Micah: I haven’t heard from you. How are things?
I read the message twice more, happiness warming me to my core. I never heard from Micah about his talk with Jay and Min worked most of Saturday and Sunday, making it hard to vent to her about Friday. I glance up to the spot where Jay sits, typing away on his laptop. He came into the library an hour previous and I haven’t been able to stop looking at him. I never saw him care much about his academics in high school, but here, he looks perfectly in his element.
Me: I was kind of waiting for you.
Micah: What’s the point in having my number if you’re not going to reach out?
Me: I need some time to warm up.
Micah: Alia, you can talk to me freely. Blow up my phone if you must. I want to hear from you.
Me: You make it sound so easy.
Micah: It is. You’re not alone anymore. You are no longer allowed to stay silent.
Me: I guess I haven’t changed much, have I?
Micah: Not really, but it’s not a bad thing. What are you up to?
Me: Working in the library…….
Micah: Is that bad???
Me: Jay is in here and I can’t concentrate.
Micah: I didn’t want to ask the other night, but does that mean you still have feelings for him?
Me: Honestly? I have no idea. I am so confused.
Micah: Well, I’m here if you feel like you need to talk it out and figure out how you feel about him.
Me: Would it be ridiculous if I did still have feelings for him?
Micah: Not at all. I would be rooting for you.
I look at my phone, my fingers hovering over the letters. I want to ask him about Letty. I need to ask about her. I begin typing: I was too much of a coward to ask you the other night… but... Letty, what happ
Someone clears their throat and I jump up, dropping my phone down onto the desk. “I’m so sorry.” I say. Jay looks at me, looking slightly annoyed. “How can I help you?” I force my best customer service voice. I’m at work, no reason for me to not be friendly.
“I saw you had this book, but I’m having trouble finding it.” He says as he holds out his phone to show me. I look at the title, then type it into the library’s database.
“Let’s see… Looks like we only have one copy and a student has already rented it out.”
“Great.” He says under his breath. “Thanks, though.”
“Wait!” I say as he’s about to walk off. “I can see about loaning one from another library.”
“No, that’s okay.” He says then goes back to his table. I sigh and sit down, wishing our interaction lasted longer. My phone lights up with an email notification. I open it up and read:
Dear Alia Sanders,
Thank you for your application to the Riverton Music Competition. We are happy to inform you that you are one of the three chosen producers to compete in the next round. There will be a meeting Thursday, September 14th to give more information about the competition and to pair you up with a band that you will work with over the next few months.
A shriek escapes me as I stand up excitedly. “Oh, my god oh my god oh my god.” This cannot be real.
“Are you okay?” Asks Ben from where he’s sitting.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I just got really good news.” He nods his head and looks back at his textbook. I read over the email one more time, not believing that I was actually accepted. “Is it okay if I leave a little early?” Ben nods his head, not even bothering to look up at me. I don’t mind as I gather my belongings and call Micah as I leave the library.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” He answers.
“Guess who is going into the next round of the Riverton Competition?”
“What! That’s incredible! When do you find out what band you’ll be working with?”
“Is it selfish that I hope you pair up with Jay’s band?”
“Why would it make you selfish?”
“I hope it will warm you up to us faster. If you’re working together, you’ll see us more.”
“I guess we’ll have to see…”
“I guess so… Well, listen, my birthday is actually next Tuesday. But everyone is coming up this weekend. I know it’s probably too soon, but I would love to have you there.” My heart drops. I knew Micah’s birthday was in September, but I don’t remember the exact date. I don’t remember anyone’s birthday.
“Do you still go to the beach?”
“No, we haven’t been since you went with us.”
“Got busy with life. It’s hard to commit an entire weekend to the beach. We’re all chasing our own things right now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It makes me sad.”
“Me too. But we didn’t grow apart. That was always our biggest fear. I know Min, Vance, and Jay are riding together, so you should join.”
“I’m not ready for that Micah… But next time you’re down I’ll treat you to dinner.”
“Are you sure? I would really love for you to be there…”
“I know, but I can barely look at Jay. Barely talk to him. I don’t want your birthday to be awkward.”
“I’m sorry, Alia. I wish I had a solution.”
“It’s okay… So how did it go with Jay when you left Friday?”
“He couldn’t give me an answer. I yelled at him for a good thirty minutes, but he said nothing. Just that he was sorry he didn’t tell me.”
