"So close and still so far." (3)
In shock, I feel myself trembling as the bass guitarist helps me up. I look up and see the girls who were talking behind my back the other day on the suspended gangplank. The teachers come to the stage as I carefully help Ryan out of his red soaked tailcoat. One of them points out the culprits, and I smirk mentally. Gotcha bitches.
I place the microphone back in its stand, gesturing to the girls as they step down from the gangplank. The teachers are waiting for them with the consequences. “Give it up to these two unlovely ladies for organizing such a scheme!” some of my schoolmates laugh at them. “Enjoy the rest of your night, everyone.”
“Are you okay?” he asks and wipes his hands on the unstained parts of his clothing. He takes my face in his palms and holds out my arms, checking for injury or something. “Are you hurt?”
My eyes fill with angry tears as I wipe his face with my handkerchief. “I’m okay, Ryan. Thanks for saving me,” I whisper.
He laughs in relief. “I wanna hug you so bad right now!”
Mrs Burton and Ryan’s homeroom teacher help us step away from the ’crime scene’ as the Headmaster makes a closing remark to send everyone back home. I see Nate come running to me with my friends behind him. April steadies me as she holds me tightly, her face full of concern. Ros is glaring at the girls as they receive an earful lecture and are now being scolded by the Headmaster. The murmurs of the crowd drown his stern lecture as he beckons them away from the great hall.
Ryan suddenly grabs the lapel of Nate’s jacket and shoves him. “Where, the hell, were you, dude?!” he asks hotly and pushes him again. “I told you that I had a feeling something wrong might happen tonight!”
Nate says calmly, “What’s your problem, man?” as he looks at him in confusion; he doesn’t fight back. He pulls away from him.
“Thank god I was fast enough to take her from that humiliation!” Ryan shouts at him as he wipes the paint off from his trousers.
“Please, don’t fight,” I beg.
They both look at me apologetically, and Lacey hurries to Nate’s side. She gives me a soaked cloth that smells like bubbly and says to me urgently, “I believe this will help.”
I looked at the hem of my skirt, and I got small splatters of red paint. Feeling like my insides tie in knots, I desperately dab the stain with the concentrated cloth Lacey had given me. Fresh tears stream uncontrollably down my face that I didn’t even notice how honey-like and soothing her voice is.
Chandler and April help me because my hands are shaking badly from anxiety. I feel everyone’s eyes on me again, but this time they feel sorry for me. I see Ryan watches Nate with Lacey, and something inside him flips. The next thing I knew, Ryan had Nate shoved again.
Ros suddenly comes between them and asks, “What is the matter with you two, huh?”
Ryan is still flaring, and he points hotly at Nate. “You had the chance!! Why didn’t you take the opportunity? Huh? It was supposed to be mine! Mine! But no!!! I let you have it!”
Nate’s eyebrows furrow when he stares back at him, and then he meets my gaze as he answers him, “I’m not even sure what you’re talking about.”
Ryan follows Nate’s gaze. His cool-grey eyes land on mine, and his face becomes soft. “You blew it,” and then it all comes so fast since Nate is on the floor now, wiping off some blood on the corner of his lips.
Ryan just punched Nate.
Adrenaline kicks in, and I run to stop Ryan from throwing another blow. Lacey helps Nate to stand up. Ryan seems to calm down when I block myself from him and Nate. “Ryan, please,” I say through my tears. “You two are best friends! What is the matter with you?”
“Exactly,” says Ryan under his breath. “That’s why I let him have it,” then he steps back, head hanging low.
“Have what?” I ask impatiently.
Ryan’s icy glares shift from Nate to me, and then his expression softens and sullen before he quietly walks away.
As I follow him, I hear Nate’s older brother bellow to the crowd about his after-party. They cheer and hurry out the doors. Ryan steps into the courtyard where the bulletin boards are. I watch him sit on the fountain, eyes glistening with tears he’s holding back.
