As soon as I got back home, I slipped into bed and just lay there, thinking. The sheets made me a bit hot but I just wanted to feel the comfort that they provided. I was so disappointed I couldn’t contain it. Of course there had to be a girl. Of course.
I felt just like one time when I was younger and my parents had taken me to see a magic show. The magician was one of my dad’s friends back in the day. I wasn’t young enough to believe in real magic but I forced myself to think it was all real. And I did it pretty well, because when the man showed me exactly how he did a trick backstage, I was truly disillusioned. It made no sense. I should have seen it coming, but sometimes only when you have it before your eyes, clear as day, it finally sinks in.
Now I had to tell my friends that it had been a false alarm and that I was back where I started. That, no, it wasn’t possible for me a guy to simply like me without some sort of catch. I could almost picture their faces, thinking that something like this was bound to happen. And I suppose it was.
I spent the day moping. The next morning I wasn’t feeling much better. My mom woke me up to tell me my dad and she had to leave because there was a last minute meeting held by his company. She also had to attend but she didn’t want to leave me alone. I had the choice of going with them or staying, to which I quickly responded that I would stay. Going to those meetings was a pain. All the employees went with their children, wives or husbands to make the company seem family-friendly, when in reality, it was quite the opposite. The employees chatted in a room completed isolated from the rest of their family members. It was extremely boring and taking the three hour drive there would be just as dull. Even though staying alone at night might be a bit scary, I didn’t want to use up one of my treasured summer days on a business meeting. Much to my mother’s dismay, I insisted on staying. They quickly left after we had eaten lunch.
I found myself spending the afternoon on the couch in sweats and a tank top watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model. Whenever I watched that show, I wanted to take a bunch of pictures of myself and pretend I was on the show and my pictures would be judged. I had done it way more times than I cared to admit. As the episode I was watching was reaching its end and I would find out which of the girls would be eliminated, the power went out completely. I was completely surrounded by darkness. It made me both scared and furious. I had turned on all of the lights so as not to be frightened by dark corners or shadows, but now the comforting light was gone.
I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do in those cases. I softly made my way to the window. I felt like a character in a movie with a murderer on their tail and trying not to make noise. I peeped through the curtain and saw the street lights were out too, so it wasn’t just my house. I remembered my mom saying something about there being flashlights in the basement. There were also some candles, normally used for decorative purposes, that would help light up the place.
As I went down the stairs to get the flashlights, using my cellphone to light my way, I heard footsteps above me. They weren’t in the house, but right outside of it. I brushed it off, figuring it was a cat or a raccoon and continued. After I had rummaged through a few things and finally had the flashlight in my hand, I heard voices whispering around the same place I had heard the footsteps. I was officially scared. Thoughts of kidnap or robbery flashed through my head. I looked around for some sort of self-defense weapon. I grabbed my dad’s baseball bat and softly climbed the stairs. I wasn’t sure if it was the best idea, but staying in a dark basement wasn’t exactly a comforting situation either.
I made my way around the house until I was at the place where I had heard the noises. I was in my backyard and heading for the stretch of grass on the side of my house next to the fence separating my house from the neighbor’s. I stopped when I saw a shadow moving. I didn’t want to aim the flashlight right at it for fear of what I could find hiding in the darkness. But as soon as I knew he/she/it had seen me, I swiftly moved the trail of light in their direction. Two guys stared back at me with wide eyes. They were both sitting down, with their backs against my house. They didn’t seem much older than me, and as I got nearer to them, I immediately recognized them. It was Nick and Mike.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, perplexed.
They both put on the guiltiest looks I had ever seen.
“It’s kind of a funny story,” Mike shrugged.
“We didn’t know you lived here,” Nick put in.
I noticed that Mike was grabbing his leg in a funny way and that his jeans were a bit torn.
“What happened?!” I asked, motioning towards his leg.
“We were playing on prank on your neighbor and as we were climbing over the fence, I got my pants snagged and I fell and my leg really hurts.”
“I think he might have sprained his ankle or something,” Nick said.
“Well let’s call a doctor,” I said, not knowing what they were waiting for.
“But then the prank won’t be funny! He’ll know it was us!” Mike complained.
“I don’t know who he is or why you did this, but you can’t just leave your leg like that. At least not in my house. Good luck leaving with a sprained ankle.”
Nick seemed worried too and urged Mike to do what I told him. With both of us putting pressure on him, he finally succumbed and let me call a doctor. We helped him into my living room after I had lit a few candles here and there so we could actually see where we were going. I called up a minor injuries unit and in the meantime, we just waited on my couch.
“So who exactly were you trying to prank?” I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Hunter. Do you know him?” Mike asked.
I shook my head, tucking my feet beneath me on the couch. They were both sitting on the loveseat to my right. Mike rested his foot on the coffee table in front of him with a red cushion beneath it. I had offered them drinks but they had refused, claiming they would be leaving soon anyways. I couldn’t say I was happy to see them go. It was actually comforting to have them there with me.
