Shift – Chapter 13 – Revelations

Chapter 13

I throw my keys, missing the bowl on the entrance table. It clatters to the floor. Bending to pick it up I felt the flesh on my shoulder tear. I winch.

“Where’d you get that?” I look up and Mel is giving me the strangest accusatory look. Her hazel eyes probe my face.

I grab my keys and place it into the bowl.

“Ah… I was just … we were just.” Oh how do I explain? “I… Nicky, he didn’t mean to…”

Shit. Exactly what I didn’t want to say.

“Nicky did this?” Mel’s eyes close and when she reopens them her accusatory stare is gone. “Come on … let’s get that cleaned up. You might need stitches.”

Why. Why wasn’t I a better liar? I follow her into the bathroom.

“Sit. Let me take a look.” Melanie has her no nonsense veterinarian look on her face. After a quick examination, “You won’t need stitches.” But I still cringe as she brings out the iodine, cotton balls and gauze.

Five minutes, a sink of bloody cotton balls and a tightly bandaged shoulder later, my aunt still hasn’t said anything. I try for comedy, “What’s the prognosis, Doctor? Am I cured?”

Mel trains her intelligent cat-like eyes on mine. “You are not to see Nicolas again.”

“What? Why?” I search my brain for anything. Any excuse. Nothing appears.

“Julia, kitten … this isn’t an ordinary scratch. Nicolas could have seriously hurt you.”

Wait. “Mel, what do you mean, this isn’t an ordinary scratch?”

“Sweetie. I can’t explain…”

“You can’t or you won’t? I can’t believe this! It’s the same thing Nicky said. It’s the same thing Alison said! Now you?” I grab the medical supplies and begin to clean up. “I’m starting to get really sick of this.”

“I wish I could explain…”

“… but the Law prevents you. Right?”

Mel’s eyes widen.

“Yeah… I don’t know much but I know enough because everyone seems to think I can’t handle what all-encompassing secret that everyone seems to be privy to except for me.”

“Julia…”

“No.” I grab the trash and head out the bathroom door. “No, Mel. You don’t get to decide what I get to know and who I get to be with if you can’t be honest as to WHY.” I let the bathroom door swing shut behind me.

I make my way throughout the apartment grabbing the trash in every room. It fits my mood. Would my mom have been a part of this stupid conspiracy against me? Who knows? I beat that thought down. No room for the “My mommy left me” self-pity treatment. Loaded with trash, I manage to open the front door.

I drop a few things on my way down the front stoop. I throw the trash into the cans out front. I see something or someone across the street. It looks furry.

God. Stop it Julia. I really really have to stop seeing things. I pick up the rest of the trash, throw it out and head inside.

***

I wake up at five-thirty thinking that maybe Nicky would be there with his huge goofy smile and a bag of old-fashions. No Nicky. I jump in the shower. The entire time I’m hoping that my sound system will blast with some great new band. No music. No Nicky. What did I really expect? A phone call might have been nice.

By seven I hear Mel leave and I run down to the kitchen. I hear my iPhone beep, signaling the arrival of a text. Before looking at my phone, I stick a pop tart into the toaster and look outside the kitchen window. There is a small black car parked outside in front of the stoop. Nicky’s car. I look down at my phone.

“I’m outside.”

Happiness blooms as I run outside the front stoop and the window rolls down. “Where’s your stuff?”

“Why didn’t you come in?”

“I didn’t think you or Mel would want to see me after yesterday.” Nic looks away. “Grab your things and throw that pop tart away. Those things are bad for you.”

I run inside and grab my school stuff. I stuff one of the pink gooey bad pop tarts into my mouth before throwing the other in the fridge. The passenger side door pops open.

“I thought I told you to throw those awful things away?”

“How’d you even know I had pop tarts?”

“I can smell them. And you have crumbs all over your mouth.” Nic cracks a small smile before tossing me a brown bag. “Ham and egg.”

“Thanks.” I take a bite and although it seems good I can’t get it down. My stomach has turned to knots. I know something bad is coming.

“You’re welcome.” With that he puts the car in gear.

***

School ticks on by. All day Nicky is distant. It’s not nearly as bad as before but every time I try to get close he moves away.

