Chapter 55: The Sidekick and the Spring Fling (Part 2)
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All these girls had to be crawling out of the woodwork; there was no other reasonable explanation. I understood that Ethan was a popular guy, but surely the five girls trying to ask him to the dance this morning was already too much. Apparently, that was a mere fraction of his real power. Now, there was nothing I could do except sigh as I turned the bend from the gym to see a group of three girls cornering him by his locker. Whether this was by design or pure accident was anybody’s guess, but it had the intended effect. He could only rub the back of his neck as they began to profess their undying love for him. 

If I had to compare it to something I supposed it would be akin to a car wreck. People were slowing down to watch the debacle, whispering and laughing with their friends. Others were bolder and had stopped what they were doing completely to either watch or record what was sure to be something amusing.

Amusing for them, anyway. 

Ethan looked like he wanted to hide in his locker and not deal with any of it. I couldn’t blame him since the redhead had decided the best way to capture his heart was through interpretive dance. It appeared to me she was interpreting somebody in distress, but who was I to comment on the arts? All I knew was that I had to hurry over there and bail him out before they could make things any more awkward. 

“Will you go to the dance with me?”

Seriously? I picked up my pace to a light jog, wondering if my excuse about him having to go to the principal’s office was going to let him avoid answering that question anymore. Luckily for me–and even more so for Ethan–Amelia was able to push her way through the crowd. She looped her arm through his and smiled at the bewildered girl. “Sorry, we’re already going together.”

Or perhaps calling that girl bewildered was an overstatement. Her expression had nothing on Ethan’s own. With his brows furrowed in confusion, and his mouth opening and closing in a desperate attempt to ask the question I also wanted to know. 

When did this happen?

Amelia led them away, pulling on Ethan to kickstart his motor skills back into function. And even then, it was more of him trailing her while she laughed loudly about something. When Amelia directed the play, it was obvious she was an amazing actress. But there was something about how she looked when she said it that convinced me. She had the look of someone who finally obtained something they had wanted for a long time.

The crowd began to disperse, complaining about having their entertainment ruined, and I followed suit. I passed by his locker, only to bump into Rika and Chloe amidst the jammed hallway. They were off to the side, pointing in the direction Amelia and Ethan had retreated not moments ago. Upon noticing me approaching them, Chloe smiled and I offered a sheepish wave back. Rika stared at me like I was a ghost before offering a small grin. “Hey, you saw that too?”

I could only blink in confusion. “Kind of hard to miss.”

“I guess so. It was like something out of a teenage drama, but I’m not sure what to make of all of it. What do you think?” Rika asked. 

I wasn’t sure what to make of this either. This was what I wanted, Rika talking to me again. Although I could have done without her pretending like she hadn’t been purposefully avoiding me for weeks. I eventually formed a response of sorts. “Not sure. Ethan looked just as confused as everyone else.”

A chuckle was her response. “That’s true. It’d be nice if that had been you instead though, Chloe.”

Chloe pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose, refraining from commenting any further. It appeared like that may have been a topic she had no desire to broach. I could respect that, and I think Rika realized after the sentence left her mouth how it sounded. “Why don’t we eat lunch together?”

With everyone in agreement, we merged into a single file line on the right-hand side of the hallway as the lunch period from earlier pushed past us on our left. I followed behind Rika as Chloe led us through the throngs of students until we arrived at our final destination–the lunchroom. Another line awaited us there, and we maintained our formation as we waited for our turn to get food.

“Rika…” The beginning of my sentence hung in the air. There were so many things I wanted to ask her like why she had been avoiding me and what Valentine’s Day had been all about. In the end, I wasn’t able to decide on any of them to bring up first. 

She capitalized on that and kept talking. “You’re going to the dance this Saturday, right?”

“I am,” I said, having already promised both Nora and Katy a dance. Knowing the two of them, there was no chance I could go back on my word even if I wanted to.

“Cool. I’ve been working hard on getting everything together.” She nodded to herself and spun on her heel, leaning in close to me. Our noses were inches apart, and when she spoke next her breath washed over me. “Make sure to save me a dance too.”

I nodded, confused about her sudden request. Hopefully, this wasn’t becoming the default state for me, bumbling around and having no clue what the people around me are thinking. “I will.”

