I could barely sleep for thinking about Bryce.
Believe me, I tried, but I was tossing and turning and finally I just gave up, rolled over onto my back, and let my mind wander in the dark.
I couldn't forgive him. I couldn't. It wasn't just yesterday; he'd managed to embarrass me or make me feel stupid at some point in every phase of our lives. He'd never seen me as a person, let alone a friend, and he showed it. Why had I put up with him all that time? I guess I was just chasing a dream.
But the tree…
He had planted me a new sycamore tree!
I knew he didn't expect it to magically grow to the heights of the first so I could climb it. So he hadn't put it there for that reason. Not exactly to give me something I'd lost, but to give me something even more important—the promise of hope. It wasn't exactly something the average teenage boy thought about.
I also knew he didn't expect me to magically forgive him. I could tell by the apprehensiveness of his wave yesterday. He might not expect me to forgive him at all. But he had wanted to get across a message yesterday, of that much I was sure.
Finally I fell asleep, though my convoluted dreams were eerily reminiscent of my convoluted situation. I barely spoke the next morning at breakfast, and no one spoke to me until Matt poked my shoulder.
"Hey Jules. Quit burning a hole in the orange juice, I kinda wanted to, you know, drink it. You're scowling at it like it just ate your pet rabbit."
I looked around the table. I guess everyone had been observing me while I was "burning a hole in the orange juice" with my thoughts. Dad looked slightly concerned. "Everything alright, Julianna?"
I threw a fierce look at my mother, who was carefully concealing a snort. Darn it, Mom! I tried telepathy. PLEASE DO NOT TELL THEM WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY! From the looks of it, she just might have gotten it. She winked at me, and I rolled my eyes, but I was secretly relieved. Now all I had to do was make up my mind. Would I go and visit Bryce? Or wouldn't I?
The indecision was killing me. If I didn't do it today, I probably wouldn't do it ever. I couldn't let the situation settle into the past, gathering dust. I did not want what ifs to cloud my future mind. So why didn't I just DO IT?
But what if I was wrong? What if this was like the other meaningless apologies he'd given me? Hmm. Something inside me told me that, out of all the doubts swirling around in my head, I could be sure of one thing: this time was different.
I saw my mom smiling at me as I stepped out of the door. I smiled softly back at her. Why is it that mothers are always right?
Even though I had made my decision, I was chewing my bottom lip with anxiety all the way across the street. And when I found myself on the Loskis' porch, it crossed my mind that I was about to talk to the boy who had filled my heart and my thoughts for seven years. With that realization rolling over me in waves, I rang the doorbell.
Almost as soon as I had, the door swung open. There was Bryce, in a t-shirt and pajama pants. I guess he didn't think I would even dream of coming over, I realized with a sudden pang. He was staring at me again, but not with the usual disgust/annoyance/slight guilt. His eyes passed over my face as if he were wondering if I was just a dream. The role reversal felt like the strangest thing in the world.
"Hi Bryce. Sorry for coming over so early, but I didn't want to miss you." His expression didn't change. Had he heard me?
"Ummm …may I come in?" Finally what I said seemed to register, and he started babbling some incoherent stuff, while carefully leading me inside. He was looking into the hallways suspiciously, and I realized he was trying to make sure no one was there to overhear our conversation. So he knew what I came for. Maybe he knows me better than I thought.
He gestured for me to sit on the couch while he took a seat in a hard-backed antique chair. Did he do that on purpose, or was he just not paying attention? STOP OVER-ANALYZING THINGS!
Bryce hung his head and laced his fingers together, as if he were waiting for a punishment he knew was coming. I felt another pang at that. He had completely dropped his "I'm too cool for this" act and was humbly accepting whatever I had to throw at him. Finally his eyes flicked up to me, and after the initial shock I felt at seeing those crystal blue eyes so steadily trained on me, I realized that, though his face could hide any and all of his emotions, his eyes could not. I saw the same wonderment as before, but now it was joined by regret, and shame. I had never seen truer feelings in Bryce. With that, I broke the silence.
"Bryce, we've known each other for years…and I just think…well…we need to talk. You know, we never have before—that is, if you want to," I added. Oh man, I hope I was right about him being sincere! If not, I'd just stepped into the biggest pool of quicksand you ever saw.
"Juli, don't worry. I'm not going to turn on you all of a sudden." His face had a slight smile, and I wondered what he could have been thinking about. "Before we do, I need to apologize for all the idiotic things I've done to you. Like trying to kiss you at lunch yesterday."
I was hoping he would NOT bring that up. I guess I thought maybe we could just pretend that had never happened, because it was obvious that he had to have been temporarily insane to kiss me, Juli Baker, the chicken girl. I tried to control my blush, but when has anyone ever been able to do that?
"Shelley and Miranda were being so stupid…talking about tans and yachts and all sorts of pointless stuff, and I saw you." He smiled again, and looked at me with a curious softness that I might have mistaken for—but no. It couldn't be. "And all I could think about was what you said in the article. About being 'held above the earth and brushed by wind' and 'kissed by beauty.'"
I really believe you could have knocked me over with a feather.
BRYCE LOSKI had read MY ARTICLE. Not only that, he had MEMORIZED my quotes. That meant he had read it over and over again. I was rendered incapable of speech for a second, and then sputtered, "You read it?"
"Yeah. It was really, I don't know, inspiring. Anyway, I kept sitting there wishing I was talking to you instead, and then they started fighting. And I ran over to you…and…I don't know what got into me."
There were so many wonderful things about that statement that I could barely keep from grinning all over the place. My article had inspired him. He would rather have been talking to me than the two prettiest girls at school. And he came over to kiss me on purpose. I couldn't break my serious face though. "Go on," I said in a strange tone. I hope he didn't notice that.
"And of course the thing in the library with Garrett. By the way, he and I aren't friends anymore." Had the world decided to completely turn life upside down today? Bryce and Garrett not friends? That was like Calvin without Hobbes. Beevis without Butthead. It made no sense. I heard him heave a small sigh—something really sudden must have happened with them. I couldn't help but wonder if it had to do with me.
"Anyway, that was all my fault. I'm sorry for blaming it on him, because you're right. It was me. I'm the one who laughed. Even though I didn't really feel like that, I laughed, because I'm a coward." Coward. Wasn't that what I had just called him last week? It was, but I was starting to wonder if it was still true. Oh, it was definitely true then, but now… Would a coward confess something like that, not making any excuses? I don't think so.
"Juli, I could go on and on—which shows how horrible I've been to you—but I want you to know that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to make it up to you….starting with that tree." Tears threatened to roll down my cheeks, but my smiling managed to keep them in. I could have smiled at him forever, and he gave me a dizzyingly joyful grin in return.
"I don't know what to say. Thank you." So inadequate, I know, but I couldn't think of anything else! Slowly, slowly, I reached over and placed my hand on his. Instead of the involuntary shudder I was expecting, he immediately clasped my hand. I pretended not to notice.
"I didn't know you knew how much all that meant to me. I guess I have a lot to learn about you. And I have to apologize too…" I bit my lip, and then grinned madly. "For sniffing your hair."