“Why do you think he acted that way?”
“I honestly don’t know. Usually, I can read him like a book, but he’s shut down. He was quiet the whole weekend. Vance says he won’t talk about you to him. After you all reunited, Vance couldn’t get Jay to tell him anything. None of us know what he’s thinking. I don’t know if he’s still mad about you leaving or he just doesn’t want to deal with it.”
“Well, how is Emmett feeling about all of this?”
“He’s still processing. I think he’s an even mix of sad, surprised, confused, and upset. Give him a little bit. He’ll figure it out.”
“Or he’ll side with Jay as Vance has.”
“I don’t honestly know why Vance is acting the way he is. Your Min’s best friend, you would think he’d try a little harder.”
“Maybe he knows what’s going on with Jay and isn’t telling anyone.”
“I’m sorry, Micah. The last thing I wanted to do was come in between you all.”
“Alia, you are not coming between us. The situation is just hard. We all feel different ways about it. But we’ll be back together again. I promise you that.”
My phone call with Micah left me feeling a mix of sadness and hope. It worries me that Jay isn’t talking to anyone. But Micah’s promise that we’ll all be together again has me hopeful that things will change. Maybe being paired with Jay and the band for the competition will be a good thing. Before I go home, I stop by a café and buy a cake to celebrate. When I walk into the apartment, Min and Vance are on the couch watching their show. I’m a little disappointed that he’s here, but not enough to ruin my excitement. Min notices the smile on my face and the cake in my hand and pauses the TV. “Good news?” she asks.
“When else do I bring cake?”
“You got into the competition?”
“I did!” She shrieks and jumps up to give me a hug.
“Congratulations! I knew you would get in!”
“I can’t believe I did.” She relieves the cake from me and takes it to the table.
“You need to believe in yourself more. What’s the point in working on your music as much as you do if you don’t think it’s good enough?”
“It’s good enough for me. But I question if it’s good enough for the world.” I meet Min at the table as she grabs plates, forks, and a knife. Vance stands from his spot and comes over, leaning against the bar.
“Congratulations Alia.” His smile doesn’t quite meet his eyes, but at least he’s said something.
“Thank you, Vance.” Min hands me a plate with a piece of cake then cuts Vance one and lastly herself.
“So when do you find out what band you’re paired with?”
“Next Thursday.” We all sit down at the table, Min to my right and Vance across from me.
“Don’t forget to email your teachers, they’ll probably wave your absence.”
“I already emailed them. All but one was understanding.”
“Your communications teacher?” She asks.
“Yeah, he’s a real dick.”
“No matter, the semester will be over before you know it. Especially now that you’re a big-time producer.”
“I’m not a big-time producer. This is just one small step of many I will have to take.”
“How long until Brian shows up?” Vance immediately looks to me, but I keep my focus on my cake and Min.
“I’m surprised he hasn’t shown up already. It’s been two weeks. My mom has lost her touch. But with this competition. I say about three weeks.”
“Your mom doesn’t know you came home?” Asks Vance.
“No, I wouldn’t be here if she did. When Brian shows up in a few weeks, he’ll spout some nonsense. How I’m tarnishing my mother’s name.”
“No one even freaking knows you’re her daughter unless they do some deep research.” Min says angrily.”
“Will he make you drop out?”
“She’ll have to find something to threaten me with to make me drop out of this. I’m not going down without a fight. I want this.”
“That’s the spirit! Fuck your mom.” I laugh at Min, happy that I have such a great friend.
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I’m a little late to communication’s Tuesday but when I walk in, Jay is sitting at his desk. I wonder if Vance told him I’ll be at the meeting next Thursday. He looks up as the doors slam shut behind me and without hesitation, I smile at him. Jay’s face remains blank as he looks back down at his textbook. The smile on my face falters and I roll my eyes. I was trying to be friendly and he couldn’t even react. I take my seat at my desk and see that Ben has found him a new place next to a pretty girl on the opposite side of the classroom. I’m a little disappointed, but I guess it’s for the best. The professor comes in shortly after and immediately begins his lecture. I try to take my notes as best as I can, but I can’t help but think about next Thursday and what it means. Yesterday I liked the thought of possibly be paired with Jay, but now I’m not so sure. He can’t be bothered to return a friendly smile. One I wouldn’t have given if my body didn’t react before I could think about it. “Alia Sanders.” The professor chides. I jolt up, realizing that I was spacing out.