Laurie and Cami shoot daggers at me from a cross the room. Nothing new there. Sam is still missing. Alison and Caleb try to cheer me up but I can’t seem to get rid of this lost feeling I have every moment I’m with Nicky.

Gym is a daze until… “I’ve been noticing that people are forming little cliques,” Coach looks at the various pairings in class. For the past month I’d been teaming up with Jennifer whenever possible. Coach was on a rampage, “I will not have this in my class!” Coach Barrett drones on about teamwork and sportsmanship. I didn’t listen until he begins to call out names. The last two names he calls… “Miss Lyons and Mr. Brown to the other end of the field today, please.”

What? Rich was back? I am going to be sick.

Great. I look at Jennifer. “When did…?”

“I don’t know. I thought Mr. Stiller said he was transferred. But the school also has a sort of rehab program…” Jen stops as if she said too much. “You know you can go to Coach and ask him to switch or I can probably come up with some devastatingly witty excuse for up to both cut today’s class.” She related back to our first meeting. I smile.

“Rehab program?” Jen chews on a manicured nail. “You can’t tell me. Right. Like everything else in this school. You know what? No. I’m going to handle this.”

“No. You don’t.”

“Jen, what’s he going to do to me here? Coach is right there. I gotta take care of this now.”

“If you need back up, I’m right here.” Jennifer gave me a long searching look. She was unsure.

Even though I didn’t like the weird secrets, it was great to have such caring friends, but they all seem to want to save me. Especially from myself. I give Jen one last smile and run to the far end of the field. They couldn’t save me all the time and I knew this was something I need to deal with. Rich was there, waiting. I stop about ten feet away from him, refusing to look his way.

“Julia?” That deep rumbling voice makes me want to fold in on myself. I immediately regret coming down here. Maybe I did need to be saved … from my own blatant stupidity. How did I get myself in this situation? I don’t look at him. I glance at Jennifer across the room. She was staring warily in our direction. Something in my face makes her step forward. I must look terrified. It wasn’t far from the truth.

I look at Jennifer again, arranging my face in a composed mask, and I shake my head just enough that she’d know I was all right. I took a long breath in to clear my mind. I mean, really, what could Rich do in a crowded Gym with two adults watching. Breathe out.

“Julia?”

I turn to face my predator. Where there should have been a 6 foot – something bear-like man, there was a slight boy. His shoulders looked hunched and his face wane. The tanned muscular football player that had once taunted me, teased me to tears and almost damaged me irrevocably was … emaciated.

I should have felt the glow of retribution … but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak. It had been less than a week. He’d changed so much since that night. He looks like he’d lost about three inches to his massive height. His body was swimming in gym clothes that were a few sizes to large although it was the same uniform he’d used since the beginning of school. I stare, astonished.

He shudders, the tremble seems to forcibly and visibly shake his frame. “I’ve really needed to talk to you.”

“Hey LYONS!!! Heads up!” Coach Barrett kicks a soccer ball my way. I let it hit my chest and roll down my body effortlessly. I step on the ball and look at Rich. He dropped his head back down in defeat.

I had to make a decision. I could rattle off the list of expletives that rested on the tip of my tongue. The hurtful words that I had devised for this moment ached to lash out at his visibly weak figure. Or, I could listen to him. I could let him try to explain himself. He didn’t deserve to have the chance to speak. Nothing he could possibly say could make what he did, what he would have done if Nicolas hadn’t stopped him, any less disgusting.

I kick the ball at him. He stopped it with his foot without looking. At least his reflexes were still impeccable, I note. Even if this conversation was going to be a waste of time, at least Coach Barrett had paired me with someone who could play. Rich looks up and is searching my weary face, his beady brown eyes wide with surprise.

I don’t say anything. I wasn’t going to make this any easier for him. He dribbles the ball a bit before kicking it back to me. He kicks it like a wimp. I know he can play better than that. I didn’t wait for the ball to stop rolling back to me. I took a few steps and beamed it back at him. He stops it, his chest caving in with the force of my kick.

Good, I thought. Even if I let him give me his weak explanation, even if I didn’t reduce myself by yelling at him, even if nothing good came out of this long Gym hour…I would at least leave him with a few large bruises.

