“Pass it!” I shouted, banging my stick on the ice frantically to get his attention.
“Might as well give up now, Luce!” Noah shouted from across the rink, his voice slightly muffled from his helmet visor and echoing around the surrounding boards.
“In your dreams, bonehead!” I yelled back defiantly. Eric, one of my brother’s oldest friends, grinned and gave me the thumbs-up as he glided by, skating into position.
We were playing in the Graham Arena, a moderately-sized ice rink about 15 minutes from my house. Noah had driven us there, and we had been joined by eight more of his old high school friends for a good round of pick-up hockey. It was four on four, and we had two goalies. The numbers worked out perfectly, and each side was evenly matched--or so it seemed.
On one side, it was me, Eric, a tall boy named Mateo who had played with Noah in competitive hockey, and Mateo’s friend Jude. Eric and Mateo had played with Noah since second year novice, and Jude had joined their team a few years later for first year peewee.
Eric was fast and an all-around good player who was probably the only one who could rival Noah in terms of skills, who kept encouraging us to play as hard as we could until the other team begged for mercy. Mateo was tall, and was repeatedly told not to bodycheck the other players even if they taunted him. He was more of a physical player than anything, but he was great as a defender. He kept beaming the entire time, so it was hard to take him seriously until you were squished against the boards, taken by surprise. Jude was a faster defender than Mateo, but they were less willing to take the game seriously, preferring to cry out challenges and provide sarcastic commentary to anyone skating by them.
In our net was Scott, who was small, but very easily one of the most nimble goalies I had ever seen, and was on the men’s competitive intramural team at the local university in the downtown area of the city.
On the other team was Chelsea, who was easily distinguishable by her bright fuschia braids and solid slapshots. She was on the ladies’ provincial team, known for being one of the toughest players in the province, and sassed anyone who tried to claim otherwise. Not that anyone would dare. She was also dating Mateo, which made sense if you were able to see past Mateo’s happy-go-lucky demeanor and her rock-bottom stubbornness. Then there was Talia and Darren, older and younger siblings, two former house league players who also had fast reflexes from being on ringette teams beforehand, but their stickhandling skills were not the best. The goalie was Dan, who was almost as big as Mateo and filled up most of the net’s empty spots, but in contrast to our own goalkeeper, he was significantly slower and had trouble handling the puck when it came to him.
Noah rounded off the team, arguably the best player on the ice, from years and years of being in competitive and practicing rigorously out in our driveway; shooting, deking, stickhandling until he was practically guaranteed to win nearly every game he took part in.
But I refused to let that happen this time.
Despite falling constantly on the Canal all those months ago, I was much faster on my skates on smooth arena ice. I had played house league up until last year, with a couple years of competitive before that. So believe it or not, I was decent with my stickhandling, though nowhere close to the skill level of my brother or the majority of his friends. But it counted for more than nothing.
The current score was 3-5, for Noah’s team, with two goals each between him and Chelsea, and one goal for Darren. I had gotten a couple assists with Erik scoring, but no goals yet for myself. Mateo had also gotten one in from the blue line, which even Jude admitted was quite impressive, but no matter how many times I shot, I couldn’t seem to get it past the thick barricade of Dan in front of the net.
However, no one was satisfied with that score (least of all Mateo, who had been repeatedly taunted by his incredibly aggressive girlfriend for the last half-hour). We had about 20 minutes left on the ice, and I wasn’t about to let Noah go home gloating.
I was on the left wing, and Erik was on the right. Jude scooped the puck out of the right corner, and passed to Mateo with a flick of his stick, who just managed to catch it on the tip of his blade.
Mateo caught my eye and bounced it off the boards, past Chelsea, to where I was waiting to receive it. I took the puck and sent it spinning off to Eric, a heartbeat before Noah knocked into me. I shoved him back in return, but it was more playful than anything, both of us still smiling even in the heat of the game.
Erik passed back to Jude, and they spun around Talia, who tripped over their stick and laughed embarrassedly while Darren waved his fist in mock-vengeful warning at Jude’s back.
The refreshing part about this game was how relaxed everyone actually was, even if no one wanted to yield to the other team.