Deciding these matters were better discussed privately, I dropped it for now and searched around the cafeteria for Ethan and Amelia. There was no sign of either of them, meaning that they must have gone somewhere else entirely. The lunch lady handed me a tray with a slice of pizza, milk, and a hefty serving of french fries. I thanked her, knowing my arteries would not be doing the same for me. We sat at their usual table, one far removed from the rest that was sat near the lone window in the lunchroom. It had a good view and was one of the more clamored-after spots among the other lunch periods, so how they managed to make it their own haunt with nobody else complaining was unusual. 

A mystery for another day, though, I figured Rika had a heavy hand in it, so maybe it would be better to stay clear. 

Having settled in across from the two girls, I began to pick at my food. It was difficult to decide how much I could eat without regretting it later, although the pizza was a pretty safe bet. Taking small bites of that, I was content to listen to the two of them chatting. 

“You aren’t going to the dance?” Rika asked, tilting her head as though the news shocked her to the very core.

Chloe shook her head in response. “I’m not much for dances.”

“That’s ok. You can just hang out with me.”

She snorted, the most undignified sound I’d ever heard from her. “As fun as that would be, I’ll still have to pass.”

“C’mon, I promise it’ll be fun!”

“We’ll talk about it later, ok?”

“Alright,” Rika relented. 

A tray slamming to the left of me startled me, and I choked on the food in my mouth. I wheezed loudly before divulging into a fit of coughs while the person who caused all my misery in the first place pounded on my back. The food slid down the back of my throat, and I desperately gulped down fresh air like it was going out of style.

Nora raised an eyebrow. “I know you’re happy to see me, but don’t die on me. That would be some bad PR.”

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” I grumbled, still deciding whether I should have just gone into the light and been done with it all.

She greeted the other two, her gaze lingering on Rika. There seemed to be an unspoken message passed between the two of them. “It’s nice to see you eating lunch with everyone again.”

“Well, I’m a lot less busy thanks to you.”

So, Nora had pulled through for her? Not that I had doubted her. She was amazing like that, yet looking closer at Rika that much was clear. I had been so surprised that she wasn’t trying to ignore me any longer that I hadn’t noticed how much better she seemed. This weekend must have been kind to her. The dark bags under her eyes had faded, and her pale skin had taken on a much healthier glow. There was a smattering of makeup on her face and her smile nearly reached her eyes now. 

I squeezed Nora’s hand under the table, and she turned to me. I could only grin in response, teeth on full display. “I was just thinking how much I missed this.”

Nora squeezed my hand back, intertwining our fingers. “You’re such a sap.”

“Honestly, I’m starting to miss the moping,” Rika helpfully tacked on.

I glanced at Chloe for support, but she stared back at me, clear in her intent that she wanted to be left out of it. Fair enough. Guess it would be up to me, then. “C’mon, guys. I thought we were over this whole making fun of me phase. Wouldn’t it be better to build each other up? Be the better person?” 

Another glance between them that I didn’t quite understand. “Nah!”

They spoke the line together, and I could only groan in defeat as my poor lunchtime became nothing more than a bunch of jokes at my expense.

____________ 

I rolled onto my side on my bed, closing the magazine I had been browsing through in preparation for my and Nora’s date this Sunday. It was another one my mom had lent me, and this one had a section on free date ideas. I didn’t want to seem like a cheapskate, but stargazing was something I figured she could get into. If not, then we could always do something else.

Stowing away the magazine for later, I turned my attention back to my phone. Ethan had texted me, and I rapidly read through what he sent, hoping his answer would sate my curiosity. 

Ethan: she asked me at concert to go somewhere with her just us. I agreed and i guess she choose the dance. Had no idea but worked out good for me 

It did work out well for him. Although what he was describing was a date, I was certain he realized it as well. Neither one of them had phrased it as such, but the implication was clear. Ethan had agreed, though, so I assumed that meant he was finally willing to give her a chance. And give himself a chance too to move on from the past.

While I felt bad for Chloe, I knew they would be good together, and I was glad for both of them. 

Announcement
After adding all of votes together from where I posted the poll, Sect Skills Online has won by the narrowest of margins. By one vote to be precise. As promised, I will begin work on this novel and will begin posting it here once I have finished this story and all the chapters are posted to Patreon. I will make another announcement when this story is out, so I hope you all are looking forward to it! On a side note, I may change the name of SSO because it has been brought to my attention that sect implies a cultivation novel, and I don't want to attract a bunch of angry readers with a false promise. Not a big deal just thought I'd mention it. As always thanks to everyone for their continued support, and I'll see you this Saturday!
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