dress Grace picked out for me was pretty but not me at all so I toss it aside.
“Have you found anything yet?” Grace asks me across the stall.
“Uh not really. Did Ryan ask you what color of a corsage to get?”
“Well I tried to tell him that he didn’t need to get one but he kept talking about how it was an important part of the dance. I eventually just told him to surprise me.”
“Oh.” We are silent for a few minutes as we both try on more dresses. I finally get down to having one left, which was my favorite. I put it on and stare blankly into the mirror. I feel beautiful. The long, dark blue dress hits me perfectly and for once, I do not feel insecure.
“Grace. You have to see this one.” We both emerge from our separate rooms. Her dress is gorgeous too. After much persuasion on both parts, we decide that we have found our dresses. I feel guilty buying mine because of the price, but I smile as I remember my dad’s words as he handed me money. “You done good kid.” Grace and I walk out of the store swinging our large bags holding our purchases, with smiles as big as Virginia itself.
I walk into the house and am almost tackled by Austin who is running toward me. He wastes no time in telling me that there is a huge surprise waiting for me in my room. His smile makes me nervous. I hesitate but because of his urging I make my way down the hallway. Austin keeps muttering about how happy I will be and how surprising this is. I just smile. My door is shut and my suspicion increases.
I push the door open and scream in joy. “Oh my gosh! Aly!” We embrace as I look at her in shock. “What are you doing here?”
“We have the next two weeks off like you and my dad had to come here for business so I decided to tag along. I was thinking maybe I could join this little dance party, I keep hearing about. And maybe meet this boy too.” She winks at me and continues smiling. I just stand there staring at here, still in complete shock. “Well come on now. Let me see it.” She points down to the bag that I completely forgot I was holding. I carefully pull the dress out of it’s coverings and smile down at it.
“My friend Grace convinced me to buy it today. What do you think?”
She smiles. “Honestly, I’m thinking that Ryan is going to love you in that dress.” We sit across from each other on my bed. “So what are our plans for this week, other than the dance of course? Are you going to show me around?”
I laugh. “I can show you what I know. I mean, it’s a pretty big town and we haven’t been here all that long so I’m no expert yet. But I can take you to the infamous pond I’ve slept by.”
“I think that would be a fantastic idea! I’m really excited to be in the spot where everything between you and Ryan started.”
“You mean where I went when I became crazy.”
“Well that too. But hey, something must have been working for you.”
“I guess so.” I grimace and look at the bedspread.
“What’s that face for?”
“Come on. I know you better than that.”
I sigh. “Well it’s just that after he asked me if I would be his girlfriend, he gave me his coat to put on, and it was the same one that the girl at Dairy Queen was wearing. For some reason, I just can’t get over that.”
“Hmm. I don’t know him so what did Grace say.”
“That he is just a nice guy, which he is, but she seemed weird about it.”
“I guess I will just have to wait until the dance to decide what my opinion is of this whole situation and of Ryan himself.” She smiles.
“Speaking of the dance, what were you planning on wearing?”
She grins again and moves over to her suitcase. She kneels down, unzips it, and pulls out a big, black bag. “Does this look familiar to you?” She asks sarcastically. I smile and nod, because I immediately know what is in the bag. She removes the dress from the bag and I laugh remembering how we had to spend all night fixing her dress, the night before prom, because she had accidently ripped it. Sure enough, she flips it around, and there is the nice butt bow that we had to sew on. Aly replaces it into the bag and returns to her spot on the bed. We reminisce about prom and the disaster that it was, and many cross country memories. We stay up late talking until Austin finally comes in and tells us that we should “shut up and go to bed.” We smile and take his advice.
As I lay on the bed and she lies on an air mattress on the floor, she whispers, “I’ve missed you Katie.”
I quietly respond, “I missed you too, Aly.” I feel a pang of hurt as I remember the past few months. Although Ryan and Grace have been great friends to me, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a best friend. And I realize that I have missed having my best friend around.
We wake up late the next morning and my parents are already long gone off to work. We meander down to the kitchen in search of food for breakfast.
“What’s for breakfast Austin?” Aly asks.
“Looks like…,” he picks up a box of lucky charms, “lucky charms or toast.” Aly and I look at each other.
“Lucky Charms,” we say together. I get two bowls down from the cupboard and pour cereal into them. Aly puts milk on hers but I like mine better plain. My phone starts to buzz and it’s Ryan.
“I’ll be right back,” I say. “It’s Ryan.”
“Good, we don’t want to hear your conversation anyway,” smirks Austin. I shake my head at him and walk into my room, closing the door slightly behind me.
“Whoa did you just wake up?”
“Uh, pretty much.”
He laughs, “Do you realize that it’s almost noon?”
“Hey don’t judge me. I was up late last night. Aly surprised me.”
“Oh that’s good. So then you wouldn’t be up for hanging out today?”
