32- The Show Must Go On
I gasped slightly as I grabbed onto Amanda’s arm. We were walking to fourth period, the last one we had before lunch. “Are we already into December?” She looked at me like I had just asked if two plus two was really four.
“Yeah, for a couple of days now, Thera,” she told me. How had I missed that? I guess with all that was going on, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. “Anyway, this is girls’ choice week. Know anyone you’re going to ask?” I held back a groan. I had also forgotten that it was the Sadie Hawkins section of the Games, it seems.
“Probably no one,” I said honestly. She fixed one of her ‘looks’ on me.
“I know you’ve heard the rules. You may try to ignore them,” true, “but you’ve still heard them. You have to choose at least one guy to go out with this week.”
She wouldn’t leave me until I agreed, so I groaned a fine and walked through the door to class. Now I had to actually think about this and strategize. If I asked only one guy, it would seem as if I were only interested in him (or in my case, actually interested). So I was going to have to ask more than one, maybe about three or four. It would cover my bases. But which guys?
“Hey Thera,” Misty greeted as she walked into the classroom and plopped next to me. Class was about to start, and I figured I should actually focus for once.
On the way to lunch I bumped into Cole in the hallway. “Hey wait!” I stopped him.
He smiled at me. “What’s up, Thera?”
“I oh um...” I had no idea why I had suddenly become shy, except for maybe the fact that I really didn’t want to do this. “Do you want to uh, come over to my house tomorrow or something?” Cole chuckled a little.
“That sounds great. Just let me know what time, okay?” he said, then dismissed himself and left. I quickly made my way to the cafeteria, hoping I didn’t look too awkward or embarrassed. When I entered the doors, I could see that our table had guests—Olivia and Oscar. I smiled slyly at the way they were sitting: they were in separate seats, but leaning closer to each other than they would normally. It just proved the point of them being right for each other. Score, I mentally cheered, but made sure that it didn’t show. People would think I was more strange than they already thought I was.
School was over surprisingly fast that day, and I had to check my temperature to make sure I wasn’t sick. On my way home I made a last minute decision that I was going to visit Graham. He was still in the hospital. Luckily, the internal bleeding was starting to self-heal from the pictures they had taken. I pulled into the parking lot, looking around. I was trying to see if I recognized any of the cars, but there were too many and vehicles weren’t something I usually paid attention to. After check-in at the front desk area, I followed the instructions the lady had given me to Graham’s new room. I stopped at the doorway to peek in to confirm it was his room so I didn’t barge into the wrong one (fool me once, eh?). There was a table that was completely filled with cards and decorations of all sorts, most likely from everyone at school that knows him. I never know what to write in those things so I took the easy way out—I brought a balloon yesterday. There were also some new ones today too. He had a small stuffed horse on the table directly next to his bed. Probably from someone in his family, or the girl that was sitting in the chair next to his bed.
“Oh howdy Thera, come on in!” Maple said enthusiastically. I stepped forward and waved awkwardly to Graham. I felt as if I were intruding on a moment they were having. Somehow she had beaten me here after school and was sitting with him. “It’s not my shift, but I like coming in to talk with Graham.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, “and she gives me updates on my animals.” Graham smiled at Maple. Something there that wasn’t there before...
“Well I just wanted to pop in, make sure you weren’t alone. I’m gonna go.” I pointed towards the door. They kindly said goodbye and went back to where they were before I walked in. If you keep up the act, people are going to think that awkward is your middle name, I scolded myself. It had been an odd day. I hope it’s nothing permanent.
“So where are you taking me?” Cole teased when I saw him the next day. I pondered for a moment.
“I guess it is me that has to figure it out this time, isn’t it?” He laughed.
“Yeah, it’s tradition I guess. Whoever asks has to decide.”
“Well, I think I know a place,” I said with a small nod of my head.
“A place?” Cole grinned. “This oughta be good.”
