Presents were opened; cake was eaten and rubbed onto her face, pictures and selfies were taken and uploaded to Facebook, and once Rachel did return to Connor, Joey and Gavin, the trio was at a library table, consuming a boatload of food.
“Thanks for waiting, idiots” She sat down next to Connor and picked up a French fry from his plate.
“You were out on selfie fest, I was hungry.” Gavin stated simply.
Connor nudged her elbow, and tipped his head in Joey’s direction. Rachel studied Joey for a minute. She was quiet, which itself is a very un-Joey-like characteristic for her to display, but what surprised Rachel more, was her infatuated gaze on Gavin.
“No.” Rachel gasped and Connor chuckled, finally at ease
“Yes.” He grinned.
“What’re you grinning at?” Joey suddenly snapped and Connor lowered his gaze.
Rachel gave her a look and Joey started blushing. Joey never blushed! Rachel’s phone beeped and she looked down.
Joey: We’ll talk about it later.
Rachel typed back:
Joey: Shut up.
Slightly offended, Rachel looked up from her phone screen to find that Joey and Gavin were now in an animated discussion about an upcoming Marvel movie and Connor was participating every once in a while. She shrugged and picked up another French fry and leaned against Connor, enjoying the company of her friends, until Nate and Wesson approached the table.
Connor straightened up and moved away from Rachel the second he spotted the duo, and Rachel fell against the back awkwardly, before straightening up. Wesson just wanted to remind the kids of the curfew they had and told Gavin where he would be staying for the night.
The crowd in the library had begun to thin out, Rachel got up and the rest of them followed, taking up the tedious task of picking up her presents and carrying them to her room at the Cabin. This took them about half an hour and them Emma forced them to get out and enjoy the time they had till Gavin had to leave, insisting that she’ll take care of everything else.
The kids thanked her over and over again till she almost shoved them out of the library, handing them a six pack of sodas before closing the doors on them.
“What now?” Joey looked at her watch, “We have about twenty minutes to spare before eleven.”
“Actually we have about two hours and twenty minutes” Connor spoke over his shoulder as he started walking towards the exit.
“What?” Gavin and Joey asked in unison, and then both looked away shyly.
Rachel rolled her eyes at the couple and ran up behind him, and as they pushed through the doors and turned around before yelling, “You two coming?”
Joey and Gavin fell in step behind Rachel and Connor. Neither of them said much, but every once in a while Joey would sneak a look at Gavin and he would as well. Rachel snorted, “Were we like this?” she whispered
“I don’t know. I think we might have been.” He paused, “Maybe we sorta still are.”
“You mean super shy and awkward with a side of so cute and fluffy it makes me wonder if I’ll puke.”
He let out his signature, half sigh – half snort laugh and trudged onwards.
“Where are we going anyways?” She slipped her hand in his
“I thought you knew?”
“You didn’t ask back at the Rec Center.”
“I thought not asking and pretending I knew would look cool to those two.” She confessed
“You were showing off?” he smirked, giving her a sidelong glance
“No.” she retorted, her voice small. She shook her head.
“Tell me! Where are we going?”
“Shut up, you’ll see.” And Connor picked up speed.
As they climbed up the steps of the Staff Block, Joey was done being patient, “Why are we here? I get that you wanna cross curfew and somehow think we won’t get caught till one am … but I don’t think the Staff Block would be the best place…”
“Actually,” Gavin mused, “I think it’s the last place they’ll look.”
“So, what are we trashing the history teacher’s office? Stealing from their wine cabinet?”
Rachel turned and gave Joey a look, she surrendered, “No wine, yeah, yeah”
“Killjoy.” Gavin muttered.
Connor led them to the back entrance and started climbing steps. They reached the very top and he placed his hand on the doorknob, and pushed the door open, “Happy Birthday, Raich”
The rooftop was completely bare. Rachel stepped out and looked around. One corner of the roof was somewhat decorated. With a blanket on the ground and floor cushions everywhere. There was a basket and a pizza box and lanterns that made the whole place glow. It was small, cute and she loved it.
She turned around to give Connor a hug, “I love this so much. Thank you” Her face rested on his shoulder but when she spoke, her voice was quiet and muffled through the fabric of his shirt.
The four of them sat there, ate pizza [because there’s always room for pizza], and talked. There were moments of complete and absolute silence when none of them said a word but it was a comfortable silence.
Rachel looked at Joey, who was tracing patterns in the blanket, Gavin, who was staring at the stars and finally at Connor, who was close to dozing off and his eyes were getting heavy. One hand of his supported his weight while the other was in Rachel’s grip.
“You guys, I gotta confess something.” Rachel broke the silence and three heads turned towards her
“Here she goes..” Gavin braced himself
“I don’t know what’s going on with my life. I’m 18 now, and I have you three, whom I love and trust with all my life and things are…” she let out a heavy breath, “Things are so good, if I look at them. My life was hell when I came here and now I have a family that I don’t think I wanna let go of… ever.”
Faint smiles were passed.
“And I am so grateful that I have you guys but there’s this feeling in the back of my head that keeps me thinking that it’s too good. That sooner or later this is all gonna blow up in my face.”
“Raich …” Joey began
“No, Joey, hear me out. I know that today is a good day and I am surrounded by people who would never let any harm come to me but what if something happens?”
