“Someone has a crushhhh…”
“I will disconnect you.” I scowled. “I’m serious.”
Alex threw up her hands, but her wide grin was clearly visible even through the slight blurriness of my phone screen. “Sorry, dude. I know this isn’t exactly news.”
“No shit.” I snarked.
“But you guys sound like you’re getting through…” She hesitated. “...what happened with her mom, and the party.”
I nodded. “Yeah.” There wasn’t much more to say about that, and Alex realized that too. The corners of her lips curling, she continued, “So, while we’re on the subject, how has the--and to quote from your exact words--sweet sexy soccer player been doing?”
“Alex!” I hissed, my cheeks burning as she erupted into laughter. “I told you never to mention that!”
“Ha! So you admit that you did, at one time, legitimately call her that,” She choked out through her giggles.
“I...am not texting you ever again.” I grumbled.
“OK, but you know who you will be texting?” Alex brightened, the exact expression she made right before making a terrible joke, and I braced myself. “You will be too busy texting that sweet sexy soccer player.”
“I am so blocking you on my phone.” I pointed a finger threateningly. “If one word of this ever gets out to anyone else, I swear I’m gonna execute you publicly and mercilessly in front of a bloodthirsty crowd.”
“And get subsequently arrested for it. Wow, I’m so scared.” She mocked jokingly.
“You should be.”
“OK, but real talk though: how is she doing?” Alex changed the subject.
“Fine, as far as I know.” I shrugged. “She mentioned her brother was back. Why?”
“I just want to know what her intentions are with my child.” She explained.
How she kept a straight face throughout this statement, I would never know.
“Alex, for the last time, I am not your ‘child’.” I crossed my arms. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
“I adopted you a long time ago,” She insisted. “From the first moment you somehow managed to fall off the sled at the top of the hill, which I later would have thought to be impossible.”
“I was three years old! And I slipped!”
She nodded solemnly in reminiscence of the incident. “Exactly.”
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever. Anyway, she’s been a little stressed over exams, but she joked she was just going to wing them.” I frowned. “At least, I think she was joking.”
“Ugh, don’t even get me started on exams.” Alex groaned, flopping back on her bed. “I want death.”
I couldn’t help but nod in agreement. I was fine in all my other subjects, but math was a killer. Through some small stroke of luck, however, Kitty was actually helping me look over some of the hardest units and questions, so with no shortage of a miracle, I might actually pass the class with higher than a 75.
Lucy had moaned long and loud about the exam and summative for Chemistry and Art respectively, but her other two subjects, Bio and English were more than good enough. Plus, Lucy was already a better student than she gave herself credit for. Judging from her parents and brother, who was apparently already starting his Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Alberta, I could see where she got her ethics from.
We had agreed in our friends’ group chat (which I had added Kitty to as a precaution, even when Layla protested for some reason) that we should get together at times to study. Quite a few of us actually had the same courses, or had even taken the same courses last year as a head start (mostly Willow, whom Lucy had already begged to take her Chemistry exam for her and who had politely but firmly refused). I explained to her later (face-palming the entire time) that trying to bribe someone who already doesn’t give a crap about “amplifying” their appearance with face masks is a) a terrible idea, and b) I honestly don’t care if they come with cucumbers, Lucy, it wouldn’t have worked anyways. For such a health nut, Lucy did have a surprising weakness for spa treatments (“Good skin care is just as important as exercise!”), which was one of the reasons she and Layla got along so well.
Well, better than the rest of us did anyway.
It was another surprising Lucy fact that I had taken note of, along with her love of blueberry muffins, general confusion over pineapple pizza (which was delicious, by the way, what’s wrong with pineapple on pizza anyways?), and capability to memorize all the lyrics to every sappy love song ever, with which she would also burst into if you pushed her enough. She was a sucker for romance, and just thinking about that made me flush. She had a gorgeous black and white ragdoll-breed cat affectionately named Blue that they had adopted about a year ago from a shelter, who was usually curled up in her parents’ room. Lucy was planning on begging her parents for a dog next, and seemed confident in her ploy.
Damn it all, I was falling.
“And who’s the new kid you talked about?” Alex prompted, leaning forwards. “She sounds pretty cool, I’d like to meet her sometime.”
“Oh, Kitty?” I pondered for a moment. “She’s alright, I guess. So?”
“Anytime you even mention another human being without insulting them, I count it as a victory in my mind,” Alex smirked.