“Do I have to pick you up, princess? Or are you still going to drive?” I asked with a smirk.
“Your Majesty, I’d be delighted to have you drive. After all, I don’t know where this ‘place’ is,” he reasoned.
“Fair enough, be ready by 4:30, please.” I left my house when it was getting close to time and drove towards Cole’s house. I wasn’t sure what to do when I got there, so I jumped out of my car and walked up to the door. Just as I was about to knock, someone swung it open.
“Hi,” I said startled.
“Hey, Thera.” It was Cole. Apparently he had seen me through the window when I was walking up. Not too much longer, we pulled up to the place I had chosen.
“Oh, Cora had suggested this place last week, but I didn’t know anything about it so we went somewhere else,” Cole exclaimed when he saw where we were.
“Yeah? That’s...cool.” Together, we walked inside. It was just a small restaurant with pool tables and foosball. Really, I came for the foosball. “We’re going to enter the tournament as a team,” I told Cole.
He blinked. “Are we now?” I nodded.
“Yep. There’s two separate brackets, but teams always go first. This way, we don’t have to wait as long.” Was it the best idea I could come up with? Maybe not. But I still thought it was fun and that the two of us might have a good time. Sometime later, after the games (we came in second, dang it), Cole and I were just sitting around and talking for a little while before we needed to leave.
“So, got any favorites?” I asked him once the conversation had died down some.
“Favorite what’s?” he questioned. I guess it was kind of vague.
“Girls in the Games,” I explained. His cheeks started turning a pinkish color.
“O-oh, I don’t know. I mean I guess I like Cora, a-and I like hanging out with you, and—”
“Whoa.” I stopped him by putting up my hand. “Please don’t. Please don’t feel anything for me. I’m not actually in this thing, just pretend I’m not here.” His eyes shone in mild confusion.
“Why do you say that? You’re as much in this as anyone else,” he said.
“But I don’t want to be,” I pushed.
“So you’re saying to just forget about everything with you?” He seemed upset, and I felt slightly bad. I didn’t mean to make him mad, I was just telling him how I saw it. I struggled to find a way to explain.
“I’m not sure there was anything with me,” is what decided to come out. Now Cole just looked sad.
“Is that a indirect way to friend-zone me?”
“Does it make it better to say that I’m friend-zoning everyone?” I tried.
“You’re unbelievable Thera. I thought we might have something, but here I am, thinking wrong.”
“No. Just please, drive me home.” The car ride was in an uncomfortable silence that continued on even when I tried to tell him goodnight. At home again, I flopped onto my bed and held my head in my hands. Now I had probably messed up even a nice friendship with Cole, and that made me sad and slightly angry with myself.
“Ian!” The name made me turn my head. Across the hall I watched as Barbie talked flamboyantly to him. It made me sick that even though Giovanni and Barbie were so clearly a thing, they both still went around to flirt with the others. I watched as she left and then made my own way over to him.
“Hey yo,” I greeted.
“Thera,” he said, “How you doin’?” Ian used an accent on the last part. I smiled.
“Just fine,” I inclined. “So, got any plans for tonight?” I wanted to get straight to the point and be out with what I needed to say.
“Not yet, but I’ll bet you’re about to change that,” he punctuated the end of it with a wink and smile.
“Geocaching?” I asked. We had gone together a few times before, and I wondered if he still even liked it. His eyes lit up at the word. I’ll take that as a yes.
“I wouldn’t miss it. What time do I pick you up?” He seemed quite excited and I was glad I had thought of the idea for us.
“Come at four. We can get food and then head around to look for the different containers,” I told him. He nodded and we left with a wave.
“I can’t believe there’s been that box in the tree on the school grounds and we’d never known,” Ian said. One the dots on our virtual map had led us right back to where we didn’t want to go, but went to anyway.
“It always amazes me how fun these things are,” I said, already on the hunt for the next dot closest to us.
