It was so frustrating; Mike just couldn't stop thinking about Lucy.
No, he wasn't thinking about her in that way. Those thoughts were long in the past. He was just reminiscing about old times and old memories, about how things used to be last year, and about how, on the first day of tenth grade, everything changed.
Mike slammed his locker shut and hefted his bag over his shoulder. Adjusting his orange and red scarf, the grey korat joined the throng of students streaming out from the cold corridors of the school into the bright sunshine of this Tuesday afternoon. Except unlike the rest of the students, Mike wasn't in so much of a rush to escape the confines of the school. While his classmates ran past him, occasionally bumping into him and giving him dirty looks for his sluggishness, Mike continued down the hallway at a very pensive pace.
He still couldn't get her off of his mind.
Like everyone else, he had heard the rumors about her and Paulo. How could he not? That gossip was spreading around the school like a wildfire, bringing disappointment to all of the boys who lusted after Lucy and jealousy to all of the girls whom Paulo had courted over the years. Most were shocked by the news, even some of their closest friends, but frankly, Mike was not surprised. The way Paulo was always chasing after Lucy, Mike wouldn't have put it past Paulo to position himself as Lucy's rebound. And Lucy, well, she just needed someone onto whom she could cling. For years, that person had been Mike, and he had filled that role sometimes eagerly and sometimes begrudgingly. But after their friendship went downhill, Lucy just turned to the next most convenient person.
Mike knew he should have expected something like this to happen, but that still didn't lessen the frustration he felt.
Pushing open the doorway to the school, Mike blinked as he adjusted to the glare of afternoon sun. He made his way down the steps and over to the crosswalk. As he waited for the backlog of cars to pass by (Man, doesn't anyone in this town ever stop for a pedestrian!), he looked around at his fellow classmates hanging out on the grass and playing frisbee out in front of the school. When the road finally cleared, Mike crossed the street to enter the park where he would walk along the familiar, meandering path that would lead him home.
The past few weeks, he had searched for an alternate route home, but trying to go around the park was just too much of a detour. So he was stuck walking back home through the park, taking that same route that he and Lucy traveled every day of freshman year. Except now, as he followed that worn concrete path, he was alone.
It was times like these that he missed her the most. He remembered how they would walk together, Mike always on the right, both so that he could speak into her good ear and so that when she turned to look at him, she wouldn't be facing the river; he remembered the conversations they had, never about anything meaningful but always a welcome distraction from everything else going on; he remembered that friendship they shared, a bond borne of a good decade spent together. But most of all, as he came to that spot, looked upon the same trees in the background, saw the same pattern of cracks on the sidewalk, and even felt the same chill from the cool autumn air rushing by, he remembered that day and those three beautiful words:
"I love you."
There was a time when hearing those words would have made him the happiest cat in the world. How he had spent so many days and night pursuing those words, forever in search of a way into Lucy's heart and always ending up lost and disappointed. But those dreams, that pursuit, Mike had given up on all of that long ago. He had moved on, or rather, returned to the one whom he had fallen for first, the one who still lingered in the back of his mind even as he pursued Lucy: Sandy. Only when he reconnected with Sandy did he realize what he had been missing all of those years. Sandy was always so nice, always so caring; she was, simply put, perfect. With Sandy, Mike didn't have to put up with Lucy's issues, with her constant abuse, teasing, and bipolar personality. Back when he did have a crush on Lucy, he could look past those flaws and put up with her mistreatment; the promise of what could be if he persisted sustained him. But now, with those promises revealed to be nothing more than empty, worthless fantasies and with Sandy as the point of comparison, it just became harder and harder to deal with it all. It's not that Mike didn't care; he still worried about Lucy, but there's only so much a man can take before he has to worry about his own needs.
While he missed Lucy as a friend, in a way, Mike was glad that things turned out the way they did. He was glad that his pursuit of her, that deluded quest, ended in failure. Because: those three terrible words were a lie.
That was the most frustrating part of all. On that day, even though Mike had moved on, even though he had Sandy, and even though he should have known better, he still wanted to believe those words. He wanted to believe them so badly that he began questioning himself and the decisions that he had thought to be long settled. How could a girl, whom he had not seen for seven long years—half of a lifetime—mean more to him than this girl pouring her heart out right in front of him? Wouldn't things be better if he could touch and hold the girl he loved every day instead of trying to navigate the time zone difference and Sandy's busy schedule just to hear the voice of his beloved across an impersonal, static filled line? Wouldn't things be different after Lucy's confession; wouldn't she treat him better?
No. Lucy didn't love Mike; she just needed him. Mike knew that the instant he heard the rumors about her and Paulo. That she turned to Paulo was no surprise at all to Mike; however, the speed with which she did it, that was what got to him. It was like a shot to the gut, a punch more cruel than any physical blow Lucy had dealt in the decade they had known each other. It showed just how idiotic, just how gullible he was for believing those three stupid words. It demonstrated how truly misguided, how fully of a waste all those years he spent pursuing her had been. It revealed that he was right all along, that choosing Sandy really was the correct decision.
Yet that realization didn't make him feel smug or proud. He just felt disappointment because deep down, Mike wanted to be wrong. He wanted to be in a relationship with a real live person, not some disembodied voice over a telephone; he wanted to believe that Lucy really did love him and that her words were not just some manifestation of her dependency issues; he wanted to have hope that someday Lucy could change and become someone whom he could love back. That none of this was true—that it was all just a beautiful, terrible, stupid lie—that was the real root of Mike's frustration.
Mike arrived at his home and, fumbling with his keys, unlocked the door. "Hey, I'm home," he announced. The empty house responded with silence. His parents were still at work, his baby brother was at daycare, and his sister, well who knows where she was. Mike trudged up the stairs to his room, dropped his bag onto the ground, and plopped into the seat in front of his desk.
Instinctively, his hand moved across the desk and gripped the phone, lifting the receiver from its cradle. All he really wanted to do now was to call Sandy and listen to her voice. Hearing that voice would make everything better and make all these thoughts go away. But he knew that Sandy was busy with a big photoshoot all week and probably wouldn't have time to talk until Friday at the earliest.
With a sigh, Mike returned the phone to its cradle. He fished his history textbook out of his bag, opened it up to the assigned chapter, and began reading. Yet while he could hear all of the words run through his head as his eyes moved over them, they just didn't make any sense. By the time his eyes reached the end of the paragraph, he couldn't even recall a single sentence that he had just read.
Mike snapped the book closed, got up from his desk, and plopped down in bed. He decided that he'd just shut off his brain and take a nap. Maybe then he could finally stop thinking about Lucy.