I frowned at her. “Remind me why I talk to you again.”
She shrugged. “’Cause I think of you as one of my favorite human beings and adoptive child even though in reality you’re a violent sociopathic conspiracy theorist?”
“Since when am I ‘sociopathic’?”
“Faith,” Alex gave me a grave look, folding her hands. “You watched The Walking Dead while eating tomato sauce with meatballs. And you laughed.”
I thought it was funny at the time. A show about people getting eaten by zombies because they were incompetent was ridiculously amusing to me. But even so, maybe the gore wasn’t for everyone.
“Fair enough.” I conceded.
Bzz. A text from Lucy popped up across the top of screen.
Hey, you want to study tomorrow after school?
“Hang on a sec, Alex.” I told her. “Just gotta answer a text.”
Sure, I texted her back. Your place? Or mine
We can go to mine, she replied quickly.
Cool, I just got to help Kitty out with an accounting question, then I’ll be around your house. What time?
Is 3:45 good? Then, immediately afterwards: Kitty’s in your accounting class too?
3:45 works with me, I answered. Yeah, we even sit together now so we can help each other out. She gets confused sometimes with the account values. Why?
It seemed like I was asking that a lot today, and always for obscure questions. Whatever.
No reason. Then, as if an afterthought: Just wondering.
I scoffed out loud at her response. Even through text messages I could still often tell when she was fibbing. But I didn’t press her too hard. If it was really important, I trusted she would tell me sooner or later.
OK. Let me know if anything’s bothering you. So your brother’s back, right? How’s that going?
There was a few minutes in between that reply, so I reopened the Facetime app while I waited. However, Alex’s raised eyebrows and meme-worthy smirk made me regret it instantly. “You really like her.”
I gave her a deadpan stare, refusing to play along. “Yeah, she’s one of my best friends.”
She just grinned wider. “Yeah, but you like-like her.”
“How old are you exactly?”
She had to think that one over. “I have the fully-functioning body of a 16 year old vocal student, but the mental capacity of a four year old child who thinks that stealing gummy bears out of a vending machine is a good idea.”
“What?” I shook my head, bemused. “How--when did you even steal--”
“So!” Alex clapped her hands quickly. “What did she say?”
“Uh, she just wanted to see if I wanted to study over at her place tomorrow. Oh, actually, maybe I can bring Kitty along too, hang on--”
Also is it OK if Kitty comes? It would be a lot easier to show her the accounting at the same time
“Not sure I would,” Alex murmured after I sent it.
“What?” I didn’t understand what she meant.
“You mean you can’t see?”
“Um, no.” I stared at her blankly. “See what, exactly?”
Did this still have something to do with Lucy’s intentions?
“Never mind then,” She sighed, poking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ll let you figure it out on your own. Much as it pains me to, seeing as how you’re my firstborn.”
“I’m not even gonna pretend to understand that last part.”
She cleared her throat. “Just...just be careful with who you bring around, OK?”
“What’s that supposed to mean, Alex?” I was confused by her sudden change in topic.
“It’s fantastic that you’re giving other people a chance, but...I don’t want to see you get hurt--” She caught herself before she could finish, but I understood the unspoken ’again’.
I clenched my fists at the implication behind her words, and had to force myself to relax, inhaling and exhaling deeply. “That was a long time ago.”
“It was,” She agreed readily. “But I know how much it meant to you. It may not have lasted, but she took more than she should’ve.” Her tone was calm, but her gray eyes flashed in rare anger.
“I can take care of myself.” I crossed my arms stubbornly. “Believe it or not.”
“I believe you.” She said simply. “Which is why I won’t tell you who to make friends with. But, please, just--” She paused to consider her words carefully. I waited, breathing in and out to calm myself down. “--Just trust your instincts, that’s all. You’re good at reading people, but be careful.”
There was nothing else to say to that. “I will.”
“Good.” She nodded, satisfied. I heard shouting in the distance from Alex’s side, and she groaned. “And that’s my cue. The matriarch has summoned me to deal with the siblings.”
“I’ll let you get to it then.” I smiled.
“OK. And Faith?”
“Yeah?” I paused before hitting the ‘end call’ button.
“Call again soon, alright?” She pressed a hand against the side of her screen, as if trying to reach through it to me. “I need you in my life, bestie.”
“Same for you.” And with that, I hung up.