“No I still would be. She can stay with Austin for a while.” I smile. Austin and I are close. But, Aly and Austin are weirdly close for not having to be.
“Alright. I’ll pick you up in an hour. And wear good walking clothes.”
“Okay.” We hang up and return to the other room. “Aly is it okay if I leave you to hang out with this dork for a few hours today?” I motion to Austin.
She looks at him and then back to me. “You are going to ditch me on my first day here! Even though, I flew across the country to hang out with you?” She tries to hide her smile. She has never been good at faking anger.
“Well I guess I could just call Ryan back and tell him I’m unavailable.”
“No. I’m already excited to spend some quality time with Austin.” She pats him on the arm and they smile at each other.
“You two are weird,” I mutter and return to eating my cereal. They begin to talk about what they can do for the day. Austin decides that he will be taking my car to which I grimace. He has only had his license for a few weeks. I’m concerned about possible damage he could inflict to it.
I wash my bowl and go into my room. What qualifies as good walking clothes? I put on my favorite jeans, despite the obvious bleach stain on the knee, my Portland High cross country shirt from last year and a pair of tennis shoes. I follow my usual makeup routine which doesn’t involve nearly anything and pull a brush through my hair. Looking out the small window in my room I see that the trees are moving. I tear through my closet searching for a sweatshirt after I hear the doorbell ring. I’m not sure if I want to leave my boyfriend alone with my best friend and my brother.
I run down the hall and find that I am too late. All three of them are sitting at the table, but Austin and Aly are closer, staring across at Ryan.
“Oh gosh,” I say walking into the room.
Ryan stands up and looks at me, “Katie.”
“Hi,” I say. I gesture to Aly. “Have you already met her.”
“Not officially, no.”
“Okay, well Ryan this is Aly. She is here visiting for a week from Portland. Aly this is Ryan.”
“I’m the best friend,” Aly says extending her hand across the table.
Ryan grins. “So I’ve been told.”
“Alright well now that you two have met,” I turn to Ryan, “are you ready to go?”
“Yes. See you guys later.” We walk out the front door and as it is shutting we hear Austin yell something about his “rematch”. Ryan chuckles to himself as we walk down the sidewalk. I look around and am not seeing a car.
“Uh Ryan?” He stops a few feet in front of me and looks at me questioningly. “Where is your car?”
“You see, that is where the ‘wear good walking clothes’ comes in. My car’s MIA right now. But don’t worry. It’s only a little walk to where we are going.”
I look around again, and shrug. “Okay.” I’m not opposed to walking.
“How long have you and Aly known each other?”
“We met the day my family and I moved. She lived a few houses down from ours so it was one of those things where our parents forced us to play together. But obviously, we became friends through it all.” Ryan just nods.
He flashes a grin. “I think my story about how Jake and I became friends trumps yours.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Oh really?”
“Yeah. So this one time when I was eight during recess I decided to climb to the top of that metal, dome play equipment thing and swing from the bars. And it so happens, that I let go and fell on Jake. Turns out, we both got concussions and so we bonded in the nurses office.” Ryan speaks slowly, drawing the words out.
“So Jake is your best friend then?”
“No Samantha is.” Ryan looks at me. He looks so serious. But he said that she was crazy. Maybe he is telling the truth.
I gawk at him. “You’re joking right?”
“Of course I’m joking, miss smarty pants! I told you that she’s crazy.” He laughs at me and I blush, looking at the cement sidewalk.
“I hate you.” He smiles.
“No you love me.” This brings on an awkward silence. I tear through my mind trying to think of something to break it.
“So how is Sophia doing?”
That seems to have worked. “Well, she has turned our basement into a ballet studio, which is problematic because my bedroom is in the basement. She keeps asking about you too.” He glances sideways at him.
“I do make quite the first impression,” I smile at the ground, hoping he gets what I am referring to.
“Yeah, about that, you kind of seemed like you were crazy,” He laughs. “Good thing I didn’t just settle for that explanation.”
“Good thing.” I can see the ocean now. He leads me down the beach to the waters edge. He picks up a smooth, flat rock and turns it over in his hands.
“Can you skip rocks?” He asks. I pick one up and throw it in an effort to show him that, in fact, I can not skip rocks. He laughs and throws his. Of course, it skips in the water four times before disappearing. I make a face at him. He puts his hands up in defense. “Hey, don’t hate me because I’m talented.”
“Or lucky,” I mutter. He then proceeds to skip more rocks to prove to me that it’s pure skill and no luck is involved.
I try to skip another rock, and I can feel Ryan’s gaze on me. It just plops into the water. Frustrated, I proceed to fail at skipping three, four, five rocks before Ryan starts laughing again.
