Book One: Chapter 1 (Avan)
Girls tend to think that we, boys, don’t really care. What they don’t know is that we care more, we love more, and we hurt more. We just don’t know how to show or control it.
It was a rainy 50-degree day in New York City but I was sweating like I was in a 50-degree sunny weather as I walked down the hallways of Trinity School. My stomach was tied in knots and I was afraid of what I’d find when I got to that corridor where my girlfriend was waiting.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Tina the moment I reached her. She looked different. She usually beamed a lot and whenever she saw me the smile becomes brighter. Today she was frowning and I felt as if the usual smile wouldn’t come back—at least for me.
“I’m sorry, too,” she said back. Her apology wasn’t like mine. Me, I wanted to fix everything just by saying sorry. Hers was as if she was saying goodbye.
I cleared my throat, acted like I didn’t sense something about to end. We couldn't end, could we? I’ve always thought there'd be one woman I'd love in this lifetime and we w'd infinite.
“You wanted to talk to me?” I asked.
“Dad’s friend called and we’re good to go. I don’t think we’re coming back after.” Tina spoke with such coldness but I knew I deserved that. “Avan, Avan…” she kept on saying because I might have lost the ability to speak.
“What about Trinity?” I asked. “You can’t just leave. What about the Senate?—the choir?—and what about us?” I said all desperately.
Tina’s mouth turned upside down and I knew she was about to cry. She looked out the window instead. “The student council can replace me, same with the choir. It’s not like I’m their star or anything. As for us, there’s no more an us.”
“Don’t say that,” I implored. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even sound like I was begging. I wanted to kneel and plead but something stopped me. Was it someone’s way of saying that this had to happen?
“You could have prevented this…” she trailed off; tears were rolling down her face. I attempted to wipe them off but she slapped my hand away.
“Tina, please, I can fix this.”
“No!” Her tone rose that some passing freshmen jumped aside. They all looked at me like I was a bad guy. Perhaps I was. “We’re done, Avan. No more.”
It had already been weeks since our breakup but I was still in a very dark place. Tina was everything to me. I’d loved her since I came to Trinity School where I followed her everywhere, teasing her until she cried so I could come to her apartment in our building, apologize, and give her a box of her favorite salt water taffy. I was just crazy about her.
Ever since I lost her, I wouldn’t talk to my friends, basically blowing them off, causing them to hate me. I meant my best friends back in Martin Luther King High School. I used to go there until sophomore year when Dad decided to transfer me to Trinity.
I couldn’t talk to my friends at Trinity, the student council guys, since they’re all mostly friends with Tina, too. I took an absence there because I didn’t want them to look at me and whisper about things they didn’t know.
I thought what hurt most was the loneliness. Tina used to decide everything for me but now I couldn’t even choose what to eat for lunch.
I was sort of on my own now.
I stepped inside of our penthouse floor in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, to be dragged into the elevator again by my older sister Janice. She was pointing her pudgy finger at me, yelling, “I can’t bear your constant silence!”
Constant what? I thought to myself. Women, sigh. “What’s up, Janice?” I asked tonelessly.
“Come with me.”
She banged on the elevator buttons and then continued to drag me to the floor where the Georges lived. Tina used to live at the same floor as the Georges. I cursed Janice for making me think of the empty apartment.
The Georges was a nice family that we’d known for as long as I could remember. My Dad and Mr. George go way back and my sister plus the daughter named Amy George were really tight. They’re best friends forever.
Janice knocked. Amy, short fat blonde Amy, answered the door with a squeal. “I sensed you coming here!” She hugged my sister like they hadn’t seen each other for a long time.
We entered the apartment. I stood at the door while the two girls gossiped on the couch about something US Weekly published yesterday.
“You brought me here to talk about some lame shit?” I barked impatiently.
Janice and Amy turned to me like they just saw me there. “Oh hi, Avan!” said Amy brightly. “Are you looking for Aiden?” she asked.
“Actually, I’m looking for Aiden,” Janice answered. Still, my irritation was getting intense. Then she started filling Amy on about how I had been crazy for weeks.
“I’m going,” I said but Janice was immediately by my side, pinning me against the wall. She's strong, Pilates a week. “Amy,” she said sweetly to her best friend, “is Aiden here?”
