Xander and Tyler had been sitting in silence for what not only felt like hours, but had actually been hours. Every once in a while one of them would get up, and walk around, or go in the car to lay down on the back seat. They didn’t say anything to each after Tyler was done giving Xander his version of what happened. For they were so miserable that they didn’t feel like talking. They just wanted to get out of there already.
At about one, Xander went for a walk in the forest. He ended up at the pond where he’d tried to figure out how to tell Annelise the truth. Just a few hours before he had been so full of hope and happiness. Now there was just misery. If he would have just figured out what to say to her in the van he most likely wouldn’t be standing there by himself. He’d probably still be with Annelise. If he would have spent just five minutes less there, then he’d probably still be with Annelise, too. But he hadn’t figured it out in the van, and he hadn’t taken five less minutes there. The fact of the matter was that he was alone, and would never be with Annelise again. And no amount of thought, or second guessing his choices, or rethinking his mistakes would change that.
He stayed by the pond for some time. He wasn’t really sure how long, but eventually his silence and solitude were shattered by Tyler.
“Xander, man, come on! Percy is back with a tow truck!” Tyler yelled.
Hearing that, Xander sighed. To be honest, he wasn’t keen on spending even more hours with Percy and Tyler. But he didn’t want to be stranded there anymore either. So he slowly made his way back to the clearing.
When he got back, the car was already being hooked to the tow truck. Percy and Tyler were standing almost twenty feet apart from each other, watching the tow truck driver work. It was clear that the mood between them was icy, to say the least. Not really in the mood to talk to either of them, he took his place right between them.
“Hey Xander,” Percy said, walking over to him.
Xander merely remained silent.
“Are you alright?” Percy asked.
“No. I’m pretty crappy,” Xander answered simply.
“I bet. I tried to tell them the truth. I told Athena, at least. But I don’t know-”
“I don’t really feel like talking right now,” Xander interrupted him.
“Okay. But we need to soon. How about when we get back to the city.”
“Whatever. Sure,” Xander shrugged.
They fell silent once again.
Thankfully, it didn’t take much longer for the tow truck driver to finish with the car. So, finally, they all crammed into the cab of the truck, and started heading home.
Annelise, Athena, and Dianna all woke up around three o’clock. They stretched, feeling rested, and much better than before. But still, Annelise and Dianna’s moods were dour.
They silently made their way downstairs. Cassandra and William were excited to see them up, and when it became known that it had been hours since they’d eaten, happily prepared them some lunch.
“So what are you guys wanting to do here, other than seeing the Seelie Lights?” Cassandra asked.
“We’re not sure. We haven’t really thought quite that far ahead,” Athena answered.
“Well you have plenty of time to figure it out while you’re here,” Cassandra said.
“What would you suggest?” Dianna asked softly.
“Oh, I don’t know. There’s a lot of good hiking around here, and a few movie theaters, and an ice skating rink,” Cassandra replied.
“And we’re within driving distance of old San Francisco. So we could go and see the Golden Gate Bridge, and Alcatraz,” William added.
“That sounds fun,” Annelise said melancholily.
“We don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want to, though,” Cassandra said, picking up on their lack of enthusiasm.
“No, it does sound fun,” Athena said. “We’ve just had a rough day so far, so we’re not enthused about much right now.”
“I understand. We all have days like that,” Cassandra stated.
“Well, we should probably give you some peace, then,” William said.
“Right. And if you guys need to talk about anything, I’m always here,” Cassandra added.
Annelise, Athena, and Dianna gave them all their thanks, before William and Cassandra left them alone again.
“So, what are we doing until the Seelie Lights?” Athena asked her friends.
In response, they both just shrugged.
“Come on guys. You must want to do something, even if it’s just sitting around here,” Athena said.
“I don’t know,” Annelise said. “I guess we could go out and look around for a while before the lights. If we should even bother going to see the lights. I’m not sure I’m even in the mood to do that.”