Two more texts from Lucy. The first read: I will. And Noah’s great. I haven’t seen him that much in a while, so it’s great having him back. He’s staying for a while, too, while he’s on break. It’s pretty great. He’s great.
I would have smacked my head against my bedframe if I wasn’t afraid of risking any more brain damage from having done so before.
Whatever. I did it anyway, groaning a little from the impact, and congratulated myself.
Way to go, Faith. Hitting your head is the greatest sarcastic response ever.
The second text was: Sure. Yeah, bring her if it’ll make it easier. Go ahead.
OK, I had a feeling I was missing something here.
Lucy seemed all cheery and welcoming when Kitty was around (which was a lot, because apparently I had informally ‘adopted’ her into our weird group, which were Liz’s words, not mine), but there was something off about it at the same time. It felt like it should be glaringly obvious, but I had little idea what it was. But now I was more curious about Noah.
I sent a quick heads-up to Kitty, letting her know what was going on, and if she was alright with it. Sounds good! She responded a couple minutes later. Then, Is Lucy OK with me coming over?
Why wouldn’t she be, I asked.
I don’t know. Just making sure. The answers arrived too fast, and forcibly reminded me of the texts Lucy had sent earlier, like there was some sort unspoken uncomfortable question. Was there something going on that I didn’t know about? I just wanted them to get along. Lucy’s happiness meant more to me than I could say, but I wanted Kitty to feel accepted too.
I hadn’t known her for that long, but I could tell that she was a decent person, and it was hard for her to be so far away from what she had been used to before she moved. Switching schools was difficult, no doubt about that, especially when your old school was thousands of kilometres away. I was the one she had made friends with first, and that made me feel a little protective of her. I was the one who had introduced her to everyone, and the one who suggested she eat lunch with us if she wanted, and even got her to start walking home with me and Crystal.
So I wanted her to feel at ease with everyone in the group, even with Layla (which was a stretch there, but when was it ever not?) and definitely with Lucy.
I knew what it was like to be an outsider, and I knew that while it didn’t bother me as much as I let on, it could be overwhelming for others when no one would let them in.
I settled with a simple, Just let me know. And went back to replying to Lucy.
So ‘Great’ is your new catchphrase now?
I didn’t say it that much.
No, only the first four times.
OK, fine. It’s a little awkward, since he hasn’t stayed at home in so long. I missed him a lot, but now it seems...different, I guess?
Like we’re still close, but it’s hard to know what to say to each other?
I don’t know. It’s hard to get used to
I don’t have any siblings, but I’d say to just give it some time. I’m sure you’ll get over it soon
And from what I’ve heard about him, he seems like a nice guy
Yeah he really is
Thanks Fay :) You’re probably right
I am, as usual.
Also, are you sure you’re OK with Kitty coming over? I can tell her we’ll work on accounting some other time
No don’t worry about it. I’m fine with her staying
OK. Just as long as you’re sure
When am I ever not sure?
Last week you asked me if I was positive pineapple pizza wasn’t an alien product
It’s a valid question!
And you never answered, so there.
Yes, I did. Clearly your memory is flawed.
You rolled your eyes, and went “Yeah, right.”
See? I did answer
SARCASM IS NOT A REASONABLE ANSWER
IT IS IN MY COUNTRY
WHERE ARE YOU FROM
Hang on a sec, my brother’s knocking
To ask for a face mask?
I’ve heard it’s so great for the skin
LEAVE MY FACE MASKS OUT OF THIS
NEVER. YOU’RE SUCH A BARBIE DOLL
HOW DARE YOU. I AM WAY MORE FABULOUS
And no, he wanted to know why if I wanted to play hockey with him and his friends on Wednesday
That’s cool. You like hockey
Yeah but I haven’t skated in so long. Not since the Canal
That was fun, wasn’t it?
Yeah. It was the best
I agree ;)
I haven’t skated since then either. I’m sure you’ll be just fine
You’re not the one playing hockey though
Yeah, I don’t see the point of being a jackass on skates
HjsbgYAG HOCKEY IS WONDERFUL
YOU’RE A CANADIAN HOW COULD YOU
I CAN HAVE MY OWN OPINIONS
Although I admit stick-checking people into boards like a barbarian does sound fun
Who are you calling a barbarian?!
Not you, that’s for sure
You know what’s impressive? The fact that I can literally HEAR your sarcasm all the way over here
How could you possibly tell?
There you go again!
