Just this morning, I read a quote that went like this ‘The greatest certainty of life is death. The greatest uncertainty is the time’. It pretty much had me thinking again like most times. But there was a difference this time. It came with the quickest prove.
Brittany sat on the floor in the hospital hallway like a meek ball afraid to go out in the field. Her legs were gathered close to her chest, her slender arms wrapped around her knees and her nails were digging into the skin of her forearms.
I’d never seen Brittany so weak and so broken. Her tears stained face was as hollow as an empty cave that has no way out but only falling in... Into the abysses. Now she was leaning onto her cousin, Drew’s, shoulder, breathing shallowly with eyes fixated on particularly nothing. She’d exhausted herself after crying all evening and till to this late night hour.
Drew’s arm was closely wrapped around her slumped shoulders in the most comforting way. Only it didn’t work. Drew was at her right, Kendra at her left and I was right next to Kendra. We were all on the floor in utter silence. Brit’s dad was at the nearby bench with his head hung low.
I was already in my night suit and on bed when Kendra called me up and told me Brit’s mom has had a stroke and gotten into an accident. She’d had a fight with her husband and had finally left the house just as Brittany predicted few weeks ago. She had the stroke while driving. And then came a truck from the left side, smashing in.
Dad was inside the operation theatre now. And those of us outside were waiting onto some miracle and clinging onto the loose string of hope. Four hours later, Dad came out. I jumped up from the floor. Our eyes met. He didn’t utter a word. I got the sign and felt my stomach pull in like a painful seizure. I looked over at Brittany who was still sitting on the floor and looking up with begging eyes.
Silence prevailed. Dad went over to Mr. Fleming.
“Oh, God. Mom,” Brittany mumbled weakly and then she broke down into a flood of tears again.
Drew held her close. She fell into his arms and then sobbed... And sobbed... And sobbed; her breathing hitching through hiccups. Kendra scooted over closer to her. I crouched down and held her hands. They were so cold. And feeling her skin, a tight and painful squeeze of emotions churned inside my stomach. I felt her... Every bit of her pain. I knew that pain. I had felt that pain. Looking at Brit, my eyes burned but I quickly blinked the wetness back.
All words fled. I wanted to say something but I just didn’t know what to. It was the moment of hope-lost, pain and the realization of the cruelty of reality. And no words was going to alleviate the pain. I could only let her feel my presence... That I understood how painful it was. Indescribable.
Brittany clung onto Drew all through the funeral. She looked like a breathing stick; pale and fragile, on the verge of breaking any moment. Throughout all these time, the only person I really missed was Hunt... For Brit. I wished he was here for Brit. The boys had left for the gigs one day before the accident, only to be back after five days. I wished I could just drive up to them and drag Hunt back.
It was not that he didn’t want to be here for Brit. He’d been sadder than I expected when I called up Xavier that night and told them about the news. Hunt actually freaked out. He wanted to come back. But they were already on the road. So he couldn’t. He wanted to call Brit. But he couldn’t do that either. Brit was too weak and exhausted to talk to anybody then.
I could imagine him raking his hand through his hair and then pulling them as he talked to me through Xavier’s phone.
“Is she... Is she alright, Alana?” He asked and he answered for himself, “Of course, she not alright! Do you think I can talk to her?”
“I wish you could. But she’s not in the state to talk to anybody right now.”
She hadn’t said a word to any of us for the past three hours. Her expression was as hollow as though she was looking straight into a black hole, wanting to disappear and letting gravity slowly suck her in.
“Yeah...” And then he was quiet for a moment. So was I. And then he asked again. “Is she crying a lot?” I raised an eyebrow even though he wouldn’t see me. And before I could even utter an um as a reply, he cried out, “Of course, she is! Why am I even asking these stupid questions?! She’s not okay!! Fuck.”
“Hunt, calm down,” I said.
“I’m calm,” he returned and I heard him inhaled a deep breath, “I just hope she feels better soon. I wish I was there,” he added with a notch down in his tone, “Not that my presence would make her feel better. It’s just that... She’s my... She’s our friend, you know.”
“I know, Hunt. I really wish you were here. I bet she’ll be better soon once you’re around,” I said in good faith.
“Well, I don’t know ’bout that. Anyway, tell her I’m really sorry ’bout her mom and you let me know when I can call her.”
“Okay. Back to your boyfriend then.”
He handed the phone back to Xavier.
Our group hung around in the graveyard for a while after the service was over. We were all there; Connor, Kendra, Jacob and some more friends from school. Kendra and I told Brit that she could sleep over anytime but she said she would be fine at Drew’s place for a while.
“The boys sent their condolences,” I told Brit as we walked to Drew’s car. He was inside, waiting for her.
“Hunt was dying to come back when we talked on the phone. He actually freaked out,” I said.
“Did he?” She gave a soft smirk.
“Yeah,” I smiled back.
The cloud around her eyes cleared out a bit at that... When we talked of Hunt. And I couldn’t help but wish more that Hunt should’ve been here. He would know exactly how to deal with Brit - Make her laugh. I was somehow surprised at how he freaked out at the news and how he took it as his responsibility to make sure if Brit was okay or not.