“Did you hear the question?”
“I’m sorry but no…” My cheeks flush as every eye in the classroom is directed towards me, but Jay’s stare feels heavier.
“What does thinking creatively and critically mean?”
“Having options that are backed by reason and evidence.” I answer.
“Lucky guess. If you want to survive in my class, Miss. Sanders, I’d advise you to concentrate. Especially with this competition coming up. If you’re lacking in my class because you are too busy working on your music, I will not let it slide. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Although everyone has averted their gazes, Jay still looks at me. I glance over to see the surprise on his face. I guess Vance didn’t tell him about the competition. I look back down at my book, not wanting Jay to see how sad I am at this. I know there’s no reason for them to talk about me, but we have a chance of being paired up. Wouldn’t Vance deem it kind of important to tell Jay?
As soon as the class is over, I stack my laptop, textbook, and phone into my hands, not wanting to waste time putting them in my backpack. I still feel embarrassed for being singled out by the professor, and I don’t feel like meeting anyone’s pity glances. I open the door and rush out, running smack into someone else. My phone slides off the book and falls onto the floor with a displeasing shattering noise. “I’m so sorry.” I say to the person I ran into. He reaches down and picks up my phone. Vance stands up and hands it over. My cheeks turn red with embarrassment. Why can I never get away from these two? Jay exits the classroom, looking from me and Vance. “I’m sorry I cracked your screen.” Says Vance.
“It’s just tempered glass. The screen should be fine. But thank you. And sorry.” I say before rushing away.
“Why didn’t you tell me Alia advanced to the next round?” I hear Jay ask.
“You were going to find out one way or another.” I keep my pace down the hall, wanting to be as far away from them as I can get.
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Min comes in late that night from work but immediately comes into my studio and falls against the chaise lounge. “Long day?” I ask.
“The longest. Every customer was a complete asshole for no reason. I don’t understand how stupid people become when they’re customers and so demanding and entitled. I can’t handle it.”
“You can work in the library with me. I think one of the girls is dropping out and going back home because of some family issues.”
“The school doesn’t pay enough to only work there. I know you said you don’t mind paying all the rent, but what if your mom makes you leave?” Our talk yesterday was lighthearted, but at the end of the day, we both know what my mom is capable of doing if she really puts her mind to it.
“I’m sorry… I know this is stressful. Not knowing if I’m going to disappear one day.”
“It’s not like I think you’ll just leave, but I worry your mom will do something awful and I won't be able to pay the lease.”
“That’s why I have that secret account. If I have to leave; I will give you everything in my savings to make rent until the lease is up. I promise.”
“You can be a really good friend, you know that?”
“Does that mean I’m a bad friend most of the time?”
“No, I just mean. You have a good heart. You want to do good. You try hard for other people. I just wish you tried as hard for yourself.”
“I don’t know what you mean…” She sits up to look at me.
“You won't let yourself be happy… You blame yourself entirely for leaving North Isles, but it was your mom. You blame yourself for not going back, but it was because of your mom. Your mom is the reason you are so unhappy in life. She has made you feel small and unworthy of love. But Alia, you are worthy. You deserve love. I love you because you are an incredible person and an amazing friend. I wish you would see that you don’t need to keep punishing yourself.” Min’s words strike deeper than anything anyone has ever said to me. Deep down, I know all of this to be true. I punish myself for decisions made by my mom, but I convince myself that I’m at fault too. I feel that my compliant behavior towards my mom’s decisions makes me just as awful as her and as if I made those decisions myself. “I wasn’t prepared for this kind of talk.” I say, wiping away a stray tear.
“I’m sorry.” She says. “I was thinking about it on my way home and the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I’m excited about this competition and what it could do for you. I don’t want you to let your mom take away your happiness. Hold on to it because Alia, you have such an amazing life ahead of you.” I look down, rubbing my aching wrist for the hundredth time tonight. I wish I saw or felt what Min saw in me. But something in me feels rotten and like I deserve every bad thing that has happened in my life. “I don’t like that it’s hurting you so much lately. Please go see your doctor.”
“It’s just because I’ve been working nonstop.”
“If you keep letting it get worse, you won’t be able to work on your music as much.”
“I can work one-handed.” She gives me a look that says that wasn’t the point. “I’ll think about it.”