It’s not HEALTHY
Oh, I’m so, so sorry. Could you ever bring it upon yourself to graciously forgive this lowly peasant, O Great Golden One?
Well, since you asked so nicely I suppose I can forgive your impudence just this one time. Seeing as how I’m so great and all
If you really want to ;) ;)
Sorry, but you walked into that one
Faith? I was joking.
You know that, right?
Faith? You still there? You know it was a joke
OKkk, well Noah wants to watch Indiana Jones, so I gtg
See you tomorrow!
Needless to say, throwing my phone across the room seemed like a very reasonable action at the time.
Studying at Lucy’s house had become a sort of routine for me now, so that it wasn’t even a surprise if I showed up after school or was already waiting outside her door when she came home. Sometimes I would scold her for being late, and most of the time she would just nudge me and laugh that bright laugh of hers, like she didn’t have a care in the world, like being chided by me was simply the next funniest thing. It infuriated me in ways I didn’t know were possible.
But today was different. Today there was a very good chance I would run into Noah.
Lucy’s brother was still a bit of a mystery to me, even though Lucy liked to talk about him more since he had arrived. He was four years older than she was, and attended U of Alberta in the Electrical Engineering program, following a similar career path to their father’s. He had dated a beautiful girl, and he had lots of good friends in the city. He was smart and generous, but also a true joker at heart and was entirely too obsessed with hockey and video games.
It was clear from how Lucy spoke about him that she idolized and cared very deeply about him.
I just hoped I could make a somewhat good first impression.
“You look nervous,” Kitty commented, as we walked up to Lucy’s street. It was bitterly cold, and I had pulled my hood over my head while Kitty was decked out in thick woolly mittens with cute green stripes (“I am a true Slytherin,” she had claimed).
“Really?” I asked, preoccupied with other thoughts.
“Yeah. Is this about Lucy’s brother?”
“How did you know about that?” I turned sharply, then cursed myself for being so obvious. “Wait, you deduced me again, didn’t you?”
She shrugged, a small smile forming on her face. “Maybe.”
I shook my head. “You are such a Sherlockian, it’s unreal. So how did you tell?”
“You were constantly straightening your clothes--which you’re still doing now, by the way,”
I looked down to see my fingers pulling out my jacket sleeve for the sixth time today.
“And smoothing your hair, which is slightly unusual, since you never really do that. You also mentioned Noah’s name a few times today, and that was just when we were walking over here. You said there was a good chance he’d be at Lucy’s house at the same time as us. So I figured the reason you’re anxious must have had something to do with him.”
I shook my head, unable to help being slightly impressed. “I’m calling your bluff. I’m starting to think you’re just a secret psychic.”
“You shouldn’t worry about Noah,” Kitty put a light hand on my shoulder. “You and Lucy are already so close. You’ll be fine.”
“That’s exactly why I want to make a good first impression,” I confided. “Lucy holds him in such a high regard. And what if he doesn’t think I’m a good friend, or what if he thinks I shouldn’t be here, or has a problem we can’t solve--”
“Whoa, slow down.” She said, a little teasingly. I scowled, thinking that she was making fun of me, but she continued, more seriously, “I don’t know Lucy very well, or Noah, but you’re a good person--or at least I’m pretty sure,” She paused. “I mean, you haven’t actually been convicted of murder or anything yet, which is good--”
I snorted, and she brightened, gaining more confidence from that. “So, yeah. Just be yourself.”
“How are you so chill right now?” I slid her a wondering look. “It’s uncanny.”
“And here I thought we were getting to know each other.” She said exasperatedly, chuckling in spite of herself. “I am so not chill. I am the least chill person you will ever meet.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Wait until we’re deep into midterm week.” She groaned at the thought. “I might actually die.”
“That goes for you and me both.” I walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. “And thanks.”
She smiled. “Any time. You can always vent to me, just as long as you can put up with my complaining.” She made a face. “I don’t think Crystal likes my complaining.”
“But she puts up with us, though.” I pointed out.
“Yeah, she does. She’s pretty great.” Kitty agreed, just as Lucy pulled the door open for us.
“Hey!” She stepped aside to let Kitty in, but as I tried to follow, she put a firm hand on my shoulder, holding me back. She fixed me with a deep frown.
I gave her the most incredulous look I could muster. “You’re kidding.”
She chortled and pulled me in, closing the door behind me. “You should have seen your face. Did you really think I wasn’t going to let you in?”
