As promised, Annelise and Xander did see each other again. And again. And again. Nearly every moment Annelise wasn’t with Dianna and Athena she was with him.
She learned a lot more about him in those days. She found out that his favorite toy as a child was a teddy bear named Dr. Wigglesmith. She found out that he had an older sister named Juliet, who lived in a small town in southern California. When she met his parents, Gabriel and Addison, she learned what he looked like naked when he was three, thanks to the pictures of his young self during bath time that they showed her. And she learned that she had been absolutely right to believe in him after the Seelie Lights. For she also learned that he was as good as she’d believed in the small town where they’d shared their first kiss.
Still, most of the time she was with Athena and Dianna. They did finally go out to dinner with William and Cassandra, regaling them with tales of everything they’d seen and done, and amazing them with the pictures Annelise took throughout.
William and Cassandra, for their part, completely spoiled the girls. Cassandra regularly insisted on taking them shopping, and bought them whatever they wanted. Athena and Annelise nearly always protested, reluctant for her to spend so much money on them, but it never made any difference. Cassandra assured them that it was fine, and bought them the stuff anyway. Dianna, however, didn’t mind being spoiled as much as her friends did.
For her part, Dianna eventually bounced back from what Tyler did to her. It was just hard to stay miserable with so much good happening. For she and Cassandra, as they’d both hoped, had become friends. She loved spending time with her step mom, and Cassandra loved spending time with her step daughter. Even William, Cassandra told Dianna, was in a brighter mood than she’d seen him in years. He absolutely loved having his daughter there. Contrasting that with how her mom and Max were in Sunnyville, so wrapped up in each other that they largely ignored, or were irritated with her, and it made the thought of going back to that nearly unbearable to Dianna.
Athena, meanwhile, had been racking her brain about what she wanted to change her major to now that she wasn’t going to study structural engineering. She knew that her dad would be upset when she told him that news, but for the most part she didn’t care. It was her life, and she had to live it the way she wanted, regardless of what anyone else thought.
It took her a while, almost two full weeks, to work out what she really wanted to study, but eventually she did.
She, Dianna, and Annelise were in Taco Bell, which had become one of their favorite hang outs, when she broke the news to them.
“I know what I’m going to major in,” she told them after swallowing a bite of her crepe as Dianna enjoyed her stack of French Toast, and Annelise peanut butter pancakes.
“What?” Annelise asked.
“Let me guess. It’s mathy, sciencey, and boring,” Dianna said.
“No. Well, not that last one, at least.”
“So what is it?” Annelise asked.
“Okay, what’s that?” Dianna asked.
“I’ll be studying the fae,” Athena answered.
“Well that clears that up,” Dianna said, rolling her eyes.
“Basically I’ll be studying anything, and everything having to do with the fae. It’s part history, part anthropology, part biology, part sociology. I just really want to know more about them after all this, especially considering what happened with the changelings. Ever since that one replaced me and I came back, I’ve been filled with questions. Where was I during that time? What was happening to me? And what happened to the changeling after you guys threw it into the fire? And why did that work? I just want to know everything about them that I can, and if I can do that for a job, then why not?” She asked with a shrug. “And I completely own that I’m totally stealing your thing,” she added to Annelise.
“That’s fine, as long as it’s what you really want,” Annelise replied.
“Good. I’m glad you’re not mad.”
“Are you kidding? We can totally geek out about it together!”
“For sure,” Athena chuckled.
“Leave me out of that, please,” Dianna said.
“For sure,” Athena said.
At that moment, the door to the restaurant opened, the little bell at the top ringing, and a young couple walked in and sat at a booth across the restaurant.
Annelise, who was the only one who’d noticed, stared at them in shock, her face falling.
“Guys, look at who just came in,” she told her friends.
They obeyed, and were horrified to see Tyler sitting there with a girl, their arms around each other as they flirted.
“I wonder who that is with him,” Dianna said, her mood suddenly grave.
“Another one and done, probably,” Athena remarked.
“No, that’s his girlfriend, Sheila,” Annelise said.
“The one he cheated on with me?” Dianna asked.
“Yeah. One and the same.”
“How do you know that’s her?” Athena inquired.
“Well,” Annelise began, “a few days ago I was wondering how pretty Melissa is, so Xander showed me a picture of him, Melissa, Percy, and his girlfriend Jessica, and those two,” she explained.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Athena said, shaking her head.
“Guys, I feel like I should give you fair warning that some crap is about to go down,” Dianna said, standing up.
“We’ve got your back,” Annelise said.
“Hell yeah. Let’s do this,” Athena fumed, getting up too.
