For the next two weeks the entire community seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of Phillip's return to school. Apparently he was taking some time to get back to himself and reconnect with his family, but that didn't stop the rumour mill from working. Word was that he refused to see Melanie. She could be seen around school, sulking and sniffling and snapping at anyone who talked to her. I felt very sorry for her. I couldn't imagine having somebody I loved refuse to see me, especially when they'd been so close to death.
Felicity on the other hand was absolutely ecstatic. The newspaper article she had written about Phillip had sold very well and a local newspaper had even asked to buy the story she wrote about drink driving. She practically skipped around campus for three days straight.
"Rhea are you paying attention to me?"
I snapped to Earth. I glanced at Felicity, who was drumming her fingers on the table top and frowned at me. I grimaced.
"I'm sorry." I said, "I was off with the fairies."
Felicity rolled her eyes and looked back down at her lunch, picking up the final half of her sandwich and biting into it. "Anyway, I was saying that I'm planning a trip to the UK after graduation. You know I've always wanted to go and I was asking you if you wanted to come with me."
"Yeah, because I can totally afford that." I rolled my eyes, picking at my salad.
"Yeah. You can. Your dad is a doctor." I heard the unsaid and obvious 'duh' in her voice.
"I'm not going to ask him for money, Flick." I said, "It's bad enough that he's offered to pay for college."
"Ugh. What is it with you and taking money from people!"
"I just don't think it'd be a good idea. Besides we have to get ready for college and there may even be an early class that starts that you might want to attend." I reminded her.
"Why are you always thinking about school?" she groaned, slumping against the table. "It's so boring. I don't know why you bother."
"Because it's important? If I get good grades I could get a scholarship and go to a good school so I can get a good job and have a good life. Did you hear all the good bits? That is why school is important."
Felicity glared at me, "You're such a buzzkill."
"I prefer realistic."
"Yeah," Felicity said, pointing her matte black nails at me, "And it'll be realistic when I kick your ass."
I smirked and leaned forward. "Are you sure you can reach my ass, shortie?"
Felicity's jaw dropped, "You little – "
Felicity was interrupted by a loud roar of cheering. The entrance to the cafeteria was crowded with people who had just come in or had risen from their seats, clapping and cheering. I peered around, trying to catch a glimpse of what was going on and Felicity stood up on top of her chair to see. The crowd quickly parted like the Red Sea and I saw that it was Phillip.
He was back.
He was walking this way, heading for the line to get his lunch. I blushed, thinking of the last time I'd been in a room with him.
He looked healthier, although he had lost a lot of weight during his coma. His t-shirt was a little too loose over his arms and chest, and his jeans sagged a little bit, but there was colour in his cheeks and his brown eyes looked bright. His best friend Josh had his arm slung around him looking triumphant while Dustin stood on the other side, his smile shining. Josh had black hair and brown eyes, with tanned skin and broad shoulders. He was an athlete like Phillip, but was a track runner. Seeing the three of them back together as a complete unit was nice; it felt normal.
They were getting closer and I started to panic a little bit. What if Phillip had heard me? What if he remembered that I read to him for months? What if he thought I was a total freak? Oh god. Oh god, oh god, oh god...
The oxygen in my lungs became scarce. I licked my lips and twisted my fork around in my hands. Felicity had dropped back down into her seat and was watching with hungry eyes, no doubt looking for any hint of a story in his posture alone. When they reached our table, Phillip turned his head just in time to see me staring at him. Blood rushed to my cheeks and I tucked a piece of hair behind my ear as I looked away. When I glanced upwards again he was in line ordering his lunch, the crowd following like a horde of fangirls at a One Direction concert.
"Oh. My. God. He smiled at you!"
Felicity was positively beaming. "He was totally checking you out. It was like, one of those soft, hesitant, shy smiles."
"I think you've been reading too many romance novels, Flick." I raised an eyebrow at her. She rolled her eyes.
"There's no such thing. But I'm telling you. He thought you were cute."
"He has a girlfriend."
"So? You're allowed to look."
"No, you're not."
"Yes you are. Just don't look for too long."
"So if you were dating a guy and you saw him checking out another girl, you wouldn't mind?" I asked her, crossing my arms and confident I'd won this argument.
"How hot she is." She shrugged. "So long as she isn't hotter than me, I'm good."
I shook my head and stabbed a piece of cucumber. "You're impossible."
"You love me."
I sighed and looked at her for a second before admitting, "Yeah, yeah."
I ate my salad while I listened to Felicity talk about why I should come to the UK with her and all the places we'd go and how amazing the shopping would be. She even tried to convince me that I could learn about all the boring historical stuff while we were there. I didn't say anything because there was no time to. I'm fairly certain she had practised this entire speech for days.
"Flick?" She stopped to look up at me. I grinned, apple poised and ready to munch down on. "The key to a good monologue is breathing."
She scowled and I bit into my apple, smirking.
"Are these seats taken?"
I looked up and my apple nearly dropped from my mouth and into my lap. Phillip Kingston and his friends were standing there, holding their trays and looking expectant. Words failed me, but luckily Felicity didn't.
