Rehearsals were over and everybody else had gone home for the day, leaving her alone in the theatre with Mr. Smith. There was a sense of excitement as tomorrow night was opening night, but after everyone left there was just that heavy feeling of sadness.
At first she had been snappy with him, more or less because she was still half in shock over the events that had happened only several hours ago, but what had seemed like several lifetimes. But after the emotions whirling inside of her ran their course and left her beaten and tired, she finally felt ready to begin opening up to him and accepting his company once again. Even then he knew to be cautious, joining her in one of the front row seats as they watched the silent set.
"I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but I've been doing this long enough to know that changing yourself is the best way to achieve your goal." Mr. Smith finally broke the silence.
Vivien almost smiled. "Is this your way of telling me 'I told you so'?"
"It was my way of saying don't put all your eggs into one basket."
"Why did this have to happen all over again?" Vivien wondered aloud. "Except this time it's even worse…he…he kissed me. Well I wanted him to kiss me, but he kissed the wrong me."
"Maybe it was something that was meant to happen, no matter how hard you tried to change it." Mr. Smith consoled her.
"But…but I always thought it was meant to be. I really thought…really thought he liked me."
"Think back to what you know." Smith suggested. "What was he like yesterday, before you suggested he hang out with your younger self? What kinds of things did he do to her?"
"What do you mean?"
"Did he talk to her, spend time with her? Did he smile and laugh with her? Did he volunteer to help her out in certain situations?"
As much as Vivien hated to admit it, she was starting to see what Mr. Smith had been trying to hint at all along. It was like waking up from a dream into a very disappointing reality. Of course Mr. Smith had been right, even if he had been no angel at the very least he was a third party and he or she were always the rational and logical ones that weren't blinded by love or infatuation. She thought about all the memories she had of Steven both in her past life and the life she was living now. There were moments when he had seemed to pay extra attention to her, and Vivien realized now those moments were few and far between. She had hopelessly fixated on those precious moments without realizing that overall he was paying no more attention to her than he would to a friend.
"No." she finally admitted. "He never paid very much attention to me at all."
"Exactly." Mr. Smith concluded. "Why would you want someone like that to occupy such an important position in your life?"
Vivien had to admit he was right. She understood now, why she had been so tired and bitter and jaded for most of her life. It wasn't so much the fact that he had chosen that girl over her (so long ago she had even forgotten that girl's name). It was because Steven had never paid the same amount of attention towards her. She had been the one to do the running around. She had been the one to invite him to her senior prom. She had always been the one to call him. And all those times he had promised he would call her back in a couple of hours (because he was busy at that moment) he would never call her back. She had always been the one to call him back a couple of weeks later, to which he would exclaim happily that he had just been thinking of calling her.
They were all lame excuses. It had taken her twenty-four years and two lifetimes to figure that out. That's why she had felt so worn out all those years. She had used up all her energy chasing after a guy that was not going to give her the time of day, even if her life depended on it. She had spent all of her energy convincing her mind to believe something her heart didn't. Even now it was still exhausting.
"So what happens now?" Vivien wondered again. "I basically bombed my goal."
"If I may be so bold as to say so, I don't think that was ever what Othniel had in mind for your goal." Smith pointed out. "I remember you saying you would help yourself open your heart to love, not play matchmaker to try and win Steven's heart."
Had she really said that? Vivien tried to think back to the conversation she had with the Judge, but she couldn't remember the particulars. Mr. Smith had kept pointing out to her over the past two days that the best plan was inflicting some sort of change within herself: maybe Judge Othniel would have never have let her have a second chance if she had set her goal so narrow-mindedly.
"There's still a day and a bit left." Mr. Smith continued.
"Yeah. A day and a bit before I'm banished to burn in hell I'm sure." Her mind was clouded and chaotic. She had to get away and just think about something else for a while. She got up to leave.
"Where are you going?"
She turned to face him. "There's a small pond about a hundred yards or so that way. I'm just going there to think and clear my mind."
She walked on, half expecting Mr. Smith to yell at her to stop and hopefully give her more guidance. But that shout never came, and within a few minutes she reached the pond. The pond was nothing more than a hole dug in the ground and filled with water. But it was far away from the school yet close enough to the rest of the world at the same time to give Vivien a sense of comfort.
