"One step closer." (1)
The grey sky is rumbling when we reach the double doors towards the garden, the shed, and the basketball field. I lead them as we walk inside the solarium, pass the marble benches, and out to the lake. Nobody is around, thankfully.
“Okay,” I utter, waiting for them as I stand on the rocky stairs, “I’m going to make this fast because it looks like the rain will pour on us again soon.” I gesture for them to come after I eyed the skies.
They nod and murmur, “Alright.”
I sit down on the steps in front of the calm lake and put the gardenias on my right. April moves the flowers to the grass and sits beside me while Ros joins and sits on my left. I exhale sharply.
“Sorry,” I start, looking at the both of them and then stare ahead into the rippling waters of the lake. “I’m not used to people actually caring about me,” I confess, bowing my head with a sigh and my existence. I continue, “And with the two of you, curious about my life, I think I’m milking it, keeping you both on your toes.”
Ros scoots a little closer. “Oh,” she mutters under her breath and shakes her head. “You’re acting silly! That is not true.”
April wraps her arms around me into a hug, “obviously, we care about you!” she exclaims and then pulls away.
Ros laughs. “Dude, what the heck are you saying you’re not used to people caring about you?!” she grabs my shoulders, “of course, we do, you goose! What’s arm without M?”
April giggles. “We will not be threesome awesome without you!”
I wince at the innocence. I had forgotten how uncool we were. “You guys are dorks!” I shove them lightly. “That! I mean, it feels like this past couple of days, you worry about me,” I shrug. “I’m not complaining! But… It has attracted some unpleasant effects, too. Not to mention those girls who like Ryan. They put their attention on me too much and not even in a good way. I’m hoping no one bullies me one of these days. Not that I care, but I want to survive the day without obstacles, you know?”
April looks at me with bewildered eyes but giggles. “Yeah, it’s just like you’re in a manga!” and then she clears her throat when Ros shot her a glare, “anyway, why are you underestimating yourself?! So what if those snakes are jealous? It’s exciting, isn’t it?”
Ros smiles and leans forward to look at the both of us; excitement spreads across her pretty face, “yeah, actually, you should hold your head up high, rub it in their faces!”
I shake my head and chuckle, “I suppose I could do that,” then I put my arms around them. “I missed you guys so much.”
“Mari, we just hung out yesterday!” says Ros with a laugh and faces me. “And obviously, hanging out right now, but it is sweet how much you miss us already!”
I furrow my eyebrows and laugh. “Oh, did I just say it out loud?”
We roar into laughter, and they start messing with my hair. I exclaim, “Are you guys jealous of my luxurious glossy, natural, wavy hair?”
They mess it up more. “Har, har!” says Ros controlling her laughter and leans in to look at April. “She wishes!”
“Alright, alright, cut it out! If you want to hear about what happened last night, you two should stop!” I jerk away from them and laugh so hard cause they immediately let my hair be.
April straightens out some frizz they did.
“Thank you. Now, about the story, you are anticipating for —”
“Finally!” gasps April. “You know what? It is so weird you kept this from us for hours. I remember when — what was his name again?”
“Matthew? Luke? Sebastian?” answers Ros, counting on her fingers.
“Yeah, Sebastian, that guy Sebastian Noel!” says April energetically. “When he confessed his feelings to you last year, you told us about it right away!”
I laugh. I have no memory of that anymore, of course. So here we are, sitting on the stairs like we always did, but I think this is the very first time they have been here. The clouds are still grey, and the sky grumbles again. But the relaxing sound of the lake is empowering and peaceful.
As I tell Ros and April about my (not so sure it was romantic) night with Nate, all of their focus is on me. They listen eagerly, not interrupting my story, which is odd but pleasant all the same. When I get to the part where he walked me home, their expressions are priceless! April looks like she is going to burst while Ros looks at me, puzzled. I know they could not believe it was all true. I, myself actually, am in disbelief too! It was so surreal. I think my face is all pink after I finish telling them about it.
I pinch myself to make sure it was not a dream. I feel the sting; it was real.
Ros, who doubted Nate at the very beginning, surrenders when the words escape her lips: “And the look on his eyes when he saw the flowers! Ugh, it was clear that he was hurt! Aw!” She clutches on her heart dramatically. The Ros, I know, would cringe at this.
I laugh. “That’s why I wanted to talk to Nate, or maybe, have a minute or two with him. He texted me this morning,” I fish my phone out and show them our conversation. April snatches it from me, and while laughing, I say, “I was so relieved last night was not a dream. I really spent my time with him.”
April squeals, “Eeep! At long last, you can finally express your feelings for him!”
My smile creeps up to my ears, and then I echo what April just squealed, “Eeep!”
April playfully hits me on my shoulder, and we all laugh.
I feel the heat rising on my cheeks. I retrieved my phone from April, “let us not get ahead of ourselves, though. Nate might be just being friendly!”
Ros shakes her head and disagrees. “I think there’s more to him than just being friendly, Mari. Look, all of it is just so sudden! We have been schoolmates with Nate since middle school, and he had never acknowledged you before. Think about it! Plus, this campus is not that huge so, everyone knows everyone.”
April turns to me and shrugs as she says to Ros, “I only know a few, not everyone.”
I nod. “Yeah, me too,” then whip my head to Ros and giggle, “you know everyone because you’re such a gossip girl!”
April and I share a laugh. Ros goes pink but dismisses us with a wave of her hand. She sighs, and as she caresses her chin, she asks me, “Is that the reason why you are not encouraging Ryan?”
Oh Ros, if I tell you the real reason, you will never believe me.
“Also, I notice something strange about you, Mari. You’re acting weird lately,” she observes.
April agrees. “Yeah, you seemed so quiet. It’s unusual. Oh, and not to mention almost always spaced out and —”
But before she can voice out her thoughts, her cell phone rings, and she checks who it is, “it’s Kayla. I can call her back.”
“No, no, it’s fine!” I say with a wink. “Go ahead. She maybe needs some fashion advice.”
She hesitates, but I beckon her to go. She reluctantly stands up and answers the call. April walks and delicately strokes the flower petal sticking out the solarium.
“So, what are you gonna do now?” Ros asks, “Who are you going to... you know, choose?”
I shrug. “I have no idea, to be honest,” and when I get back in time, I have to deal with Chandler. With all my failed job interviews and planning on what to actually do to be accepted, I forgot about our unfinished conversation.