Jude passed to Eric, and I switched positions with them, sliding back into defense to keep an eye on Chelsea while they moved into the opposite zone with Eric, the puck moving back and forth between the two of them with ease.
“Yeah!” Mateo cheered as Jude faked out Dan and scored, bringing us up to 4 goals. But it still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a tie.
Noah grinned behind his cage and pushed his gloves further over his hands. I knew only too well what that meant. It was a sure sign that he was getting ready for a final push.
12 minutes left. After our 4th goal, the other team fought with a new intensity, Chelsea and Noah dodging and weaving like a nearly seamless duo while Dan stopped shot after shot, and our defense sent the puck back up to us. Talia and Darren were a formidable line, but vulnerable, and Eric and I knew immediately to look out for that. I checked Talia with my left shoulder, causing her to yelp in surprise, serving to distract her while Eric pulled the puck between Darren’s skates with an effortless twist of his wrists.
Talia got free of me and headed back up the ice to help out her younger brother, while Darren chased Eric down, yelling threats all the way.
My heart pounded in my chest as I shook the sweat from my hair and took off after them, ready to support my teammate and fellow forward as best as I could.
I loved the rush, the cold air whipping me in the face as I sprinted down the surface as fast as my skates would allow.
To me, the pure exhilaration was more addictive than possibly any other sport, except for soccer.
The adrenaline rose as I fought and checked Darren from behind when he reached Eric and poked the puck away from him. I snatched it and turned, only to be met with opposition from none other than Chelsea, who, with an apologetic smirk, smashed into me and grabbed the puck while I fell back onto my rear.
Groaning and cursing half-heartedly at her back, I scrambled up, waving off Eric’s voiced concern.
“Sorry about my girlfriend,” Mateo yelled back at me as he deflected a pass to Talia. “She’s amazing, but can still be a total cold-ass when the time comes!”
Darren, Dan, and Noah laughed, and I could make out Jude rolling their eyes inside their helmet. Scott banged his stick in support.
Said ‘cold-ass’ girlfriend merely flipped him off as she cut back across the ice, which was more impressive with thick gloves on and a stick in one hand.
8 minutes left.
Scott, having saved yet another rapid-fire shot, shook out his glove and let the puck drop to the ice. He slid it across to Jude, who looked to try a cross-ice pass to Eric, but the puck was intercepted by Noah, who instantly took it back up the way it came. I charged straight at him like a bullet, unafraid to make head-on contact if that was what it took. He dodged around me, but I twisted and swung out in his direction. He wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid the end of my stick, which caught him around the ankle and sent him sprawling heavily on the ice with an oof of surprise.
“Tripping! I call tripping!” Darren declared loudly, with Talia chiming in her agreement, but I was too wrapped up in the game to care.
“It happens!” Chelsea admitted, defending me despite being an opponent. We exchanged brief grins as I took the puck and passed it back to Mateo to set us up for a new attack. Chelsea herself was all for getting a little rough if need be, so I knew that that incident wouldn’t gain her sympathy. I mean, she had knocked me flat on my ass a few minutes ago, so no surprise there.
Back and forth. Back and forth. It was always awe-inspiring watching these top-level athletes play, even in a 3 v 3 pick-up match just for fun. The dedication to this sport was only too evident in the cutthroat elegance of their movements and unspoken chemistry as they attacked and defended, sprinted and skated, working together like a seamless group. The non-professional players were also impressive, with their good spirit and undeniable determination to succeed.
6 minutes left.
I was getting tired, but the blood was still rushing to my head, and the adrenaline was coursing through my veins. Everyone looked and was tired, but no one was willing to call it quits before it was time. We were all far too aggressive for that.
Jude took it up and made it around Darren, but was instantly blocked by Talia a moment later, who threw the puck back up the ice in a panic as Eric converged on her, stick swiping through the misty air. Mateo skated towards the puck, but was too slow to take it before Noah scooped it up and made his way to our net, leaving us backchecking behind him desperately in his wake.
Noah took a hard shot from right outside the hashmarks on the circles, puck moving in a blur as Scott dove to catch it. For a moment I thought it was too late, that the puck was already in, but Scott had yet to prove me wrong.
