The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Eleven

It’s dark out by the time Miranda drops me back off around the corner from my house and we share a really long kiss in her car before I finally slip up into my bedroom. The house is mercifully quiet because Dumb and Dumber are undoubtedly out at some party and Doug is reliving the glory days at some other former sports stars’ house. So I turn on the radio, collapse on the bed, and just focus on committing every moment of today to memory.

“Jake!”

I startle awake at the shout and then a second later yelp and roll away from the face hovering only inches away from mine. I hit the ground with a thud and from above there is an explosion of laughter.

“Ray, what was that for?” I grumble irritably, crawling back up onto the bed and wincing at the bruise that is sure to appear on my shoulder where I hit the floor.

“It’s only ten and you’re asleep,” Ray answers, shrugging and then sitting cross-legged on the end of my bed. “According to the best friend charter, that gives me complete legal right to wake up your lazy ass. Especially considering I just finished a totally sold-out show with standing ovations and everything.”

“Really?” I ask, although the excitement bubbling off her is answer enough. “Ray, I’m so proud of you. See, now everyone in this whole stupid town knows just how fantastic you are.”

“I know!” Ray crows enthusiastically, bouncing up and down on her knees. “I mean, it’s not like I care what this horrible place thinks, because let’s face it - they’re all stupid. But getting the chance to show them all just how much they’ve missed out on? God, that felt good.”

“I wish I’d been there,” I say.

“It’s okay,” Ray says, reaching over and squeezing my hand. “You were there on opening night.”

I shrug and lean back against the headboard. “Well sure, but I mean this was probably the most epic moment of your high school experience,” I point out. “And you are my best friend. So I just wish I could’ve been there to share it with you.”

Ray smiles and jumps off the bed, grabbing her purse from my desk. “That’s okay, because we’re going to have our own little celebration party right now,” she announces and when she comes back to the bed I can hear the rustle of a plastic sack and clinking from inside her purse.

“Gummy bears and booze?” I ask, already knowing the answer.

“Of course!” Ray says, sitting down opposite me and dropping the bottles of wine coolers on the blanket. With her other hand she tears open the bag of gummy bears in her lap. “So we are going to chat and devour these squishy miniature animals and celebrate the awesomeness that is us. Now open up.” I open my mouth and she tosses a handful of gummy bears at me, none of which actually ends up in my mouth.

“You have terrible aim,” I inform her, picking up a green bear from the blanket and popping it into my mouth.

“Which is why I’m an actress and not an archer,” she responds unconcernedly. “Besides, like you could do better.”

“Bet me?” I ask and she nods. “Alright, open up then.” She opens her mouth and I grab a yellow gummy bear from near my knee. Taking careful aim, I toss it the length of the bed and into her mouth. She laughs as she chews it. “Take that, Doubting Donna.”

“Okay, okay, you’re the gummy bear throwing champion of the universe,” she says, still giggling. We eat through another handful of bears each before she glances up curiously. “So what did you get up to today while you were missing out on the amazing spectacle that is me? Just work?”

I smirk sheepishly. “I went out with Miranda."

Ray’s eyes widen in shock. “Like on a date?” she asks. “For real?”

“Yeah,” I agree with a nod. “We went up to the train car and had a picnic and just relaxed. It was pretty great.”

“Your mom’s place?” Ray asks, her eyebrow arching dangerously high on her forehead. “So for your first date you went to the middle of nowhere and did nothing?”

I laugh. “You make that sound like a bad thing,” I say in amusement. “Cut me some slack, I thought it was a good plan. We got to spend time together without worrying about people seeing us, and we took the chance to unwind from all the stress of graduation and stuff.” Ray nods slowly but there is something about her expression that makes me narrow my eyes. “What?”

“I just think it’s a little weird, that’s all,” Ray says. “This whole secret relationship thing. If she really does care about you so much, why is she so afraid of what anyone thinks?”

“This wasn’t just her decision,” I remind her. “I wanted it this way too. Imagine what the Slug and Sly and Bruce would do to me if they found out I was in this great relationship with a girl that has rejected both of the boys. My already miserable existence in this place could only get exponentially worse. It’s for the best.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Ray says and shrugs. “You’re right. It’s just - you’re my best friend and I guess I just want to see you with someone who really cares about you, you know? Someone who knows just how amazing you are and wants the rest of the world to know it too, no matter what.”

Smiling, I reach over and touch her arm. “I want that for you too,” I say. “Although since you don’t believe in long-term relationships, I guess I want you to have a whole string of men who are like that.”