“Okay I’m sorry, but this is just painful to watch.” He walks closer to me and picks up two rocks. One is flat, and the other one is just a lump. “You can’t skip a rock like this,” he holds up the lump. “You have to use flat ones, and flick with your wrist. Not with your whole arm. It’s not baseball.” He grins at me. I can’t help but smile back. After another minute or two of coaching, Ryan hands me a flat rock. Flick with the wrist. I let the rock go and watch it skip twice. Good enough for me “See, there you go.”
I sit down in the sand and mutter “Total luck.”
I look down at the pictures that we’ve drawn in the sand. Ryan’s are simple. Mine are more intricate. His involve shapes. Mine involve people, stick people. His are beautiful. Mine are not. I begin to think about how different the two of us actually are.
“What are you thinking about?” He asks me.
“Nothing,” I lie. I’m glad that my head is on his shoulder so he can’t see my eyes. My eyes always give away when I lie.
“You know what I’m thinking about?” I smile and shake my head no. “How you might have a future as an artist because of your outstanding natural talent.” I lift my head up to look at him, and fake punch him in the shoulder. “Or a boxer.” He grins. I can’t help but feel like smiling too, but I fight the urge and instead fold my arms, feigning anger. Once again he puts his hands up in defense. “Okay, okay. I’ll tell you what I’m really thinking.”
“This ought to be good.” He surprises me by grabbing both of my hands in his.
“I was thinking about you. You’re beautiful Kathleen Hayes.” I smile at him and he leans in to kiss me. I can’t get over how exciting it feels every time. It feels exactly like the first time.
The next two weeks pass slowly as we prepare for homecoming. On the day of, Grace, Ally and I help each other do our hair and makeup. Ally and Grace became friends quickly so there is nothing awkward about this. They laugh together as though they have been friends for years.
Ryan and I have been spending more time together too. He had seemed nervous about the dance when I had asked him about it. But, he tried to hide it by asking me more questions about everything he could think of. He seemed to care so much about the little things. Maybe that is why I noticed the little things that he did too.
“Katie, how do you want us to do your hair?”
I look up from the magazine. “Uh, I don’t care. As long as it is down. I look bald with my hair up.” They both laugh at me and say that, in fact, I don’t look bald. I roll my eyes at the two of them as they jump in the task of curling my hair. I put the magazine down and look around the room. Grace’s bedroom walls are covered with paintings that she has done herself. I smile as I remember Grace inviting us over to her house.
“I’m the kind of girl who believes in fairytales,” she had said. “And my house has a better staircase than yours, Katie. I want my staircase moment.” In reality, I believed in fairytales too. And I longed for my staircase moment as well.
Two hours later, the three of us were dressed and everything was accomplished. There was a soft knock at the door, and Grace’s mother came in.
“You girls look beautiful.” She pulled out her camera to take a picture but Grace rolled her eyes.
“Mom, you can do that when the boys get here.”
“Well then,” she snapped a picture, “the boys are here. Come down whenever you are ready.”
When Shelly had left, we looked at each other.
“Are we ready?” I ask smiling.
They return the smile. “Yes.” We leave the room and arrive at the top of the staircase. All three boys look up at us. Instead of looking at Ryan, I look down at my feet, blushing. Each of us had a date, even Ally. I was with Ryan. Grace was going with Jake. And Ally was going with one of Jake’s friends, Henry. We reach the bottom of the stairs and Ryan takes my hand to help me off of the last step.
“You look beautiful,” he says. Shelley rushes in immediately to begin the photographing. We smile and bear it. Ryan keeps muttering things to me that make me laugh and in response Shelley tells us she may need to separate us. I smile apologetically at her and decide not to be a distraction until the photos are finished.
When they finally are, all six of us go outside and split into the vehicles. Ryan is driving me, and Jake is driving the other three. Being a true gentleman, Ryan leads me to his car and helps me into it. He walks around to the driver’s side and climbs in.
He takes a breath and looks at me. “I really can’t get over this.”
“Get over what.”
“How lucky I am to be with the most beautiful girl in the world.” I grin widely at him and he kisses me. I smile out the window as he begins driving thinking about how perfect my life is.
We all walk into the dance together after showing the teacher/chaperones our tickets. Ryan asks me to dance, and instead of waiting for an answer, twirls me around to the dance floor. I see people from my classes and they wave at me, saying that they love my dress, or how great Ryan and I look together. I blush again and am thankful that it is dark enough that no one can see it.
I am most surprised by Natalie who approaches me while I am in line for the bathroom. “Your dress is so cute, Katie. I’m amazed at how much you have grown up since when you moved. And you and Ryan, huh? That’s cute. I just hope nothing happens to jeopardize your relationship.” She smirks and walks off. I narrow my eyes at her back as she walks away.
For the next hour I try to forget what she said and the gnawing I feel in the pit of my stomach that something is wrong. I feel even more sick when I cannot find Ryan after he went to get a drink. Grace and Ally are also nowhere in sight either.
