East Side Academy

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Chapter 60 - I Could Not Ask for More

“I could not ask for more than this time together / I could not ask for more than this time with you / Every prayer has been answered / Every dream I have’s come true / And right here in this moment is right where I’m meant to be / Here with you here with me / These are the moments I thank God that I’m alive / These are the moments I’ll remember all my life / I’ve got all I’ve waited for / And I could not ask for more” – I Could Not Ask for More, Edwin McCain

Arya

“How’s the leg?” I ask Eleanor, who is sitting in a blue Adirondack chair. We are all out on the lake at Samson’s house. And by we, I mean my friend group plus James’ friend group. Yes, all eleven of us are out here, hanging out by the water. Two groups of friends come together. There are no divisions, everyone is talking to everyone, it’s better than I could have expected. Richard is talking with Teddy; Samson is talking with Diana and Lincoln; Malcolm and James are in the water already with George.

“Don’t worry about her,” Sarah says coming up behind me. “She has every boy in our grade waiting on her hand and foot.”

“Any cute ones?” I ask, raising my eyebrow.

“Some.” Eleanor says, “But I’m not about to pick favourites just yet.” And then she winks at me.

Before I can say anything more, I feel arms grab me from behind. I scream and before I know it, James has me over his shoulder. “I think it’s time for a swim.”

“Don’t you dare,” I say.

“The water’s perfect,” James says, “you’ll love it!” And even if I can’t see it, I know he is smiling. He walks out onto the dock. “Ready?” he says as he holds me in his arms now, an arm under my knees and another under my shoulders.

“I will kill you,” I say flatly.

And then he starts running on the dock, holding me still. I scream and then he jumps off and we land in the water together. The water is freezing. I break the surface and his head is already above the water.

“How was that?” he asks.

“I hate you,” I say.

“Look out!” I hear a voice and see Teddy and Richard about to run off the dock. I swim out of the way as fast as I can underwater.

Eventually, everyone ends up jumping off the edge of the dock into the water. Well, except for Sarah that was pushed in by Lincoln, and then Lincoln who was immediately pushed in by Diana. And then of course Eleanor stays in her chair, seeming to enjoy the sun on her skin and unbothered by the rest of us.

“Is your friend Eleanor single?” Malcolm asks me.

“Seriously?” I ask him.

“Just a question,” Malcolm asks, “She’s always dating someone new. I can never keep up.”

“She only dates hockey players,” I say.

“I bet I can change her mind,” Malcolm says and I see him swim to the shore to get out of the water and head towards her. We’ll see how this goes.

“What’s your bet?” James says, swimming up behind me.

“What?” I ask and he nods towards Malcolm walking over to talk to Eleanor. “She’ll make him wait on her, but there is no way she’s giving him a chance.”

“So cynical,” James says.

“She only dates hockey players,” I say, “Malcolm isn’t going to change that. Believe me. I’m just glad that you aren’t a hockey player or else she would probably hate me.”

“Oh really?” James asks, smiling at me. I turn my head to look at Malcolm talking with Eleanor. They’re laughing and smiling. “Still sure about your answer?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Fine,” James says, “Five bucks says he gets a date with her by the end of the night.”

“Deal.” I hold my hand out above the water for James to shake it, but he grabs my hand and pulls me close to him, wrapping his other arm around me under the water.

“Deal,” James says and then he kisses me.


“Thank you for the drive home,” I say.

“Of course,” James says, and I just stare at him. “What?”

“I think you owe me something,” I say and smile at him.

“Ah fine,” James says, reaching in his back pocket and pulls out his wallet. “Five dollars.” He holds up the five-dollar bill.

“Thank you!” I say and grab it from him and put it in my pocket. “Told you she only dates hockey players.”

“I’ll get you next time,” James says.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” I say and then look towards the front door of the house. “You can come inside, James, no one is home right now.”

“Are you propositioning me?” James smiles.

