After several days of readjusting to my class schedule, I felt I was getting comfortable in my routine. Robin was a doting friend and although I pushed him, he remained “just friends” with me. We held hands to keep up appearances and I have to admit I loved having someone lead me around. One afternoon at lunch, I put my hand on Robin’s thigh. He cleared his throat and began to move my hand when we heard a voice behind us.
“Well, aren’t we getting serious?”
Robin stiffened, “Hi Mel.” Mel? Mel? There was something I really wanted to remember.
“Are we friends?” I asked her.
As Robin began to comment, Mel interrupted him, “Yes, we are.” Robin’s leg jumped under my hand.
“Great,” I said, “I can’t wait to talk with a girlfriend.”
“I’ll be talking to you soon,” she said with a conspiratorial wink to her voice.
“I wonder what that was about?” Robin said when Mel was out of earshot.
“Why?” I wondered.
“You two are sworn enemies. Now she’s acting like you’re best friends.”
“Maybe she wants to start over?”
“Maybe; but I don’t like it. Be very careful with her,” he warned.
“Okay. I trust you completely,” I placed my hand in his warm grasp.
Robin sighed. “Arienne, would you like to go to the secondary dance with me?” He must have seen my puzzled look because he explained, “We have it every year at the end of the school session. Before our yearly break.” Oh yes, how could I have forgotten?
Before I could answer, I was engulfed in a strong, masculine scent. The presence felt familiar and tingles shot up my arms. In a lazy drawl I heard him say, “That’s what I came over to ask you.”
“You seem to be well-acquainted with me,” I said. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage.” I held my hand out.
“Do you really not remember me?” He sounded shocked, but took my hand and I felt it spark. Robin felt warm, like home; but this touch, it felt like romance and adventure. I snatched my hand back.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
I felt Robin shrug in response. “She was really reconditioned,” he said in my defense. “The WARDEN must not want her to be fraternizing with you,” Robin said stiffly.
I felt like there was an underlying conversation going on between them that I was not privy to. I felt bad though, at Robin’s dismissal of the stranger.
“I do know your scent. Um, your cologne,” I stammered, trying to make him feel better.
“Well that’s step one,” he said, sounding a little cheery.
“That’s the only step,” Robin grabbed my hand again.
For some reason I took my hand back and said, I’m sure I will remember you eventually. We are friends, right?”
“We are more than friends, Ari.” He sounded so sexy my stomach dropped. Robin bristled next to me.
“Get lost Galen,” he strained.
“I was just saying your name. No one else calls me Ari. It sounds...familiar, I guess,” I sputtered. Why was I having this reaction to him? Was Robin hiding something from me? He seemed to not like any of my friends. Was he just jealous? “I’m sure we can figure it out,” I said to him as Robin nearly spit out his drink.
“It will be my pleasure,” he said. “Until later.” Galen touched my hand on the table. Again, it felt as though he’d shocked me. I knew Robin was my boyfriend, but was there ever a place in my life for this real-life Romeo?
“Later,” I almost whispered.
When he left, Robin was furious. “Why did you lead him on like that?” he demanded.
“I didn’t. I simply want to remember him.” I crossed my arms across my chest. I knew I was being defensive, but he was being unreasonable.
“You can’t be around him.”
“And why not?”
“Because he’s not good for you, Arienne.”
“You’re just jealous Robin. You want to keep me for yourself. You don’t like any of my friends.”
“I AM your only friend!”
“That can’t be! I’d have to be a total outcast.” I breathed. “Wait. Am I?”
“Are you what?” he fumed.
“A total outcast?” I felt like crying. I didn’t even know my own life, who I was, who I knew... Who I loved. What if I had been more with Galen? What if Robin didn’t know?
“Oh Arienne,” he sighed. “Of course not. You are a wonderful person. Full of life. You have friends.” He paused. “You just need to be careful. Don’t believe everyone who says they are your friend.” I knew he was trying to protect me, but I didn’t need protecting.
“I think I need some time to consider all of this,” I said. “Can you take me back to my room?”
“Sure,” he surrendered.
The next afternoon I sat in the garden to recharge and ponder life. It was just the most beautiful place. It engaged my every sense. I could hear the rustle of leaves, smell the warm fragrances, touch velvet petals and almost taste the sweetness of the flowers and other foods grown here. Pungent tomato plants, vines of berries, herbs, waxy cucumbers, and behind walls of rows and rows of corn and soybeans taller than me, a floral garden. This is where I sat. The light from the lamp making goose bumps on my arms as heat and light pricked my skin like little needles. I knew this was my special place without a doubt.
His scent, though not matching, did not clash with my surroundings. His cologne melted with the heat of his body and I felt his presence before he arrived. It must be... “Galen?” I called out.
“It’s me Ari,” he purred.
“What are you doing here?” I asked quietly. Just like the library and its smell of musty books this place commanded the respect of silence and quiet conversations.
“I came to see you. I knew you’d come here. This is your favorite place to be.”
“And do we come here together?”
He chuckled and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “No little flower. You have been rejecting me for a long time.”
“Why is that?”
“You don’t trust me.”
“I feel safe with you around,” I began.
“You don’t trust me not to break your heart.”
“Yeah.” He chuckled sinfully again. The silence then was uncomfortable. I didn’t know where to go with this conversation.
“Have you... Hurt me before?” I asked him. I don’t know why, but I trusted him to tell me the truth. He chuckled knowingly and touched my cheek.
“No little flower. You are different from the rest of them...”
“Oh Robin, you scared me,” I cried.
“I see that. It’s almost ‘lights out’.”
Galen’s hand was burning on my cheek and I removed it promptly. “It’s not what you think...” I began.
“It’s exactly what you think,” Galen finished with a delighted chuckle at my embarrassment.
“It is not!”
“Arienne. I believe you,” Robin soothed.
Galen rose, “Do you have a date to the secondary dance yet?”
“R- R-Robin,” I stammered, “Robin, of course.”
“But of course,” he chuckled slowly and turned to leave. “Just save one dance for me,” he called over his shoulder.
Robin moved to sit by me. We sat in silence for a while until Robin said, “I wasn’t sure if you were going with me or not.”
“Of course I’d go with you, Robin. You are my boyfriend, right?”
“I am.” He slipped his hand into mine and we relaxed together until it was time to leave.