I see the door that Ryan left through and begin to walk towards it. Suddenly Grace and Ally appear. Grace runs in front of me and tries to usher me in the opposite direction. She glances at Ally and they seem to share some sort of nonverbal communication. Ally immediately joins Grace in the effort however, it’s useless. I know that something is going on that they don’t want me to see and I’m going to find out what it is. I pick up the bottom of my dress and push through them. I walk through the doors into the hallway and stop in my tracks. Up against a locker, I see Ryan and the girl from Dairy Queen kissing. Bethany. Grace was right all along. He never had a cousin named Bethany.
Tears form in my eyes as I rip off my corsage. Suddenly the red flowers are ugly. I throw it with all my might at the two of them. It hits Ryan in the head. He turns and I see his eyes widen in panic. I shake my head and the tears start flowing. I turn on my heels and run out of the school. I hear Ryan calling my name but I ignore him, just like I did with my mother that first night. I try to leave as quickly as possible but I’m not fast enough in a dress.
Ryan catches up to me and grabs my hand. I rip it out of his grasp and try to keep walking. He touches my shoulder and I shrug away.
“It’s more complicated than you think,” he whispers. I attempt to stop the tears, and wipe them away before I spin to face him.
“You lied to me! What’s complicated about that?” I look at him waiting for an answer that I’m sure will never come. This time he is the one who looks away. “That’s what I thought.” I shake my head and look away.
“Katie, please, it’s not as bad as you think.” He stares at me, pleading.
I glare him down. “Not as bad as I think? Please tell me Ryan, what makes this better?”
“I don’t love her anymore.”
“But obviously you loved her enough or you wouldn’t have humiliated me. And made me think that maybe for once I was enough, when in reality it was just lies. I’m so stupid! I told you everything. I told you about my sister. And you…..you’re just a jerk!” I start to walk away but he grabs my hand, more firmly this time.
“Okay I admit it. Maybe in the beginning my idea of what I wanted was skewed, but then I met you and everything changed.”
I snort, “That’s what they all say.” I pull my hand free and start walking away with my back to him.
“But it’s true. After everything, I realized that I don’t care about Bethany the way that I care about you. Turns out I never did. I love you Katie!” I stop, shocked. But then the truth of the situation hits me and my shock returns to anger and then to overwhelming sadness.
Without turning, I shake my head, cover my eyes with my hands, and start to run. I kick my shoes off and hold them. I run a few blocks away before I fall down into the grass and sob. The truth is that I love him too, but I can’t, not after what he was just doing to me.
I grab my phone and call Grace. Through my tears, I relay my conversation with Ryan and tell her that I am leaving. When I finish she is quiet.
“You were right,” I whisper.
“No, I don’t think so. We will leave too. Wait for us and we can go to my house. You’re spending the night.”
I hear Ally chime in, “I will let your parents know.”
I close my phone and, as I can still see the school, watch as Ally and Grace’s shadows emerge from the school’s main doors. They walk right past Ryan without so much as a glance. When they reach me, they both sit next to me. Ally puts her arm around me as I cry. It was all a lie. One big, stupid fabrication made up by a boy that I thought was different. Turns out, none of them are.
Grace, Ally, and I sit on Grace’s kitchen floor. I am surrounded by empty bags of chips, soda cans, and a pizza box. I jab my spoon into the ice cream bowl again and Ally pulls it away from me.
“Don’t you think you have eaten enough?”
I glare at her. “No.”
“But you have eaten three bags of chips, and entire pizza, and,” she looks into the ice cream bowl,” most of this ice cream tub. That’s not really healthy for you Katie”
“Who cares about being healthy. Health hasn’t helped me thus far in life.”
“But do you want to just let yourself go all because of a guy.” Grace chimes in.
I look down knowing that they are both right. I just don’t want to hear it. My phone vibrates and I don’t even need to look at it to see who it is. “Will one of you please tell him to stop calling me? I don’t want to hear whatever explanation he is going to give me.” Ally and Grace look at each other and Ally picks up the phone.
She walks into the other room but I can still pick up pieces of her conversation with Ryan. “She’s says she doesn’t want you to call her anymore…….I know but she just……We have tried…..Maybe you should get……I don’t know but I doubt it……okay we’ll do something.”
“What did he say?” I ask her when she returns to the room.
“He won’t call you anymore.”
I stare at her. “There is no way that is all he said. Your conversation was way longer than that. Plus I heard you say you will try. Well I don’t want either or you trying to make me talk to him.” They look at each other. “I am never going to talk to him ever again.” I remind myself of the little girl I used to be when I would tell my dad that I would never love him again if he didn’t buy me ice cream. This was not a situation even relatively similar to that though. I would never talk to Ryan again, I was sure of it. And I would never, ever love him again.
“Katie.” Ally reaches over and touches my hand. “You are my best friend but sometimes you need to learn to deal with things better.”
