SHADOW

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CHAPTER 6

SCHOOL WAS AWKWARD the next day.

Alan failed woefully at masking the bruise on his ego with cheap, unimpressive smiles that were mostly out of place. Most of the time, his thoughts wondered off even while in the company of his friends. But he didn’t offer any cogent explanations when they asked him what the matter was, aside from rendering the flimsy excuse that he was unwell. He was too hurt and ashamed to even admit that he’d been emotionally betrayed by Julie.

Julie, on her part, didn’t know what to say to him, how to say she was sorry because, the undeniable truth is: she hadn’t done anything wrong. Her only embarrassment was in the fact that Alan had walked in on them smooching the other day, and she felt silly for letting it slip her mind that she’d made an appointment with him.

Herein was the crisis.

After a tedious long day, Julie gathered the wit to speak with Alan, deliberately waiting behind after school so they could walk home together and talk things over.

“You’ve not said anything to me all day, Al,” she pointed out, feeling nervous and uncomfortable.

He said nothing, his eyes fixed idly on the path as they walked beneath the row of trees on the sidewalk.

“I know it’s about yesterday.”

Silence.

“Sorry,” she said quietly.

Alan snorted quietly, said nothing still.

“Look,” she said carefully, “I didn’t mean for you to find out like that. But Kamil came by earlier, said he was sorry for everything.”

Alan snorted softly again and glanced at her with an uneasy smile. “I’m happy to hear that, J. Good for you.” He kept walking, taking his eyes from her.

“You don’t look very happy.”

He paused. “I’m fine.”

She looked at him with concern. “Look, Alan. I really am sorry that you saw us yesterday.”

“No business of mine, J,” he said tightly.

She eyed him, feeling a bit frustrated by his uncharitable tone. “You promised me some chocolate.”

He smiled ruefully. “Yeah, but I had to give them away.”

She swallowed, blinked and looked away.

The walk home was, needless to say, quite boring.

The days that followed were very dreary. Alan tried pretending that he was fine, even though everyone including Julie could tell that he was in love with her and it was killing him.

For a while he’d been just content in hanging around her as a friend, bidding his time until she gave him some serious consideration. He misjudged that time to be now after she told him there was a rift in her relationship with Parker.

He was wrong, apparently.

It might have been better if his hopes were never raised. His seeing them locked in a moment of passion had hit him like a sledge hammer.

Alan wasn’t sure if he could get the image out of his head. That was all he kept seeing for days. Then he finally began to tell himself that it was over, that Julie might never consider going out with him ever. And the sooner he accepted the fact and took his attention to someone else, the better for him.

The best way to deal with this was head on, he decided. To face the facts as they were; simple and without bitterness. The world wasn’t about to crash just because she chose a different guy over him. After all, they’d been friends long before anything, weren’t they?

This new line of reasoning began to make Alan feel better. As his mother would put it, he was sucking it up.

She was never going to be his girlfriend, it might never happen, end of story.

Forget it, Alan.

Suck it up, Son!

But it sure hurts like hell.

However, even as Alan’s personal love life was suffering a bashing, the relationship between his parents was steadily on the path to recovery. Still slow presently, it held a lot of promises nonetheless.

Matters of the heart were not supposed to be rushed. It took a while for the puzzle to fit, for things to shape up. And even then, sometimes things never actually fit perfectly again. Still, his parents appeared sincere in working out their differences, even if only for the sake of the kids.

But Alan had to give them kudos for even deciding to try, and give them more time as well. And just maybe he had to give Julie more time, too. Who knew; the pieces of their separate lives might yet fit together. The thought, though improbable, was quite comforting, and Alan allowed himself the luxury of a subtle, hopeful grin.

The idea of an outing was not bad, except when it involved the whole family going out on something that should ideally be a romantic dinner for two.

“No way,” said Alan, shaking his head slowly when his mother raised the suggestion.

“Why not?” she asked, smiling at him. “It’d be great to go out together, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but...”

“Besides, I’m actually doing this for you,” she went on, and Alan felt arm-twisted by the direct reminder. “Meaning that I’m cancelling the date if you and your siblings aren’t coming.”

Sitting nearby, Dad stared from Alan to his mother and back, with a tired expression. Then he grunted and said, “I actually think it’s a great idea, Alan.”

“Sure,” Mom said.

“But...”

She put up her palm in a stop gesture and frowned benignly. “No buts, Al. Are we all going for a night out or do I cancel altogether?”

Alan gasped and spoke no further.

So that was the deal; a family outing or not at all.

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