I heard a knock on the door and quickly got up to open it. Two paramedics asked me where the injured person was. I led them to my living room, where they checked it out the injury, making sure there was no major damage. Then, they proceeded to hoisting him up onto a gurney so they could take him to the hospital to treat him properly.
Mike quickly said his goodbyes and after Nick had called his parents so they would go pick him up, we were left alone. I figured he would want to leave as soon as possible, but he went back to the couch and sat down. Surprised, I sat down too.
“So, what’s up?”
He ran a hand through his hair and I began to wonder if it was a habit of his. Maybe he did it when he was nervous.
“Nothing much,” I replied, nonchalantly.
“Did you enjoy the bonfire the other day?”
“Yeah it was okay.”
“Mike’s been asking about you. He asks how come we haven’t seen you much.”
I just shrugged.
“I want to know too. We all liked hanging out with you.”
“Thanks. I’ve just been doing other stuff.”
I was trying really hard to keep it lighthearted and casual, but he was shooting me the most expressive looks ever. He kept making one where he would scrunch his eyebrows together and his forehead would get crease marks, which was kind of adorable.
“So how’s Vicky?” I blurted out.
“I don’t know. Good, I guess. Did you talk to her much the other day?”
He was shifting around on the couch. It made me feel a bit bad for him, but what else had I aimed to accomplish by mentioning Vicky besides making him squirm?
“Not really. She seemed sort of busy talking to other people.”
“She’s nice. You just have to get to know her, you know. I mean, she’s not like you. People like you instantly. It usually takes a bit more time with her.”
I was blushing a little, so I reached down to my sandals and fumbled with the strap, pretending to adjust it. My hair fell over my face and provided the perfect shelter. I don’t know if he noticed or not, because by the time I had “finished”, he was sitting up, elbows on knees and looking into space.
“So I guess I should go?”
He posed it as a question, almost as if he were reluctant to leave.
“I suppose your parents will be coming home soon,” he continued.
“They won’t be back till morning actually.”
After I said that I hoped I didn’t sound like I was coming onto him. As soon as that thought flashed through my mind, I quickly tried to patch it up by explaining that if he had stuff to do, then he really should go and not pity me being there alone. And somehow we ended up agreeing that he could stay over for dinner.
“Is Charlotte busy?” I asked, as we were looking through the fridge for food.
“I’m not sure. She wasn’t feeling too well, but we can call her and see if she’s better.”
While Nick called his sister, I stared blankly at the fridge. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, and how concerned he was for her well-being. He kept insisting that if she wasn’t well, she shouldn’t go, which made my heart flutter in a way that it shouldn’t have. He had a girlfriend. Her name was Vicky and she was very pretty. He was not interested.
“She says she’ll be over in a bit. I think she’s still feeling a bit ill, but she wants to see you. She said that you guys didn’t get a chance to talk much during the bonfire.”
“Will she be okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Just a cold or something. Anyways, what are we going to eat? I’m starving!” he protested, approaching the refrigerator.
“I was just going to order some pizza.”
“Do you have some soup for Charlotte? She has been feeling a bit queasy all day and I don’t want to make it worse with pizza,” Nick explained.
I was amazed at how much he wanted to take care of his sister. He hadn’t struck me as that kind of guy and it was a pleasant surprise.
I began looking through the cupboards and he just sat at one of the stools beside the counter. I was busy removing cans and packages of food when he began talking again.
“Do you know what? One time, a long time ago, when we were little, Charlotte and I ordered like three pizzas just for the two of us and we ate them really quickly so by the time our parents got home they wouldn’t know what we had done. She used to love pizza. We didn’t know what to do with the boxes, because they would see them in the trash bags. Charlotte had the brilliant idea of cutting them up into little bits and then hiding them around the house. We kept finding bits of it for weeks afterwards,” Nick laughed.
“Does she not like pizza anymore?” I asked tentatively.
“You said she used to love pizza. We could order Chinese food or something.”
“No, no. It’ll be better for her if she just eats some nice, warm soup.”
I didn’t want to insist anymore, so I just proceeded to setting the table. Nick lent me a hand and by the time Charlotte arrived, we had finished. She really did look a bit sick. Her skin was a bit paler than the last time I had seen her and she just seemed tired. Apart from her physical appearance, nothing else gave away that she was feeling a bit under the weather. She was just as lively as always; her smile was just as warm.
From the moment she stepped in, any hint of awkwardness or seriousness was flung out the door. She seemed to have some sort of magical effect on us, cracking jokes and talking about vane but hilarious topics. It felt cozy and familiar, not at all like a pair of almost-strangers in my kitchen. Everyone always warns how strangers could be dangerous or that you just shouldn’t trust them or let them get too close. But in that moment, it felt like the perfect thing to do.
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