“Yeah, I don’t think I am either, really,” Dianna added. “That whole thing is more for you guys than me, anyway.”
Athena could barely believe her ears.
“We drove all the way across the country to see the Seelie Lights. We’re going to see them, even if I have to carry you both there,” Athena declared. “Got it?”
Annelise and Dianna reluctantly nodded.
“Good,” Athena said.
With that cleared up, they finished their lunch. Then, with nothing else to do and many hours to kill before the lights began, Athena indulged her gloomy friends and allowed them to mope around the house for a couple more hours. By a quarter to five, though, she’d had enough and insisted that they get out and do something. Annelise and Dianna acquiesced with the same apathy that had so far consumed them nearly the entire day.
Dianna took it upon herself to tell her father and Cassandra what they were doing. She eventually tracked them down in a den that was at the end of a short hall off of the main living space.
“What’s up?” Her dad asked.
“If it’s alright, we’re going to go out and check out the city before the thing tonight,” she said.
“Okay,” he accepted with a nod.
“And I’m sorry that we’re being terrible houseguests,” she added.
“You’re not,” William assured her.
“Really, we understand,” Cassandra assured her.
“Well you both have been great, so thank you for that.”
“It’s our pleasure,” Cassandra said.
“We’ll see you later, then. Don’t wait up.”
When William and Cassandra were finished telling them goodbye, the girls left.
With no idea where they were going, they went down the main road, keeping an eye out for anything of interest. Soon enough, they found something.
“Hey, there’s a Taco Bell over there!” Athena said to Dianna, hoping that it would lift her spirits.
“Yeah. He told me about it yesterday,” Dianna said, unable to even say Tyler’s name. “He said that they eat there all the time, so I guess that place is off limits.”
“Screw that,” Athena said. “You want to eat there? Then we’ll eat there later, when we get hungry. They are not going to keep us from enjoying our time here.”
“Yeah, okay,” Dianna accepted with a nod.
“We should check out where we’re going to see the lights tonight too, just to be safe,” Annelise suggested. “If we are going, then we might as well be prepared.”
“That is a great idea,” Athena said, handing the map of the city she got at the gas station to Dianna, hoping that her friends were starting to lighten up slightly. “Don’t ruin it,” she ordered.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dianna replied.
To that, Athena couldn’t help but smile.
Tyler, Percy, and Xander, meanwhile, had spent nearly the entire trip back to New San Francisco in silence. Even the truck driver quickly got the message that there would be no talking or geniality on that trip. The few times he did ask questions, Percy answered them with quick, monosyllable responses.
When they made it back to town, Percy directed the driver into one of the larger store parking lots on the main road. The driver then unhooked the car, Percy paid him, and he pulled away.
“I called for rides for us, so Jessica and Melissa should be coming to pick us up soon,” Percy told Xander, checking his watch.
“You called Melissa?” Xander asked, swallowing nervously.
“No, I called your parents. But their car is broken down, so they said they’d ask Melissa to do it. I didn’t call Sheila,” he added, glaring at Tyler.
“Why would you? They broke up,” Xander remarked.
“But they got back together, and he didn’t tell us so he could get away with fooling around with Dianna,” Percy replied.
“You lying bastard!” Tyler yelled.
“I’m the bastard?” Percy asked incredulously. “I’m not that one that led Dianna on to have sex with her, and then threw her away like a piece of garbage!”
“So you were acting like that with Dianna, and all the while you were still with Sheila?” Xander asked, almost unable to believe that Tyler could do something so horrible.
“Of course not!” Tyler contended.
“Of course you did, more like!” Percy countered. “And then when Athena and Annelise confronted him about it, he threw you and Melissa in Annelise’s face. He told her that you were doing the same thing he was.”
“He’s lying!” Tyler maintained.
Xander, however, wasn’t fooled. Where Tyler’s story had left him with questions, Percy tale had answers. Where Tyler’s tale sounded fishy, Percy’s tale ringed with truth.