In reality it was a place she would never visit during the daytime, because during that time the pond was the designated spot for smokers. But now at this time of night there was nobody else in sight, and the way the dusk was settling in and the reflection of the moon was slowly becoming evident on the water made the whole setting feel more secluded and pure.
Vivien sighed to herself and gazed across the small body of water. Steven was definitely out of the picture, but she had a feeling the damage was done. So what could she do now? She had to do something, or else she was going to end up going down the same road once again and turn out bitter and jaded in terms of love. There had to be something – or more importantly someone – else out there that was willing to take a chance on this awkward duckling. There had to be someone else that would see her as a swan. But would she find him in time? Would she be able to convince her younger self? She had already screwed it up once, and she may not have enough time to get her younger self to warm up to her again.
That thought was starting to become depressing.
Vivien jumped at the noise and pretty much bolted up from the spot she had been sitting on. She cursed herself for letting her mind wander so much in such a seemingly excluded spot at this time of the night. As safe as her community was back in the day (or was it these days?), everybody knew they were living with a false sense of security. She should have been more careful.
"Oh sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
She clutched at her heart as she panted in an effort to slow her heart rate as well as her breathing. Squinting through the dusk that was turning into darkness, her heart rate slowed down even more as she recognized the shadowy figure.
"It's alright." She finally said. "I didn't think there would be anyone left that would wander down here."
The boy shrugged. "I come here sometimes when I need to think, or I just want some peace and quiet. It's just a hole with some water and weeds, but I like it. Does that sound silly?"
"No." Vivien said softly. "Not silly at all." She understood everything he had said, and it struck her as odd in a way, to have something in common with the young boy. Did he always come down here when he needed to think? She had come down to the pond countless times, and not once had she remembered running into him there.
She suddenly realized she had sat back down onto the grass again, leaving an awkward Corey standing.
"Would you like to sit?"
He debated that question for a moment before he decided to sit down on the ground beside her. He seemed wary, and frankly Vivien couldn't blame him. She had been cold with him, criticized him, and in the end everything had backfired in her face. He was right on all counts. He was Steven's best friend, so at the very least he should know what kinds of girls he didn't like.
He had avoided her for the whole day. That was never a good sign.
She wanted to just go and apologize to Corey, but no matter how hard she wanted to, she couldn't form the right words.
Mr. Smith appeared beside her in his invisible outfit. Luckily for her, he seemed to know exactly what she was feeling. "Just do it." He advised her. Then he was gone.
Vivien stared at the young boy beside her. He was looking out onto the still water, out to the full moon and even further out on to the soccer field where the automatic sprinklers had started.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you, about, you know what." She said. "I think it goes without saying that you were right on all counts, and I was dead wrong."
She studied the reaction on his face. In the instant she had said that, most of the worry and wariness vanished from his face. She swore she even saw a small flicker of his smile.
"I think I was just right because I've known him longer. But apology accepted." He said. "Though for reasons I may never understand, the first thing you did when you got here was try to play matchmaker." It wasn't a direct criticism; Corey's face was carefree and almost playful now, so Vivien fired a shot back.
"Oh? Then what are your grounds of being so certain that they are not right for each other?"
Corey's expression changed within an instant, and now he bore a pained expression, the same pain that Vivien felt in the heart. She remembered Mr. Smith's words with a sting.
He doesn't pay any attention to you, so why would you want someone like that to fill such an important position in your life?
She knew Corey's answer was probably going to be somewhere along those lines, but she wanted to hear it from his mouth just the same. When he finally did speak, she wasn't surprised.
"He just doesn't act like he wants to be anything more than her friend." Corey said carefully. "He doesn't seem to take much of an interest in trying to learn anything more about her, her likes and dislikes, her strengths and weakness, what makes her smile, laugh, cry."
Now she was curious. "So what types of guys do you think would be suited for her?"
Corey closed his eyes as if he was dreaming. "I think she's the kind of girl that more mature guys can handle. All I see around me with my peers are guys that go for the girls that are beautiful on the outside. The way they see it, they've got all the time in the world to find "the one." Right now, they can go out with the prettiest girl they can find and dump her once she gets boring."