“Rachel if you keep worrying about the ’what if’s, nothing’s gonna work out. And the thing is, you can’t know. You can never know when life will decide to be a wonderful thing or when it will be an absolute mess …” Joey trailed off as if she forgot what she was going to say.
“But that’s the beauty of it: The uncertainty” Gavin filled in, “you can either get a high out of it or you can dread it.” He shrugged. Joey looked at him in awe.
“Fear isn’t always a bad thing though. It’s human. There’s nothing wrong with being scared, Rachel.” Connor added.
“But – What about physics?”
The three rolled their eyes simultaneously, if that were possible.
“What about it?” Joey tried very hard not to sigh
“What goes up must come down.” Rachel was toying with the note that hung from the chain nervously.
Joey blinked very slowly, “Rachel Fayne, quit being such a wet blanket.”
Gavin threw the bottle cap at Rachel, “Loosen up, sourpuss.”
Rachel wanted to say something more, add something else to tell everybody that something wasn’t quite right but she stopped herself. They were right; she was just being paranoid … probably.
There’s something about the time, when the clock hands move past twelve; right after midnight, when the well constructed walls around our heads and hearts fall apart. Not completely, but a brick falls through, and a bit of you bleeds out – and the people you that love you enough, not to be put out by your constant shutting them out, see that part of you.
And then when you talk; share something that you kept locked away – the other person, sometimes, feels the urge to give something equally valuable back.
So, when the four of them, sat on the rooftop of Jameson Institute – and the clock struck 12, bits and pieces of each of them bled through, the cracks in the walls widened and they found the distance between them lessened.
Facades that they had often put up and hid behind came tumbling down, and they talked about stars and constellations and life after death and everything in between. No one found it strange when one of them cleared their throat when their voices got thick with emotion, or when they brushed away a tear that had only just begun its journey down their cheeks.
Connor had Wesson’s permission to stay out till 1:20. Joey started yawning a little before one, and Nate called Gavin to remind him where their room was. The two of them left the roof together, walking close enough to make their hands brush against each other, but not close enough to hold.
Rachel smiled at Connor, “Thank you.”
He returned her smile, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze but didn’t look her in the eyes.
“What’s on your mind?” She bumped her knee against his
“This was sort of what I had planned on Christmas.”
“I know it’s sort of cheesy but you love nighttime and stargazing so I planned that after Christmas dinner and curfew, we’d come up to the roof and … you know.”
Rachel was smirking, “you know what?”
“You know…” he mumbled, “Do nothing.”
Rachel giggled, “So, on Christmas eve, you wanted to bring me here and do nothing?”
“Do nothing, together.” He amended, “Talk and stuff.”
“I dunno … everything and anything and whatever comes in between.”
Connor was too nice, too sweet, and too full of light. Rachel wondered whether it were possible to love a person as much as she had found herself loving him. The very thought of him would ease her mind and paint a smile on her face. He’d listen to her strum her guitar aimlessly; he’d listen to her talk and complain about life, he’d just listen. He would always listen, and that meant so much to her. She loved him and the intelligent conversations they’d hold and how quickly they’d jump from something so absolutely serious to something utterly ridiculous.
Rachel was just 18 but the thought of him in a tuxedo; waiting for her at the altar had crossed her mind a few times. He was warm. Connor Wayland was the warmest soul that she had ever met, and he was too nice. Everyone has flaws and Connor’s biggest flaw was having too much heart and he gave so much of himself to everything he did. And he was one of the few people, who believed in love and kindness and beauty and hope … and everything that would easily be deemed “cliché” these days.
And Rachel loved his smile. She talked about it enough to make Joey make fun of her, but his face would light up and make everything else in the room seem duller in comparison. When he would laugh, he’d often double over and laugh loudly. He was so unaware of the impact of his laughter on Rachel. It made her feel calm and fidgety at the same time, it would echo in her mind whenever she’d think of a memory … it was inimitable.
Rachel loved that.
Connor broke into her thoughts, “Rachel … I got you something else.”
“You didn’t have t-“
“Will you let me tell you what it is first?” he cut in.
“We’re going to Comic Con this year. You and me. I talked to Wesson, I got down on my knees and begged him and he eventually said yes. But I got us tickets and-“, he slowed down, “Is that okay?”
Rachel’s had her hand over her mouth, eyes as wide as saucers, not trusting herself to speak, she nodded vigorously.
He let out a breath, then smiling he said, “Rachel, say something.”
“OH MY GOD!” Her voice was barely over a squeak.
“So, this is good?” he raised an eyebrow
“Are you kidding me? It’s brilliant!” her voice still outrageously high and practically jumped to hugged him, mumbling a hundred thank yous.
When Rachel finally let go of him, Connor glanced at his watch and got up. They wound up the blankets and cushions and threw away the cans. They crept quietly to the cabin; fingers laced together, and went to their separate rooms.
She changed, crawled into bed and took out her phone while he, a floor below, did the same thing. They opened up their chat and stared at the “online” status, thinking of just the right words to say until they fell asleep, with half written declarations of young love still blinking in the chat box, waiting to be sent.
Of course, they would wake up in the morning, and thank whatever God they believed in and delete the messages. Because what were they thinking?! They wouldn’t dare to send those messages in broad daylight. There was just something about half past one in the middle of the night, that made them bold enough to want to scream and shout about how much they loved – er, liked – each other.