“Tyler,” Xander began, rage growing inside of him, “did you use Dianna for sex, and then tell Annelise about Melissa?”
“Of course not!” Tyler lied.
“Why do you keep lying? And why would you treat Dianna so awfully?” He asked, starting to shake with anger.
“Okay, maybe it didn’t happen quite the way I said it did, but-” Tyler began.
That’s all he got out. For Xander, completely fed up with Tyler’s lies and appalled by what he did to Dianna, punched Tyler in the face.
Xander’s fist exploded in pain as he connected with the left side of Tyler’s jaw, his bones and skin crunching against Tyler’s. Tyler, caught completely off guard by the blow, fell to the ground.
“You son of a bitch!” Xander screamed at him. “Do you have any idea how you hurt them? Oh wait, of course you don’t, because you’re a jackass! You probably don’t even care, do you, you piece of shit!”
Tyler, holding his jaw, got back up to his feet.
“I’m going to kill you!” He yelled at Xander impotently, not daring to make a move against his former friend despite his anger. “You’re going to regret this!”
“Come at me and we’ll see who regrets it!” Xander shot back.
Percy, wanting to prevent further violence despite having thoroughly enjoyed seeing Tyler get punched, got in between them.
“Calm down!” He said to Xander.
“I’m going to kill you!” Tyler yelled lamely.
“Go away!” Percy ordered. “No one is coming for you, and no one wants you here! Go away, or I’ll let Xander have at you again!”
“You’re both going to regret this!” Tyler roared as he heeded the warning and walked away.
“Yeah, we’re terrified,” Percy mocked.
Before turning and leaving Tyler flipped them off in one last, impotent gesture of defiance. Then he left.
“Sorry,” Xander apologized, shaking his hurting hand and flexing his fingers, trying to relieve the pain. “I know I shouldn’t have hit him, but he screwed everything up. And the way he treated poor Dianna is just horrible,” he said, feeling terrible for her.
“As far as I’m concerned, you should have hit him harder,” Percy said. “Are you alright?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine.”
“So, you and Annelise got together?”
“Yeah, we kissed,” Xander revealed. “And I was about to tell her about Melissa this morning. I fully intended on doing it when I got back. But before I could, he happened, and ruined everything.”
“So where does that leave you and Melissa now?”
“Now I have to be honest with her. I have to break up with her, even if Annelise and I can never happen now.”
“Good. That’s the right thing to do, I think.”
“Yeah. That doesn’t make it easy, though,” Xander sighed.
“No, it doesn’t,” Percy agreed.
The girls, meanwhile, after scouting out the spot where the Seelie Lights would be taking place in a few hours, returned to Taco Bell.
“So are you excited?” Athena asked Dianna as they parked and she turned off the engine.
“Sure,” Dianna responded with a shrug. “It’ll be cool to finally check this place out, at least.”
“I bet it will be like walking right into the old world,” Athena remarked as they got out of the van and headed into the restaurant.
The interior of the Taco Bell was about as far from an old world Taco Bell as anything could possibly be, though. Running across most of the restaurant, directly across from the door, was a bar with stools in front of it. Along the outer walls, next to windows were booths, and small tables were set between them and the bar. The overhead lighting was warm, and was augmented by lights in brackets on the walls. The walls, floor, and tables were all made out of wood.
“I like it,” Dianna pronounced.
“Have a seat wherever you want, and I’ll be right with you,” a brunette waitress behind the bar told them.
The three friends didn’t even need to look at each other to decide where they were sitting. They just marched over to the corner booth and sat down.
“We should do the drive through window sometime,” Dianna said, her mood gradually improving. “My grandpa told me you’d just order food from your car, and they’d hand it to you through the window.”
“We should have just done that from the start. Then we could go right to the cliffs to make sure we’ll have a good spot later on,” Annelise said.