“How do you suggest then that I deal with this?”
“Just talk to him. Maybe it really isn’t what it seems.”
“I’m not going to talk to him. Not now. Not ever.”
Ally slumps her shoulders. “Fine, but we are not spending my last few days here moping about. We are going to go have fun.”
Grace nods in agreement. “It’s February. We can go ice skating.”
Ally nudges me. “Yeah, Katie, remember how much fun we used to have ice skating on the pond behind my house?” I nod. “Okay then, let’s do it.” Ally stands up. “Come on girl let’s go get dressed and go have the time of our lives.”
They basically pick out clothing for me and buckle me into Grace’s car. The drive to the ice arena is short and soon we are tying our skates. Ally flings herself out onto the ice where as Grace and I are more cautious. I tentatively step my skate onto the ice and push off from the wall gliding.
“Katie, remember this.” She spins on one foot attempting to re-enact our ice ballet from when we were twelve but just ends up on her butt.
I can’t help but laugh at her. “Are you okay?”
“I meant to do that. You see, that was intentional.”
Grace and I smile slightly at her. “I’m sure that it was.” Grace says to her.
We spend the better part of the day ice skating and then we walk along the streets in town. They are dimly lit in the decreasing sun’s light and the street lamps haven’t turned on yet. A few snow flakes begin to fall and land on the already white ground. Aly stops to make a snowball but the snow refuses to stick. She quickly abandons the effort after a few more failures.
Ally looks at her phone. “We should probably go. Your parents are probably worried about you Katie.” I reluctantly nod and Grace drives us home. I hug her when she drops me off. She signals to Ally that she would like a moment alone with me. Ally agrees and goes into the house.
Grace sighs. “Katie.”
“Grace, I know what you are going to say and I don’t really care to hear it out loud.” Grace gives me a disappointed look and I feel guilty. “And what? What would I say to him? ‘I know you say it’s not what it seemed like but actually I see no way that it is not what it looked like. But please explain to me anyway.’”
“It’s just, I have known Ryan for a long time, and this just doesn’t seem like something he would do. He was always a nice guy. I’m just convinced he has a good explanation.” I roll my eyes and look at my feet. “Think about it Katie. What did Natalie say to you before everything happened? That hopefully nothing happens to jeopardize your relationship? I don’t know about you but that sounds kind of fishy to me.”
I think about it and Grace is right. It does seem like an odd thing to say. But I’m still holding on to the final shred of hope that the girl who used to be my best childhood friend has not completely been tainted by Samantha. I want to believe that she is not at all different and that her friends have not changed her. But even as I think it, I know that I am wrong. Grace nods knowingly at me and drives away. I watch her go feeling empty. Even if Natalie’s comment seemed out of place, she was not the one Ryan was kissing. He was still the guilty one.
The next evening Ally and I meet her dad at the airport. I hug her for a long time longing to be going with her. She smiles at me and tries to tell me that everything will be fine.
“Listen to what Grace says. That girl knows what she is talking about.” I smile faintly at her and feel my eyes start to water. She notices and hugs me again. “Six more months until EWU.”
“I know. It just seems so far away. And how am I going to be able to go back to school? Ryan sits in front of me in my English class!”
“Katie, you are smart person. I’m sure that you will do fine in whatever you choose to do.” She smiles at me and passes through security. Before I know it, she is gone and I feel like running to find her. Six more months, I repeat to myself in my head. It really won’t be that long, but I have to return to school on Monday, where I will have to face Ryan, the boy who broke my heart.
I walk into the crowded hallway and immediately feel everyone’s eyes on me, like it was my first day of school again. Feeling all eyes trained on me, I study the black and white patterned tiles and make my way through the mass of students. I hear groups of sophomore and freshman girls whispering. I try to close my ears to their conversations but I still catch words like ‘embarrassing’ and ‘glad it’s not me’. I focus harder on the irregularly spaced out black and white and shuffle to my locker.
I enter my lock combination, debating on whether or not I should skip English, when I see the whiteboard, magnetically stuck inside of my locker. There, in scrawled writing, is Ryan’s message that started it all. I pry it from the locker door and wipe it clean. Then deciding that I didn’t even want it, I toss it into a nearby trash can.
“Cleaning house, huh?” I spin to see Jake at his locker a few down from mine. I nod. He shuts his locker and walks over to me. “Look Katie, I’m not going to come over here and plead Ryan’s case, but he wouldn’t hurt you. Sure, he can be a jerk but we all can. I’ve never seen him as happy as when you two were together.”
I close my eyes, I really don’t want to hear this.
“Jake,” I whisper, “that all may be true but that doesn’t change what I saw. I saw him kissing her, and he admitted to me that he lied about her. I already know I won’t be able to forget.” I shut my locker gently. “But thanks Jake. Thanks for trying.” I weakly smile and walk away.