As it went sailing over his shoulder like a tiny missile, Scott threw himself all the way over to the right, making the most beautiful catch I had witnessed on-ice.
He plucked the puck neatly out of the air with his glove like it was the easiest thing in the world, even though I knew that that save was one only national players could hope to accomplish.
“No!” Noah threw up his hands in mock-despair, but I could hear the laughter bubbling in his voice. “Damn good save, Scott.”
Scott, panting heavily through his helmet, tapped the side of Noah’s skates as thanks.
5 minutes left. No, wait. 4 minutes.
The clock was ticking fast. It was now or never.
“Scott!” Eric smacked his blade down with a crack, getting our goalie’s attention. I could see the reason for his urgency. With Noah all the way down our end, and distracted, no less...this could be a great opportunity.
Our biggest obstacle would certainly be Chelsea, but the two defenders, as determined as they were, were definitely running on fumes by now. And if we were able to get past them, and get all the way down to Dan and the net, then...we had a good chance.
We could do this!
Eric was on the right-hand side, while I was on the left. I had to get moving if I wanted to keep up. Noah turned a heartbeat too late as Scott swung his heavy stick and sent the puck in Eric’s direction. I was already heading towards centre-ice, feet hitting the surface like I was sprinting.
I saw Chelsea moving in a blur towards Eric, and panicked, because there was no way I would be able to get there to help him in time, and if she took him by surprise it could all be over--”HEY, BEAUTIFUL!”
As if answering my prayer, Mateo came swooping in like an incredible giant of death and lifted Chelsea’s stick, away from Eric’s retreating back, and bundled her into the left side boards with a soft thud. Her shriek of surprise from this unforeseen intervention reverberated around the rink, and I thanked whoever was listening that her boyfriend was a major instinctive goofball.
One obstacle down, three to go. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed Talia and Darren joining together in a straight line, and grinned to myself. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect set-up. The two skated backwards, their sticks sweeping back and forth in almost perfect synchronization as Eric crosscut in a calculating pattern, no doubt deciding which way to go.
The big thing that the siblings didn’t account for, however, was how close together they were. I banged my stick, and they turned towards me, distracted by the noise. Eric took full advantage of this, as I guessed he would, and put on a burst of speed to skate around both of them while their heads were turned.
I waited until he was safely over the blue line before following, leaving Talia and Darren behind.
Now it was just me and Eric against Dan.
2 minutes left.
Dan swiveled his head between us, waiting to see what we would do, waiting for our first move. Eric faked to the center, then took a slap shot, the force of it making the puck quiver in thin air as it flew to the left upper corner. It was a great shot, and any other day it might have gone in, but Dan, having seen Eric in action one too many times, had already predicted this. He stepped quickly to the left and it bounced off of his pad.
But Eric wasn’t deterred. Unfortunately, neither was Noah, who had chosen that moment to show up and break all hell loose on our forechecking. He slammed into Eric at full speed, causing him to wobble and lose balance, and grabbed the puck.
Oh, hell, no!
I barrelled straight into him, lifting his stick and refusing to back down. He shook me off easily, but the distraction was just enough for Eric to seize it back and take another shot. Clang.
Dan wasn’t as prepared this time, and I could see the puck bounce off the net post and go behind his left skate. But was it enough?
No. It was just on the goal line, waiting to be taken up. This was it!
“Yours, Lucy!” Eric yelled, and I knew it was the last chance. In one movement, I pushed Noah away, and lunged as fast and as far as I could, arm outstretched, stick in one hand pushing out desperately. My momentum drove me forwards fast, fast, fast...and as Dan looked down and saw the puck at his feet, I sent it spinning deep into the back of the net with a flick off the tip of my stick blade. “YES!”
I pumped my fist into the air while my teammates hollered behind me, the buzzer going off with a roar. Noah dropped his stick in disappointment, but he was laughing, along with the other members of his team. Mateo and Chelsea were wrapped in a fierce bear hug, as much lovebirds on the ice as they were off, and Jude was being slapped on the back by Darren, while Talia giggled beside them.