He rolled the ball between his feet. “Julia…” his voice was gruff and deep with some mixed emotion. I watch the ball lazily roll from his right to his left foot and back. “I know there is nothing I can do or say to make the other night go away. I’ve tried to think of way to make it better but I’ve realized that there really isn’t anything to be done. I know you’ll never forgive me but I had to tell you,” his breath was labored, “that I am sorry.”

I looked up at him. “Just pass the ball.”

I didn’t want him to be sorry. That didn’t cut it. His body slumps even more. He knew it hadn’t worked. I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t going to forget what he’d done.

I kick the ball back at him. It launches full speed at his head but turns mid air and slams into his shoulder. I hear him yelp as he loses his balance and falls to the dirt. That was going to leave a huge black and blue he’d be nursing for a few days. I approach cautiously as he sits up. There wasn’t the anger I’d expect to flare up in his eyes. He looked broken.

“You’re right. I cannot forget what you did. Nothing you do or say could erase that from my mind. Now get up ‘cause people are looking.” I back up into my position and wait for him to make the next move. I watch as he gets up. There is a small light that seems to flicker in his eyes.

“I know there is nothing I can say except I am so sorry, Julia.”

“Rich. Stop…”

“No. I’ll probably get into more trouble for telling you this. Shit, I’m in enough trouble already. You have to know that that person, that Animal that you saw … that wasn’t me. I would never hurt you like that. I don’t remember any of it. Nic, Alison and the Professor told me what I did. I know I hurt you but … I couldn’t control the Animal within me.”

“Rich I don’t wanna hear this shi…” I begin to interject. “Wait … did you just say … Animal?” Flashes of that car ride flew through my brain. Rich blurs and seems to change… Another face replaces his… Crap. It’s too blurry. Rich getting dragged out of the car by a pair of golden hands … or was it paws? I touch my still tender shoulders. One side bore witness to Rich’s attack while the other… My mind wandered to last night. To the golden blur that Nic had become.

In the distance, Mr. Stiller appears next to Coach Barrett. They both look our way.

“Shit. Julia. I said too much. Just be careful here. Watch yourself. I’m sorry I won’t bother you again.”

“No… Rich wait.” Animals. Bears. Lions … Snakes … what was going on at this school? Rich’s face is haggard and drawn. Wait… his face. My silver bracelets shift as I lift my hands to touch Rich’s face. He flinches but does not move. I turn his cheek towards the sun. His face is unshaven but clear. The revelation is so close.  “Rich, I know this is going to be a weird question. Actually… all things considered… I guess it wouldn’t be weird to ask you if you have super-human self-healing powers?”

A ghost of a smile flitted over Rich’s face. “No… I don’t have anything like that, Rainbow.”

Huge fireworks of memories burst in my head. I grab Rich’s hand and march us over to The coach and Mr. Stiller.
“Rich didn’t attack me.” I look down at my hands. “This is going to sound super crazy… but this school is crazy so… I somehow turned my hand into a claw and slashed it through Rich’s face and though I didn’t see it I know Nic beat the crap out of him.”

Mr. Stiller’s face lights up, “And again you have surprised me, Julia. We were just about to pull you both over. Rich, you were framed. Julia, we caught up with the individual who really attacked you. He will no longer be a problem.”

“Who…” Rich and I ask at the same time.

“Sam has been taken into custody. He has suffered numerous injuries, including serious lacerations to his face, and is currently in a coma.” Mr. Stiller says. The bell rings. “Rich, please come with me. Julia… Don’t worry. All will be explained in due time.”

And with that they leave me alone on the field.

***

I glide aimlessly through the rest of classes. Not concentrating. Not listening. Trying to make sense of everything when to make it sensible is to believe the impossible. The school day ticks by until I am back at the start. Nicky’s car.

He opens the door for me. I sit and try to meet his eyes. He doesn’t look at me. I miss his goofy smile. Why did things get so weighted between us?

Nicky slides in and starts the car. He looks at me. “Julia, we have to talk.”

Now it’s my turn to look away, “Nothing good ever comes out of a conversation that starts off with those words.”

“Don’t make jokes Julia.”

“I’m not joking Nicky. What really happened yesterday at the park?” Images of animals parade around in my brain. My worst nightmares. Maybe I needed to get my head checked again.