“I can never tell anything with you.” I grumbled, rubbing my palms together. I froze as Lucy took my hands in hers, gently warming them between her own. “You should have worn gloves.” She chided softly. “It would suck if you got sick.”
Behind her, I saw Kitty raise her eyebrows at the sight as she shrugged off her jacket. I chose to ignore her in favor of forcing myself to look anywhere but directly at Lucy, who was not only still stroking gentle circles into my hands, but looked, as usual, unfairly good in a dark blue sweater and jeans, her hair pulled back. Now this contact wasn’t anything unusual, since Lucy liked physical affection, but it had been so long since she had chose to touch me for more than a few seconds out of her own volition.
This could be a true sign that we were on the path to fixing our relationship.
This went on for a few minutes more, until Lucy was seemingly satisfied with the temperature of my hands, and pulled away.
My palms still tingled from where her hands had been a minute earlier.
“So...you were going to go over accounting together?” She looked between us.
“Oh, uh, yeah.” I recalled, then turned to my accounting disciple. “Kitty, get your textbook. I’ll get my answers out.”
We set up in the living room, pushing aside the remote controls on the coffee table to make room for our binders and notes.
Kitty pointed out the page to me and I looked it over, carefully comparing and explaining my answers with her own. It seemed almost ironic that the one who was going to be my savior in math was the same person who needed help with something that seemed really fairly easy in comparison. There was much giggling from the both of us as Kitty threw up her hands when she disagreed with my logic.
“It’s basic addition! Mr. Hamilton’s account was debited when it shouldn’t have been!” I exclaimed. She shook her head. “Well, maybe he was just cheated by Burr!” “This isn’t Hamilton, Kitty. This is not a musical!”
“It could be.” She nudged me. “It could be, son.”
I had to play along to her obvious reference. The lyrics were too good to resist. “CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME--”
“Go home, Alexander.” Kitty said sternly.
“But sir--” I gasped.
She shook her head. “That’s an order from your commander. Go home.”
We stared at each other in grave seriousness for about a second before we lost composure and cracked up. Our laughs echoed down the front hall.
Lucy had excused herself earlier, but I could see her pouring a tall glass of orange juice in the kitchen across the room. I wondered what she looked so mad about.
After Kitty had settled to reviewing my answers and getting the math ready, I put in my earbuds and shuffled to a catchy song by Charlie Puth.
You’ve been runnin’ round, runnin’ round, runnin’ round throwin’ that dirt all on my name’Cause you knew that I, knew that I, knew that I’d call you up
You’ve been going round, going round, going round every party in L.A.’Cause you knew that I, knew that I, knew that I’d be at one, oh
I leaned back against the couch and shoved my hands in my hoodie’s pockets, glancing over at where Lucy was. Kitty scribbled down notes and flipped pages beside me. A couple times I thought Lucy looked over at us and...glared?
I know that dress is karma, perfume regretYou got me thinking ’bout when you were mine, oh
What was Lucy upset about? She had sounded normal enough the other day when we had been texting, no more obnoxious than usual. Should I go say something to her? I leaned close over Kitty’s shoulder to check on what question she was on now.
And now I’m all up on ya, what you expect?But you’re not coming home with me tonight
Lucy slammed down her glass, and even with my music blasting, I could tell she was definitely bothered by something. I wish I knew what is was. Was she maybe stressed by exams?
You just want attention, you don’t want my heartMaybe you just hate the thought of me with someone new
Kitty nudged me again and pointed at a name on one of the accounts, grinning. I sniggered at the name “Mr. Watson” over an asset account. Maybe John was racking up loans on the 221B flat without Sherlock there.
Lucy scowled deeper and flipped her long hair over one shoulder in a move that reminded me disturbingly of Layla.
Yeah, you just want attention, I knew from the startYou’re just making sure I’m never gettin’ over you
Now she was texting furiously fast, fingers moving over her phone screen frantically. She hit what I assumed was the ‘send’ button with a hard jab of her thumb, and waited.
I know that dress is karma, perfume regret
You got me thinking ’bout when you were mine
Whatever she saw as a reply must have disagreed with her for some reason, as she threw the phone back on the kitchen counter like it had burned her.
And now I’m all up on ya, what you expect?
But you’re not coming home with me tonight
OK, I was starting to get tired of this. Was it something I did that upset her? Should I go apologize? Yeah, I should probably go apologize for whatever I must have did that could be causing this tension.
