I should be at home, probably playing with my spray paint, but I'm not. Instead, Brandon and I were standing in front of a rickety metal swing set, rusted beyond repair. My feet were sinking into the partly frozen muddy ground. It was pretty cold for Austin, since it was the middle of January. Zay was already sitting in one of the swings, tossing pebbles into the grayish pond in front of him.
"Why are we here again?" I ask. Zay sent us here because "there was something we needed to know."
"Apparently, someone wants to tell us big news," Zay informs. "And you'll never guess who it is."
Riley and Farkle appear out of nowhere. Why are they here?
"Everyone should sit down," Riley instructs.
"I thought you didn't want to talk to me," I say, as I tested my weight on the swing seat. I thought it would collapse, but it didn't.
"This is important," Farkle says, not directing his voice at me, but at Zay and Brandon.
He's still mad at me. I don't know what the big deal was. So what, I used to have a big crush on Lucas, but that was middle school. Did he expect me not to have feelings for other guys? Just because he never had another crush before doesn't mean I shouldn't.
"Lucas has been in a coma for a month now," Riley says. "If you haven't noticed, things have pretty tough without him here."
"No kidding," I say.
Riley glares at me and asks, "Maya, do you know about this swing set?"
"No," I answer.
"This is a very special swing set," Riley begins. "Charlotte Friar, Lucas's mom, took him to this place since he was six. He considered it a magical swing set, and all you have to do activate the magic was just talk. Lucas took me here back in November."
"No, I would know about this place if it was so special to him," I say. "Why would he cherish a place that his rotten mom took him to?"
"Lucas had secrets, Maya," Riley says, "secrets that he even kept from you."
"Why would he do that?" I ask, my voice quivering. "Isn't friendship all about telling others your secrets?"
"He was afraid," Riley replies. "He was afraid you would think less of him if you knew."
"Lucas is the bravest guy I ever known," Zay interjects. "We would never think less of him."
"His father was not what you all thought he was," Riley says with a slight sob. "There was a reason you never got to see his house or meet his family."
"If he was so ashamed of his dad, why didn't he tell us?" Brandon asks. "I sometimes get ashamed of my parents but I don't hide it from my friends."
"He wasn't ashamed of his dad," Riley says loudly, like she couldn't anything in any longer. "He was afraid of his dad. Mr. Friar . . . he wasn't a very good father."
Everything went silent. We all knew what she meant. Those days, when Lucas was silent and would wear thick clothes to hide his skin, he was hiding scars, wasn't he? He never took us to his house; we never met his dad, only heard of him very briefly. I want to not believe Riley, but the way everything fit, the way everything fell into place; it had to be the truth.
"We could have helped him," I say with tears running down my cheeks. "Why didn't he say something?"
"I don't know why," Riley quivered. "He thought he could do it by himself, he didn't want to burden anybody, so he covered it all up. I only found out by accident. There was a good reason his mom left."
Charlotte really did need to leave Mr. Friar. But that doesn't mean I forgive her. She should have taken Lucas with her.
"The night he stole his dad's car," Brandon mused. "Was that for revenge?"
"No," Riley responds. "Everything that happened that night, it was all my fault." She started to cry really heavily. "He went to my house to talk to me and showed me a letter from his mom. He got so angry about it and I told him he should forgive her. But he and I began fighting about it and he said I was acting like Missy."
That's not true. No matter how much Riley gets concerned about shallow stuff, she would never be like Missy.
Riley continues. "He left my house and that's when he decided to make amends with his mother, taking my advice. He stole his dad's car to drive to Smithville to see her. But then . . . you know. It's all my fault."
"No it's not," I cry out. "It's ridiculous you blame yourself for that. It's all Charlotte's fault. She never loved Lucas enough to meet him in person."
"She tried, Maya!" Riley yells. "Even though she was scared, even though she was selfish, she still loved Lucas and wanted him to be her son. He was always her family and that woman is now suffering without him! Not everyone who leaves forgets."
Riley has never looked so weak and emotional. She really must care about Lucas. I rock on the swing back and forth. I don't understand why Lucas loves this place. It's gross, it's disgusting, but somehow, Riley understood what it meant to him. She really does try to understand.
"I can't believe he never told me," I say. "I thought I knew everything about him."
"Well, you don't Maya!" Farkle finally yells. He was talking to me again. "Stop putting him on such a high pedestal and look at the facts! He wasn't as perfect as you thought he was and he didn't return the feelings you felt for him. I know it feels bad that the person you thought was amazing wasn't really amazing and that sometimes they don't feel the same way about you, but it happens! And sometimes you have to accept that they were real people and they were flawed people."
Everyone was silent again. There was a feeling in the air that felt unreal, like a kaleidoscope of anger and sadness and disappointment and empathy. It was like the magic of the truth.
"I do love you, Farkle," I say. "I'm sorry that I never told you. I'm sorry that I treated you like a friend instead of a boyfriend. I'm sorry that I might've cared more about Lucas than I do about you. But I want to start over. I want you back because you made me happy and you made me feel loved and beautiful and treated me like I'm worthy, something Lucas never done for me."
Farkle looked up at me and was silent.
"Just make up already," Brandon complains. "I hate seeing a happy couple fight."
We all laughed and Farkle and I kissed each other, ignoring all the gagging sounds Zay made.
"You're just mad because you're single," Farkle teases and we all ended up laughing and joking and messing around, like old times.
Riley looked at me and said, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I reply. I look at the swing set, seeing past all the rust and creakiness. "This place really is magic."
I was still lost in whatever dimension I was in. Random memories just popped up at random times, taking me through the life I lived and let me reevaluate myself. Life really does flash before your eyes when you're about to die. But this death was taking quite a while to settle in.
More light flashed before me and I saw Riley, who was still as beautiful as I last remember her. She held a book in her hands and began to stroke my hand.
"Why are you so cold?" she whispers and proceeded to sit down.
I wanted to hug her. I wanted to scream her name and cry all over her shoulder. I missed her, I've been so lost and scared and I just wanted to feel her lips against mine again. But I couldn't move. I was completely paralyzed.
She flipped to a random page in her book and began reading a poem.
"The ocean beneath me claimed me as its slave/ Dragging me down with shackles made of water/ Into a prison of hatred and anger/ She controlled me, tricked me, held me down with fists of seawater/ Duped into a life of servitude inside a world I couldn't understand," she recited.
I felt like a prisoner, held down by shackles of darkness. Everything felt hazy, like I was being held underwater.
"I miss you, Lucas," Riley cooed. "I wish I could see you again."
I'm here Riley! I'm still here! I shouted with all my might. But yet, I was still silent as a dead body.