“Here,” Aiden answered, coming out of the kitchen with a bottle of water. He greeted me with a fistbump when he reached us. “So, what’s up?” he asked Janice.
I noticed he was wearing his uniform but I was certain he wasn’t at school that day. He also reeked of alcohol.
Janice put an arm around Aiden’s shoulder. They were the same height since Aiden was short like his sister. They went to the corner and Janice spoke to him in a low voice—which I could still hear because Janice could never be low-key. Janice wanted Aiden to introduce me to his friends so I could have someone to hang out with.
“I have friends,” I interjected, not meaning to sound rude. Hey, Janice was the one being rude. She’s practically humiliating me.
“I know,” Janice shot at me. “But maybe meeting new ones will take your mind out of Tina, you know?”
I saw Janice mouthed "That bitch," to Amy and Aiden. I groaned.
“It’s okay, man,” said Aiden kindly, patting me on the back. “I feel you.”
Oh yeah, shortly after my breakup, Aiden just broke up with his longtime girlfriend Winona. That pretty hot girl living across the street, that was Aiden’s first sentence about her.
“You don’t have to do this. It’s cool,” I told him. “We haven’t hung out since we both had girlfriends.”
“Are you kidding me? Let’s do this. I’ve been meaning to invite you to some parties but yes, we’ve both been busy with our girlfriends.”
“Exes,” Amy corrected like that helped a lot. “Now you don’t have any. Go be gay.”
“That’s settled then,” Janice said happily and contented.
When we went back to the apartment, I went straight to my little sister’s room to avoid Janice. Selena was studying for some quiz bee. She’s hella smart. She’s also very sweet and close to me.
“How’s your day so far, kiddo?” I asked, playing with the end of her curls.
“S’well,” she piped up. “Yours aren’t, I suppose?”
I bent down to look at her face, her sweet innocent face. I asked indifferently, “How come?”
“You haven’t been since Tina left.”
Seriously, that girl talked like an old lady. “Well, that’s life,” I tried to smile.
Selena wrapped her hands around me, catching me by surprise. “Things will be okay in the end,” she promised, caressing the back of my hair. "It's not the end of the world. It's just the start of something better."
For once since the breakup, I cried.
Everything, that start of something better my little sister was talking about, started the next day. Actually, it was more of a pre-start.
That was where it all began. I was on my way to school when I met Aiden at our building’s lobby. He wasn’t wearing his uniform, though. He also went to Trinity, just a year below me.
“Aren’t you late for school?” I asked.
“Nope, I’m not going to school. And so are you,” he said mysteriously.
I frowned. “School cancelled?” I never missed school except that time when I had a very bad flu. I still went but I stayed in the clinic because my teacher thought my flu was transferring to him.
“We’re cutting class, Rhys.”
I wasn’t sure why I let Aiden talked me into going back to their apartment but I was there, being smiled at by his fellow sophomore friends. Included Carson Brien (a semi-bald guy with the most pleasant accent I’d ever heard in our entire school), Ronnie Lee (a very good-looking guy with a cleft chin), John Thomas “JT” (the only black guy in the group), and Cillian Sawyer (pale guy with shaggy hair and piercings).
Their group's very popular around school. Reasons were because they’re part of Trinity’s musician club and they’re all friggin’ smart but they had a bad reputation around the professors since they party too much. Still, they couldn’t expel them since they never did anything wrong inside school premises and they still got perfect GPA’s.
“No need for introduction,” Carson, the most conversational of the group, said. “Avan Rhys, junior, student council, Theater Tech Club, and Tina Norris’ ex,” he said all knowledgeably.
I couldn’t help but smile even when they mentioned Tina's name. “Wow, I’m famous.”
They all laughed.
“So, why are we here?” I wondered.
“We want to start the weekend early,” Carson explained. He did something in between before finishing his sentence. Something unnecessary. I thought he was just building up the suspense. “We party.”
“We start here and we’ll see where we end,” JT answered. “Aiden’s parents aren’t home so it’s okay,” he assured because my face showed anxiety.
I had to admit. I liked the idea. I never partied. Tina’s against anything unholy. “I’m in.” Maybe it was the rebel inside of me speaking but I had a good feeling about that time.