You just want attention, you don’t want my heartMaybe you just hate the thought of me with someone new
Maybe she was mad at me for hugging her the other day? Was that not acceptable? Damn it, I knew I should have just given her a friendly pat or something, like, “Hey, friend. I’m here for ya!” and not the “You seem so tired, I hate seeing you unhappy, I just want to take away all your problems and I hate when you’re not here ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶c̶a̶n̶ ̶w̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶y̶ ̶t̶o̶g̶e̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶e̶v̶e̶r̶ ̶b̶e̶c̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶I̶ ̶t̶h̶i̶n̶k̶ ̶w̶e̶ ̶w̶e̶r̶e̶ ̶m̶e̶a̶n̶t̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶o̶n̶e̶ ̶a̶n̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶” kind of gesture.
See, these were the kind of thoughts that ran through my head when left unchecked.
Yeah, you just want attention, I knew from the startYou’re just making sure I’m never gettin’ over you
I got up slowly, pulling my earbuds out as I made my way over to her. She was bent over her phone again, scowling at whatever she was seeing.
“Oh--hey,” She started when I spoke, and I didn’t miss the way she slid her phone underneath her hand, hiding it from view.
“Can I sit here?” I gestured to the footstool across from her at the counter. She nodded slowly, still a bit distracted, I could tell.
I sat, propping my elbows on the table in front of me. “Everything OK?”
“Isn’t that my line?” She raised an eyebrow, but I wasn’t fazed. “I ask questions when they apply. So. You good or not?”
“I’m fine.” She shrugged. “Why?”
“You looked a little frustrated. Something to do with that text?” I nodded towards her phone.
She curled her fingers around it defensively, smiling in what I supposed she thought was a casual way. “Just a little disagreement with Layla. It’s nothing.”
I stared at her, and she stared right back. I crossed my arms sternly, and waited for the end of this silent face-off.
After a couple minutes of this, she sighed, and gave in. “I’m a little stressed with Chem. Layla has also refused to take my exam for me, which is completely unfair.”
“‘Completely’.” I echoed, but she didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. “I know, right?”
“And I guess I was…” She trailed off, waving a hand. “...Uh, actually, never mind. Forget it.”
“Something to do with Kitty?” I guessed.
She looked startled.
I shrugged. “Yeah, I saw you were kind of looking over at her for a while.” I realized what the context of the phrase was a heartbeat after speaking. “Uh, I mean, not that I was watching you or anything. At all. Just like for a couple minutes.”
I felt my cheeks heat up, and prayed to whoever was listening that she couldn’t tell.
I was sure I imagined the pale red spreading across Lucy’s face.
“Um, OK. Cool. And no, I wasn’t trying to look at her, or anything. I just…”
“Are you nervous talking to her?” Realization started to dawn on me. “Wait, does she make you uncomfortable? Do you find her intimidating because she’s new or something?”
Was that the reason Lucy had seemed so uneasy this whole time? It was because she didn’t know how to make friends with Kitty like the others? It was starting to make sense now.
Lucy looked more and more guilty as I kept speculating, and I had to assume it was because I was right.
“Jeez, Luce. Next time, just tell me! Kitty’s a little shy, but she’s not that bad once you get her to talk a little about herself.” I shook my head. “Honestly, I thought you two would already be good friends by now, what with you being super popular ‘Miss Congeniality’ and all.”
“Oh, shut up, Ghost Queen.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “I am not like that.”
“No, you’re right.” I agreed earnestly. “You’re far worse.”
She aimed a kick at my leg under the table, which I dodged with a triumphant smirk.
“It’s not that I’m scared to talk to her or anything.” She admitted. “I just...don’t know her as well as you do yet.”
“Oh, trust me, I don’t actually know her that well either.” I informed her. “But she’s actually really cool. You should try to talk with her a little at least.”
“That’s a high compliment, coming from the self-proclaimed ‘hater of humanity’.” She teased, but her usual smile still looked slightly off-putting.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, yeah. She hasn’t made me want to stab her yet, so anyone who can achieve that deserves a by in my eyes.”
“What’s this about stabbing people?” A new voice asked behind me.
I spun around to face what I first thought was a younger version of Mr. James. The young man grinned at me and set down his own glass of juice on the counter beside my elbow.