“I lost control. I am sorry I scratched you…” Nicky started the car.

“Don’t bullshit me. Nicky you … I SAW you Change … you became a…”

Nicky looks at me, eyes blank. “And what did you see Julia? Are you seeing Animals again? You really should go back to that shrink if that’s what’s happening.”

Silence.

“Is that what you think, Nic? You think I’m crazy? You think I should let the shrinks and your Dad hop me up on meds again? I KNOW what I saw.” My words were stronger than I felt. Maybe my stupid brain was playing tricks on me. Nicky wouldn’t lie to me. “I … you’re right Nicky. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe I’m just tired … I don’t know…”

The weighted sadness I’d been feeling all day was suffocating. I didn’t think I’d survive this one. Deep down I knew Nicky was about to break me. I hear his breathing pick up as he pulls out of the school parking garage. He makes his way to the Westside highway … he was taking the quickest route back to my place on 22nd and 8th.

What feels like only moments later he pulls up to my front stoop.

“I can’t be around you Julia.”

“Why?”

“I need to get away before I do something else I’ll regret.”

“Something else?” I whisper. “You regret kissing me.”

He flinches then steels himself. “Yes.” He hands me my jacket. “We’re friends Julia. We shouldn’t do things like that. I don’t think we should see each other anymore. We’re not going to see each other anymore.”

I feel like the breath has been knocked from me. How could he hate me so much? What did I do? He stammers on, “My parents are moving us to Europe. They said there is a school there where I can have a fresh start.” Silence. He exits the car and appears at my side holding the passenger door open. Numb, I step out into the cold and walk towards my building.

No. I want answers. I turn back walk right back up to him and smack him. A red welt appears on his cheek. He just stands there, his sad cloudy blue eyes are cast down. “You said you didn’t want to hurt me. You said you wanted to be with me.” I am out of energy. I cannot do this anymore. The tears I’d held in all day begin falling. “I’d ask you for an explanation but I know you can’t or won’t give me one. I will ask you this, why come back into my life just to slap me down again?”

Instead of answering, Nicky does the worst possible thing. He hugs me.

I fall apart in his warm arms. I can’t stand it any longer. It takes every last ounce of strength in me to look up into his eyes. His eyes, were brimming with tears of their own. The new golden-blue, so much like the sun rising from the ocean, were clouded. With regret? Remorse? Desire? I’m so confused. I want him to just take me in his arms. His mouth was an inch away from mine. His sweet mouth. His lips part as an anguished sigh rose from them. I can’t breathe. I close the distance between us by another half inch that seems more like a mile and I close my eyes.

“I’ll miss you.” Then he was gone.

Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 11 – Forgivable

Chapter 11 – Forgivable

Somehow Alison and Jen were pacing outside my apartment building when we pull up at my building. A flash of green and pink race to the passenger side door. “He what? Un-fucking-forgiveable. I don’t care that it was his first time! He is so done…” Allison is yelling into a cellphone.

I open the car door. Nothing from Nic. He wasn’t going to stop me. I don’t look back. I slide out of the seat and into Jen’s open arms.

“Holy shit Julia! Are you okay?” Jen is a welcome warmth after the chilly ride home. Nicolas hadn’t said a word the entire way.

“I’m fine.” I wince as Alison hold my hurt shoulder.

Jen’s arms tightened around me as Alison yanks the sweater collar to the side revealing a large gash on my shoulder. “Shit.”

“What did he do to you?” Alison growls, her eyes flash behind me towards the car.

My head is still spinning. I couldn’t take this anymore. Nicolas was still in the car, looking forward into nothing. Nothing. That’s really what I meant to him. I wrench myself out of Jennifer’s arms and pull up the sweater. “I’m tired. I hurt. I need a shower and a bed.”

“Julia. Did he do anything to you?” Alison emphasizes each word. It finally dawns on me what she’s asking.

“No. Just a few scratches. Nicolas got me out.”

Alison nods. “Jen, please take Julia upstairs. I need to speak with Nic.”

“No.” I would not be coddled like some pup. “It’s late. You guys should just go home. I can take care of myself.” I looked into Jen’s worried hazel eyes. “Please.”

“Someone needs to look at your shoulder.”

“I’ll get my aunt to look at it. Please. I need… I just need to be alone.”

“Fine. I’m calling you tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“Please answer.”

“Okay … and Jen,” I turned back and looked towards the black car. Alison was having an intense argument with its driver. “Please tell Nicolas I said thank you.”

I don’t know if Nicolas ever got the message. I don’t answer the phone when Jen and Alison call and I tell my aunt that I’m sick. I don’t want to see anyone so I just lay in bed all weekend listening to music and checking books off my reading list.

I’m just done.

***

Monday morning comes sooner than expected. Walking the halls. Everyone talking about what a great time they had. Everyone talking of the after parties. I tune it all out as I make my way to the cage, to study hall. First one in the classroom, I take out my latest book and plunge myself head first into its safe literary word. It doesn’t stop my head from wandering. The words and images flow into the words and images of the dance, of what happened after the dance and the rest of the crazy weekend.

I didn’t want to be in school but I would not hide. I would not let Rich and Laurie and all her goons win.

I hear the chair next to me scrape against the wooded floor. Richard’s chair. The room blurs a little as I dig my nails into the table. Please not now. I don’t want to deal with him right now. In my peripheral vision something golden slides in.

It’s not Rich. I tense even further. I would almost rather deal with Rich.

Caleb walks towards me from the other direction. I finally glance up but I’m careful not to look to the right of me. The class has filled. I hadn’t noticed.

“Yes, Caleb, I’m sitting here today.” Caleb froze next to me, his pale hand grips the back of my seat. The golden boy chuckles. The laugh sounds familiar. Too husky but the smooth ease of it was like a dream I’d had a long time ago. I do not look at the golden dream. “No, Caleb, I don’t care what Alison said. She may have rule over you and yours but I am a free man. Why don’t you go talk to Laurie? She’s mad about something, again.” He smirks. “I’m sure you can calm her down.”

I look up at Caleb. His blank face drops slightly. He shrugs and turns away. Caleb hadn’t said anything. My eyes follow him partly because I did not want to look at the dickhead that was sitting beside me.. Caleb sits next to Alison. Sam and Cami are noticeably absent from the table. I jump in my seat but I don’t look away as I watch Laurie yell something at Caleb and storms out. Honestly, I kind of want to laugh at her.

I finally look away. I let my glasses fall to the edge of my nose. Everything gets immediately clearer. I must need a new prescription, I grumble to myself, people were getting blurry even with my glasses on. I take them off.

Jen along with the Freshman boys, Max and Leo, rush in a minute late. They all look meaningfully at me. The boys pull out their computers and show me some of the simulations they’ve done. They look really well done. I tell them that. Pleased, they start fussing over some other task for the project. Jen slides her chair closer to mine. “I knew you weren’t going to call after we dropped you off.”

“I’m sorry… I just needed some time to myself. A lot has been happening. I just couldn’t deal.”

She deflates a little, “At the dance… With everything that happened with Laurie… I thought Rich was on our side.  I should have gone with you to the bathroom. I should have been there.”

I grab her hand to stop her. “Seriously. Jen, you are an amazing friend. Thank you so much for everything. You couldn’t have known he was going to do that. I really needed to get out of there and Rich was the only one there. Don’t you dare blame yourself for this.”

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I will be.” I squeeze her hand.

Jen flips her hair and looks directly at Nicolas, “You suck. What are you doing here?  You’re certainly not helping anyone, especially Julia, by sitting here. Shouldn’t you go back to Laur…” Jen doesn’t get to finish.

Mr. Stiller’s voice booms over the last few attempts at socializing. “Come to order. Now.” The class is immediately still. “There was an incident involving your classmates. I can only assume what with the speed in which information travels these days that you all know more about what happened after the dance than I do.”

I stiffen. Oh please. My stomach drops.

“I will only say this: all events that took place are not to be tolerated.” His piercing eyes, ever-changing like mine were black today. “Most of you should know better. I expect better from you. For those that are a little behind I expect you’ll be catching up very shortly.” Mr. Stiller’s fist comes down on the podium. “My class shall not be a holding pen for cattle and my class shall not be caged cock fight either. You all know the rules and must obey the rules. That is all. Please use the rest of science period for personal reflection or review your Anatomy notes as I am sure none of you got any studying done this weekend.” The class blew a collective sigh of relief. “One more thing, while this school sees fit to keep its affairs and happenings in the shadows, I do not. By now you all know who in this class has Graduated and who has not. I have some congratulations in order. Richard Brown has Graduated and been transferred out of Stellar Academy.” Mr. Stiller look right at me. I don’t look away. “It was decided that he was not a correct fit for this school.” His eyes slide to the right of me, straight at the golden boy in Richard’s chair. “See to it that you do not make the same mistakes that he did.”

I hear a low growl from my right side.

“Also our young Nicolas Hart has Graduated. He, as you can all see, is still with us. Please continue your exemplary performance, Nicolas. Study hard. That is all.”

I look down at a page of memorized notes. Did Mr. Stiller just congratulate Nicolas on almost killing Richard? No way. How had Nicolas Graduated before me? When did he? Where did they send Richard? What was happening? Migraine. I did a quick tally of the students in my Homeroom. They had all Graduated except myself and the two freshmen in front of me. Why was I so behind?

If I want to be honest with myself, though … what was really forcing me to keep my head in my notes was the heat I could feel from the right side of my body. He had slid his chair so that it was about a foot away from mine.

“Excuse me.” I almost leap out of my seat. Mr. Stiller was standing right next to me. “Nicolas, I do believe your seat is at the back next to Miss Amin.”

“Yes, Sir, but I figured that since Richard is not coming back,” he punctuated the last three words, “I’d keep Julia company and maybe help her with the group project. My group is already done.”

Mr. Stiller’s eyebrows lifted a bit. “How kind of you, Nicolas. Need I remind you of the rules?”

“Rules, sir? I am just sitting by an old friend. I am not breaking any rules that I know of.”

“See that you do not. Julia’s group project is a special one, one I hope she has learned greatly from.”

“No sir. I will not mess with Julia’s project.”

“In that case, Nicolas, please carry on. Thank you again for looking out for Julia.” With that Mr. Stiller walks away.

Okay. That was a weird conversation. How could Nicolas mess with my project? I was already done too.

I tried to ignore him. I discuss bird anatomy with Jen and the boys. The boys want to explore the ties between birds and dinosaurs. I actually laugh at that. There is scientific evidence and I tell them to go ahead and I’ll add it to the project. Jen is not helping. She keeps on making mean faces at Nicolas. I wish she’d just ignore him.

I try to block out the slight purring breath that could not have been three feet away from my face. This boy, the boy with golden hair who had saved me … this familiar boy … but it had been almost a month since I had even spoken to him … until the dance … since he’d even acknowledged my existence until after the dance. I shake. I could not go there. As he would lean in to check my notes I could swear I heard him sniff me. The idea was so absurd I almost laughed, but the situation was so uncomfortable that any attempt at humor vanished immediately.

I wasn’t paying attention. The bell rang. Surprised, I send my notes and pencil flying to the ground. I really had to calm down. I was such a klutz.

Someone snorts and a hiss from the front of the room. Laurie was back. “Oh shut it, Laurie.” I hear Alison voice over the din of the class. Alison approaches me, her eyes scrunched up, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking under the desk. I couldn’t stop myself. I follow her gaze.

There he was, my notes stacked perfectly in his too big hand and my pencil tucked behind his ear. His rowdy gold locks practically obscuring it from view.

Nicolas.

We stare at each other for a second. His face was set in a determined gaze. “Ah, Jules. Um… Julia, can we talk?”

He wanted to talk? “I don’t know. Can we?” I whispered.

“Hey Julia?” Alison puts her hand on my shoulder. I snap my head away from Nicolas. “You want us to wait for you?” Caleb takes a few steps forward.

I shake my head.

“You sure?”

I find my voice, “It’s okay. I’m good.” I try to convince myself. “I’m just going to clean up here. I’ll see you guys at lunch.”

“Okie.” Alison bubbled in true Alison form and bounced out of class with Caleb following slowly behind.

“Jules…”

With that, I finally find my voice. “Please,” I spit, “do not call me Jules. So, we’re talking now?” Was this me? I couldn’t believe the venom I heard.

