#37: Friendship 101

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"Aria..."

"Mmhmm..."

"Aria!"

I shot up like a hungry zombie.

"What? What is it?!" I shouted, breathing heavily.

My vision was blurred and I couldn't make out my awakener. I had been having this horrible dream about rabid bunny cops chasing narcoleptic glasses of water that tried to douse me when they weren't asleep, and my heart was still racing.

"Aria," said the face, "sweetie, you have to get up. You have school today."

My eyes finally focused in on my mom. For a split second, I thought I'd gone back in time and was in high school again. That's what she used to say every weekday due to my horrid habit of oversleeping—one I'd thought I had cured.

"Oh, right." I scratched my head and managed a sleepy grin. "Thanks, mom."

"Anytime, darling," she said, returning my grin.

She got up to leave, stretching as she walked.

"Now I'm off to bed. Good morning, my love!"

"Goodnight, mom," I responded. "You'll have to tell me about this new project later, okay?"

My mom the workaholic. Always pulling all-nighters for her fussy clients.

"Of course." She smiled.

As she closed the door, I remembered something very important from the day before.

"Wait! Mom!"

The door reopened and she poked her head through.

"My car broke down again and—"

"I already called the car place, dear. They're towing it this afternoon and will call back with an estimate and time frame this evening."

I was confused. How did she know that?

"Oh," she said in response to my puzzled face. "That nice boy called today and offered to give you a ride to school and work. When I inquired as to why you would need a ride, he told me what happened."

Nice boy?

...oh.

"So..." I was still trying to get my mind around 'nice boy' and 'Josiah' as synonyms.

"He'll be here in ten minutes." She smiled. "Goodnight!"

The door closed and Walter the gerbil was the only witness to my disbelief.

He had called? And offered me a ride? Voluntarily?

Walter squeaked at me. Silly rodent.

As I began to get ready for the day, I reasoned that his mother must have put him up to it. Or maybe mine did. But then, she couldn't have known about the car beforehand...

My brain hurt from lack of sleep and thinking too much too early. So I shut it off and switched to autopilot.

Throwing a quick goodbye to my only pet, I dashed into the kitchen for a quick breakfast. I may be faster than most girls at getting ready in the morning, but ten minutes is pushing it, even for an experienced oversleeper.

The toast had just popped up when I heard a car pull into the driveway. I slapped some butter and preserves onto the hot bread and hurried outside. I was hoping to get out into his line of vision before he honked the horn so as not to disturb my mother's rest.

Of course, right as I opened the door, genius boy lays on his horn.

"Crap," I muttered.

Quickly—and quietly—shutting the door, I scowled at him.

"I was expecting more of a 'thank you so much for picking me up,'" he commented as I got into his car.

Deciding to ignore his comment, I shoved the quickly cooling toast in my mouth and chomped. There's nothing more disappointing than a cold piece of toast.

"Isn't that a little dry?" Josiah asked after I was halfway through my delicious if not as satisfying as I would like it to be breakfast.

"Mmfh, hmfh," I sagely replied.

"Oh, really?"

I nodded. Then, as if to disprove my so eloquently spoken point, I began to gag on the now dry toast in my mouth. I guess I really shouldn't have tried to shove the rest in all at once. But it was getting super cold.

Laughing, he reached over and roughly but nicely pounded my back.

This resulted in me spewing chunks of half-masticated bread over the lovely interior of his car.

Laughing all the louder, he ceased his pounding and offered me some of his orange juice.

I reached for the proffered bottle gratefully, but he snatched it back.

"You do know that you're going to have to clean this up later on, right?"

Gagging, I nodded – which only made it worse – and lunged for the bottle. Instead of getting the drink like I had planned, I ended up getting stuck in my seatbelt and looked for all the world like a frozen space alien, what with my outstretched arms and quickly reddening face and bulging eyes.

He laughed even harder at that and ended up swerving a bit off the road. This allowed me to grab the bottle, but also threw me back into my seat with such force that I whacked my forehead with the drink as well.

"Ow!" I yelled. But it was painful to yell, so I settled for a nice death glare and proceeded to down the entire contents of Josiah's former drink. I skyed it, of course. No way was I touching anything with my lips that had touched the lips of He Who Makes Fun of Me in Many Ways.

Surprising both my nemesis and myself, I gave him a sincere, "Thanks," after regaining some of my former composure.

He told me I was welcome. And I think he meant it, too. That is, up until the point when he took the bottle back and tried to drink what wasn't there.

"Aria..." he said warningly as he slowly lowered the container.

"Yes, Josiah?" I answered as innocently as possible.

"I-" he began, but I never found out what he verbed, because we had arrived at the school parking lot. Instead of elaborating, he settled for an eye roll and condescending shake of his head.

"Thanks?" I offered again.

He sighed.

Grabbing our stuff, we exited his gorgeous car – what can I say, everything's gorgeous next to my piece of scrap metal – and made our way to the main business building where our economics class was held.

"So," I tried again, hoping he had forgiven me not only for downing all his juice, but for the spewing bit this morning as well. "What are you up to this weekend?"