Taking a deep breath, I walk into the classroom. Samantha and Natalie stare at me and then giggle in the most annoying way possible. Ryan looks up when I enter the room, and quickly locks his gaze on me. I stare at my feet, focusing on one spot of red paint on the toe of my shoe. I have a feeling that I am going to be avoiding eye contact a lot today.
I don’t acknowledge Ryan, even though he spins around to face me when I sit down. Feeling even more uncomfortable, I quickly glance up. His mouth appears to be struggling to find the words. I know he won’t find the right ones. He moves his hand toward me and I lean back as far in my chair as I can. I pick up my textbook and use it block Ryan’s line of sight. He seems to give up and turns away. I lower the book enough to see his head down on the desk. I see Natalie looking at me out of the corner of my eye so I shift my book to block her gaze as well. I try to read the words on the page but nothing makes sense to me. I have too many other things on my mind.
Mrs. Pauling calms the class and begins in on a lecture about the French Revolution, what it has to do with English I have no idea, but I am thankful because I assume it will make the class pass by slowly. That way I will have enough time to decide how to leave class without talking to Ryan, and what to say in case I have to say something. To my dismay, I look at the clock once and the class is almost over. I frantically think of how to escape without Ryan trying to talk to me. I pray that he will just leave as quickly as I am planning to but ahead of me.
The bell rings and I jump out of my seat. I fumble around the edges of my book attempting to pick it up, but I only send it flying onto the floor. I reach down but Ryan is there first. I avoid his eyes as we both stand up, and he hands me the book in silence.
He begins to open his mouth, but I quickly stop him. “Look Ryan I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to have this conversation and even if I did this is the last place I would want to have it.” I swerve around him and out of the door. My eyes return to their place, glued on the floor tiles. I rush into my next class early and drop my head into my hands.
“No she doesn’t want to talk to you,” I hear Austin yelling out of his window. “Well I think the reason is pretty obvious…… You should be trying to convince her of that…..Frankly, Ryan I don’t care to hear you out.” I hear the window close shut forcefully. Seconds later, Austin comes into my room. “He really needs to leave.” I close my eyes. Faintly I hear Ryan calling my name and the ding of the doorbell. My phone vibrates and I shove it into one of the drawers of my desk.
“I can’t take it anymore.” I storm out of the room, down the hallway, and out the front door. Ryan sees me and quickly approaches but stops just short of me.
“You need to leave. Now.”
“Just give me a chance to explain,” I cut him off.
“Did you not hear what I told you at school. I don’t want to have this conversation and I don’t want to talk to you at all.”
“I just need you to know the truth.” I ball my hands up into fists. I glare at him.
“Do you know how hard it is not to punch you right now?” He looks at my fists. “I can’t promise that I won’t do it.” We stand in silence for a few seconds as he takes in my words.
“It’s really not what you think,” he pleads.
“Don’t think I won’t do it.”
“I don’t love Bethany. I love you Katie!” And with that I lose control of my hands. I wind up and send my fist into the air between us. Ryan seems to realize what is happening but he doesn’t have time to react before my fist comes in contact with his face.
“That made me feel better,” I say and I turn around and walk right back into the house.
I shut the door forcefully behind me and then cradle my throbbing hand. Bad idea to punch a soccer player, I think to myself, but completely worth the pain. Revenge is a bad thing to get involved with, but despite that previous knowledge, I feel that by colliding my fist with his face, I got a little piece of revenge. All wrapped up in a nice knuckle sandwich, I gave Ryan a piece of my mind.
I think that he sensed that nothing could persuade me to listen to his story. After the incident at my house, Ryan didn’t try to talk to me at school or explain anything else to me. He simply would put his head down on his hands and listen.
Today is no different. He walks into the classroom in silence, looks up at me for only a second, and then sits down resuming his ordinary position, head on his hands. Natalie and Samantha snicker about my choice of clothing and I squeeze my eyes shut. Maybe, just maybe if I wish hard enough, I will open my eyes in Portland. I try but when I open them again, I’m still sitting in the same crooked desk.
I sigh. If only I could fast forward time until graduation. The time since the dance has dragged on slowly. Winter slowly slipped into spring, seemingly melting snow one fragile flake at a time. Graduation is only a month away now, but I’m sure that that time will not be an exception to the rule of the past. The class begins and ends the same way, it drags on.
My next class is equally dragging. I glance at the clock nearly every minute just pleading with the hands to click over. One minute. Two minutes. I end up completely absorbed in the clock throughout the entire class period. Because of this, I am one of the first people to leave the class.
In the hallway, I decide that I am tired of the daily judgmental looks people give me, so I walk an opposite way around the school than usual. At this point, arriving on time to class doesn’t make the top of my priority list. Over the past months I have spent so much time staring at the floor that the pattern of the tiles is practically tattooed on my brain. I turn the final corner sharply just in time to see Austin talking to Ryan. I skid to a stop and hide behind the wall watching them. I can’t hear anything they are saying, the underclassmen are too loud, but I get enough from their facial expressions to know that Austin isn’t angry at Ryan like I think he should be. The warning bell rings and they both nod and separate. I definitely will be talking to Austin later.
