One Year Before Impact Day
Sometimes I wonder if Charlie notices how often I stare at her. If she does, she certainly doesn’t say anything. I don’t think she really knows, though. She doesn’t seem to care that much about school, or what happens there.
I’m not really even sure if she considers me a friend. She’s friendly, but always distant. Elizabeth and Aidan are a lot closer to her, but something about them always feels off to me. Whenever Charlie isn’t around, they seem… different. I can’t quite put my finger on how.
Most people don’t like her, and I entirely understand why. When she’s not withdrawn, she’s irritable, abrasive, even standoffish. She barely engages with those around her, and when she does, it’s always for the minimum possible length of time.
She’s not really pretty, though I think most of that is deliberate. She keeps her hair short and messy, doesn’t wear much makeup, has an ill-fitting uniform, and scowls a lot. I think she wants to seem unapproachable, though I don’t really know why.
She’s got a weird mixture of being both athletic and a little chubby, intelligent but not expressive, empathic without any apparent compassion. None of which would be noticeable if I didn’t spend so much time watching her.
I wish I could explain my bizarre fascination with her. She’s magnetic in a way I don’t understand, and don’t know how to express.
Veronica thinks it’s a crush, and teases me about it constantly. I can’t say I blame her. It sure looks a lot like a crush, even if it isn’t. It isn’t anything. I’m just captivated.
I remember one time I was hanging out with Veronica and her younger sister, Ashley. Veronica decided to give me shit about it, and it was the first Ashley had heard of it.
“So when are you gonna tell Charlie you like her?” Veronica teased, which causes Ashley’s ears to perk up.
“Ohmygod, do you have a crush?” Ashley asked, her mouth forming an O to go with her giant round eyes.
“It’s not a crush,” I muttered, glaring at Veronica. “And I don’t like her. I’m just… curious.”
“Who is it? Who’s Charlie?” Ashley demanded.
“Just a girl we go to school with,” I said.
“What’s so special about her?”
“Nothing,” Veronica said. “She’s just grumpy all the time.”
“Sounds boring,” Ashley said.
“This whole conversation is boring,” I insisted. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“Not a chance,” Veronica said. “I wanna know why you’re always staring at her.”
“I don’t know!”
“You don’t know why you stare at her?” Ashley asked, tilting her head like a dog might. “Isn’t that a little creepy?”
“Oh it’s so creepy,” Veronica said.
“Shut up,” I snapped at her. “Look, I really don’t know, okay? It’s just something I find myself doing.”
“Sure sounds like a crush to me,” Ashley said.
“It’s not a crush,” I repeated, frustrated.
“What else could it possibly be?” Veronica asked.
“It’s like…” I sighed, and stared up at the ceiling, trying to find the right words. “Gravity, I guess?”
“You’re in loooooove,” Veronica teased.
“Yeah, that’s pretty gay,” Ashley agreed.
“Ashley! What have I told you about using that word?” Veronica snapped.
“What? Seth basically counts as a girl,” Ashley said defensively. “So if he likes a girl, that makes him gay.”
“There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to begin,” Veronica muttered, but I noticed her very distinctly avoiding my eye.
I’m so not ready to have this discussion, I thought anxiously.
“Sue me,” Ashley said. “I’m twelve, I can’t be held accountable for what I say.”
“Oh you’re so very wrong about that,” Veronica growled.
“Fine, fine, I’m sorry,” Ashley said. “Can we go back to talking about Seth’s crush now?”
“It’s not a crush!”
“Explain ‘gravity’ then,” Veronica challenged me.
“Try?” Ashleigh asked.
“Ugh, you’re so annoying,” I complained. “But fine, okay. It’s like… It’s like she’s the centre of the universe, and we’re all just orbiting her.”
“Um,” Ashley said.
“Dude,” Veronica said.
“You so have a thing for her,” Veronica said.
“You so do,” Ashley added.
“I don’t know why I bother talking to either of you,” I complained.
The conversation more or less ended there, but that idea stuck with me. Not that I thought that Charlie was the literal centre of the universe, but I couldn’t shake the idea that she was significant, somehow. Maybe not to everyone, but definitely to me.
Maybe it was a karmic thing? Maybe I was drawn to her because one day, in the future, our destiny was intertwined? Maybe we knew each other in a past life?
Whatever it was, I decided that there was only one way to find out. So one day, I decided to approach her. I waited until she was alone, and walked up to her during lunch. She looked up at me with a sort of casual disinterest, then smiled.
“Hey,” she said. “I was wondering when you’d actually come talk to me.”
“You noticed, then.”
“You’re not exactly subtle.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“Don’t be,” she said. “You weren’t creepy about it.”
“It’s not, uh…”
“I know. Don’t worry,” she assured me. “Wanna sit?”
I sat down beside her, and she smiled again. It was bittersweet, and at the same time as I felt my heart flutter, my stomach twisted around.
Why does she make me feel like this?
“I’m glad you decided to talk to me,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if we’d get the chance.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, but I couldn’t dismiss the turning of my stomach, or the growing sense of anxiety and dread.
Ask her, a voice shouted at me in my head.
“Are you okay?” I asked, not sure what else I could do.
“No,” she said, more pain in that one word than I’d ever heard in my life. A second later, she smiled, all traces of pain gone. “Sorry. Just one of those days, you know?”
“I have some idea,” I agreed, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was agreeing to.
“How do you do it?” she asked, and without her needing to clarify, I knew exactly what she meant. “How do you deal with… everything?”
How does she know?
“I don’t know,” I said.
“I wish I was as strong as you,” she said, and I wanted to cry.
With that, the bell rang, and people began shuffling back to classrooms. She gave me a look, a sad, grateful, melancholic smile, and it broke my heart.
“Goodbye,” she said.