After one more hug, I walked back to my car. Jacob called behind me. I looked back.
“Hey, pretty nerd,” he smiled as he came and walked next to me.
“Hey,” I smiled back; not as bright as his though. I wasn’t much in the mood to smile so wide after a funeral; especially after the funeral of my friend’s mom.
“How are you?”
I shrugged, “Pretty good. I guess.”
He smiled back, “You went by your mom’s?”
“Yeah. For a while.”
“We haven’t been hanging out together in a long time,” he said.
“Yeah. If only we’d been in the same school then we could’ve but we don’t. So...” I shrugged again.
He looked at my face intently as we reached my car. I didn’t know what to speak of anymore. It was clear that Jake liked me. He’d even tried to kiss me once. So I couldn’t really feel at ease around him anymore... Especially when Xavier was not around. Not that I wouldn’t be able to stand firm by my commitment to Xavier but that I didn’t want Jake to feel bad. The way he was looking at me... I knew it. And I wanted him to stop. He was my friend, my brother, everything I needed as a kid. I didn’t want to ruin our relationship.
“How’s school?” He asked, keeping up the now awkward phrase-to-phrase conversation.
“Great. It’s great,” I tried to smile.
“Are you with Xavier?” He asked out of nowhere.
Well, I knew that particular question had been bugging him all these time. I just didn’t expect him to spit it so flatly like it was a part of casual conversation; blunt and sudden. I stared at him for a while, processing my mind. He looked genuinely curious.
“Yes,” I said, “we’re together.”
A sad smile crossed his face. I smiled back in somewhat the same way. No. I wasn’t feeling bad about anything I said about being with Xavier. It was just that you don’t usually see Jacob with expressions associated with the sad word SAD. And I just made him sad. I didn’t mean to. He’d always been so nice to me. He’d been always making me laugh when mom was sick; when I was sad.
He tugged the corner of his lips and then bit it.
“Do I still stand a chance?” He asked, looking right into my eyes.
“What?” I asked back the very next second, astonished that Jacob Garfield, my childhood crush, was asking me if he still stood a chance with me.
We stared into each other’s eyes. The world about me spined like a whirlpool. Yes, Jacob Garfield was finally asking me out and I had only one answer to that. Only one answer.
“Jake. I... Um.”
I wanted to say ‘No’ in a nice way to the nice guy, Jake, but I couldn’t find the words to frame up the sentence.
“I love you, Alana,” he said, interrupting me... For which I was somehow glad because I didn’t have to answer anymore.
But the bigger part of me wished he hadn’t said it at all. The bigger part of me wished it was just a joke. Just a joke.
I frowned. How easily he let those words roll out of his tongue. One might think he said it so easily because he was sure he loved me... But it wasn’t anything near that. When Jake said it, it sounded like it was just a casual, unmeaning phrase. Like ‘see you around’. When Xavier said it, he made each word sound like they were specially made for me and meant for me alone.
My eyes burned. I missed Xavier so much that I felt my heart beat thump against my rib cage. I missed him like he was my soul... And especially right there at that moment. I missed his hugs. I missed his kisses. I missed his laughter. I missed his jokes. I missed his whispers. I missed him calling me. I missed him and all of him.
I missed Charlie too.
“Don’t you love me too?” Jacob asked, calling me back to him.
That stumped me. My stare became more stupefied and my frown became deeper. I didn’t expect that from Mr. Nice guy. I didn’t like it a bit... What he was doing to me. I’d never had anyone wait on me to reciprocate those words. Right there, I felt forced onto.
Talk about Xavier. He didn’t stop even a second to hear me say it back to him when he first confessed in our date at Cafe du Claire de lune. I had to hold him back from kissing me so that I could say it back to him, let him know how I felt. Xavier didn’t say he loved me with any kind of expectations. He only said it so that I knew how he felt about me but not to hear me reciprocate his words. In fact, he was surprised when I did say it back to him.
That look on his face, I would never forget.
However, I did reciprocated Jake with his words... In the same way he said it. Just like a casual, unmeaning phrase. And some few more words. Bonus, maybe.
“I love you too, Jake,” I said, “But as a friend or a brother. I know that I’m not in love with you. And I don’t think you’re in love with me either.”
“Why not?! We’ve known each other for years.”
“Knowing each other for years has nothing to do with it, Jake. Look, you’re a nice guy. Truth be told, I’ve always had a crush on you. But there will not be anything more than that, I know. Xavier and I are in love. I love him,” I told him straight without holding back anything.
Alright. Breathe. I told myself after that.
I just declared my love for Xavier to my longer term crush, Jacob, and rejected him at the same time. How I came around with my words? I had no idea but I was pretty proud of myself that at least, my sentences made a lot of sense.
I turned to get inside my car. Jacob held me back, grabbing my elbow.
“Alana, please,” he pleaded.
“Jacob. NO,” I said it, no more hunting for nice words, “This isn’t the right place either. I gotta go.”
And then I slid inside my car. Jacob stood by. Sad. But I knew he would get over it.