“Maybe?” I smile, “Are you refusing?”

“Never.”

When James gets out of the driver’s seat, I run around the front of the car and jump on his back.

“Ugh!” James says as I wrap my arms around his neck, and he loops his arms under my thighs so he can give me a piggyback into the house. James crouches down so that I can use the key to open the house and then brings me inside. When we get into the kitchen, he gently drops me back to the ground.

“I could get used to that,” I say.

“I’m sure you could.” James says, “Arya,” James says seriously, “I have something I want to give you.” And then he pulls out a small cardboard box from his pocket.

“James.” I say, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Here,” James says and hands me the box.

I look at it, wondering what it could be, there’s nothing on the box to say where it came from. I slowly take off the lid to see the most beautiful watch inside. The face of the watch is large and looks old fashioned with an old map of the world in the background. I pull it out of the box and the leather strap looks brand new. The strap of the watch is four brown leather strips that have been woven together with an adjustable silver clasp to hold it together.

“It’s beautiful, James,” I say, mesmerized by the watch.

“The watch belonged to my great grandfather, my grandfather, and then my dad.” James says, “It’s been in the family for a while. I brought it to a jeweler to put a new strap on it so that you could wear it.”

“This is too much, James,” I say, starting to put it back in the box.

“No,” James says, stopping me.

“It’s your father’s.” I say, “I can’t take this. I can’t take something that belonged to him.”

“Please, Arya.” James says, “If I could give you the world, I would, but I can’t. I can only give you all of me. I want you to have this watch. It’s a piece of me I want you to have. I know he would have wanted you to have it.”

“James.”

“Here.” James takes the watch in his hands and clasps it around my left wrist. “Perfect.”

“You’re amazing,” I say, “you know that right?”

“I know.” James shrugs.

“Such a bugger,” I say, looking at the watch, feeling it with my fingers.

“Too bad you’re stuck with me,” James says and then grabs me and pulls me close to him.

“No place I’d rather be.” I say, “But I have a reason for inviting you inside.”

“And that is?” James asks, still holding me. I pull myself away from him and grab a large brown paper bag from the counter and put it in front of him on the island in the kitchen. “What’s this?”

“I just had to confirm if those pretzel buns were as good as you said.” I say, and then pull one out of the paper bag, “And it did not disappoint.”

“You’re crazy.” James says, “How did you find it? How did you even get out there?”

“I have my ways.” I smile.

“You’re the one who is amazing now,” James says, looking in the bag that is filled with pretzel buns.

“I know,” I say, and then James takes the pretzel bun out of my hand and takes a bite out of it. “Hey!”

James smiles at me and then we hear the front door open and Mia walks into the kitchen. “James!” Mia says excitedly.

“You are never this happy to see me,” I joke.

“Because I have to see you every day,” Mia says and then sticks her tongue out at me.

“Funny,” I say.

“Nice watch,” Mia comments with a smile.

“Thank you,” I say while touching the watch. “From a very thoughtful guy.” I kiss James on the cheek and then my phone rings. “It’s Mom and Dad,” I say, looking at the screen. “Better take this,” and then I walk out of the kitchen.

James

“Told you she’d love it,” Mia says.

“Thanks for your help,” I say. “I wanted it to be perfect for her.”

“I heard that your dad’s case is supposed to be settled next week,” Mia says.

“Yeah,” I say. I’m trying not to think about it.

“I think it will be good for all of you,” Mia says. “To finally be able to close the door on that night.”

“I’ll never forgive him,” I say. “I can’t.”

“And you don’t have to,” Mia says. “But maybe you should consider…”

“Stop, Mia,” I say.

“Forgiveness doesn’t mean what he did was right,” Mia says. “It means that your recovery is more important than harbouring anger towards someone.”