The rush was dizzying. I was still processing my goal, and how that had even happened in the first place. Best of all, it had distracted me from thinking about how finals for semester 1 went, and whether or not I had succeeded.
Before I knew it, all my teammates were patting me on the back, congratulating me on scoring the tying goal. We shook hands with the other players (really in more of a friendly way than anything, since this was only supposed to be a scrimmage after all) and headed off the ice just as the zamboni doors opened, signalling that our time was up.
We filed into our respective change rooms, the girls in room 1, and the guys in room 3 ( who Jude tagged along with, claiming that they didn’t really care one way or another, and who could argue with them anyways?). The other rooms were already filling up with people who wanted to go public skating. My brother and his friends had been extremely lucky to book this special ice time for all of us.
“That was a good goal at the end there, Lucy.” Chelsea commented as we sat down on the benches, facing our equipment bags. I pulled off my helmet and grinned at her. “Thanks! I still can’t believe it went in.”
“It was perfect timing,” Talia gushed. “You and Eric just went all in for it, and it worked great.”
Chelsea shook out her shoulder-length hair and began pulling off her jersey next. “Remind me never to bring Mateo again.”
Talia bumped her in playful reproach while unlacing her skates. “Don’t blame him. You’re just sore he caught you by surprise.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes. “That idiot? It’s a miracle he had the instinct to do what he did out there.” Her words were dismissive, but her deeply affectionate expression clearly meant the opposite.
“Ha! So you admit his stick-checking you was good instinct!” I pointed at her triumphantly. “You just complimented Mateo’s hockey skills!”
“What--no I didn’t--your, uh...well, your offensive technique was lacking in first period!” Chelsea criticized, trying to cover up her guilt. Talia laughed.
“I am so going to tell him about this.” I continued excitedly.
“Don’t you dare.” Chelsea raised a threatening finger, but it didn’t concern me in the slightest. She and my brother had been friends for several years before she started dating Mateo, and I had known her just as long.
“Can’t argue there,” Talia agreed. “Don’t give Mat an excuse to grow his ego. He’ll start writing prayers to himself next.”
“Too true.” Chelsea muttered, but she still dimpled at the thought of her goofball boyfriend.
“So Ben, huh? How’s that going?” She turned to Talia next, who was now removing her chest guard and elbow pads. “He’s in nursing with you, right?” “Pharmaceuticals,” Talia corrected. “We’re in pharmaceuticals together. He’s right at the top of the class.” Her cheeks darkened noticeably, and both of us caught on.
“You should make a move already,” Chelsea urged, smirking. “You obviously like him.”
“Please.” Talia scoffed. “It took you a year before you even admitted to liking Mat. And another before you had the courage to ask him out.”
Chelsea shrugged. “I had to be sure he wasn’t a total dipstick. Guess I was wrong.”
Talia and I laughed. I reached down and unstrapped my shin guards as the girls kept chatting about their courses. Chelsea was taking a psychology degree, but found it vastly more dull than playing for the varsity team. Talia liked all her courses so far, and she was doing very well in each and every one of them. That didn’t surprise me.
Talia and Darren were sometimes nicknamed “The Wonder Twins” (despite not being born the same day) because of their closeness in age and equally raw intellect, which only rivaled that of Jude or even Noah’s in their friend group. Both of them had gotten stellar grades in high school, something which my brother had in common.
I only hoped I could get anywhere close to their achievements.
“So how about you, Lucy? Got your eye on someone?” Talia asked me, rolling down her socks.
I paused. “Uh…”
Chelsea shoved her skates into her bag. “She’s sixteen, so of course she does.”
“Hey!” I protested at her snide tone.
She lifted a pencil-thin eyebrow at me, practically daring me to deny it.
When I didn’t answer right away, Talia jumped in. “Oh, so there is someone?” She sighed dramatically. “I forgot how big you are now. Who’d have thought Noah’s baby sister would start getting out there?”
“Oh, stop.” I muttered, fighting the blush rising to my cheeks. It was like I was 10 years old again, and all of Noah’s friends were patting me on the head, telling me in infuriatingly patronizing voices that I would have so much to look forward to when I was older, just like them. I remembered thinking about how cool they were and how with them it was like having more than one older sibling.
