Cornering Rika in the student council room hadn’t gone well when I attempted it, so I wasn’t sure what I was expecting this time. Granted, I had the foresight to send a text this time, and she responded back that we could talk after the student council finished their party. A celebration of the success of the Spring Fling sounded nice. And the dance had been fun, right up until the end.
I sighed to myself, leaning back in my chair. The back of my chair smacked into the desk behind me, and I shifted my weight, causing the chair to return to all fours. Mr. Morrison looked up from the textbook he had been browsing through to study me. I tried to shy away from his gaze, but he wasn’t having that.
“That’s quite a long face. Anything you want to talk about?”
“Not really, sir. Just thinking about the dance.”
He pulled a face, the corner of his lips turning down the slightest bit. “You know I was never a fan of those growing up. Got my heart shattered into pieces by a girl at my senior prom.”
“Your girlfriend?” I asked, unable to contain my curiosity.
“Something like that.” He answered slowly like he had to dredge up the memory. “She was also one of my best friends since I was a kid, and I think that’s what made it hurt more.”
There was no way I couldn’t draw the parallels between our situations. “What did you do?”
Mr. Morrison laughed, nearly choking on the sip of coffee he had taken. Even once school let it seemed he needed the stuff to function. “I forgave her and moved on. Life’s too short to hold grudges.”
“You were friends again?”
“We were. Never were as close as before, obviously, and once we graduated we never spoke again.” Tilting his coffee mug upward, my teacher let out a disgruntled groan when he realized it was empty. His gaze came back to me, yet it was unfocused, seemingly searching for something. “Let’s stop here for today. I can help you more tomorrow.”
“Ok,” I agreed, closing my own textbook and packing it and my notebook away. Swinging my backpack around my shoulders, I headed to the door, imagining different scenarios of what I would say to Rika. My hands had become clammy thinking about what she would say back, and the whole thing began to disintegrate into nothing better than what went down at Asheville.
Both of us ending up upset with no way to reconcile.
“You know”–I stopped outside the doorway, the heel of my shoe clicking against a locker–“just because it didn’t work out for me doesn’t mean that’s always the case. If I could do it all over again… I’d have talked it out with her. Get all my feelings off my chest and go from there because I think regrets may be worse to have than grudges.”
What could I possibly say to that? He spilled his heart out to me to help me with my problem, so I couldn’t possibly just leave without saying anything. He was a teacher, a great one at that, but I figured right now he could use one of his students, even if my advice would be next to useless compared to his.
“Thanks, Mr. Morrison. That’s a big help, actually.” I stepped back into the classroom, a grin on my face. “I’m going to talk to Rika now. I’ll tell you about it sometime, so why don’t we exchange stories then?”
His eyes widened before he smiled back. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The student council room was more or less the same since I’d last been in it. Paperwork still covered the desk, but now there were plates filled with crumpled-up napkins and half-eaten cakes. Of course, whenever a mess was involved the rest of the student council was nowhere to be found. Like a revolving cast of characters, they found themselves caught up in other pressing matters that affect all high-school students. What that was I wasn’t certain, and I wouldn’t bother asking them.
No need to overload my brain with trying to comprehend stupidity.
I waited for Rika and Marcus to clear the table before coughing quietly to alert them of my presence. I’d have offered to help if I’d thought they would have accepted, but Rika was stubborn and there might have been some resentment with Marcus. Noticing romance wasn’t my strong suit, but I had an inkling that he liked Rika more than he was letting on. He seemed to think for some crazy reason that I was a danger to them getting together.
“It was a fun party, Marcus. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Rika said, resting her palm on the table. Her feet were crisscrossed and the whole position looked uncomfortable. Perhaps that was fitting seeing as how I could only imagine that was how this conversation would go as well.
“I had fun too,” Marcus replied, idling in the doorway. This wasn’t much different than how everything had gone down last time, except he appeared less rigid. “I’m sorry for dropping something so random on you suddenly.” He leveled his gaze in my direction, less scrutinizing and more resigned about something. “Hope you both have a good night.”
“You too,” I said, while Rika nodded.
I had no idea if he heard my reply because he was gone like a void had swallowed him up. Disappearing without a trace and leaving me alone with Rika. Turning to her, I watched her do the same to me. We exchanged a series of questions and answers without speaking, and I almost felt like we were communicating how she and Nora liked to.
“He asked me out.” She pulled at an errant strand of her hair. “I turned him down if that wasn’t obvious.”
“I figured. You said you weren’t looking for anything when I asked you too.”
She nodded. “I regret that.”
It was like a dam broke then and there, and we began saying everything we wanted to say, exchanging words at a rapid volley.
“You should have said something, Rika! You’re so fucking vague with your secrets all the time. I can only understand things if you communicate them to me!”
“And what was I supposed to say? I’d be the happiest girl alive to go out with you. Sorry about that whole bullying thing that ruined your life at high school. I hope we can move past that and not resent each other.”
“Then be straight up with me from the start. I asked you to your face. Don’t treat me like an idiot!”
“It wasn’t trying to! I wasn’t… I… why would I want to hurt you like that? I admit I’ve been a coward. I’ve always been a coward, and all I do is run away from my problems. You’re different, though. You used to run from your problems too, but you’ve changed. You face everything head-on now. But you wouldn’t have given me the time of day back then if I had told you right away what I did. You were already avoiding us just because we were Ethan’s friends!”
“Then maybe we weren’t meant to be friends at all.”
I hated how quiet the room got. I hated how broken I sounded and how broken she looked. The ticking of the clock on the wall gave off an ominous feeling, and I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“Did you mean that?”
Had I meant it? How I answered here could make or break everything. Rika was one of my best friends, but was that built on lies and secrets? Would we have become friends without them? I wasn’t sure, and that shook me more than I would admit.
“How do you imagine graduation will be?”
Rika looked taken aback. “What does that have to do with anything?”
She considered me for a moment before dropping her gaze to the floor. “I see us at an afterparty. We had gotten out diplomas earlier in the day and you and Ethan haven’t let go of them yet. You wave them in anyone’s face you can, and everyone patiently puts up with your enthusiasm except Nora. She smacks both of you and tells you to act more like the adults you’re pretending to be. Amelia starts fussing over him, while Chloe and me laugh at how stupid our whole group is.”
I brush my bangs aside. “That’s not how I see it. I can’t imagine myself being that much of an idiot.”
She chuckled weakly. “That’s it?”
“No,” I said. “I can’t picture the next couple of years without all of you by my side. That includes you. So, no. I didn’t mean what I said.”
“If I could take it all back I would.”
I sighed. “I know.”
“So where do we go from here?”
Shrugging my shoulders was the most I could muster. “I don’t know. Maybe from the very beginning.”
She approached me with a flourish, that usual spunk of hers that had been missing for so long bubbling to the surface. Her lithe body leaned into my own, crushing me in a hug, then taking a long stride backward. Holding out a hand, she looked at me expectantly. I couldn’t help grinning and grabbed it.
“Alright,” she said. “We’ll say our names and anything else the other person needs to know. You go first.”
I obliged her. “I’m Zachary, and I’ll fall in and out of love with you. Nice to meet you.”
Her grip tightened, crushing my fingers. “Hi, I’m Rika. I’ll fall deeper and deeper in love with you until my indecision catches up to me. It’s a pleasure.”
“I have a beautiful girlfriend now.”
She nodded, dropping her hand to her side. “I have a broken heart now. Found out ice cream and soap operas are only good for so much.”
“I hope we’ll become friends.”
She wrapped me up in another hug, her silky, raven hair tumbling over my shoulder. Her forehead rested against my chest as tears plummeted to the ceramic floor; I pretended not to notice. “The best.”
I pulled her closer. “I’d like that.”