I place my hand on his shoulder. “Ryan, it’s okay. You have saved me. You didn’t have to be angry with Nate.”
He looks at me as I sit down beside him. “Before he went to Lacey, Nate told me about you and him,” he says. “He knew we had something going on, but I had the feeling that you like him better than me. So, I set up the fairy lights on the balcony, and I knew how much Nate likes to explore; I figured he would see it.”
“It was your idea?” I say, still processing. “But why were you still so sweet to me?”
His smile is unconvincing, but he says, “Because you deserve to be treated like royalty. To me, you are one of a kind, a diamond in a roomful of gems,” he smiles, but I can’t read his expression. “And Nate also saw something you, so I…”
I touch his cheek. “You are a great friend,” I smile. “And you made me feel special, so, thank you for that.”
“When you told me you didn’t want to take our relationship further,” he confessed. “I knew I didn’t stand a chance with you but, I still tried to make you feel adorn, loved,” he sighs and takes my hand off his face. “So, if being just your friend is the only way I could be with you, so be it.”
I bite my lip as I look down on our hands with his thumb idly drawing circles on mine. His words pierced my heart. What he’s saying to me leaves me confused with my decision. It breaks my heart to pull his heartstrings but, I have to try it before I completely go with my verdict. Sometimes, it’s the only way to know.
I touch his cheek to make him turn to me, and I lean in, tilting my head to kiss Ryan. His lips are sweet and soft as he kisses me back. His full lips on mine feel like heaven and natural. There’s something so familiar about his touch, and before I figure why, he breaks the kiss.
“I’m sorry but, I can’t do this,” he says and kisses my forehead. “I respect your decision, Mari. I always got your back,” he tightly embraces me, stroking my hair delicately when I hear him sigh forlornly. He pulls away and smiles at me before walking away. “See you on Monday?”
Another back, walking away from me, I watch him leave. Then I hear multiple footsteps approaching me, April and Ros. They hug me tightly as I wrap them in my arms, treasuring my time with them.
“I choose myself,” I say.
April and Ros pull back, and Ros asks, “What do you mean by that?”
“I love myself more than anyone,” I smile and sigh contentedly, holding my necklace. “I chose me.”
April grins proudly at me while Ros messes my hair. “You’re such a weirdo!”
“Come on, there’s more to life than falling in love,” I say, trying to prove my point to my 14-year-old best friends. “I have you guys and my family. For now, that’s all I need.”
The three of us hug once again. Then April animatedly tells us what happened with her and Gabriel. I avoid getting hit by her as she squeals in delight, while Ros confirms that she said yes to Andrew. We laugh as we make our way to Ariel’s after-party, and April texts Chandler saying he should come with us. I smile as I watch them, not knowing what great fun, challenges, and pain lies ahead of us.
And now I know what truly matters.
As I feel myself slipping away from my 15-year-old body, I hear voices echoing.
When I open my eyes, my best friends are not by my side anymore.
“Mariana Lorraine Leighton Greene,” says the ricocheting tone. I see my mum; her tired voice reverberates, but happy all the same. “That is going to be her name.”
“Mari for short,” my dad says, chuckling through his sniffs and tears. “My baby girl, you’re going to be sick and tired of my lame dad jokes; just you wait!”
In that quiet delivery room, their laughter echoes and I smile, content at how things had turned out. As I close my eyes again, the thing I should be seeing is total darkness, but all around me is white and bright, warm and inviting. I had said before that I thought my karma was me being ignored and a wallflower but, somewhere during my youth, I probably have done something good, something worth keeping. Now, I think I know what the soul in my journal was trying to say to me. The true meaning of being alive is not about falling in love but, it’s about the journey you take with the people who love you for who you are. I believe what it gave to me is a gift, a second chance in life, for me to realize what I had been searching for: it was already in front of me, my friends and family.
I have accepted my fate. It’s time to let it all go.