Freaking 14 year-olds.
“Lucy’s right, let’s leave her alone.” Chelsea interjected unexpectedly. I nodded gratefully at her until she had to ruin it by speaking again: “If she doesn’t want to tell us about her rom-com boyfriend, she doesn’t have to.”
“I hate you.” I glared with as much dislike I could muster as I changed out of my under armour clothing. “I mean it.”
She wasn’t impressed by this show of loathing, however. “So who are they, Luce?”
Don’t think about anyone, don’t think about anyone, I chanted silently to myself, hoping the improvised mantra would keep out any...ideas out of my head.
It did not work.
Don’t think about any of your friends. Or Faith. Definitely not Faith. Definitely not Faith and the way she smirks, or the way she talks, or how amazing she is at drawing, and definitely not how her singing voice is too good to be natural--
“Yeah, who are they?” Talia echoed, evidently curious now. “Are they cute?”
Black hair and deep brown eyes and tan skin...black jackets and jeans and red headphones and those ridiculous fingerless gloves--
“Do they go to your school?” Chelsea pressed.
Art class, lunch in the cafeteria, biology class, sitting so close together--
“Do they like you back?”
How am I supposed to know? I don’t even know what I feel about them.
Talia’s gray eyes widened. “Ooh, does Noah know about this?”
Now that snapped me out of it.
“No.” I said shortly. “No, he doesn’t.” I shoved my clothes into my bag and zipped it up harshly. Zzzzp!
Talia frowned, her anticipation dissipating. “Oh, Lucy. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” She sounded uncertain, cautious. “Yeah, well.” I mumbled. “It’s not his business.”
Chelsea didn’t say anything. She just studied me impassively, her eyebrows creased together in a deep, questioning frown.
I squirmed under her silent scrutiny. “What?” I huffed out impatiently. This was making me even more uncomfortable, stuck under her unwavering stare.
“What’s the problem, Luce?” She asked quietly.
“What--I don’t--” I stuttered, caught off-guard. “What do you mean?”
“Why can’t you tell Noah about this?” She specified, leaning across towards me. “What are you so afraid of?”
“N-nothing. Nothing.” I crossed my arms stubbornly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Talia still looked confused and wary, but I could tell that Chelsea had a far better idea of what was going on, and knew exactly what she was asking me.
“Lucy.” Chelsea stated my name like it was a trigger. “You know you’re like my honorary little sister--except for, you know--you being white.”
I couldn’t help snorting at that part.
“And you know I love you. But I’m worried you’re not telling Noah about someone you like because you think he’ll be upset.”
“I don’t--know if I like them.” I blurted out before I could stop myself, but it was too late. Chelsea leaned back on the bench, coolly satisfied. Damn me and my big mouth.
“So you are thinking about someone?” Talia chimed in.
I groaned and buried my face in my hands. “Why is this my life. You two are older than me. You should be giving me university advice, not asking about my tragic partially non-existent love life.”
“We’ll give you more university advice next year,” Chelsea said dismissively. “Right now this topic is more relevant.” She nudged my foot with her own. “So go on, then. Who are they, and why is this a problem?”
“Who said there was a problem?”
Chelsea’s expression warned me not to challenge her. Talia scooched closer, looking eager again, like she was about to watch the romantic climax of a Korean drama or something.
I sighed, uncrossing my arms and relenting. It was only that I knew I could trust these two not to say anything to Noah if I asked, and they had known me since I was a kid. Maybe...maybe talking about what I was feeling to someone other than Layla or my parents would be good for me. People who were unbiased and couldn’t judge as harshly.
“There’s someone I’ve been friends with for several years now.” I began. “They’re really cool--smart, funny, and really cute, but I don’t know if they feel like we’re anything more. If we could be anything more.”
Chelsea nodded, her face unreadable as she gestured for me to continue.
I exhaled deeply. “I don’t know, I just...I haven’t told Noah because I didn’t want him to worry. He already has to deal with our parents, and being back after so long, and...and what happened with Allana.”