He cringes slightly. Good. He recovers fast, “Yeah… I’m really sorry about the other night after the dance.” He fiddles with my notes. “I was just… I was really angry and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

I snatch the notes out of his hand. All the rejection and despair of the past few months wants to close in on me. All I want to do was smile and tell him that it was all right and that I hadn’t even noticed. I want to make sure he is all right. Maybe he’d had some disease that required him to stay away from me, and only me. The unwanted images of him flirting and holding Laurie tumble unwillingly into my mind. I wouldn’t allow it. I wouldn’t let him make me feel sorry for him. He’d already made me cry enough.

“YOU were angry? Come ON Nicolas, you’re going to have to do better than that. You almost killed Richard!” The bitterness and flippant accusation flows easily from my voice.

“After what he did to you … after what he TRIED to do to you … how can you blame me for wanting to kill him? I should have drowned that mangy fucker. And, since when did you start calling me Nicolas?” He accuses.

As if I were the one on trial, “Since you started hurting me,” I spit. Oh. I didn’t mean to use that word. Hurt. It was the truth. I hurt. “Don’t change the subject, Nicolas.” I slump onto the edge of the desk and let the notes flutter once more to the floor. “I’m just so sick of this. Sick of feeling like this”. My voice comes out in a cracked whisper. “Thank you for, for saving me after the dance. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t. But, I just don’t understand. Nicolas, you stopped talking to me. You rejected me publicly and humiliated me. You lied to me and let Laurie hurt me. Why am I even talking to you? What could you possibly want from me now?” I finally let myself look into his beautiful blue eyes. The golden rim of the irises seemed to pulse.

A moment passes.

I finally look down and bend to pick up my notes.

I didn’t move two steps as two warm hands held my shoulders to lift me up. I jump and I try to wiggle out of his grasp. Whatever he had to say was just going to make me feel worse. I didn’t want to hear anything he had to say.

Except maybe…

“I’m so sorry.”

I look up into his face. Something glistens on his cheek in the florescent lights of the room. I follow the tears to its source. His eyes. Just a moment ago they were burning into mine with blatant accusation. At this moment they were still burning but with sorrow.

He face was twists into a look of anguish. “I am so sorry.” As his hands drift up my shoulders and past my neck I glance up into his eyes. There was a hunger that flickered there. He was losing control of it. “I should have told you that the other night. I was just so…”

He held my face in his rough hands. I felt the blood rush up into my face, practically burning the tears of my cheeks to steam. I remembered how he used to pinch on to both of my cheeks and wiggle them around to irritate me when we were kids … but this was more than irritation I was feeling. My face felt red-hot and with the bright halogen lights of the classroom, I was sure he could see it.

The hungry look in his face became softer, as he fought, and won control. The hard lines there smooth out and I recognize the face of my best friend again.

“God, Jules.” He breathes. I start to shake as he envelopes me into his warm arms. They were bigger than I remember. I wrap my arms around his waist, and all the pain of the past two months just melts away. Pain doesn’t exist here. I just let myself go. Everything bursts out. The last few months come out in a torrent of hacking sobs and tears.

“Jules, Jules, Jules…” He whispers. I feel him lift me like he had on the ferry. That triggers more tears. My heart is going to burst. He carries me gently to a to a stool near one of the lab stations. I don’t sit. I could hear the sounds of water dripping in the sinks. Maybe it was the sound of my tears splashing against his chest. He gently bends backwards, his arms wrapped around my shoulders again, and looks into my eyes. One of his arms slides backward and his thumb brushes lightly past my ear and down my jaw. It sends jolts of electricity racing up and down my body. I close my eyes in response. This feels so right.

He cocks his pointer finger under my chin and lets his thumb rest under my lower lip. I open my eyes, and the full force of his gaze stares into mine, “I really miss you.”

I feel the strangest need to close my eyes and pucker my lips as bright happy memories flittered past my mind. I think he is thinking the same thing because, against all odds, we are both grinning into each other’s faces. His eyes are glowing.

“Me too, Nicky … I miss you too.” My arms fold into his chest as he moves to place his chin on my head. The last of my tears dry on his sweater. Could I forgive him?

I could try.