I'm trying so hard to be bitter, but looking at them, it's simply not possible. Trust me, I've tried.
She's folded over Jade's shoulder, the dark-haired girl whispering something in her ear. The sun is shining on them like a spotlight, like curtains have drawn back and a magnificent play has started and the rest of us, we're just the lucky audience. We're just privileged. A yellow halo circles them and Cat is laughing, throwing her head back and the white of her throat clashes with the sunlight, trails of bright blood-red hair trickling down her scalp like an open wound.
…That kind of metaphor would make one think I was totally and completely bitter about this whole thing, but really, even as it hurts to sit from a distance and watch them coddle and touch in the middle of lunch with not a flicker of care or worry on their faces, the only prominent emotion I have at all is a distant sense of longing.
For her. For that.
I drift back to my own table, slowly, but my eyes are constantly moving back to them – that duo, that pair, too beautiful to not be on television, they blind the courtyard and everyone is staring at some point or another. There isn't any fighting it. They just … they do that. They've done that for the past few months, since they strode through the door arm in arm for the first time, Cat with her tongue between her teeth and her eyes down, a flushed ruby to her cheeks and Jade pressing her lips to the other girl's temple before they separated.
I had had to lean against the lockers for a few minutes and remember how to breathe. My hands had felt empty and in that hallway full of gossiping girls and rigid-in-the-pants boys I was completely and totally alone.
It took awhile, but looking at them finally became easier. I could stare at them like I am now without feeling like running away and hiding, without wanting to wipe Cat clear out of my memory and start over somewhere else. I toyed with the idea of transferring back to my old school only to realize that not seeing her at all was worse than seeing her with someone else. And I can't hate Jade or even dislike her, as reasonable as that could be. Jade and I were never in a war. She won Cat long before I entered the fray. I was just a pillow Cat could rest on until her former bed was repaired.
I never stood a chance, so to expect anything other than this would have been a waste of my time.
Andre's warm, brown arm bumps mine as he eats and laughs and talks. Beck is sitting with us. He's laughing, too. It was awkward at first – he stared at them more than the rest of us – and he had the same look in his eyes that I figured I had; like we had both lost something we never had to begin with. Sometimes, I touch his palm or his wrist or his back, and he looks at me with these lost, soft eyes and he blinks like he sees it in me, too.
Maybe, one day, I'll tell him. Because Beck is a good person and deserves it.
And I'm a good person. And I deserve it.
But Beck, like me, is a lot looser now. His eyes dart to them as much as mine do, but they always come back, and he does a little shift of his shoulders like he's finally shaking Jade off, just like I'm shaking off Cat. And I know the two of them knew that they were going to hurt people by doing this, by being that, but I know if I was Jade, if Cat was mine, I would have done the same thing a thousand times over if I had to.
I'm not jealous of Jade. Not really. Sometimes, when I watch Jade's fingers linger on the curve of Cat's neck, the slope of her hip, the thumb-sized dip behind her ear, I imagine what it's like to be feeling those precious spots of her. But it's not Jade I'm jealous of – it's Jade's hands and Jade's mouth, the parts of Jade that get to touch Cat. Never Jade herself.
And, really, I'm closer to Cat than I've ever been, because now I understand why she fell apart so quickly, why the strings and threads holding her together had unraveled with such alarming speed. Because from this angle, from these pairs of shoes, watching someone you love kiss someone else in the halo of the sun is the worst kind of torture. I know what it feels like to be Cat, to watch from the other side and not being able to do anything but wave occasionally and smile even if it denies everything inside of me.
I tell myself it will get easier. It has to. If you've fallen to the bottom, the only way you can go from there is up.
The bell rings. I take my untouched food to the garbage and dump it, rubbing my knuckles against my temple as I start to stroll back toward the school. Andre and Beck and Robbie walk in a line in front of me, talking, laughing, and I think that soon, I'll be able to feel like that again. Open.
My heel scuffs on the pavement. I swivel, eyebrows already raised. Jade is squinting, one hand hooked on the loop of her black jeans, the other being held captive behind her by a beaming Cat. I give a vague smile at the two of them as I step forward. My heart pings, trying to decipher the waves coming off of them, but all I see is innocence gleaming in a pair of brown and green eyes.
"Yeah?" I cross my arms on instinct, and then realize how defensive I look. I let them fall. Open. I want to be open again. I meet Jade's eyes first before travelling to Cat's. She bites her lip, head ducking slightly, but she holds my gaze, soft brown eyes simmering under black lashes.
I love you too, she had said, sobbing into my lap.
And I let her go.
I wonder if she regrets saying it. Feeling it. Leaving.
Because I still don't know if I regret letting her leave.
Jade shifts, narrowed eyes moving toward Cat over her shoulder before moving back to me. The two are almost completely at a standstill, yet they seem to be moving in sync. They breathe the same tempo. They tilt with the wind, their fingers fit snugly in the spaces of the others hands; a painting, two figures planned out a hundred times over before the final product was put on display. Their lines match up perfectly.
"I've been meaning to say – I've wanted, to, you know, we haven't talked in a couple of months and I just wanted to, uh, let you know that –"
"She's trying to say thank you." Cat says from behind her, golden laughter slipping through her teeth to melt in the sun. It's the same easy, knowing way my mom speaks to my dad, the old couple down the street from us, twins – they know each other so well, back and front, side to side.
Jade's free hand untangles from her belt loop and slips into the front of her hair, pulling it back, green eyes finally leveling with mine. She nods, lips pursed. "Yeah. Thank you."
"For what?" I can't stop the dumb question from falling out of my mouth. I didn't do anything. Jade had Cat before I even existed to them. This was all just a matter of time. An object in motion tends to stay in motion …
"For bringing her back to me." Jade's grin is soft and lazy, the slightest toss of her head indicating the smiling Cat behind her.
My heart swells. I don't know if it's from happiness or jealousy. Not of Jade, but of her hand in Cat's, and Cat's smell on her, and the way the two align so perfectly, like voices harmonizing.
I smile at them. I'm happy for Cat, at least, because the sparkling in her eyes when she looks at Jade is something I always wanted her to have and I simply can't give that to her. I might have relit the fire, but I didn't start it. I didn't keep it burning.
And then Jade slips her hand out of Cat's and her arms are swinging around my neck. I freeze, blinking over Jade's shoulder to a laughing Cat. I laugh, too, and touch Jade's back, and when she pulls away her eyes are serious.
"Tell anyone that this happened and I will –"
"Do nothing," Cat interjects, linking her elbow with Jade's and tugging her toward the open school doors. "C'mon, Tori. We're going to be late!"
They walk for a few paces before I follow. I look at their arms, Cat's tilting head, their forms highlighted in the sunlight.
And I love Cat. And Cat loves Jade. Jade loves her. And, hopefully, I'll sever the triangle before I'm as lost as Cat was, before falling feels like drowning. Hopefully, first love isn't the only love, or the last one.
I step into my school and eyes spin to glue on Cat and Jade, fingers entwined, laughing their way down the hallway. I watch Jade's dark hair and Cat's red-velvet disappear around a corner.
She's happy, and right now, that's enough for me to get by.
A/N: ...and, scene!
To review or not review, that is the question ... but I think we all know the answer.