“Oh, honey.” Talia murmured softly. The pure sympathy in her tone almost made me cry, no doubt due to the adrenaline still coursing through me. I blinked back my tears before they could appear.
“He’s your brother, Lucy.” She said gently. “And he loves you more than anything, you know that, right?”
“She’s right.” Chelsea nodded. “Thank you for sharing with us, but you should trust him as well.”
“But what should I do?” I burst out. “I don’t know if what I’m feeling is even what I think it is, and what if that ruins our friendship--”
“No one can tell you what to do for sure.” Chelsea cut me off. “But in my experience, waiting and agonizing over it is not the best way to go.”
“Mateo’d probably like that in writing,” Talia said under her breath. Chelsea scowled at her before carrying on. “The best thing might just be to go for it. Tell them how you feel, and go from there.”
“Really,” She affirmed. “I wouldn’t lie to you.”
I believed her. It was probably the best advice I had gotten in a long time, to be honest.
But how would Faith take it? And what if she got upset and ran away, like she did three years ago? Well, I guess that one had been on me that time.
If there was one regret I had, it was that I had never gone after her.
Maybe things would be different this time.
“We support you, Luce.” Talia said firmly. “How could they not want to be with you?”
“OK, slow down, there, Tal.” Chelsea chided lightly. “We don’t want to freak her out before she makes an actual decision.”
“I know, but it’s hard,” Talia gushed. “She’s just so cute!”
“Definitely not.” I objected. “Fabulous? Yes. Cute? Debatable.”
“I see your brother’s rubbed off on you.” Chelsea remarked, and that was the end of that.
We packed up the rest of our stuff, and headed out of the change room as a group, Chelsea and Talia questioning me about courses next. I was just bemoaning about how much I hated Chemistry now when I caught sight of the guys (and Jude) already waiting outside the rink. “Girls take so damn long to change!” Darren criticized us.
“You would know.” Talia shouted back. They cracked up as we headed over to them. I was a little sad to be saying goodbye to these people, especially since that hockey game had been a welcome rush, but wait. Where was Noah?
“And Lucy?” Chelsea nudged me. “Yeah?” I looked over at her. She was staring behind me, a small smile curving her lips. “I’m not sure you’re going to have to worry about Noah too much now.”
“Why not?” I was incredibly confused.
She pointed wordlessly behind me, towards the bleachers. I turned.
I saw my brother, easily identifiable by his black and gold baseball cap--a souvenir from Pittsburgh, looking up towards the railings, where a figure was leaning over them. I squinted, trying to make them out further.
Noah was smiling, a wide, blinding grin that really took me back to his high school days, before everything had gotten so...odd between us. There was only one person that could make him look like that, like the worries of the world were a thing of the past.
I could see her more clearly now. Thick dark blonde-highlighted hair cascading down, and startling blue eyes against dark skin. She was beaming as she spoke to him, their hands touching.
What was she doing here? How could she be here?
Was there some sort of conspiracy where people from the past showed up when least expected? Because that was what seemed to be happening all around me, from Noah’s impromptu arrival last month, and now her appearance in the skating rink.
Allana Rose Williams, my brother’s ex-girlfriend, bent down and I watched in silent stupor as her lips met tenderly with my brother’s own.
How is this even happening?!
To my horror, Allana caught my eye, raised one hand, and waved.
Noah, clearly following her line of sight, turned around and waved too, like everything was absolutely fine, when it felt my world was being flipped on its axis.
Allana clambered down from the bleachers, jumping the last three steps to the ground, and they walked over to us, hands linked.
“Hey.” Noah said, one hand rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. Allana beamed at me, her cheeks flushed brightly against her dark complexion from the cold. She was wearing a pale pink scarf and a long mauve-gray wool coat with long gray boots. “Hello, Lucy. It’s so good to see you!”
I opened my mouth and closed it again. It took me a second for my mouth to catch up to my brain. “H-hi...Allana. What...what are you doing here?”
“I came to watch you guys play.” She said enthusiastically. “It was a really close game, good for you scoring that last goal at the end!”