“Noah,” Lucy looked as if trying not to roll her eyes. “For the last time, you’re not a ninja. You need to stop sneaking up on people, especially my friends.”
Noah James tilted his head at her with the same friendly smile. “Just wanted to hear more about this so-called stabbing, sis.”
“It’s nothing,” I blurted. “Uh, just joking around. I’m Faith, by the way. We might have met a couple times?”
He turned towards me, and now that I could see his profile a little better, it was clear that he and Lucy were related. They both had the same almond-shaped green eyes, slightly upturned noses with a dash of freckles--although his were more faded--and nearly identical grins.
“Oh, yeah. I remember you! You’re the gifted artist, the one who came over all the time!” He grinned wider and shook my hand firmly. “Nice to see you again. I’m Noah. Lucy could never stop talking about you. You two were so tight.”
“Oh, really?” I raised my eyebrows at said speaker. This was news to me.
Lucy cringed, spluttering, “I didn’t always--it wasn’t--don’t tell her that, Noah!”
“Please.” He sipped his juice. “It’s not as bad as the time you broke the window with a baseball, or the time you fell out of the front yard tree and landed on your face.”
“Relatable.” I admitted.
He continued, “She said she was trying to be a bird.”
“Not as relatable.”
“Go away,” Lucy groaned, hiding her face in her arms, but there was a smile in her voice.
“No, please, don’t.” I smirked. “Go on, I wouldn’t mind hearing about Lucy’s stories. Is it true that one time she snuck into the neighbor’s garden and stole all the blue rock crystals?”
Noah chuckled, and Lucy looked as though she wanted to be anywhere but here.
“I almost forgot about that. It was so cute--”
Lucy groaned extra loudly upon hearing the word ‘cute’, but Noah ignored it. “--Lucy persuaded our cousins Cleo and Benji to sneak into Mrs. Duchamp’s backyard and take as many crystals from the bottom of her rock garden pool as they could while she was out.”
“What happened?” I leaned towards him.
“They got caught before they could hide them, but they did make it all the way out of the yard and into the living room before Mom found them. Oh, she was not happy. When asked, Lucy claimed it was a quest for ’treasure’. She was maybe six or seven at the time.”
I laughed. It was actually an incredibly likely story, and I could just picture little Lucy trying to assemble her relatives on a quest to find the rare ‘treasures’ in her neighbor’s pool.
“The blue ones were the best,” Lucy added, raising her head up at last. “Plus, Mrs. Duchamp forgave us.”
“You called her a witch and refused to give them back unless she told you where to find fairies.”
“I was six, OK?” She defended herself. “This was a very high priority at the time!”
I laughed again, shaking my head. “You’re such a dork.”
Lucy flushed again, only this time I was sure I hadn’t imagined it.
“Not true,” She muttered, then, more indignantly to her brother, “Also, Noah, we agreed not to talk about some of those tall tales.”
He just laughed easily, and moved around the counter so he could pat her shoulder. “Aw, it’s not a big deal, Luce. You were adorable. Plus, your friends are cool, and Faith here seems like no exception.” He jerked a thumb towards me as he finished, and I couldn’t help but feel instantly gratified. Kitty was right after all, I didn’t have to worry so much about making a good impression on Lucy’s brother.
“So, uh, are you glad to be back in the city?” I asked next. “Lucy said you’ve been going to Alberta U.”
Noah nodded, a little wistfully. “Yeah, it’s pretty awesome, but it’s also great being home again and seeing everybody. Man, the time just goes by so quickly.”
“Yeah.” Lucy agreed. “It does.” Her voice was quieter, distant, and she didn’t turn to look at him. I wasn’t sure if Noah noticed this too, but his smile did droop slightly. He cleared his throat quickly, dissolving the tense silence.
“Anyway, I gotta run. Eric wants to play golf at the range downtown. You want me to get you anything while I’m there, Luce?”
“I’m fine.” She murmured, still not looking at him. “Say ‘hi’ to Eric for me.”
“Sure. I’ll see you later. Nice to see you again, Faith.” He winked at me. “And thanks for sticking around with this knucklehead here.”
Lucy made an affronted sound at the term ‘knucklehead’, but I just smiled back at him.
He waved once before walking out of the kitchen, car keys jangling in his pocket as he strode away through the front door.
“He seems nice.” I told her sincerely after Noah had left. “Can definitely see how you two are related.”