“We’ll have plenty of time. And I thought you didn’t care about seeing the lights anymore,” Athena said.
“I care more than I did a couple hours ago,” Annelise replied. “And after the crappy day we’ve had, it will be nice to go see something cool.”
“We definitely need it,” Dianna said.
“And it’s a good thing that we have a good friend who made us leave the house even though we didn’t want to,” Athena added lightly.
“Yes, you deserve the credit,” Annelise said.
“You sure do,” Dianna agreed.
Their waitress came over and gave them some menus a few seconds later.
“Do you guys need a few minutes?” The waitress, whose name was Harli and looked to be about forty, asked them.
“Um, where are your tacos?” Dianna asked, reviewing the menu. “All I see here is breakfast food.”
“Well we have a breakfast burrito, but that’s as Mexican as we get here,” Harli answered.
“But you’re Taco Bell,” Dianna pointed out.
“In name, sure, but that’s all. You see when Earl, the owner, renovated this place he liked the sign, so he kept it. But he doesn’t really like Mexican food. He likes breakfast. So that’s what we serve.”
“Do you have a drive through at least?” Dianna asked.
“Technically we do, but we can’t use it,” Harli said. “Sorry, honey.”
“I’m definitely going to need a minute then,” Dianna said.
“Okay. I’ll check back in a couple,” Harli responded, walking away.
“So this place is a fake Taco Bell,” Dianna remarked. “I just can’t win.”
“Sorry. Earl sucks,” Athena said.
“Well I like Earl,” Annelise said with a shrug. “Breakfast is my favorite. And I think I’ll have the wild berry flapjacks.”
“Go ahead, rub it in,” Dianna said, shaking her head.
Eventually, Athena and Dianna did figure out what they wanted. Athena ordered an egg white omelet filled with cheddar cheese, ham, mushrooms, onions, and spinach, and for Dianna it was a stack of French toast, topped with raspberries, powdered sugar, and real maple syrup.
“Do you make an effort to pick the most boring things on the menu?” Dianna asked Athena as they ate.
“Whatever. In ten years I’ll still be skinny, and you two will be, well, I don’t know what you’ll be,” Athena said, thinking it best to spare them her sarcasm and harsh judgment for once.
“Hopefully happy,” Annelise said.
“Yeah,” Dianna agreed.
Back at the parking lot, meanwhile, after waiting the better part of an hour Percy’s girlfriend, Jessica, arrived to pick him up.
“See you later,” Xander told him with a nod.
“Yeah. Good luck with everything,” Percy replied.
“I’ll need it, considering that I’m relying on the girl I’m about to break up with for a ride home,” Xander said.
“Yeah. As far as I’m concerned, as long as I don’t have a funeral to go to later this week, I’ll consider it having gone well.”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded.
With that, Percy got into Jessica’s car. After sharing one quick kiss, they drove away.
So Xander was left alone.
For a second he tried to figure out what he was going to say to Melissa. Then he stopped himself. Part of all his trouble that morning was that he’d tried to figure everything out. He wasn’t eager for history to repeat itself. So, as mad as it seemed, he decided to forgo any kind of planning. He’d just tell her the truth however it came out, and take the consequences the way he should have with Annelise.
A few minutes later Melissa pulled up in her Chevelle. Xander’s heart was beating as he stepped towards it, and Melissa got out to meet him.
Melissa was a few inches shorter than Xander, with dark brown, wavy, shoulder length hair. She had a pretty face, made beautiful by her perfect smile, and a lean figure.
Xander had once considered her perfect, and to be completely honest, she was still pretty close to perfect in his opinion. But even so, it just wasn’t working between them.
“Hey Xander,” Melissa said to him with a kind smile, pulling him into a hug.
“Hi Melissa,” he responded. “It’s good to see you.”
Standing there looking at her, the last thing Xander wanted to do was break her heart. For she still held a special spot in his. Then again, in the long run it would be better for them to break up. She deserved to be happy in a way that he couldn’t make her anymore.
Silently, they loaded his bags into the trunk of her car. When that was done, he opened his mouth to ask if they could go somewhere to talk, but she beat him to it.
“I know you just got back, and probably want to go home, but could we go somewhere to talk first?” Melissa asked.
“Yeah. I was about to ask you the same thing, actually,” Xander responded.
“Well are you hungry? We could do Taco Bell.”
“Sure. I’m starving,” Xander answered.
“Good. Let’s go then,” Melissa said.
The drive to Taco Bell passed in complete silence. Xander was surprised to find that Melissa wasn’t in a much better mood than he was. She was usually happy, and bright, and spunky, so it was clear to him that something was bothering her.
They arrived at Taco Bell less than five minutes after Annelise, Athena, and Dianna left. With no idea how close he’d come to seeing the one he cared about, the one he desperately still wished to be with, Xander and Melissa stepped inside, sat down, and ordered their regular meals. Silence ensued again, until their food was brought out to them.
Xander, having eaten nothing the entire day, was famished and dug in immediately. Melissa took it a bit slower. After savoring her first few bites, she began to say what she needed to.
“Xander,” she began.
He looked up at her, busy chewing a piece of sausage.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this for a while now. I don’t think I was very successful, though. Xander, I just want you to know, first of all, that I really care about you. You have a very special place in my heart. You were my first boyfriend, my first kiss. We’ve really shared a lot since we got together. And it’s been great, for the most part.”
By then, Xander had stopped chewing. He wasn’t sure where she was going with that. What she was saying sounded a lot like what he thought about her. So did that mean that she was breaking up with him? Or was she telling him how important he was to her for another reason, like maybe in the desire for them to take their relationship to the next level?
“Like I already said, I really care about you, Xander. But I think it’s time for our relationship to change. We’ve been stuck in the same place for too long. And I think that it would be best for us both to move forward from where we are. So I think that it would be best if we…if we…” She stammered nervously.
Xander was terror stricken. His first impulse was to run to the door, and away as fast as he could. But that would be unconscionable. Or would it? No, of course it would be.
“For us to…” Melissa said again, still struggling to finish her thought.
Xander wanted to scream at her to choke it out already. But at the same time, he didn’t want her to. She would never be able to unsay whatever it was she was about to say. And for him to let her continue and potentially bare her soul to him right before he broke up with her, now that would be unconscionable. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
“I want to break up,” Xander blurted out, hoping that by doing so he would spare Melissa some heartache.
“What?” Melissa asked, taken aback.
“We should break up,” Xander said. “We’ve grown apart, and we’re not working anymore. And I met this girl on the way here that I really like, but I guess that doesn’t really matter anymore. I just…I didn’t want you to keep going and to say whatever you were about to say, knowing that I was going to break up with you right after.”
“You dummy,” Melissa chuckled. “I was about to break up with you! You’re right, we’re not working. We barely even talked to each other over the last couple months.”
“That is such a relief,” Xander sighed. “When you said we should move forward from where we are I was terrified you were going to say we should take our relationship to the next level or something like that.”
“Right, I can see how you got there now,” Melissa said with a nod. “I probably should have worded that differently.”
“Still, it worked out better than I expected.”
“Me too. Xavier thought he should be here in case you didn’t take it well, but I told him if he did I’d be breaking up with two guys today,” Melissa stated.
“Oh, I forgot! I met Xavier at school. We had to do a presentation together and he was really sweet, so we kind of hit if off. And I just realized that apparently I have a thing for guys with X names.”
“There are worse letters.”
“I guess so. He and I haven’t technically made our relationship official yet, because I wanted to talk to you first.”
“And he makes you happy?”
“He really does.”
“Then I’m happy for you,” Xander said.
“Thanks. Now what about you? You said you met someone too. So who is this girl that is so much better than me that you felt the need to break my heart for her?” Melissa joked.