“Uh, thanks.” I mumbled. I looked from her to Noah, who I expected to look a lot more flustered than he did. Thankfully, Chelsea took that moment to step in.
She crossed her arms and smirked. “Hey, lovebirds. Public, much?”
“Like you and Mateo could keep your hands off of each other on the ice,” Noah defended, his grin turning crooked. “I was scared you were going to quit altogether and leave both teams with only three players each.”
She rolled her eyes. “As if.” She nodded to Allana. “It’s good to see you, ’Lana. It’s been a while.”
“You too!” She replied earnestly, letting go of Noah’s hand to step closer. “We really need to catch up sometime, have a girls’ night with Talia.”
“Hell, yes, we do.” Chelsea hugged her fiercely, and they went off towards the others, chatting the entire way.
“Lucy?” Noah stared at me in concern. I was still stunned speechless by what had just occurred. “Luce?” He waved a hand in front of my face. “You still with me, sis?”
“Uh, y-yeah!” I stammered. “I didn’t...I didn’t know she was coming that’s all. How’d she know?”
“I invited her, of course.” Noah said, looking surprised at the question. “Is everything alright?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I nodded frantically. “Fine. Good.”
I was dying for a further explanation, but Noah didn’t seem to want to give me one. He patted me on the shoulder and headed towards where his friends were all waiting.
I blinked a few times, pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, then followed.
Allana drove back with the others, which was a relief, leaving just Noah and me. After we loaded up, the two of them hugged tightly, foreheads touching as they kissed yet again.
I had to fight the urge to run away.
“I’ll see you soon, alright?” Allana whispered, her lips curled.
“Never soon enough,” Noah breathed, smiling as she giggled. “Love you.”
“Love you too.” She beamed as he kissed her cheek one last time, and they reluctantly parted hands.
I was about one minute from hopping into the front seat and driving away. I didn’t have my G2 yet, but I could probably still make it before they could notice, right?
“OK, ready to go?” Noah grinned at me. I nodded wordlessly, pulling open the passenger door to get in. I barely spoke to him the entire way home, only answering if I absolutely had to, my mind spinning.
As soon as we got back, I ran up to my room and shut the door, planning to stay in there as long as possible without having to talk to him.
But sure enough, a few hours later...“Hey, Luce? You in there?”
There was a rap on my door, and I looked up from my phone, having been listening to music. “Yeah?”
“Can I come in?” Noah asked.
“...Sure.” I pulled out my earbuds and turned the music off as he entered, closing the door behind him. “So what’s up?”
He shrugged. “Nothing much. Just wanted to make sure you were OK. Earlier, you kind of spaced out, then went up to your room as soon as we got home.”
“I’m fine.” I smiled casually. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah, right.” He shook his head wearily. “I’m your older brother, genius. It’s kind of my job.”
His expression reverted back to more serious. “So are you sure everything’s OK?”
I nodded. “Positive. Except…”
I leaned back against my headboard. “Why didn’t you tell me she was going to be there?”
“Who? Allana?” He guessed.
I nodded. I could feel the old tension rising back up in my throat as I waited for his response.
“I guess I wanted it to be a surprise.” He answered slowly.
“A surprise.” I echoed distantly. How the hell did he think making that a surprise would be a good idea?
“Yeah,” He said, running a hand through his hair, making it stick up a little at the back. I remembered faintly that this was one of the few telltale signs that he was nervous.
Well, he had every right to be. “I know it’s been a while, but I was hoping you two seeing each other would be...nice.”
Oh, he was an even more clueless than I thought. This had to rival the time he tried eating a pencil when he was eight on a stupid dare.
“So was that OK?” He was starting to look visibly anxious now, fingers drumming along the side of his leg. “I just wanted to know--”
“No, actually.” I cut him off, swinging one leg over the side of my bed to get up. “It’s not OK. I don’t know how you think that it could possibly be OK.”
“Why?” He looked distressed, and I could tell this was not how he planned this conversation going. “Tell me what’s wrong, Luce. Because I don’t understand.”
“This is what’s wrong!” I exclaimed, jabbing a finger at him. “How could you be so dense?”