“Well can you forgive Henri?” I ask but immediately regret it. “No, Mia, I’m sorry…”

“No, it’s fine,” Mia says. “Henri raped me. He took advantage of me. He caused a trauma that I can never fully heal from. He did a terrible thing, and I don’t owe him anything. I don’t want to forgive him. I don’t want to give that to him. I never will. But the guy that took your father’s life ran a stop light. He made a mistake. A split-second mistake that he has to live with forever. If you don’t want to give him forgiveness, then that’s your choice. But think about if you were in his shoes. A mistake like that or something similar could happen to a lot of people. It shouldn’t be the defining moment of their life.”

I stare at Mia. She won’t forgive her rapist. Raping someone isn’t a mistake. Someone made a choice. Driving through a red light is a mistake. The other driver wasn’t texting or drinking. He made a mistake. He didn’t mean the destruction he caused.

“James?” Arya says, putting an arm on me when she walks back into the kitchen. “Everything okay?”

I look at her and then at Mia and then back at Arya. “Can you forgive someone that is responsible for taking away someone you loved?”

“Oh, James,” Arya puts her hands to my neck, and I grab her waist. I don’t see it, but I hear Mia leave the kitchen.

“He took him away, Arya,” I say, and I feel myself holding back tears.

“I know, James,” Arya says.

“How can I forgive him?” I ask. “How can I forgive the person that took away the most important person in my life?”

“James,” Arya says. “You don’t have to forgive him. But just think for a moment about what your dad would want. Would he want you to still be angry about this? Do you think he wants this for you?”

“Arya.”

“Do you think that if you forgive him that it means you love your dad any less? That you have somehow let him down?” Arya says. “Because it doesn’t, James.”

I stare at her. “No, I know,” I say quietly. Arya puts her hands to my cheeks and rubs away the tears that had just stared to form and I pull her in closer to me.

“I think it’s time to close the door on that night, James,” Arya says.


“He took a year off work,” the lawyer says as the man responsible for the worst tragedy in my life walks into the courthouse. “Couldn’t deal with the fact that he had killed someone.” I have to do this. “James!” I ignore the voices behind me as I walk towards the man I have spent the past two years hating.

When I stand in front of him, I don’t know what to say. He’s not how I pictured him. He’s young. Probably in his late twenties. He looks like a man that has put too much stress on himself. He’s nervous. Unsettled. And then he looks at me and we just stare at each other for a moment. “You’re his son,” he says, and I nod. He looks away for a moment as if to compose himself and then back at me. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I never meant for it to happen like this. I haven’t forgiven myself for it. It’s the worst mistake I’ve ever made. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with it.” He’s rambling. “I’ll never forgive myself.”

“But I do,” I say, the words coming out faster than I could think them.

“What?”

“I forgive you,” I say. I had planned what I was going to say to him when I first met him, but now all those words are out the window. “I know you never meant for this to happen. I want to let go of that night. My dad wouldn’t want people to suffer. Not on his account. So, I’m choosing to forgive. It’s what my dad would have wanted.”

“I’m so sorry,” he says again, and I see the tears forming in his eyes. He’s truly sorry and he didn’t expect forgiveness from a 16-year-old teenager today.

“I know,” I say.


“Arya?” I call as I get out of the car. She’s sitting on my doorstep. She gets up and comes up to me as a I close the car door. “Shouldn’t you be at school?”

“You wouldn’t let me come,” Arya says, “but I know it’s been a big day for you and I wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

“The case is settled,” I say. “Enough money that I don’t have to worry about my mom or sisters, even when I’m gone.”

“And how are you feeling?” Arya asks.

“I met him,” I say. “And then I forgave him.”

Arya nods. “That must have been difficult.”

“It was easier than I thought,” I say. “That night messed him up. He needed my forgiveness as much as I needed to give it.”

“I’m proud of you, James,” Arya says. “Forgiving him is no small thing.”

I grab her neck just at her jawline. “Thank you for never giving up on me.”

She smiles. “Never letting you get away again. You can’t escape me even if you try,” and then she kisses me.

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