I don’t get the opportunity to confront Austin about the conversation until we both get home from school, to my dismay. He immediately goes into the kitchen for his apparently necessary afternoon snack. I sit down at the table and watch him cook his ramen.
He keeps looking over at me staring at him until he finally speaks, “What are you doing?” He makes a face at me, “Miss Crazy Eyes over there.”
“I saw you talking to Ryan today.”
“Yeah. By the way, you aren’t very good at hiding.”
“You saw me?” Suddenly, I am embarrassed.
“You are a little hard to miss when you come around the corner like a speed demon and then basically, run behind the wall. Plus, we could see your feet.”
“Oh,” I pause. This was not going to turn into a conversation about me. “Well, what were you talking about?”
“Come on. I think I have a right to know.”
He sighs and sits down across the table from me. “And why is that? If you think about it, in reality, you don’t. You aren’t dating him anymore and you don’t care to talk to him. Anyway, it’s not about you if that’s what you think. And plus, he asked me not to talk about it.”
“Well, why would he say that? Obviously you will tell me, I’m your sister.”
“Which is kind of why I can’t talk to you about it, because you are my sister. Just let it drop please Katie. If he wants you to know, he will be the one to tell you, not me.”
“Fine.” I stand up from the table frustrated, and stomp to my room. My emotions are running much too high for my own health. I thump down on to my bed, and my phone falls out of my pocket.
Confused and emotional, I pick it up and call Ally. I just need someone to listen.
The phone rings three times before she answers, “Hello?”
“I’m so screwed up Ally.” Suddenly I completely lose it, and I start to cry. She quietly comforts me as I continue to hurt.
“What happened?” She asks me when I have calmed down.
“Everything has just stacked on top of everything else and just made this huge pile that I don’t feel like I can deal with. It’s all starting to tumble over now.”
“Is Ryan part of this? Did something else happen?”
“Is he a part of this? He’s the reason everything is collapsing! My heart tells me one thing and my head tells me another. Some days I catch myself thinking that I should say something to him and then my mind tells me to stop. My heart aches but not because of what he did, because of how bad I want to be with him. And my head hurts because it’s trying to suffocate my feelings.” I take a deep breath and pause. “I’m just a wreck.”
Ally is quiet. I can tell she is losing patience with my continued moping. After a while she begins, “I want you to be happy, Katie. That’s really the only thing I can tell you. And I really think that that’s the only thing you want too. If being with him would make you happy, deal with the past and be with him. If you know you wouldn’t be happy together, then move one. You’re running out of time to decide. Either way, I will support you, you just need to make a decision.”
As much as I hate to admit it, I know she is right. And I know that being with him would make me happy. But now I was afraid that being with me wouldn’t make him happy anymore. And no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the image from the dance out of my head. Despite Ally’s advice, deciding was easier said than done. I really was screwed up.
Today, I decided, is the day I was going to start getting over Ryan. I know that that is what I had to do, and Ally seemed happy that I had chosen. Grace, on the other hand, still thought he deserved another chance. Too bad for him, I wasn’t in the mood for giving second chances. My first step is to talk to him again. I can’t give him the silent treatment forever. It doesn’t even matter that graduation is only a few days away. Better late than never, I guess.
I walk into English and hear Samantha and Natalie snicker, of course. But I’ve realized that I can’t let them control my day. I stop and face them, “Wow. You guys have really incredible laughs.” My sarcasm overwhelms them as they look at each other in confusion. Silent confusion. The other people in the class seem to notice my shift in attitude including Ryan.
When I sit down, he cautiously turns around, “What was that all about?”
“I’m tired of people judging me. It’s in the past, get over it. They don’t even know the whole story.”
He silently stares at me. “Yeah, that’s what I’m tired of too.” He turns away from me and I realize what he meant. I try to come up with words to defend myself against him, but all I come up with is sorry. I whisper it just quietly enough that I’m sure he won’t hear me. Either he doesn’t or he pretends he didn’t.
I understand how my explanation must have sounded to him. Purely hypocritical. Great, now he is going to think that that’s what I am, a hypocrite. But I shouldn’t care anyway, I’m not the one who did anything wrong, in the big picture. Or maybe I am guilty in some way, maybe it’s not his fault overall.
Three days later, the school’s fancy auditorium is lined with rows upon rows of people to watch the class of 2012 graduate. We sit in chairs placed on the floor. The boys are in brown. The girls wear gold. One by one, our names are called and we walk across the stage receiving hand shake after hand shake by school officials and finally our diplomas. To my dismay, I fumble with my tassel walking back to my seat because of my nerves.
