One Year Before Impact Day
Later that night, I was lying on Rachel’s bed, replaying that conversation over and over in my head. Something about it had stuck out to me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Rachel seemed to be distracted by something too, since she was just sitting at her desk, poking idly at bits of random electronics.
Most of the contents of Rachel’s room had been salvaged. Her family didn’t have a lot of money, and her mother wasn’t exactly the type to give her anything she wasn’t legally required to, so Rachel had acquired a lot of her possessions and furniture from the side of the road, or as second-hand throwaways from friends, and occasionally supplies ‘borrowed’ from her school. It wasn’t a lot, but she seemed happy enough with what she had.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to hang out and not talk. Often we just enjoyed each other’s company; I would read while she worked, or we’d both do our homework, or just relax in the same space. We couldn’t afford to be too loud anyways, in case her mother overheard, so we usually tried to keep things pretty laid back.
It felt different this time, though. It felt like both of us had things we wanted to say, but neither of us knew how to say it. I didn’t even know what it was that was bothering me, but I knew it was something, and I wanted to talk to Rachel about it. I sighed loudly.
A few minutes later, Rachel turned around, sitting backwards in her chair. She looked like she was struggling with something, but before I could ask what it was, she beat me to it.
“Hey, can I ask you something weird?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said.
She sat there for a few seconds, her mental debate clearly still raging on. Then she sighed.
“Would it be weird if I told you I loved you?” she asked.
I felt my chest tighten, and my skin turn cold. Of all the things I’d expected to be on her mind, that was about the last thing I’d ever think of. For several seconds, I was literally speechless.
What was I supposed to say to that? What did she even mean by it? Was she being serious?
For that matter, what did I think of it? What did it mean? What did I want it to mean? Did I want her to be serious? Or did I want it to just be a joke that we could laugh about and never mention again?
“Weird?” I asked, my throat suddenly very dry. “Well, I guess that would depend on how you meant it…”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. I still had no idea what she meant. Or rather, I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know which of them to believe.
“Mostly it would be weird of you to say something so sappy,” I said, trying to lighten the mood a little. It didn’t work.
She sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at the floor. I felt like I’d said something wrong, but I didn’t know what to do to make it better. A thousand different things to say kept running through my head, but nothing seemed right, and it was just giving me a headache.
“Do you think it’s weird for a girl to be attracted to another girl?” she asked, still unable to look at me.
My heart skipped a beat, then slammed into my ribcage and started racing. That cleared up what she meant, at least. It didn’t do a damn thing to help me figure out how I felt about it. How long had she been feeling that way?
“Not really,” I said, struggling to find the right words to say. “I mean, it’s not something we really get to choose, right? Not that it would be worse if it was a choice, but you know.”
She looked up at me, her dark, sullen eyes staring right into mine. I felt my mouth going dry again.
“It wouldn’t make you uncomfortable, or anything?” she asked nervously.
To be honest, I did feel pretty uncomfortable, but it wasn’t because of what she’d said. I was uncomfortable because I’d never really had to think about, well, basically anything that I was thinking about in that moment.
“You’re usually more subtle than this,” I told her, without really thinking. I didn’t meant to sound cold, but I also knew I couldn’t continue the conversation if we were just going to keep pretending it was only hypothetical.
“God, I’m sorry,” she said, burying her face in her arms. “It’s just, after what we talked about, I guess I started thinking about, you know, all of that.”
And there it was. That was what had been bothering me. From the moment Sadie had put the idea in my head, it had just sort of sat there, and I hadn’t been able to shake it.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling a lot more relaxed, but at the same time, way more anxious than I was before. “Me too.”
“Oh,” she said, clearly not sure what else to say. She looked up at me, and I couldn’t help but think that she looked like an abandoned puppy.
“I don’t really know what to think, to be honest,” I told her, struggling to make sense of what was going on in my head. “I mean, I’ve never really been the romantic type, but…”
“But you’re definitely special to me,” I said. “In a way that nobody else is.”
And that was the truth. I trusted her more than anybody else, and there was no-one I wanted to be around more. I had no idea what that meant, but I was certain of it just the same.
“I feel the same way. I just don’t know what it means,” she said, mirroring my own thoughts. In a way, that was encouraging, but it also didn’t seem like it would help either of us figure anything out.
“So you’re not freaked out or anything?” she asked, biting her lip.
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “At least, not because of you. Maybe a little bit because of me.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“For what it’s worth, I do love you too,” I told her. “I just don’t know what that means right now.”
“Me either. But I know that you’re more than just a friend to me.”
The two of us just sort of sat there, looking at each other awkwardly. It wasn’t the conversation either of us had expected to have, but I knew that I felt better for having had it, at least. I hoped that she did too.
“Okay, this is getting entirely too sappy for me. Say something snarky, please,” I begged her.
“We should spar,” she said, leaning back in her chair.
“You want me to beat you up?” I asked, teasing her a little.
“I’m pretty sure I can hold my own.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s just the lie you tell yourself so that your pride will let you keep hanging out with me.”
“I’m willing to find out,” she challenged me.
“Where do you want to do this?” I asked, wondering how we could even make that work. It wasn’t like we could do it anywhere in either of our houses, and we definitely couldn’t do it outdoors anywhere.
“Our old club has basically zero security,” she said confidently. “We could sneak in and out and nobody would ever know.”
“They do still have a lock,” I pointed out.
“And I still have a key,” she said, gloating a little.
“You have a key?”
“I thought it would come in handy,” she said, shrugging. “So I made a copy of one.”
“I take it they don’t know about that.”
“God, no,” she said, smirking.
“Sounds perfect,” I told her.
She slid open her desk drawer, and pulled out a rather full keyring, making me wonder just how many other places she had keys to. Maybe there were other places we could sneak into together. That sounded fun.
The two of us snuck out the back door, though the snoring made it pretty obvious her mother was asleep. Even still, it was a risky move, because it Rachel was caught leaving the house, especially with a friend in tow, she probably would have been executed on the spot.
Once we’d safely reached the street, we walked side by side, not saying anything. I felt a tingle against my hang, and reflexively stretched it out. Her fingers wrapped around mine, and I squeezed gently, both of us looking in the complete opposite direction.
Five Months Before Impact Day
“I’m sorry, why exactly do I need to hear about your burgeoning teenage romance?” he asked, his voice thick with discomfort.
“Just trying to warm your cold, dead heart,” I said.
“Well, don’t. Unless it’s relevant to the story, I don’t need to hear it.”
I sighed. “It’s relevant. The things that happened never would have, well, happened, if she and I had had a different relationship. I don’t really know how else to explain it, but…”
He grimaced, shifting in his seat. I stretched my arms, still cuffed, up over my head. It was about as much mobility as I could manage.
“Fine. But keep the details to yourself.” He’d stopped making eye contact with me. “Also, you keep mentioning cracks. Is there some reason for that, or are you just going crazy?”
“I honestly don’t know,” I told him, trying very hard to ignore the crack running across the wall behind him. “But given the circumstances, I’m willing to bet it’s more than that. And like you said, you never know what details will be important.”
“Okay, okay. I take your point. Keep going. Tell me about your next attempt to pick an ill-advised fight with my men.”
Next Week: Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards