It's dark outside. I'm sitting in a rocking chair on the back porch, and I can see him a ways out, getting sticks for our bonfire. Enough for an hour of chestnuts, at least. I can already smell the pine trees of the season.
I remember that I used to tell myself that what I loved about love wasn't the outcome, but the adventure along the way. That I didn't care if I knew the outcome, because it didn't matter. I love all the heartaches and heartbreaks, the making up, the goofy smiles, the roses, the not-so-movie-like moments, and the romance. I love everything love entailed. But looking around at the life we built for ourselves, I realize the ending isn't too shabby. It's something I could love, too…
I'd never known betrayal like I did that day. Had they just never bothered to tell me, simply waiting for me to hear it from someone else? Or did they just think I'd never figure it out? Maybe he forgot about the sort of attention he commanded wherever he went, despite the fact that he may not know anyone there. People noticed him.
And already, people were beginning to notice us. A circle had begun to form around us in the few minutes we'd been talking.
"What did you think? That I'd just not find out?" I managed to ask, clenching my teeth.
He gave me that grin that everyone fell for, including me. "Of course not, Riles."
"Riley to you," I interrupted.
"Riley," he corrected, grin still very much in place. "I was going to tell you today."
I managed a sideways smirk. "Great, Jordan. Only the last day of school. Supposed to cry over not seeing people over the summer. Not your two friends betraying you."
I plowed ahead. "What? Mean to?" I laughed sardonically. "Right. You guys only knew that it'd hurt me. You guys were only the two people that I told. You guys were just the two people that I trusted not to do something as backstabbing as that." I was already talking faster and faster and waving my arms around in fury. There was mockery in my voice, edging towards tears. "Of course! What was I thinking? Betrayal. Of course not. Where the hell would I get something like that?! Why the hell would I think that you might have the potential to do something like that?!"
He looked at me seriously in that way that made people think he was sensitive. I knew better now. "Don't be like this."
I ignored him. "You know what hurts me the most? The fact that you guys knew you could hurt me. And the fact that you did it anyway. At least pretend like you didn't want to get caught, ass." I turned on my heel and started to walk away, but he caught my wrist before I could. I looked down at his hand and then back up at him, glaring. "Let go of me. I know you can do that."
He managed to loosen his grip, and I pulled my arm away, rushing away amid a crowd of "ohhhhh"s. I didn't care. I didn't want to hear it.
And where did I end up but the bathroom? The same place I would've ended up on prom night if there weren't such a long line. I always wanted to live a couple movie clichés, and I'd been a bit more than disappointed when I found so many people outside. And there weren't any other bathrooms on that floor.
I was the kind of girl who was always a bit shy at heart, which was why that scene in the hall with Jordan was completely uncharacteristic of me. In a foreign situation, it took me a bit to warm up to everyone and everything. I had to come out of my shell in the first few seconds. Those were the times when you really saw who I was without all the years of becoming someone more loud and obnoxious and faking comfort until it became true. Just a few seconds of it, and then it was gone.
So while other people were making their own movie clichés without any help, I knew that I couldn't, because I wasn't like that. Deep down, I was still the shy little five-year-old who waited until everyone ran ahead of me in the Easter egg hunt. I was still the one who stayed on the sidelines while everyone else dove in for the candy after the piñata broke. And people like that didn't have movie clichés. There were no moments after dates spent leaning on the door, sighing wistfully. There were no doorstep kisses followed by an interruption from parents. There weren't any of the things you heard about people doing, like all climbing over the fence of the neighborhood pool and going for a swim at midnight. None of the house parties and sitting in hot tubs together. Or weekly dinners with parents' friends' families, who just happen to have an absolutely ghastly son that everyone wants to set you up with. There was none of that.
So I made my own.
I remembered the movies. The movies were perfect. I wanted part of them. Just some of the leaning-on-the-door and staring-up-at-the-stars nights. Just one spring break with friends, having fun.
I wanted all of the emotions. The heartache and heartbreak. The funerals. The falling in love. The first kiss. The terror. The comfort. Everything.
The morning of the prom, I'd contemplated staying at home, mourning over how he didn't reciprocate my feelings, and accompany myself with Ben and Jerry's. But alas, I went. Stag, of course.
And I had more friends than I'd made myself out to have. Of course, they were nothing like the movies. No best friends as neighbors from the time when I was five. None that I could call up at 2am. But enough to have fun at prom. Until I saw him dancing with her. Of course, he'd danced with a few girls that night, so it shouldn't have mattered, but it did. I'd always told myself that they were simply friends, but I knew they were more, and that's what bugged me. That she didn't have to do anything, and he liked her. More than he liked me. And I tried.
Once I saw them together, the cup of punch I held in my hand started to feel heavy, and tears started to form in my eyes. "Hold this," I said to the nearest person, holding out my punch. I didn't even make sure that person was paying attention but simply let go of the cup and ran out into the main hall of the hotel, looking left and right for a bathroom. There were lines. Long lines. And I didn't really need the bathroom. A secluded hall would do just as fine.
I ran left, trying to remember what she told me. They were only friends. Only friends. It did nothing to reassure me. They both knew that I liked him. That I had for such a long time. And they had to do this to me. It was perfect. That is, if you were aiming to make me cry.
"Miss? Are you okay?" a maid asked me concernedly. I simply hurried past her towards the end of the hall.
And then I collapsed against the wall, completely breaking down. Screw the dress.
I hated them. I knew I shouldn't be crying, but after a year of all of this, I just couldn't stand it. Seeing him with girls and acting so nice that I was afraid they'd fall for him any moment. But what I really couldn't stand was watching her. She was beautiful. She was fun. And nice. And sweet. And always happy. And I was anything but. I don't know how we ever got to be friends, anyway.
Well, you got your cliché, Riley, I told myself. Crying on prom night.
I looked down and noticed I'd been clenching my fists with my dress. It was a mess. My face probably was, too. I'd felt the tears draw paths down my face. Paths that were probably streaked with makeup at this point.
I couldn't care less. I realized I didn't need them. They weren't even my closest friends. But they were close enough that it would matter.
I couldn't stop myself from crying. It hurt. God, it hurt so much. Prom night had ended horribly. It wasn't until late that I realized how long I'd been sitting there, crying and crying and replaying every time I'd seen them together. Talk about salt in the wounds.
But now… it was so different. It wasn't simply me thinking that they were together and getting jealous over that. It was true. And I hated hearing it from someone else. Granted, one of my closest friends. But it was someone else. And I should've heard it from them.
I'd been sitting in that bathroom for almost thirty minutes now, just thinking about them. First period was about to start, and I didn't want it to start. I'd have to face her.
I entered the room, and she was sitting on her desk, talking to a couple people. I walked to my desk, which was unfortunately next to hers, and put my stuff down.
It didn't take long for her to turn to me and greet with a smile, "Hey Riles!"
"Hey bitch. And it's Riley to you," I answered curtly.
Her eyebrows creased. "What the hell?"
"Jordan. I think you know." And I just turned my attention to the front, leaving her with a shocked expression. I could hardly care. I just wanted to get through the day, and then I had all summer to forget about them.
It's funny almost. How ironic things were with us. I'd met him a couple years before and talked a bit to him, but it wasn't until this year that I got to really know him. My friends thought he liked me, and that was how I'd started paying more attention to him. And then when I'd finally been forced to tell him I liked him, he, of course, didn't reciprocate those feelings. Of course. But I'd known that for quite a while already.
We'd stayed friends, though. He'd been great about it, treating me no differently than he had before and acting completely indifferent about it basically. We laughed. We joked. We talked about life and the future and philosophy. He made me laugh. That's what I loved.
He was the type of person who could command a whole room to pay attention to him, even when he was placed in an unfamiliar situation. He was just always the center of attention. If I wanted to say something bad about him, I could say that he always needed to be the center of attention. That he always needed people to notice him. He'd do things that would make people notice him. Stupid and absolutely ludicrous things just to get some attention.
You couldn't hate him, though. You just couldn't. Everything he did seemed to have great intentions. I remember when people used to say stuff about him, about how he didn't talk a lot and how he wouldn't talk about feelings, but I remembered that he did. He gave things a lot of thought, but he just didn't often voice his thoughts. I remember he told me that he didn't tell people what he thought a lot of the time, but he did talk about feelings with me occasionally.
He did right by just about everyone. He was nice to everyone. And people liked him. How could they not?
Even after people got mad at him, he always seemed to turn out as the good guy. No one could stay mad at him for long. I knew I couldn't. This morning, I wished that he'd just pretend like he didn't want me to know, that he didn't want to hurt me. But now that I think about it, I can't make him out to be the bad guy. In those first few moments when I'd found out about him and Whitney, I could blame him, because it hurt. More than it ever would. It was the shock of hearing it. It completely took me by surprise, the fact that I had to hear from Madison and not them, the fact that they would even do that, the fact that I hadn't caught on.
But maybe I took it a bit far this morning, simply because I was so taken by surprise with the whole thing.
He was just so hard to stay mad at.
Everyone he was involved with in any way knew who he was. He just made a mark. He stood out.
He was the type of guy that girls could fall in love with and know they'd never get their hearts broken. The type of guy that girls could trust to never get cheated on or talked about behind their backs. He was someone you could always have fun with.
People did fall for him. Of course they did. He had that charm, that sweetness, that something that could make girls fall for him. And I watched them as they did, stumbling over themselves as they tried to get his attention. Sure, he'd give them attention, but no more than was platonic. He wasn't the type of guy that every girl fell for, but a few a year was still something. It was enough to matter.
And I knew, not too long after I'd gotten reacquainted with him this year, that I had feelings for him. But I saw people vie for his affection, and I knew that I wouldn't be that stupid to think I even had a chance. I wouldn't turn into a fool over him, and unlike these girls, I wouldn't get my heart broken.
It wasn't until today, when I woke up fine but before the day was over, had my heart broken, that I realized I wasn't any different. I couldn't protect myself any more than they could from falling for him more than I wanted to and getting hurt because of him. Did I really think that they were any different? That they really sought him out just to get their hearts broken? Or that they really wanted to fling themselves mindlessly at him in hopes that they'd get hurt? They were like all girls. They wanted love. And they got their hopes up because he was nice to them.
Just like I did. I was no better. I was nothing special.
And it hurt. Knowing that I was no different.
It hurt a lot, knowing that I was like all of them. The people I especially didn't want to be like. And just like on prom night, I started crying, just thinking about the whole thing.
And there was only one person who could make me feel better.
Where was Ryan when I needed him?
That's how I was spending the night of the last day of junior year. In my room. A bag of Twizzlers lying next to me, a Kleenex box on my nightstand, and me in the corner, sniffling every two seconds. I could've told myself that he didn't matter anyway. That because we never actually dated, it shouldn't have mattered. But this was teenage angst at its best, and I knew it. I was ashamed of it, but I knew it.
That years later, or maybe just a year later, I'd look back and realize how stupid the whole thing was. But that was teenage angst for you. In the moment, it hurt. A lot.
Knowing that two of your friends, completely aware of your feelings for one of them, decided to forget about you and any consideration they might've previously had for you. Just go out. Just like that.
Every time I thought about them at prom and when Madison had talked about them going out like she thought I knew, it was like fuel for me to keep crying. Every time I thought I stopped, I'd just start all over again. Every moment I'd ever seen them together or heard mention of them together began to come up.
As I sat there, tissue in hand, I found myself holding my phone and dialing his number. I found that I couldn't stop myself, because I needed closure. Before he left for college. For ever.
I knew I wasn't going to see him again any time soon. And I needed closure.
I sat there anxiously as I listened to the phone ring, hoping he'd pick up.
"Hello." He said it so simply. I tried to remember that it'd probably be the last time I'd hear his voice in a while. And yet… I couldn't will myself to say a single thing back to that. I didn't even know why I called in the first place. "Riley?"
I winced, hearing him call me that. He didn't call me that. It sounded so formal. I remembered that I'd told him to call me that, and apparently he hadn't forgotten it. For some reason, it hurt.
"Riles? Are you there?"
I grinned slightly. Riles. Hearing that made me think of all the times I'd wished he'd say it. All the times I'd wished he'd call me. And I just started crying.
"Riles. What's wrong? What's going on?"
I heard myself in the phone, the sharp intakes of breath as I cried. I didn't want him to hear me. And when I finally gained enough composure to talk, I muttered, "I just wanted to ask you something." I paused for a moment before resuming. "Did you think about me?"
"When you asked her out. You did ask her out, didn't you?"
I imagined him looking down at the floor during the hesitation I heard. "Yes. I did ask her out."
"Did you ever consider me? Truthfully?"
Another pause. Another few seconds that felt far too long. "No."
I sighed. Why did I even ask? But of course I knew the answer to that question. I'd thought that he would say yes. I was almost positive. And I asked those kinds of questions to clarify things, things that I thought were true. But I just needed to hear that they were true. Yet… apparently it wasn't true. Apparently he didn't consider me. I was just glad that he wasn't there to see the expression on my face. I always seemed to wear my emotions on my face. "Okay. That's um… all I wanted to know."
"I'm sorry, Riles."
I pursed my lips slightly, looking around my room. "Don't tell me that, Jordan."
"I really am. I knew it'd hurt you, and—"
"Jordan. Really. No more salt for the wounds. Please."
"Alright. I'm sorry."
I let out a deep breath. "Yeah. Me too."
"So yeah. Good luck in college. Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
I hesitated, staring at a picture on my bulletin board of the two of us. "I hope you have a great summer, Jordan."
"I'll be fine. Really."
"I'm really sorry. Things will get better for you. For both of us. I promise, Riley."
"Don't promise things you know won't happen."
Hearing that, I hung up the phone and then whispered, "Goodbye Jordan," and let the phone drop to the ground.
He was off to college in a few months. This summer was for him and Whitney. In another story, in their story, it would've been perfect. Something to fill a book. A summer of happiness. Summers were perfect for loves. But that was their story. On the other side of the fence, I was left alone. He was leaving.
And I was starting my senior year. I just wished I could get over him. Just maybe. I'd tried numerous times. It was like a springboard. I could only get so far, telling myself constantly that I didn't care about him and that we were only friends, and then I would spring back and remember how much he affected me and how much he mattered.
But he was a different stage of my life. A representation of things I wanted to leave behind from now on. He was someone I could put away into the depths of my memory, and maybe, someday, once the wounds have healed, I'll be able to take him out again and remember everything I liked him for.