Ray chuckles. “You make me sound like some kind of slut when you say it that way, like I’m just going to burn through a line of guys.”

“I don’t mean it like that,” I argue. “You’re the one who is always telling me that long-term relationships aren’t practical.”

“Not completely impractical,” she says. “I mean, I guess I wouldn’t mind if it was with the right guy. I could handle it.”

“Really? Okay then, well once you make it on the big stage and the whole world sees how great you are, there’ll be men lined up outside your door,” I assure her. “And you can just take your pick from there until you find the right one.”

Ray seems to contemplate the idea for a minute and then she nods. “Alright, that sounds fair enough,” she agrees. We are quiet for a second as I reach over and steal another handful of the gummy bears. “So, you and Miranda are doing okay then?”

“Yeah, fantastic,” I say enthusiastically. “She’s everything I ever imagined. Thank you so much for helping me with this. You’re so great.”

“Of course I am,” she responds. Her voice is cheerful but there is something stiff about her smile.

“You okay?” I ask uncertainly.

“Yeah, why?” she says, rummaging intently through the bag of gummy bears and picking out all of the yellow ones for herself.

“You just seem - tense about something,” I say.

“Nothing important,” she says. “Just the play and graduation and stuff.” I raise an eyebrow skeptically but she shrugs is away. “So are you caught up on your math?”

I groan dramatically and flop back on the mattress. “Oh c’mon, I thought we were celebrating. Why would you bring up something as horrible as math?”

Ray laughs and sprawls out on the bed next to me. “Because you’ve got a test coming up next week,” she points out. I groan louder. “And if you fail then you’ll be stuck here forever, and I can’t have that. I could never afford rent in New York on my own. So let’s go. Grab your book and we’ll get through the rest of this crap while I’m here to help you make sense of it.”

“Way to ruin my good day,” I say mutinously, but I dutifully gather up my math homework and bring it back to the bed. I flip the book open to the last page I did and Ray rolls over onto her stomach next to me so she can follow along. It’s a nightmare getting my brain to focus on the work when I really want nothing more than to drift off into daydreams, and on more than one occasion Ray has to jab me with a pencil to bring me back to reality.

The chapter finishes with an incredibly complicated word problem and I chew the inside of my cheek as I try to puzzle through it. “Jake?” I glance sideways but Ray isn’t looking at me. She is staring determinedly at the math book but I’m fairly certain she isn’t actually seeing it. I nudge her shoulder to prompt her into speaking. “You are still coming to New York with me, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am,” I say in surprise. “Why would you even ask that?”

“I just wasn’t sure, with your new girlfriend in the picture,” she says. I can tell she’s trying to sound nonchalant about it, but for such a great actress she isn’t doing it very convincingly. “I didn’t know if maybe she might have changed your plans.”

“No, no way,” I argue. “We’ll figure a way to make it work out, it’s no big deal. I’m not just going to bail on you. You’re my best friend.”

“Good to know,” she says and when she looks over at me she’s smiling, but it isn’t the usual vexing smile. This is more reserved and tempered. Before I can comment, she glances up at the clock and frowns. “Crap, it’s late. I should go before my parents realize I’m gone and go completely postal on me.”

“What? You’re gonna make me start on my math homework and then just leave?” I ask. She gives me an unsympathetic look as she grabs her purse and what’s left of the bag of gummy bears. “You are an incredible buzz kill.”

“So I’ve been told,” she responds and laughs. “That doesn’t mean you should stop your homework. Get it done.” She picks up her jacket from the desk and then pauses, a strange expression crossing her face. I prop myself up on my elbows and see she’s staring at the word portrait I did of Miranda this afternoon, the notebook lying open where my computer used to be. “Wow, Jake, this is great work. You make her so beautiful.”

“She is,” I agree.

Ray examines the page for another minute and then laughs and heads for the trapdoor. “I’ll see you Monday?” she asks and I nod. “Great, see ya. Bye.”

I watch her multi-colored hair disappear through the open door and then let my head fall back onto my math book with a tired thump. The problem of moving to New York is more complicated than I let on at first. I can’t ditch Ray, that just isn’t possible. The two of us have been planning on New York since we were twelve and I really don’t want to back out on that. But the school Miranda is waitlisted for is in California. Is it really wrong of me to try and convince her to go to New York with me instead?

Of course not. We’re in love and people who are in love are willing to sacrifice. She can still be as successful a journalist in New York as she can in California. She’ll understand. We can make this work.

Rolling over onto my stomach, I pop a stray gummy bear into my mouth and throw myself back into my math assignment.

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