Eleven Months Before Impact Day
However good I’d felt the night before, it clearly didn’t last through to the next day. I spent pretty much the entire day staring out the window, lost in thought. That probably wouldn’t have been a problem on a weekend, but it was a school day, and I found myself being scolded more than once for not paying attention. Liz and Aidan kept throwing me concerned looks, and I knew there was a lecture coming later.
Thankfully, they didn’t mention it until after school, when we were all back home and hanging out in Aidan’s room. His room was smaller than mine, but a whole lot neater. I was staring absently at the wall when he prodded me.
“Hey, you okay there?
“Huh?” I asked, snapping out of it. “Fine. Why?”
“You’ve been distant all day,” Liz said. “Seems like something might be bothering you.”
“Oh. No, I’m fine. Just thinking about stuff,” I told them, which was technically true.
“What kind of stuff?” Aidan prompted.
“Stuff like you being nosy,” I said, a little more sharply than I’d intended.
“That was a bit rude,” Liz chided.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Aidan asked, sounding more concerned than annoyed. Was I really being that obvious?
“Just confused, I guess,” I blurted out, then immediately felt my face turn red. I hadn’t meant to say anything at all.
Liz and Aidan exchanged glances, then looked back at me, surprised. Clearly they weren’t expecting me to open up about it either.
“That’s not like you,” Liz said. “What’s up?”
Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t say anything.
“Just… relationship stuff,” I said. Idiot. I still wasn’t going to give them any details, but maybe I could vent some of what I was feeling. It wasn’t like they’d let me back out of the conversation anyway, so I figured I should at least try and get something out of it.
“Well, that’s unexpected,” Aidan said, suddenly looking a little uncomfortable.
“Something you want to tell us about?” Liz asked, also looking a little less than happy. What was their deal?
“No, it’s not like that,” I lied. It bothered me that they both seemed to relax at that “I’ve just… I’ve never really thought of myself as a relationship-y sort of person, you know?”
“You do sort of give off that vibe,” Aidan said.
“I guess I’m just wondering about that, lately.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Liz said encouragingly.
“I feel like there is. I would be rubbish in a relationship,” I said, a little bitterly.
“What makes you say that?” Aidan asked.
“Well, you know what I’m like,” I said. “I’m sarcastic and kind of weird. And not exactly good at relationship-type things.”
“Charlie, what do you think relationships are about?” Liz asked, raising an eyebrow in surprise.
“You know, being nice, talking about feelings, making the other person happy, supporting them when they’re down, that sort of thing. All the things I suck at.”
Pity party, table for one.
“You don’t suck at those things,” Aidan said, “you’re just not used to them. You just need to date someone who knows what you’re like, and who’ll be patient as you figure that stuff out.”
Would Rachel be patient?
“And what if I never figure that stuff out?” I demanded. None of that stuff came naturally to me, and it didn’t seem like stuff you could just learn. What if I just wasn’t cut out for relationships?
“There are people who will love you regardless,” Liz said, and Aidan nodded in agreement.
“I doubt that,” I muttered. What if I can’t be what Rachel wants, and she leaves me?
“Hey, you’re a pain in the arse, and I still love you,” Aidan said.
“I do too,” Liz added. “Just the way you are.”
Somehow, that didn’t actually make me feel that much better. Just because they loved me as a friend didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. They didn’t depend on me the way a partner would, so I’d never had the chance to let them down. If I had, they’d probably feel very differently.
“Hmph,” I grunted.
“No, seriously,” Aidan said. “You’re a wonderful person, and anyone who can’t see that isn’t worth your time.”
I had no idea how to respond to that. My brain felt a little like it was short-circuiting.
“Alright, alright, don’t do that,” I said, shaking my head emphatically.
“What, are we embarrassing you?” Liz teased.
“You’re damn right you are,” I told her. “Saps.”
“Well, we’re saps who love you,” Aidan said. “So deal with it.”
I threw a pillow at him, aware I was demonstrating the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. I did feel a little better, though. It was nice to be reassured I wasn’t a complete failure of a person. At least they would never leave me.
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing video games and generally enjoying ourselves. Liz stayed for dinner, then went home. Aidan and I spent a couple of hours doing our homework together. After he went to bed, I snuck out again.
I needed to talk to Rachel. All of this shit that was going through my mind, it only had one logical conclusion. Rachel was too important to me to lose. I couldn’t lie to her, or pretend to be someone or something I’m not, but if there was anyone I could be honest with, it was her.
There was nobody I trusted more than her. Not Sadie, not Aidan or Liz. I loved them all dearly, but Rachel, she was my…
Well, I didn’t have a word for what she was. That was why I needed to talk to her. Alone.
Half an hour later, I was creeping in Rachel’s back door, praying her mum wouldn’t see me. To my surprise, it didn’t even seem like she was home. I pushed open Rachel’s door and went inside.
“Hey,” I said, surprising her. She looked up from the book she was reading, and smiled nervously.
“Uh, hey. Mum didn’t see you, did she?”
“Nope,” I said confidently.
“You’re sure?” she asked, dubious.
“Dude, she isn’t even here.”
“Well, I didn’t see her,” I clarified.
“She must have a date,” Rachel said. “She never mentions them to me. I think she’s worried I’ll invite friends over if I know she won’t be home.”
“You have friends?” I teased.
I crept up closer to her, trying to get a look at the book she was reading. She hastily slammed it shut and threw it in a drawer, glaring at me. I smirked back at her.
“So, are you busy?”
“That depends,” she said cautiously.
“How nicely you ask.” She smiled devilishly at me, freeing her hair from the hair tie she’d pulled it back with, and letting it fall around her face. Somehow, she actually managed to make it look elegant, the way it does in movies.
“I’ll just be going, then,” I bluffed. I had to admit, it was a little difficult to do when she looked at me like that. It was getting harder and harder not to admit how I felt about her.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” she said.
I stuck my tongue out at her, which made her giggle. Then we just kind of looked at each other awkwardly. After a few seconds of that, I remembered what I’d come to say.
“Are you hungry?”
She frowned. I knew food was a sort point for her, but I really just wanted an excuse to get her out of the house. With her mum gone, there was no better night for it.
“C’mon, let me buy you a burger,” I pressed, trying not to sound too insensitive.
“How do you even have money?” she asked, which I had to admit was a valid question. I didn’t exactly have a job. Or an allowance.
“I have my ways,” I said mysteriously.
“You took it from Mark, didn’t you?”
“You know me so well,” I said, sighing.
“Alright, but just this once,” she said, grabbing an old coat from the floor. My heart was pounding in my chest.
Please god let nothing go wrong.
Next Week: What If I’m Bad At It?