“No. I’ll take care of it myself. You guys pay the bill. I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Are you sure?” Athena asked.
“Yeah, I’ve got it covered,” Dianna responded.
With that, resolutely, without hesitation or fear, she walked right over to Tyler and Sheila’s booth. When Tyler saw her, he nearly inhaled the straw he was sipping his Coke through.
“Hi Tyler, fancy meeting you here,” Dianna said brightly. “I just thought you should know that the doctor says it isn’t herpes. It’s just a pimple. So we’re all good.”
Tyler was too horrified to respond. Sheila, however, wasn’t.
“Um, who are you?” She asked aggressively.
“I’m Dianna. And you must be Tyler’s sister.”
“No, I’m his girlfriend. So how do you know my boyfriend?” Sheila asked, her voice rising.
“Why don’t you ask him?” Dianna said.
Sheila’s head snapped over to Tyler, her glare demanding answers.
“I uh…uh…” Tyler sputtered.
“Okay, since he can’t talk, I will,” Dianna said. “You see a couple weeks ago Tyler, your boyfriend, pretended to like me and care about me so he could have sex with me. And when we were done, he threw me away like a piece of garbage.”
Sheila shot another glare at Tyler, before turning back to Dianna.
“Look, I don’t know what game you’re playing here, but-” Sheila began.
“He has three moles on his left butt cheek that form a triangle,” Dianna interrupted.
Sheila’s jaw dropped, and she turned back to her boyfriend.
“How does she know that?” She asked him.
“I think I should go now, this looks private,” Dianna said, backing away to where Athena and Annelise were standing by the door, grinning.
“That was awesome,” Athena said as they walked out.
“It was, good job,” Annelise agreed.
But as the doors swung closed behind them, they heard Sheila shout, “How does she know that?” again. Her voice was thick with pain, and betrayal.
Hearing that, Dianna thought back to how Tyler had made her feel. And as she remembered that pain, she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Hold on guys,” she said.
“What’s going on?” Athena asked.
“Just give me a minute,” Dianna said, turning and heading back to the doors.
Right before she reached out her hand to open them, the doors flung open and Sheila rushed out, in tears.
“Hey, excuse me!” Dianna said, running after her.
“What now?” Sheila moaned.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry,” Dianna said. “I know what it feels like, being betrayed by him. And I’m sorry I made you feel that pain too.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s his,” Sheila responded. “If anything, I should probably thank you for letting me know what a pig he is before things got even more serious.”
“Still, I’m sorry,” Dianna apologized again.
“Thanks. I’m Sheila, by the way,” she said, holding out her hand.
“I’m Dianna,” she said, taking it.
“I remember that.”
“Right. Look, this is my phone number,” Dianna said, using a pen and a scrap of paper from her purse to write it down. “If you need to talk, or just vent, or anything, call me,” she said, handing Sheila the paper.
“Thanks Dianna,” Sheila said, turning and walking away.
With that, Dianna returned to her friends.
“When did you become so thoughtful?” Athena asked.
“I just couldn’t leave her like that,” Dianna responded.
“Good job,” Annelise said, pulling Dianna into a hug.
So the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into a month, and then even more weeks came and passed on top of that, until the time to return to Sunnyville was drawing near.
About a week before they were set to leave, though, Dianna told her friends that they needed to talk. So, after they were done with dinner, they went out for a walk around the neighborhood to talk.
“So why do we need to talk, exactly?” Athena asked as they turned around a corner.
“You’re not breaking up with us, are you?” Annelise joked.
Dianna, however, didn’t laugh. Her face remained as serious as before.
“So you are breaking up with us?” Annelise asked seriously.
“No. I’ve just been doing a lot of thinking about stuff,” Dianna said.
“That’s never a good sign,” Athena joked.
“Shut up,” Dianna ordered lightly, before continuing. “I’ve just been thinking a lot about home, with my mom and Max, and this place, with my dad and Cassandra. And to be honest, I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to go back home, where I’m just a bother and an annoyance to them. I can’t stand the thought of going back to that. And so I’ve decided that I’m not going to.”
Athena and Annelise stopped dead in their tracks.
“What do you mean you’re not coming home?” Annelise asked.
“I mean that I’m not going back to Sunnyville with you guys. I’m going to stay here with my dad and Cassandra. I already talked to them about it, and I think they’re excited about me staying. They want me here. And that’s more than I can say for the other two back in Sunnyville.”
“But we need you there,” Athena said. “We need you. We’re a trio. That’s how it’s always been,” she said, trying to keep herself from getting too emotional.
