LXVI. Great Plan
I stifled a laugh, “Sure. That sounds like a great plan. I can’t find anything wrong with it.”
“You’re getting way too comfortable around me,” he said.
“Is that a bad thing?”
“I’m not a good person.”
“I’m not a good person, either.”
“And why would you say that?”
“B-Because I blew my nose on your t-shirt since I ran out of tissues.” It wasn’t a lie. I ran out of tissues last night. And Ricardo’s shirt happened to be there, on his bed. He didn’t come back last night. Sometimes, I wonder where he goes at night. When I’m not drowning in sorrow, I stalk him. This is the time to test the detective skill mom taught me when I was younger.
I took a few blinks, “But, the answer is no. I don’t see anything good coming out from having a fake boyfriend. Plus, Josh kind of hates you.”
“Exactly,” he responds—his phone buzzes inside his pocket. “Look, I got to get packing soon. Think about it over the holidays.” He got up and went towards his cabinet to get ready to go back to Italy.
“Why would you help me?”
“Well, one, I’m sick of you crying all night and apparently, blowing your nose on my shirts. Two, I get to see Josh’s piss-off face. You know, since his friend is dating his enemy.”
That makes sense. Josh would be upset if I dated Ricardo. I wonder if he would be upset enough to realize his potential feelings for me. But, what if he wishes me happiness? I don’t want him to be happy for me.
Ricardo flicks my forehead. “Think about it, bionda.”
Soon, the holidays arrived, and I went home. It may be cold in the East, but it wasn’t that bad in the West. I didn’t need to wear three to four jackets.
I exhale softly.
“What’s wrong?” Mom asks.
Mom put down her glasses and closed her laptop. She sat across from me. “That doesn’t sound like a nothing sigh.”
I place down the fork and stop playing with my peas. Why do I even try? I can’t hide anything from a professional. “Mom. You know when I used the money and purchased the ticket to go to New York.”
“Yes, we made a contract that you would pay it back.” We look at the paper on the fridge with my signature on it. Mom documents everything.
“I saw Josh with this girl.”
“And they were hugging.” I bit my lower lip. “A boy and a girl hugging don’t mean anything, right?”
Mom giggles, “Oh, Hailey.” She tucks my blonde hair back. “You’re overthinking into this. Two opposite sex embracing doesn’t necessarily mean they developed emotions for each other.”
“But, they were hugging really close,” I emphasize.
“Okay. How about this? Crystal hugs you really tightly every time she sees you. Do you think that means Crystal had developed romantic feelings for you?”
The image of Madison pops inside my head. Weird. Why do I feel like I forget something? “I guess you make a good point.” I exhale, “Maybe I am overthinking this situation.”
Mom stroked my cheek lightly. “That’s my fault. You inherited the overthinking from me.”
“Does that mean I have the potential to be a detective in the future?”
Mom laughs, “We’ll see.” Her phone buzzes. When she looks at the screen, her smile disappears. She slides her thumb across the screen and places it against her ear. “What is it?” I call that mom’s business voice.
There was some scattered sound inside the phone.
“Yeah. I will send you the documents.”
More scatter words.
“Alright. Bye.” She ends the call.
“Who was that?” I ask. Mom usually doesn’t get calls from her work phone.
“Oh-” I respond. I don’t know who she is talking about. “Like Valentine.”
Mom laughs, “Exactly. Like that holiday.” She pinches my cheek before she goes back to work.
The holidays came as expected. Nothing changed this year. We spent Christmas opening gifts, watching movies, and playing board games. I work a part-time job to pay back the money my parents lend me. I’m not complaining; it distracts me from the negative thoughts. Then, New Year was spent watching fireworks from the tv.
I put on the New Year band and sat on the couch. Three hours before the New Year. My phone buzzed.
I smile lightly and sneak into the other room. I fix my hair slightly before answering the call. “Hi.”
“Happy New Year.” I haven’t heard Josh’s voice in so long. He looks handsome as always. He even got his hair trimmed. I can hear the fireworks in the background. His family must have gone to the penthouse to watch the fireworks.
“Happy New Year,” I responded. Well, New Year isn’t for three more hours for me, but I’m happy he called.
“Do you want to stay on the phone and spend New Year together?”
I nod, “I would like that.”
“How’s the holiday so far?”
“Good.” It would be better if you were here.
After an hour, Alvin caught me on the phone with Josh. Now, my whole family is talking to him.
“Where are your parents?” Mom asks.
“They’re in the living room.” Josh got out of the room and went towards the living room.
Everyone was there, playing board games or falling asleep. My parents talked to Josh’s parents for a while before he went back to everyone else.
My smile drops when I see a familiar girl in the background. Josh didn’t focus too much on her, but I can see her talking to Mrs.Greyson. Why is she there with them?
When the clock hits midnight on our end, I use the rest of my energy to blow on the party horn and rattle slightly rattle the toy.
I can’t believe she is there with them.
I want to ask why she’s there, but I couldn’t. It would be too rude.
“Hailey,” mom called. “Tired?”
I nod, “Yeah. I think I’m going to call it a night. You guys can continue talking.” I look at the screen. “Goodnight and Happy New Year.” Josh looks like he wants to say something, but instead, he smiles softly. My eyes refuse to divert away from the girl in the background. I didn’t say anything else and left the living room.
