10 Months Before Impact Day
I woke up to my phone buzzing loudly beside me. Sadie was curled up on the far side of the bed, and even though she was still close enough to reach out and touch, it felt like she was on the other side of the world.
Right, phone. I reached over and picked it up. Rachel? What was she doing calling so early in the morning? I answered immediately, a worried smile spreading across my face.
“Hey!” I said, trying to keep the concern out of my voice.
“Hey,” Rachel said back, her own tone surprisingly calm. “You free to talk?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she said cryptically. “Which do you want first?”
“I want them both at the same time,” I said, sticking my tongue out, knowing that even though she couldn’t see it, she would know I was doing it.
“Of course you do,” she said, and I could almost hear the eye roll I knew she was giving me in return. “Okay, so the bad news is, Mum wants me to go see a counsellor, on account of me being so mentally ill.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm at the end of that sentence.
“Wow, she really doesn’t want you to be gay, huh?”
“Not if she has anything to say about it, no,” Rachel said irritably.
“And do you have a say in the matter? Can you just, like, not go?”
“Actually, I don’t have to go see the counsellor if I don’t want,” Rachel said, surprising me.
“That doesn’t sound like your mum. What’s the catch?” I asked, smelling a trap.
“No trap. Actually, it’s really more like a… Well, it’s basically a bribe.”
Rachel sighed audibly, and I wished I could reach through the phone and hold her hand. Sometimes even good news can feel like bad news when it’s not the news you were hoping to hear.
“If I do go see the counsellor, she’ll lift some of my restrictions,” she said carefully.
“How much?” I asked, just as cautiously.
“I can stay out after school until eight, and I can invite friends over. Well, friends that aren’t you,” she added reluctantly. I wasn’t surprised, but it still annoyed me.
“It’s still an improvement,” I said, trying to be positive for her. “Why on earth would she offer you that?”
“I don’t know. I want to think maybe she’s starting to reconsider things,” she said wistfully.
The two of us were silent for a while, and I just listened to the sound of her breathing. It was nice, almost relaxing. It made me feel like she was in the room with me.
“So do you want to take her up on her offer?” I asked, breaking the comfortable silence.
“I kind of don’t see a bad side,” she said after a brief pause. “I mean, seeing someone who’s trying to talk me out of being gay doesn’t exactly sound fun, but it’s not like it’s gonna work, right?”
I had to laugh at that. Something about the way she said it was just so … her.
“History would suggest not,” I said, grinning. “Also, common sense.”
“So what do you think?” she asked.
I didn’t even need to think about it. I just wanted to offer her the same support she had unquestioningly given me.
“I think if I can see you more often, I’d be thrilled. And I trust you to know what’s going on in your head.”
There was another pause, and I thought maybe I’d said the wrong thing. What did she want me to say?
“So, about that…”
My breath hitched. She sounded reluctant, nervous. My mouth went dry as possibilities starting whirling through my head.
“Which part?” I asked breathlessly.
“The seeing you more often part.”
Breathe, Charlie. Just breathe.
“I was thinking of trying to get a job,” she said. I found myself blinking at nothing for a few seconds, not entirely sure what to say. That wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
“Oh,” was all I managed to say.
“I know it won’t leave us much time to spend together…” she said apologetically., and I could picture her biting her lip as she said it. I forced myself to calm down.
“Rachel, half the stuff in your room is built out of scraps. Which is cool as hell, but if you want to have some money for a change, I’m hardly gonna hold that against you.”
She was quiet for a bit again. Then, in a quiet voice, she started to talk again.
“Well, I can’t deny that being able to buy stuff for myself would be nice, but I was thinking of putting most of it towards funding, you know, your stuff.”
God, she was a sweetheart. There was no way I was going to let her waste her hard earned money on me, though. Not when she’d lived the way she had for her entire life.
“What? No, you should absolutely do it for yourself!” I insisted.
Instead of a reply, I just heard Rachel grunt. She sounded annoyed. I was confused. Was she expecting me to say thank you? I probably should have.
“What?” I asked.
“Do you not want my help?” she asked shortly, and I could tell she was pissed off. I cringed.
“Of course I do, I just—”
“Do you think I’m helping just because I care about you?” she asked, cutting me off. I didn’t know what to say.
“Charlie, I actually believe in what you’re trying to do. I really think you can make a difference, and I want to be a part of that,” she said, forcing herself to speak slowly and patiently. I felt like an idiot.
“I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t even considered that,” I admitted, looking sheepishly at the wall.
“Well thanks a lot.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” I said, annoyed at myself for not being able to say more.
“That’s all I’ve got,” I said, shrugging to nobody. No, that wasn’t good enough. I took a deep breath, and tried again. “Rachel, I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, and if I haven’t made you feel like you’re essential, then I’ve let you down. I’m sorry.”
She was silent again. When she spoke again, her tone was a lot lighter, and there was a hint of amusement behind it.
“Can’t you at least be a little defensive?”
“You get less mad at me this way,” I said jokingly, as my heart rate slowly returned to normal.
“That is so manipulative,” she growled cutely.
“So where are you gonna work?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Don’t change the subject,” she said immediately.
“Will it have a cute uniform?”
“Stop it,” she growled again.
“Can I come make puppy dog eyes at you while you work?”
“You’re the worst,” she said, but I could hear the laughter she was trying to surpress. I giggled.
“Can you go out on weekends?” I asked, more seriously.
“No, I have chores,” she said.
“Want to go on a date on Monday, then?” I asked, in my most seductive voice. It was terrible, and I heard her laugh on the other end of the phone.
“…Yes,” she said, trying to sound as reluctant as she could. I stuck my tongue out at her again.
“Wow, that was easy,” I teased.
“I love you, Rachel,” I crooned.
“I love you too, idiot,” she said, and hung up. I spent the rest of the morning with a huge grin on my face.
Next Week: Sounds Like Something Out Of A Comic Book