“I know. And it’s not easy leaving you guys. You’re like sisters to me,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “But it’s not like we’d be with each other forever anyway. I mean, you’re going to college in the fall,” she said to Athena, “and we’re not,” she finished, meaning her and Annelise.
“Still, Sunnyville is a lot closer than New San Francisco,” Athena retorted.
“I know. But it’s not like we’re never going to see each other again. I’ll visit you guys, and you can visit me here. And we’ll talk on the phone every chance we get. I promise you both that. I’m not going to let us drift apart.”
“And neither am I,” Annelise said.
“It’s one thing to say that. It’s another thing to do it,” Athena pointed out. “But I’ll say it anyway. We will not drift apart.”
“Good,” Dianna said.
“So what are you going to do here?” Athena asked. “Or don’t you know yet?”
“Well, I’ve talked to Sheila on the phone a few times, and-”
“Sheila,” Athena interrupted. “Do you hear that? She already replaced us,” she said to Annelise.
“I heard it,” Annelise confirmed.
“Stop being so clingy. I haven’t replaced you guys,” Dianna maintained. “We’re just friends.”
“I know. I’m just joking. Go on. You talked to her, and…” Athena said.
“And she thinks that I could probably get a job at Taco Bell. She knows one of the managers and she said she’d put in a good word for me.”
“So you’d be waiting tables? That’s not very glamorous,” Annelise remarked.
“Well every celebrity has done it, so I’ll be in good company until my big break comes,” Dianna responded.
“Or until you break a plate over someone’s head,” Annelise joked.
“Hahaha,” Dianna said sarcastically. “Go ahead and laugh, Athena. We all know you’re the angry one.”
“I am not!” Athena insisted.
“You kind of are,” Annelise confirmed. “How are you going to write down the orders, though?” She asked Dianna. “I thought you forgot all that school nonsense the instant we graduated.”
“No, she never learned it. She flirted her way through writing class, remember?” Athena jested.
“Wow. At this rate I’ll be glad to be away from you two,” Dianna remarked.
“No, you won’t,” Athena said.
“You’re right. I won’t,” Dianna agreed.
Later that night, Annelise called Xander from the spare bedroom to talk about what happened.
“So how are you handling the news?” Xander asked when Annelise finished telling him everything.
“I guess alright. I mean, I understand, even if I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I knew we’d all have to live our own lives eventually. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.”
“It’s definitely not easy saying goodbye to people you care about.”
“No, it isn’t. But that’s part of life, I guess.”
“Yeah. It’s a really crappy part, though,” Xander said.
“You’ve got that right,” Annelise agreed.
“So maybe this isn’t a good time, or maybe it is, I’m not really sure, but I wanted to talk to you about something too.”
“Oh no. Are you breaking up with me too?”
“No. I’m holding on to you until I die, and my skin and muscles decompose, and I’m left with just skeleton hands.”
“Gross, yet strangely romantic,” Annelise remarked.
“It’s actually about you going home.”
“What about it?”
Well I’ve been doing some thinking too, about the same thing Dianna was, I guess. But I’ve come to the opposite conclusion.”
“I don’t really get what you’re trying to say.”
“What I’m saying is that, if it’s okay with you, and Athena, I would like to go with you guys when you leave.”
“Seriously?” She asked, caught completely off guard.
“Seriously. If the whole thing with Melissa taught me anything, it’s that I’m not good at long distance relationships. And I don’t want to be without you for that long if I can avoid it.”
“But what about your family?”
“They understand. I mean, they’d rather I didn’t leave early, but they’re supportive of me no matter what. That’s what they said, at least. And they love you, so that helps. Doing this would give me the chance to meet your family before I go back to school too. The only problem is that I don’t really have anywhere to stay until school starts up again.”
“That’s no big deal. You could stay with my Grandma Emily. She has room, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. She’d probably enjoy the company. And she’s awesome. Other than hating the fae, that is. But she’s still pretty awesome. I will warn you, though, she’ll probably put you to work while you’re there.”
“So does this mean that you’re alright with the idea?”
“Yeah. I love it. I’ll run it past Athena, but it probably won’t be a problem.”
“I hope so,” Xander said.
When Annelise told Athena about the idea after the phone call, though, she was less than excited.
“So you’re asking me to ride all the way across the country with you and your boyfriend, as a third wheel,” Athena said.
“Kind of. But you won’t be a third wheel. It won’t be the Xander and Annelise show.”
“Because no one would watch that show,” Dianna commented from across the room.
Annelise glared at her, before continuing.
“I promise you won’t be forgotten. If anything he’ll be a third wheel to us.”
“I don’t buy that for a second,” Athena said.