“Of course it helps that you’re here,” he told me. I hit his arm lightly, looking away from his face.
“Oh stop it, you flirt.” That night we found more caches than I ever have in total. I guess we weren’t that bad as a team.
Thursday at school I didn’t catch Rye, so I sent him a text.
•Wanna go somewhere tomorrow?
•The Pillsbury Dough Boy.
•Me, you nut
~Dang, you had me excited for a second :(
~Just kidding! 😁 I’d love to
•Okay, cool. Wear outdoorsy clothes, it’ll be fun
~Should I be concerned?
•Nah, it’s a good thing
•See you tomorrow meadow
Chuckling, I put my phone away. It was just too easy to mess with him. I went through a drive through and decided to try going to the hospital again. My “watch time” had been Tuesday before I went out with Cole, but I kind of wanted to go with just Graham and I. Since he couldn’t go out on the dates, I would just have to bring the date in. Walking in, I brought milkshakes.
“Hey Graham, hope you’re not full.” He saw what was in my hands and smiled.
“How’d you sneak those in?” He asked me.
“Oh you know, bat my eyelashes, ask nicely.” I handed him the flavor that my sources said he liked better.
“Oh yum, chocolate! How’d you know?” He looked quite happy sucking the ice cream up the straw, even if it was a little thick and hard to do.
“You can’t go wrong with chocolate,” I said simply, scooping some of my own milkshake.
“Ain’t that the truth,” he agreed.
I sighed. It was Friday. Nearly a whole week full of me insinuating dates. It was exhausting and I didn’t want to do it anyway and I was so done, except that I wasn’t. I still had one more that I had to complete. I probably wouldn’t have gone through with anything at this point, but I had already asked Rye.
“Sunshine, why so tired looking?” I didn’t have to open my eyes. I could recognize the voice. Heck, I could even recognize the tone and probably even tell you if a quote was from this person on a game show because of how much I had heard the tease of it.
“Because of people like you,” I groaned. He laughed.
“I have so many fulfilling attributes, funny, intelligent, playful... You’re going to have to be more specific.”
"Rye, it’s just males in general.” I was grumbling, but I didn’t care at the moment. Or ever, for that matter.
“Oh. Right. So, what’s the plans?”
I sighed and opened my eyes to stare at him. “Really?”
“Yep,” he insisted. I guess he wasn’t going away anytime soon. Well, it was after school. And we were both by my car waiting for me to drive somewhere.
“Get in,” I ordered. He complied. I figured that since he had me at his home with family, that for dinner I could have him at my home. Then, we were going somewhere else.
My parents weren’t as pushy and crazy as I thought they would be. It was after dinner and Rye and I were headed to the secret location I had chosen. We pulled up by the side of a hill thing and I got out.
“What are we doing here?” Rye questioned. I smiled at him.
“Hiking.” Through the trees we went, a slight incline. There weren’t exactly mountains where we lived, but it didn’t make the walking any easier. Finally we reached our destination. The steady incline had taken us far enough up that here next to a cliff, none of the trees got in the way of the horizon. We could watch the sun set. Together, we stood and watched for a while, the scene before us breathtaking.
“Beautiful,” he breathed.
“I know,” I agreed, “seeing the trees, wildlife and gorgeous sky.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.” Confused, I turned to face him.
I gasped looking up at the sincerity in his eyes. “I mean it. The other girls not only dolled their looks up, but they all put on a phony façade. The personality and laughter I see from them is all fake. But you... you only show what’s real, no matter how different your appearance is. And that’s beautiful, inside and out. You’re still the same Thera that you were before this started.”
I couldn’t believe the amount of emotion he had put into saying that. It really meant a lot to me, but I had a bigger issue on my mind currently. Chewing on my lip momentarily I looked up at him and took a deep breath before my reply. “I really have to pee.”
He was silent for a few moments before he burst out laughing. “Gosh, Thera. Alright then. Let’s get you home and to a bathroom.”