The days continue to pass, and it’s almost time to go back to school. I don’t want to go back.
“Hailey. It’s cold outside! Don’t forget your gloves!”
“Okay, mom!” I put on my gloves before I left the house. I didn’t have anywhere to go; after all, I am friendless.
I spent my day at the park—my butt on the wet swing. The tip of my boot scrap against the bark, and I exhale heavily.
“Hailey? Hailey Vaughn?” Now, that’s a voice I haven’t heard in a while.
I look up to see one of my many nightmares - Ariana - my former bully. I want to run, but my legs refuse to move. “Ariana.”
Ariana did what I least expected. She smiles softly, “Hi.” By now, I would’ve thought she would grab my hair and pull it while yelling at me for ruining her life.
“How are you?” Her warm breath dissolved in the cold air.
“Good. And you?” It wasn’t the type of conversation I expected to have with my former bully.
“Better.” I didn’t know what happened, but Ariana does look alot better than she did in the past. There was less makeup on her face, and her youth shined through. “Mind if I sit down?”
Ariana settles down beside me and exhales softly. She turns her head. “How’s boarding school?”
“Ariana. What are you doing?” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make small meaningless talk with my former bully.
She gave off a faint chuckle, “This is weird, isn’t it?”
I nod, “Extremely.”
“I want to apologize for everything I’ve done to you. All the name-calling and pushing you around. It wasn’t right of me.”
“After my dad lost his job,” she said. “Reality kind of hit. Hard.” She swallows. “My parents got a divorce.”
“I-I’m sorry,” I said that, but in reality, I didn’t feel bad for her. I felt bad that I didn’t feel bad.
She shook her head. “Don’t be. Trust me when I say it was for the best. My parents hated each other. They think my siblings and I don’t know, but we know. They only stayed together because of us.” She looks at the bark. “I hated how they never talk to each other, and when they do, they only yell. Of course, they didn’t do it in front of their kids.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“I also hated how you have such great parents. I hated how your family seems so intact; your mom is so encouraging. My mom isn’t the same. It’s always been about her. And I guess with all the negativity, I threw my frustration on you.”
I cannot believe this is happening. My former bully is confessing her life to me. “Why me?”
She looks at me, “Because you’re easy.”
“You never fight back, Hailey. You always just took it and waited for someone to rescue you. How you reacted made it so easy to push you around.”
“But, it doesn’t give you the right to do it.”
“You’re right, and I apologize for it.”
“What do you want from me?” I ask. “From this apology?”
“Nothing. Maybe a clear conscience?”
I grip onto the metal portion of the swing. “If you think we can be friends after this-”
Ariana laughs softly, “No, of course not.” She stood up, the seat beneath her rattle back and forth. “I know apologies can’t change anything, and I also know I can’t do anything to change your view of me. I apologized because I wanted to move forward.”
“That’s very selfish.”
She exhales, “Well, that’s what an apology means, right? A regretful acknowledgment? A showcase of respect and empathy for the person I had wronged.” The wind blew past us. “I didn’t expect you to accept it, and it’s okay if you didn’t.”
It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. Apologies aren’t truly meant for the wronged one, preferably the one who desires to express and accept their wrongdoing—a clearing of their conscience.
Ariana walks backward. “I’ll see you around, Hailey.”
At the end of the day, whether I accept Ariana’s apologies or not, she could always tell herself that she tried. She tried to apologize to me, and I was the one who chose not to accept it. With that, her consciousness is clear.
She was the one who did everything wrong, but she would be the one who can move forward in the end. And someone like me couldn’t. I’m stuck.
I exhale, “Ariana?”
She turns around. I can see it. The liveliness in her eyes. She’s prepared for anything.
“Do you still like ice cream?” I ask.
There was a slight confusion lurking in her back, but instead of questioning me, she nods.
“I like ice cream too.”
Then, it returns to the guilt. There it is. For her, it was better for me to scorn her. At the end of the day, she would’ve felt better.
While I was at Pandora Academy, I learned a few things. Everyone there bears weight, the heaviness of those who stand above them. So, they often bite their tongue. Wait for the perfect opportunity to attack. Insult wasn’t the strongest form of attack - it was kindness.
There are two approaches to kindness. One, be close to them. Have them relied on you. Have them believe that you would do anything for them. Two, wait for them to make the wrong move.
When someone does something wrong to you, you force them to acknowledge it. Buried the guilt inside of the person and reminded them of their wrongdoing for the rest of their life. But, that method only works with someone who still has a conscience.
I often deal with it; people fake kindness. They desire to enter the circle I stand in, and when the time is right, I will owe them. Because I was raised with a conscience, and they know it. That’s what Josh warned me about, to be cautious of the sweet words from Pandora students.
I made that mistake with Riley and Paisley.
And they know it.
Ariana smiled, but I can still see it, the guilt. “I’ll buy you a scoop?”
“Can’t. I have to go home and pack for school.” It’s too early to accept her apology.
“How about summer?”
I nod, “That would be nice.”
“I’ll be here,” Ariana responds.
And that was it. That was the beginning.