“Yeah, he’s a real joker.” She said, her eyes getting that faraway look again. I was curious to know what the issue was between the two of them. This tension, or whatever it was, didn’t seem like most typical sibling stuff, although I didn’t have much personal experience there.
“You seem happy having him back.” I observed. I wanted to see how she would respond. Maybe then I could figure out what was going on there.
She swallowed. “I am. For sure, yeah. It’s been a while.” The unspoken awkwardness seemed to be alleviating, little by little.
“But he’s happy to be back too?”
“Yep. He even got Blue to cuddle with him,” Her tone was disapproving now, and it was a relief to see her drop the seriousness. “I don’t know how he did it.”
“Why, does Blue not want to cuddle with you?”
“Well, yeah, but not like with Noah.” She whined. It was cute, and I fought the urge to fully acknowledge it, but failed. “He has her wrapped around his finger, and got her sleeping in his bed, even though I was right there.”
I sighed mock-sympathetically. “I’m sorry Blue has rejected your love. She’s just found a better soulmate, that’s all.”
“How dare you?” Lucy gasped, deeply offended. “I am one with cats.”
“I thought you were a dog person.”
“A person can love more than one animal!”
“I find it very hard to believe you and Blue are so close, considering Noah has now unlocked the secrets of ultimate cat wisdom.”
“We are close. I am like--I am...I am…” She took a deep breath before announcing. “...I am the cat-whisperer!”
I laughed loudly at her declaration, and Lucy did too, probably just as taken aback by her unbelievable self-title as I was.
God, she was ridiculous. And so funny. And...how could I have let myself let her slip away so easily?
Because it’ll be just like last time. You couldn’t make it.
I gritted my teeth, pushing the voice out, forcing away the memories of long dark curls and perfectly manicured nails, tight pleated skirts and fitted green blazers that we all had had to wear as the uniform.
Oh, honey. Such a sweet, little girl. You really don’t have any idea, do you?
Leave me alone. I didn’t ask to be revealed like that. I didn’t ask for any of it.
You can’t make the grades. You can’t push back. It would be better if you just left.
Easier for everyone.
No, not this time. Just let me have this. Let me enjoy being with Lucy for as long as I was able, and forget what happened at that place. What happened with them.
What happened with her.
“Hey, guys. I’m done with the accounting.” Kitty spoke up, carrying her binder in her arms.
“Oh, OK.” I cleared my throat, and Lucy turned away. “Good. You want to review math next?”
“You tell me.”
I stared at her blankly. She specified, “I mean, you’re the one who asked for help with the questions, right? So I’ll help you with that now, if you want.”
“Oh, right. Yeah. Thanks a lot.” I said gratefully. “Hey, Lucy, we’ll go over some bio notes after that?”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Lucy consented.
Kitty chimed in swiftly, as if the tiniest bit panicked. “Your house is really nice, Lucy. Thanks for letting me come over too.”
Lucy swiveled in her direction, and I hoped she remembered my advice from earlier.
She’s actually really cool. You should try to talk to her.
I wanted them to be more familiar.
“...Thanks. That’s, uh, really nice of you to say.” She swallowed, looking at me for a fraction of a moment as if seeking guidance. I stared pointedly and nodded as imperceptibly as possible from her to Kitty. Go on. You got this. Just be nice to her.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know you more through the year.” Lucy finished all in a rush, like it was difficult to get out.
I frowned, happy that she had succeeded, but still bewildered. Why was this weird for her? What was it about Kitty that freaked her out? Whatever it was, I wasn’t sure if I would find out anytime soon.
Kitty, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice the nervousness as much as I did, and smiled hesitantly. “Thanks. I’m looking forward to getting to know you more too.” She turned to me. “Ready to go battle through some reciprocal functions?”
I groaned. “It’s like you read my mind. We’ll get to bio right after, OK, Lucy?”
“For sure.” Lucy beamed, and I told myself there was nothing to be concerned about. Well, nothing much except for midterms, that is.
I followed Kitty back into the living room where all our notes lay.
I didn’t mention it to anyone, but just before I had walked off with Kitty, I had managed to catch a glimpse of Lucy’s phone screen, right before she had covered it back up with her forearm.
Sorry sweetie. You might just have to accept that she’s found someone else
Lucy took a long swig of her juice, draining it, and slammed it down hard on the countertop.
It was just like watching a lone drinker sitting at a bar, drowning in their inability to understand that they might have lost something they couldn’t hope to get back.