"You must be lost. Your table is over there." she pointed to the other side of the cafeteria, where Melanie was watching this unfold, looking sad, confused and a little bit frustrated. I felt bad for her.
"It's a free country." Josh reminded her but Phillip simply looked at me. I blinked and removed my apple from my mouth, realising that I must look absolutely ridiculous. I blushed and set it down on my tray.
Felicity gestured around the table. "Sure. Take a seat."
They did. I glanced around and saw that there was more than one person looking at us, whispering and taking photos. No doubt starting rumours. I knew that he was probably only here to request that I pass on his thanks to my father, just as so many people had. I didn't know why he chose to actually sit with us, instead of just passing by and asking to pass on a message, like everyone else had.
Phillip pulled his potato wedges towards him and glanced at me. "It's Rhea right?"
I wasn't sure if my tongue was working so I simply nodded. The table was silent after that and I sure felt uncomfortable. I just wanted to slide down in my seat and disappear from the staring eyes of the student body and from the gaze of the most popular boy in school.
"So how does it feel to be back in the land of the living?" Felicity asked and I kicked her under the table.
"Ow!" she cried.
"Felicity! That's rude!" I berated. But Phillip only chuckled.
"No, it's fine. Really. I'm just glad to be back to normal."
"Are you going back to football?" Felicity asked, leaning forwards curiously. I kicked her again and she swore under her breath. "Stop kicking me, woman!"
Josh laughed and Phillip grinned at me. I felt a little flustered.
"I'm planning on going back. The doctors have given me a clean bill of health and encourage me to get back to doing the things I did before. Coach said he has to whip my ass into shape all over again, but it'll be worth it."
"The Giants won't stand a chance." Dustin said, earning a fist bump from Josh. "The first game is in two weeks."
"Isn't that cutting it a little close?" Felicity asked. "I mean, you won't be able to play that well by then." She said, looking at Phillip. I was astounded by how comfortable she was and how easily she was maintaining a conversation with these guys.
He shrugged. "I'll be fine. I can always just get my sub to go on for me if I'm not in good enough shape by the game. ."
"Have you guys started looking at colleges?" I asked, trying to change the subject.
"Nah not yet." Josh dismissed. I nodded. Well that was a waste of breath. I decided I may as well eat my apple if all I was going to do was make pointless conversation. I got six bites into it when Phillip leaned closer to me. I tried to keep myself from freaking out. What... the hell... was he doing?
"Listen, I'm having a little welcome back party at my house on Saturday. Nothing major. A barbecue, music, the pool. I was wondering if you'd like to come."
I stared wide eyed at him for a few seconds. Then I realised he was waiting for an answer. "Uh...sure." I blinked.
Phillip grinned and he was so close that I could see how long his eyelashes were. I blushed and looked down at my tray. The bell rang for the next class to begin and the cafeteria exploded with activity, peoples chatter growing louder in order to be heard over the noise of the herd of teenagers trudging off to their next class. I had a free period next so I didn't need to move. Phillip did, however, and when he had pushed his chair in and slung his bag over his shoulder. He placed a hand on the table and leaned down. I was quite a lot shorter so it probably would have been easier for him to just sit down again.
"Seven o'clock. Alright?"
I nodded, blushing more. I knew he was only doing this because of my dad, but that didn't stop me from feeling a little flattered that he invited me to a party. I don't remember being invited to party since freshman year, when Melanie had this huge Welcome to High school bash. Felicity got invited to parties all the time, but she never took me along because she knew that I would rather be at home.
Phillip smiled but then turned and left to go to class. I turned to Felicity.
"What the hell just happened?"
"I'll tell you what just happened." Felicity was practically buzzing with joy. "Phillip Kingston not only checked you out in the hallway, he came over here and sat with us for lunch and invited you to his party on Saturday."
Felicity patted me on the arm and looked at me seriously. "It's brilliant! Oh this is wonderful! I'm so coming over beforehand to pick what you're going to wear because Lord knows there'll be boys there. I can't believe you're actually going to a party! I've been waiting for this for ages!"
I ignored Felicity's enthusiasm. "He was acting different."
Still smiling, Felicity asked, "You mean not a complete ass?"
I nodded. "It's so weird."
"Maybe that car accident knocked all the douchbaginess out of him."
I frowned at her. "That's not a word."
"It is now." She said, but her voice sounded strained. I narrowed my eyes at her.
"Just a stomach ache. I'll be right. It's been happening for a few weeks now. It'll pas in a minute." She waved a hand. "So can I come with you to the party?"
"Why are you even bothering to ask? You'll come anyway."
Felicity got up from the table and pouted her big red lips at me. "You're so mean, Rhea."
I watched her pack her things away. She was late for class but that never seemed to bother her. "I prefer honest."
"You prefer a lot of things." She stuck her tongue out at me and slung her back over her arm. She went very pale but didn't say anything. She ruffled my hair aggressively and walked off. "See you babe!"
I grumbled and tried to flatten my hair, wondering if she was feeling alright.