Loss and Gain
"Urgh, look Eddie. He's following us again." My best friend, Jason, said in an annoyed way as he tossed a glance over his shoulder. We had been walking to my house after school like we did every day. And also every day, a boy named Ronnie followed us from a distance.
Ronnie was a short, scrawny boy in our grade. We had several classes with him but had rarely talked to him until about two weeks ago. Our life science class had divided into groups to work on a project and he had been left without a partner, so I invited him to be a part of our group. I had felt bad for him, but I was beginning to regret my act of kindness because now he was stuck to us like glue even though the project was long finished.
"When is this kid gonna get it through his head that we don't wanna hang out with him?" complained Jason as we retreated to the security of my house. From the kitchen window, we saw Ronnie pause momentarily in front of my house before walking on to his own, which was a couple of blocks away.
In response to Jason's question, I merely shrugged and went to get us a snack from the fridge. We sat down at the table and pulled out our homework from our bags. I had already pushed Ronnie from my mind and was deep in a world of variables and exponents when Jason, looking up from his literature textbook, suddenly said, "We really do need to do something about Ronnie. That kid is seriously getting on my last nerve."
I blinked. I hadn't realized Ronnie bothered him so much. Sure, it was annoying to have a constant shadow at school, but it wasn't that bad. Still, I didn't say anything because I just never argued with Jason.
"Yeah, we really need to do something," continued Jason, sounding like he was half-talking to himself. "Something that will make him to leave us alone." He paused thoughtfully for a while, and I was about to go back to my Algebra homework when he suddenly added, "And I think I know what."
Jason looked at me, waiting for me to ask what this revelation of his entailed.
"What?" I asked, chewing on the tip of my pencil.
"Okay, you know how he always sits at the same table as us at lunch?" he asked. I nodded. Jason did sit with us, though he was too shy to ever say anything. He just quietly ate his lunch and hung onto every word we said. "Well, let's pretend we're going somewhere cool after school. We'll talk about it and make sure he hears us. He'll follow us, but we'll slip away, and when he gets there we won't be there. He'll realize we tricked him and he'll stop following us around all the time. Problem solved."
I hesitated. "I dunno, Jason. That sounds kind of…mean."
"Mean?" repeated Jason. "No way, Eddie. Compared to what we could do, this is more like a favor. This way, only you, he, and I will know about it, and we can all act like nothing happened and go back to how things were before that stupid project. We could tell everyone at school how he's been following us around like a stalker or something. Trust me, this way we can get him to buzz off without embarrassing him in front of everyone else."
So what Jason wanted to do was okay simply because we could do something worse? That didn't sound very right to me, but again I didn't say anything. I just grunted in acknowledgment and went back to my homework. I was hoping he would forget about it, but the next day at lunch he turned to me and gave me a significant looked which went purposely unseen by Ronnie.
"So Eddie," he said in a clear and loud voice that was sure to reach Ronnie's ears. "We are going to the woods after school today, right? There's this cave I found last weekend that you have to see."
At first I gave him a black stare then he kicked me slyly under the table. I responded, "Yeah, we're still going to the woods."
"Straight after school," Jason emphasized. "And it's really easy to get to—" He then gave a detailed description of the place and how to get there, making the directions clear and simple for Ronnie's benefit. I recognized the area he was describing; as Jason and I had thoroughly explored the woods several years ago in elementary school, but Ronnie didn't know that. I could see him eagerly hanging onto every world that Jason said, stopping eating to listen to our conversation. With a guilty feeling in my stomach, I realized he would never suspect that we were trying to trick him.
Just as I feared, he followed us from school today like he did every other day. Unlike every other day though, we walked past my house to some nearby woods. The wood were large and thick with lots of earthy green vegetation just beginning to turn yellow. There was a natural path through the foliage to the cave in question. At the beginning of this path, hidden partially behind a turn in the path and some trees, was a ravine. As we rounded the turn and were briefly out of sight from Ronnie, we dashed and jumped down into the ravine. A few moments later, we heard the sound of Ronnie trampling past the ravine down the path, so busy trying to catch up to us that he didn't see us crouched in hiding.
We waited a few seconds until his footsteps had faded away then climbed back out of the ravine.
"Well," I said, brushing my hands awkwardly on my pants' legs, "that's that, I guess." I turned to head back to my house, but Jason stopped me.
"Wait, we have to follow him," he said, "to make sure he finds the cave and gets the message."
I personally didn't want to this, but Jason had already started walking in the direction Ronnie had gone in. So, I sighed and followed him, a knot forming in my stomach as we went. I could see Ronnie's face in my mind, crestfallen as he realized he'd been duped, and it didn't make me happy to know I would be part of the cause of that.
We slowed as we neared the cave, which was surrounded by a particularly dense section of shrubs. We hid behind the shrubbery and peeked out. Ronnie was peering around into the cave. He took a few steps into the cave, his back to us.
"Okay, he sees we aren't there, now let's go before he leaves and catches us," I breathed to Jason, but he didn't seem to be listening to me. Instead, he was cautiously creeping forward, edging his way out from behind the shrubbery. He tip-toed behind Ronnie until he was only a few feet away, and then he gave a ferocious yell and ran at him, arms flailing.
Ronnie spun around with a surprised yelp and dodged out of the way. He hesitated for a second at the edge of the clearing in front of the cave. He had a confused look on his face which quickly changed to one of hurt as Jason started laughing mercilessly. Ronnie turned abruptly and fled down the path we had come on. I could see that his face was flushed red with shame and he was fighting tears.
"Get lost, ha-ha!" Jason yelled after him, still laughing. He turned and looked at me. I was only partially visible, standing half-concealed behind a shrub. When Jason had started moving towards Ronnie, I had stood up from my crouch, but when he had scared him, I stood still in horrified amazement.
"Did you see the look on his face?" asked Jason with a cruel smile. "That was hilarious." I said nothing. He finally seemed to notice my silence, and he added, "What's with you, Eddie?"
"I…don't think it was right to scare him like that," I said hesitatingly. "I don't think we should have tricked him in the first place, either. It felt wrong."
"It felt wrong?" he repeated incredulously. "What are you, a saint? My mom? That was funny."
"No, it wasn't." I retorted with a hard swallow. "And I think I'm going to apologize to him tomorrow at school and ask him to eat lunch with me. And I mean really eat lunch with me, not just sit at the same table."
"Well," said Jason, folding his arms stubbornly across his chest, "if you sit with him then you aren't sitting by me." I hesitated for a moment then made my decision.
"Okay, then," I said, "I guess I'll just have to not sit by you."
Jason opened his mouth but no words came out. His face was flushed red with anger as he turned on his heel and left. I stood there for a few minutes, contemplating what had just happened, before I too left the woods and went home.
The next day at school I apologized to Ronnie for tricking him. I explained how I had felt that it was a horrible thing to do but I had done it anyway and I was really sorry. He forgave me very quickly, and he eagerly accepted my offer to sit with him at lunch.
True to his word, Jason sat at a different table. He hasn't talked to me for a couple of days now, but honestly I don't miss his company that much. Compared to Jason, Ronnie is obviously the superior friend of the two. He was actually really nice and funny once you got to know him, but people rarely did get to know him because he was extremely shy. And another good thing about him was that he never coerced or guilt-tripped me into doing things I didn't want to do like Jason sometimes had.
So, looking back, I may have lost Jason as a friend, but I'm not as upset about it as I thought I would be. I have Ronnie as a friend now, and in the end, I honestly think I gained a lot more than I lost.
Author's Note: This is a story I wrote for my school's newspaper. They're going to spread it out over five or so issues :3 I'm excited