“Good guy. I like him already,” Ronnie said with a grin. He turned to Aiden. “My girlfriend’s coming. She’s bringing a friend for you.”
“No,” Aiden said, his face deadpan.
“You gotta get over Winona!” JT groaned, throwing Aiden a dirty look.
“He’s right,” I intoned. I didn’t mean to overhear Janice and Amy talking about stuff like that. It’s really not hard to overhear your loud sister and her louder friend. I heard Aiden invested more in the relationship and Winona saw him more of a credit card that she never paid back.
“See?” Cillian pointed at me, clucking his tongue. “Even Rhys says so. Winona ain’t a loss. She doesn’t even treat you right.”
It was only then I heard Cillian Sawyer spoke. He’s a very silent person. I didn’t know he had an accent. Turned out, he grew up in Chicago.
Aiden scowled at all of us. “Fine, I’ll meet Regina’s friend.”
“Good, very good,” Ronnie said. He stood up and added, “I’ll go meet them.”
“I’ll come with you. I need a smoke,” said JT. “You coming, Rhys?”
I shook my head. “I don’t smoke.” I felt like a sissy back then. Partying was all new to me.
“That’s okay.” Carson followed JT and Ronnie out, already lighting a cigarette.
“I’ll ready the shots,” Aiden announced and disappeared to the kitchen. It was only me and Cillian left.
“You have a girlfriend?” I made small talk.
Cillian nodded. “Her name’s Wiz. We’ve been together for three years.”
Wow, they must be keepers then. To be frank, Cillian didn’t look like the type of a guy who did relationships. “Where did you two meet?” I inquired.
“At Trinity, middle school,” Cillian replied. “She used to go there. Now she goes to Brearley.” He indicated the seat where JT was. “They’re friends, also Kellan and Rhee.”
“Do I know her? Her friends sound familiar.”
“Yes they’re in the council, but Wiz? I think not.” He smiled as if he was reminiscing. “She's so shy and hates attention.”
“Does she go out with you guys like Winona and Ronnie’s girlfriend do?” I wondered.
“Sometimes…really once a month most likely,” Cillian answered slowly. “She prefers a different crowd, see?”
I was confused so I asked, “But I thought JT’s her best friend?”
“Yep but it’ ain’t that.” Cillian shook his head. “It’s the additional ones she doesn’t like.”
“Like me?” I pointed to myself.
The door opened and came in Ronnie and two blonde girls in my class with insane makeup and bodies.
“Like them,” Cillian said in an undertone.
Regina and Tory were the ones you usually see on top of the chain in most high schools. They were cheerleaders and bullies. Tina used to call them ‘major sluts’. It irritated me whenever she spoke so self-righteously.
They went to sit and started to talk about school. I went back to Cillian.
“I think I know why,” I told him. “She’s a goodie-girl.”
“Um…” Cillian smiled. “Define goodie girl.”
“Goes to church every Sunday, conservative clothing, doesn’t drink, doesn’t swear, and oh…doesn’t listen to punk music?” It took me a second to realize that it’s Tina I was describing.
Cillian made a funny movement between a shrug and a nod. “Yes, she came from a committed Catholic family. The conservative part—I think not. She does ballet and those leotard things ain’t a bit conservative.”
I chuckled. “The rest?” I wondered why this Wiz intrigued me. I was wrong. She wasn’t Tina. Wiz sounded like a pretty cool girl.
“She drinks, that girl can hold her liquor. It used to be occasional drinking but nowadays I don’t get a text where she says she’s going clubbing with some friends.”
If I was right, girls drink to forget some problems. Example, my sister Janice. She wouldn't touch alcohol if she's not going through something. “Maybe she’s going through something,” I told Cillian.
“She’s all grownup. She should know what she’s doing.”
I rather disliked how Cillian talked about his girlfriend carelessly.
“Yes, she swears. We all do that.” Cillian laughed quietly. “She swears especially when she sees a roach. And lastly, she’s so little but her music is punker than mine.”
“She really sounds cool.” I meant it.
Carson leaned across JT to talk to us. “Are you guys gonna gossip all day or are we gonna start this madness?”
I looked up and saw them all holding tequila shots. Cillian and I picked up ours. To be honest, it was the first time I'd be doing a shot.
“To a wild weekend,” Ronnie toasted.
“Party,” we chorused.