“You didn’t think maybe I would want to know about Allana coming back?” I wasn’t sure exactly when I let my frustration get the best of me, but I was so tired of this weird tension, tired of how we couldn’t seem to get past the time gap.
“I was going to tell you!” He held up his hands defensively. “Lucy, calm down. We can just talk about this rationally.”
“You gave that up when you decided not to let me know,” I stated, beginning to get angry. “You gave that up when you started keeping things from me. Or when you left for four years and came back with barely a heads-up!”
I could tell through my haze of fresh anger that this was taking it too far, but I didn’t care. I was letting loose all my pent-up frustration at seeing him here every day, so nonchalantly like the past didn’t matter, and neither did my feelings about it.
Well, the joke was on him.
“Don’t!” I held up a hand, forcing him back. “I don’t want to do this with you right now. Have you even told Mom and Dad about her yet? Or were you waiting to ’surprise’ them too?”
All I could see was red. Was he really so selfish he was only thinking about his own feelings over everyone else’s?
“Lucy, hold on--” I shoved him backwards, towards my door.
I didn’t really want to do this, I didn’t even know where half of the words I was saying were coming from--some dark part of me I had never really thought about until now. But it was like I couldn’t backtrack anymore, the only way was to keep going.
“I missed you!” I cried out. “I missed you so much, and it hurt not knowing what was going on. I even blamed myself!”
His eyes went wide, and he reached out towards me. “Lucy, I--I never meant to hurt you--”
“But the reason you left was waiting in the ice rink for us the second I walked out!” I raged on, angry tears welling up. “Why are you with her again? What is between you two? Why didn’t you just tell me?”
“Because we’re engaged!” Noah finally yelled, and just like that, everything was dead silent.
You could probably have heard crickets chirping in the distance if you listened hard enough (if there were any possibly alive in the snow). We stared at each other, both of us breathing heavily. I had tears dripping down my face. Noah had his fists clenched, his face red.
He was the first one to break the silence, hands trembling slightly. “Lucy...Allana and I are engaged.”
I had temporarily forgotten how to speak, so I heaved a deep breath before attempting it. “You--you are?”
He nodded solemnly, his eyes downcast. “I was...going to wait to tell you all tomorrow night. ’Lana and I were going to go out for dinner today, and tomorrow we were going to tell you.” He looked up and held my gaze steadily. “Together.”
It was too much. It was all too much. How could he--?
Everything made sense, then everything didn’t.
“I--I can’t do this right now,” I choked out, scrubbing the tears off my face. He stepped forwards, nothing but gentle concern in his eyes. It was overwhelming. “Lucy, please--”
I didn’t let him finish. I pushed past him, throwing open the door and escaping into the hallway, where I could stay without anyone seeing me cry. Noah didn’t come after me. He was a smart guy, and if I was in the right state of mind right now, I would have admired his understanding that I wouldn’t be able to face him of all people after that.
I was so...bewildered. I was also happy, sad, and regretful at the same time. I didn’t know what to think or feel. All I knew was that I had to get out of here, and there was only one person I trusted enough to be with me right now.
I leaped down the stairs, and pulled on my jacket and boots before slamming the front door on my way out.
I took out my phone and went to my contacts, forcing my hands to stop shaking for a few seconds as I pressed the ‘call’ button.
It rang for the first few times, and I prayed silently for there to be an answer. Pick up, pick up, please. I need you.
Just as I was beginning to lose hope, I heard the most wonderful voice come on the line. “Hello? Lucy?”
“Hey,” I said, a tiny smile breaking out, for what reason, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was just out of shock.
“Is everything OK?”
I inhaled then exhaled deeply. “No,” I replied truthfully. “It’s not. Can I come over?”
There was a pause, and I was sure I would get a refusal, before she said. “Of course you can. I’ll wait for you.”
“Thanks,” I grinned, even though she couldn’t see it. “You’re the best.”
At least I had someone I could count on to tell me the truth, even when my own brother hesitated.
I hung up, and put my phone back into my pocket before starting my walk down the darkening street, my half-forgotten tears freezing in the cold air as soon as they appeared.