Vivien felt a weird sense of déjà vu when she heard those words. She remembered a conversation she once had with her cousin where he assured her there would be a day when the guys around her would stop going for looks alone and finally grow up and start looking beneath the skin. Her heart had also sunk when she heard they usually did that around the age of 30. That seemed like a lifetime away. She didn't know what more to say, so she waited and prayed that Corey would continue with his explanation.
"Like I said, she's the type of girl that only mature guys can see. Because they're the only ones that will be able to look beneath her skin and see how beautiful she is on the inside. How…how she doesn't always know the right things to do or say, but her heart is the purest of gold. How she's shy and quiet but full of hope. She's always willing to forgive if you've shown you are truly sorry for your actions. She needs a guy that can see all of that, and would do anything he could to make her smile. When she smiles, and I mean really smiles…you can see it in her eyes. You know she's smiling from inside out. It doesn't happen too often, but he knows it's there."
Vivien was slightly stunned. Here was this boy she hadn't paid attention to for most of her first life, and somehow he had observed her and made her sound even better than she had viewed herself!
All of a sudden it felt like she was waking up for the first time. She had been blessed and given the point of view of a third party. Her mind was clear.
Oh what a fool she had been.
"You love her." Her heart was pounding fast and furious. "You love Vivien."
"What?" Corey's eyes went wide and from the expression on his face, he was in total surprise and shock that she had figured it all out. "No I don't!"
"Yes you do." It was all becoming clearer and clearer in her mind. Corey was madly in love with her. Why else would he have noticed and described her smile as a beautiful and rare gem? Why else would he make reasons to explain why no other guys had noticed her?
He met her eyes and both of them knew she was right. He had such a young boyish looking face, but in those mature eyes of his, there was a light she had never seen before. The light of love. He conceded defeat and hung his head sheepishly.
"Fine I do." He whispered. "I love her smile, I love her laugh. I love her heart of gold, I love so many things about her, and it pains me to see guys pay no more attention to her than they would an acquaintance. I know it sounds silly of me to say this, but if Steven loved Vivien like she loved him, and she was completely happy, I know my heart would be at peace."
Vivien stared at the young boy, searching hard through her memories. How could she have never noticed him? He was so handsome, that mass of blonde hair, the sparkling light blue eyes, the way one corner of his mouth rose higher than the other when he had an embarrassed smile on his face. But it was the inside that was getting her attention. In those few short days that she had truly known him, he had shown to have a heart of gold himself. And a lifetime ago, right before she had hit that bus, Corey had still been his wonderful self towards her, kind and considerate. A wonderful gentleman.
Corey would be a much better candidate for her. Maybe he had been her chance at happiness all along.
She wasn't sure if her younger self would fall in love with Corey, especially with his connection with Steven. But at any rate, it was a lot better than pining over him. She had already tried that once in her life, and that had left her bitter and jaded. It wasn't who she was meant to be. But on the other hand, maybe this was a sign. Maybe she was being given a nudge in the right direction.
"You should ask her out." She blurted.
"What?" Corey was startled again. He almost looked like he could bolt at any second. "Why?"
"If you like her, why not?"
"Cause…" Corey looked thoughtful and torn for a few seconds. He was a surprisingly mature boy for his age as he launched into another long explanation. He knew Vivien really liked Steven, which was blatantly obvious. Even now when Vivien knew the truth that Steven did not view her in the same light, Corey knew she probably loved him. Nobody fell out of love that easily. If he did ask her out, he wanted to be sure she was over Steven. He had seen it before in movies and in real life – people getting dumped and going out with another person that was close to their ex, in order to stay close by their side.
"I just can't ask her, not now." Corey said. "I hope you understand. If she likes me, I want to know she likes me and only me. I'm selfish like that."
"No, that's not selfish." Vivien whispered. "I understand." At that moment she wished she could have asked for more time, slowed it down, sped it up, anything to do to try to get Casey to ask out her younger self, but she knew that was impossible. She had been given three days and three days only.
She had no choice but to watch him walk away. Every bone in her body told her no, she had to try and hold onto him, get him to tell the younger Vivien that he loved her, even if it was way too soon. But her heart held her back. If he asked her out too soon, she could easily reject him. She couldn't let her younger self do that to Corey. If she was going to burn for the rest of her life, then so be it.
Mr. Smith appeared beside her again.
"Maybe it is love that's letting you watch him walk away." He suggested.
She sighed. "Then let's hope his love for me will spill over into the next lifetime."