When I sit down again, I stare at the diploma in my hand. Thirteen years of required school are over. All the time when people ask what you want to be when you grow up, is done. I am grown up now. I finger the precious document in my hands. My future isn’t so far away any more. Ally was right. I ran out of time.
I pull my suitcase up onto the bed and unzip it. Ally said that she would be back in an hour so I should be able to be finished packing by then. I lift some of my shirts into their places and a note falls out onto the floor. At first I think that it is a note from my parents or Austin, but as I unfold it and see the scrawled handwriting I throw it onto the bed in reaction. I stare at it flipped onto the pillow. What could Ryan possibly have to say to me? Sighing, I figure I would rather Ally not know, and pick up the note. I sit on the edge of my bed while I read.
I know that you hate me and I guess you have every right to. But I think you should know that the reason I think you have the right to hate me is not what you think. I guess I should take you back to the beginning. My freshman year I met this girl named Bethany at a soccer camp. She went to a different high school in town but soon we started dating. But she turned out to be nothing like the girl I wanted to be with. A year into our relationship, she broke up with me and it turns out she had been dating another guy at the same time. I was heartbroken, her being what I thought was my first love and all, and I decided to do everything I could to get her back. I worked at impressing her for a year and a half. But then I met you and suddenly had no desire in winning Bethany back anymore. I think she could sense that because then she wanted to get back with me. I was so struck by you that I told her no...multiple times. When we went to Dairy Queen, I agreed to go because I wanted to tell her that I was in love with you and I did not want to date her anymore. She was upset at me but I didn’t figure she would do anything. That is until the night of the dance, when Natalie and Samantha cornered me when I was getting a drink and Bethany was there. She kissed me and the whole time I was trying to get away. I understand that you may not believe me. And you can hate me because I lied to you about Bethany being my cousin but I did not kiss her while we were together. And when I told you I loved you, I meant it, and I still do.
I was wrong this entire time. He wasn’t kissing her. She was kissing him. And as hurt as it had made me, I believed him. He loves me. Suddenly, I know what I must do. I pull out my phone and dial his number. It goes straight to voicemail. Maybe it’s because my service isn’t that good. I run through my house trying to find better reception. I run outside and run until I reach the pond where it all began. I call again and it still doesn’t go through. I fall against a large tree and cover my eyes. I wasted all of this time and now I can’t even tell him that I love him.
“I wasted all of this time.” I whisper.
“Doing what?” The voice startles me and I shoot up facing the tree from which the sound came. The voice registers in my head and I feel relieved.
“Being angry with someone who didn’t deserve it. Being angry with him and not even caring to listen to his story to know that it wasn’t his fault.”
“And what do you wish you could do?”
“Tell him that I’m so sorry,” I pause. “And that I love him.”
Ryan steps out from behind one of the trees. “I bet he would tell you the same thing.” I smile at him and feel so relieved that he was here. He walks toward me and takes my hands. “Katie, I am so sorry that any of this happened. I wish I could turn back time.”
“I don’t” I say.
“Well through all of this, I’ve just realized that I’m stubborn and I really need to work on that,” he smiles slightly at me. “And I’ve realized just how much you can love someone.”
“Do you forgive me then?”
“I think a better question would be do you forgive me? I did punch you.” He answers me by kissing me. I wrap my arms around his neck and feel so happy to have him with me again. I do not hesitate to kiss him back. And now when he kisses me, it’s not like the first time. It’s even better.
“And this is where we can have picnics.”
“And that is the hobo we can share our picnicking food with.” Ryan smiles as he gestures to a homeless man across the street. I laugh at his quirky smile.
“And I need to show you the best part of the campus.” I take his hand and lead him up the stairs in one of the oldest buildings. We climb up and up the many flights of stairs. Ryan complains about them and asks why we didn’t just use the elevator. I tell him that we needed the exercise. We finally reach the end of the stairs and I open the heavy, rusting metal door. It opens onto the roof where the city and countryside are painted before us like one of Grace’s paintings adorning her wall. “This is where we can come to escape.”
It’s been four months since Ryan and I had re-connected. They have been the happiest four months of my life. He decided to go to a college in Spokane which is only an hour away from EWU so that we could see each other more often.
We walk over to a wooden bench looking out at the fields behind the campus. He takes my hand as we sit next to each other. We sit quietly while we both think. I look down at our hands, connected together. “Ryan. I have an answer to your question.” He looks confusedly at me. “You asked me why I ran.” I can see him understand. He nods. “I ran to find you, so that you could start teaching me happiness.”
He smiles faintly and places his hand on my cheek. “I love you, Katie.” He leans down and our lips meet. In that single moment, I feel as though my world will never experience sadness again because right here, right now I was with the boy I loved. I was with the boy who loved me back. And somehow he had taught me happiness. The kind of happiness that can never fade away.