I glanced at him and he seemed so interested in everything but my face, I thought he wasn't going to respond. And he didn't for a full three minutes.

I was just about to give up and sit in my seat and try to nap before class like a good girl, but then –

"I...I think I'm going to go visit my dad."

I stumbled a bit over the chair in front of me, and fell into my chair with a small crash.

"Really?" I asked, starting to ready my stuff for class. I looked at the other students as they filed in, most of them still half-asleep. "Where does he live?"

Josiah sat down beside me and rummaged in his backpack for a while.

"Josiah?" I prodded, wanting an answer before the professor walked in and started our weekly session of doom and gloom and graphs that no one in their right mind would bother to understand.

He looked at me, but not in they eyes, his vision focused somewhere around my left ear.

"He's dead," he told me quietly.

"Oh."

I sat back in my seat and wrote the date on the top of the paper. What do you say to that? I mean, both my parents were alive and in love – although my dad did chose to live extremely far away in Alaska and we hardly ever saw him. At least I knew he was still alive and well and happy in his work.

"May I ask what happened?" I inquired, careful to keep my voice down as Josiah had.

"Yes." He nodded. "But I'll have to tell you after class. Do you want to grab lunch later on?"

Part of me did and part of me hesitated. I felt like I was spending so much time with him recently. But this seemed important and, astonished as I was, I found myself honestly interested in his past.

"Sure."

He gave me a half-smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.

"Okay. I'll meet you at the food court at 12:30?"

"Okay."

"Good."

He looked into my eyes then, but only for a brief second. And I saw relief in them. Slightly taken aback, I smiled back before turning to my notebook and doodling in the corner.

"Good morning class!" greeted the professor.

And class began.

"So how's the rest of your day been?" I asked in between bites of my chicken wrap. I was trying to cut down on the carbs – but, oh, how I did miss the fried chicken sandwich of awesomeness. That Josiah happened to be eating.

Trying not to get too consumed in my jealously, I reeled in my attention away from his lunch and back to his mouth. Er, lips. Erm, what he was saying. Yes.

"It was alright, I supposed." He took a bite of his sandwich and sighed. "Wow, these things are so good. How do they do it?"

Muttering something incomprehensible in response, I tried to console my stomach with the grilled chicken and lettuce wrap. At least it was multi-grain? But then again, so was the bun on Josiah's chicken sandwich.

"Well, my dad died when I was eight."

I swallowed and nodded at him to show I was listening.

"He was murdered."

I choked on my coke.

"Wh-what?" I finally sputtered out.

He shook his head and stared down his sandwich, looking like he had lost his appetite. Maybe he'd share? Wait, no. Murder. Yes. Back on topic.

"Yes," he responded. "By my uncle, actually. I was eight years old and there was so much blood, and I couldn't do anything to help other than call the cops which wasn't much since by the time they arrived, he had already gone."

I lowered my wrap, no longer hungry myself.

"Wow."

I didn't know what else to say. 'Sorry' sounded so heartless and anything else sounded rude or insensitive.

"Wait, so is that why you want to go into medicine, like your mom?" I asked after a moment of silence.

"Yes."

He picked at his lettuce.

"You see, I found out later that I could have done something to stop the bleeding, but since I was just a kid, I didn't know what to do. And my mother wasn't around to ask, and then my uncle went and offed himself. In my bedroom."

I blanched. This just kept getting worse and worse.

"Do you...were you...close? To him?"

Josiah stared off in the distance before answering. I let him, knowing how hard it probably was.

"Yes," he answered. "He was my favorite uncle. I didn't know at the time but he was schizophrenic. My mom always made sure I was chaperoned when spending time with him, but I think he forgot to take his meds or something and not even my dad could stop him."

He looked down at my now untouched wrap.

"He was trying to protect me."

For some reason, I felt the urge to reach out to him, to touch him, comfort him in some way. I let my hand come up from my lap and gently rested it on his arm.

I felt him flinch, but then, to my surprise, he covered my hand with his own.

"Thanks," he finally whispered, after we had been that way for a few minutes. "It's been a long time since I've told anyone."

I just nodded.

Glancing up at the clock, he carefully removed my hand from his arm and stood up.

"Looks like lunch time is up," he said, gathering his things and tossing his half-eaten sandwich in the garbage bin.

Nodding again, I copied his movements.

"I'll pick you up here after your last class?"

"Okay. Thanks," I told him.

Smiling softly, he walked away.

Looking at his retreating back, I couldn't help but wonder – who is this boy?

A/N:

I'm back! Wow. I had no idea this chapter was going to be so sad...I was going over my outline and realized I had killed off his dad, so I figured this was a good a place as any to inform Aria of that. (I reread most of the story to see if I had written anything about his family, but I couldn't find anything. If you do, please let me know and I'll fix it in the final revision.)

Thank you so much for staying with me through all this! I am trying my best to finish this story – it'll be a first – and I'm going to keep at it until I do. So please review! That way I have some incentive to keep going other than the war against procrastination.

Love you all!