“We’ll have fun together, I can promise you that. Ultimately it’s up to you, though,” Annelise finished.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come back with us?” Athena asked Dianna.
“Even more sure now,” Dianna replied.
“Do you have room here for one more, then?”
“So are you saying no, or yes?” Annelise asked.
“I don’t know. What do you think?” Athena asked Dianna.
“I say you should be nice, and let love win,” Dianna replied.
“You’re not riding back with love.”
“Still,” Dianna shrugged.
Athena fell silent, in thought, before shaking her head and letting out a sigh.
“Fine. Your boy toy can tag along.”
“Thank you!” Annelise nearly yelled, pulling Athena into a tight hug.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Athena said, patting Annelise on the back. “You’re sure you don’t want to come back with us?” She asked Dianna again, just in case.
“Yeah,” Dianna answered, with a trace of longing in her voice.
A week and a half later, all too soon it seemed to them, the time for Annelise, Xander, and Athena to go finally came.
Annelise left to pick up Xander by herself, which gave Athena and Dianna some time alone.
They sat in the front room for some time, waiting for Annelise and Xander to get there. William and Cassandra were near and ready to help them load up the van, but giving them plenty of privacy as well.
“I’m going to miss you,” Athena said to Dianna.
“I’m going to miss you too,” Dianna replied.
“I know a lot of the time it seems like I’m on your back, or annoyed with you, which is usually true, but I really love you.”
“I love you too. And to be honest, a lot of the time when I get on your nerves I do it on purpose,” Dianna admitted.
“I knew you did! I knew it!”
“It’s fun watching you get mad! It is!”
“Well I’d take a year’s worth of you annoying me if it meant you’d coming back with us.”
“And I would love to drive across the country with you guys again. But I can’t. I need to stay here.”
“I know. And I hope that you find what you’re looking for, staying here. I wish you all the best, because you deserve it. Don’t ever forget that.”
“Thanks. And I hope that you can have success, and fun, in college. Because you’re going to college! You have to have fun, and go to at least one yoga party, like they show in college movies.”
“It’s toga party,” Athena corrected her.
“I’m pretty sure I know what it is. I’ve seen all the movies and you haven’t.”
“You did that on purpose, didn’t you? I mean, you know what a toga is, and you’re just trying to annoy me?”
“I don’t always do it on purpose. I mean, you’ve known me my whole life. Do you really think I’d know what a toga is?”
“Fair point,” Athena conceded.
With that, Annelise and Xander pulled into the driveway.
William and Cassandra helped load Athena and Annelise’s stuff in the van. Then, after bidding them goodbye, they left the three friends alone. Xander, after telling Dianna goodbye and wishing her the best, waited in the van.
“Bye Annie,” Dianna said, pulling Annelise into a hug.
“Bye Dianna,” Annelise responded, squeezing her back tightly. “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“I’m going to miss you too,” Dianna replied. “And I’m going to miss all of your crazy dreams. And I’m going to miss being there to see you and Xander fall in love.”
“And I’m going to miss seeing you in your work uniform, and making fun of you for it, and visiting you at Taco Bell everyday. And I’m going to miss you ruining all of our maps.”
“That, I won’t miss,” Athena interjected.
“Can you guys do me a favor, and make sure that my mom and Max don’t get rid of all of my stuff?” Dianna asked.
“Yeah, no problem,” Athena said.
They stood there for a moment in silence, wishing that they were still seven and in dance class together, or twelve and sleeping over at each others houses, gossiping about classmates, or even in high school together, chatting at their lunch table. But they weren’t. They were standing there, about to part ways.
And with that, tears filled their eyes and fell down their cheeks. Tears for all the years they’d spent together, and all those coming up that they wouldn’t. And then, they embraced each other, wishing that they’d never have to let go.
But eventually, after what felt like far too short a time, they did let go, and wiped the tears from their eyes.
“Let’s get it together, ladies,” Athena said. “We’ll be seeing each other again before we know it.”
“Yeah. And we’ll talk on the phone all the time,” Dianna said.
“And especially us, because we’re not going to be as busy as her,” Annelise said, pointing at Athena.
“For sure,” Dianna agreed.
“Thanks a lot, guys,” Athena said.
“Were just joking,” Dianna told her.
Silence fell again for a moment, until Athena broke it.
“Bye Dianna,” she said.
“Bye Athy,” Dianna responded. “Bye Annie,” she said, turning to Annelise.
“Bye Dianna,” Annelise said.
They shared one last, quick hug, and then Athena and Annelise got in the van. As they pulled away, they waved at Dianna, who waved back, until they couldn’t see each other anymore.
And then, tears flowed from all three of the friends’ eyes again.