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Xander sighed. “Everything got really messed up between us. Some of it was my fault. Most of it was Tyler’s fault. But the end result is the same. She pretty much wants nothing to do with me.”
“Why? What happened?”
“I don’t want to bore you. I’m sure you don’t want to hear it.”
“Let me be the judge of that. I mean, maybe I can help.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want to burden you with my problems.”
“I’m absolutely sure, Xander. Now out with it.”
Hoping that she might indeed be able to help, Xander told Melissa everything that happened, from him and Annelise meeting, to the end when Tyler ruined everything. When he was done, Melissa only had one question.
“So what are you going to do now?” She asked.
“What do you mean, what am I going to do? There is nothing to do now but live with what happened,” Xander replied.
“So you don’t want to be with Annelise?”
“No, of course I do. But-”
“No,” Melissa interrupted. “Whatever was going to come after that ‘but’ doesn’t matter. What does is the ‘of course I do’. Xander, you’ve gotten into your own head. Yes, there isn’t anything you can do to change what has already happened. You can’t go back in time and stop Tyler from blabbing on you. But there is a chance you can change what happens next; it isn’t set in stone. The way I see it, you have two options now. One is to just lie down and die, and accept that you aren’t going to be with her. And the other is to go after her, tell her the truth, and fight for her with everything you have. So I’ll ask you again. What are you going to do now?”
Hearing Melissa’s words, Xander realized that she was completely right. He’d completely bought the lie that there was no way for him and Annelise to be together after what happened between them. He’d all but thrown in the towel. But it didn’t have to be that way. He could go after Annelise and tell her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help him God. He could fight for her, the way Melissa said. No, it wouldn’t be easy, but then nothing much worth having was. And so, he had his answer.
“Annelise is the kind of girl that’s worth fighting for. So I’m going to fight,” he said, the hope that he’d thought had died when the girls left him in that clearing suddenly being rekindled inside of him.
“Yes!” Melissa said, pounding her fist on the table.
“Thanks for everything, Melissa. I’ll see you later,” he said, standing up to go.
“What are you doing?” She asked, a puzzled look on her face.
“I’m going to Annelise. They’re seeing the Seelie Lights, which are happening down at the cliffs, so if I start running now I’ll hopefully get there in time.”
“You’re seriously going to run ten miles to the cliffs?” Melissa asked in disbelief.
“How else am I going to get there?”
“Um, I don’t know, how’d you get here?”
“Wait, are you offering me a ride?”
“Yeah, smart guy. I’m not going to let you kill yourself by running to the cliffs.”
“Anytime. Now let’s get some boxes and get out of here.”
When their food was boxed up to go, they paid their bill and returned to the car. Then, throwing all caution to the wind, Melissa sped to the cliffs.
“Thank you,” Xander said to her as they drove. “You’re a really great friend.”
“No problem. It feels good to be friends again, doesn’t it?”
“It really does,” Xander confirmed.
They got to the cliffs just as the sun dipped its head below the horizon. The lights would be starting soon, and that meant that Annelise and the others would be somewhere nearby.
“Thanks again, Melissa,” Xander said, getting out of the car.
“You’re very welcome. Do you want me to wait?” She asked.
“No, it’s alright. You can go. I should have another ride after I talk to her,” he said, not even entertaining the possibility of failure.
“Okay. I’ll drop your stuff off at your house,” Melissa said. “Good luck.”
With that, Melissa turned the car around and drove away.
“Now let’s do this,” Xander said, starting towards the water.
The entire area was covered in small green hills, which ended in abrupt cliffs above the shoreline. Much of the grounds were covered in trees, part of the great western forest that had grown up after the Atlata virus, though the land closest to the cliffs was nothing but grass. Already people were gathering there to see the Seelie Lights, which would be taking place in the skies above. And somewhere among them, was Annelise.
“Please let me find her,” he prayed.
With that, Xander started his search.