Ever since I was born, my mom and Toby's mom were always close, like two peas in a pod. So for Toby and me, that meant that we would be close, too. Toby's always been my closest childhood friend. He would always be the one to make everything better, to make me laugh, even when I was crying. Even when I would say the most stupidest things, he was there to listen. He was the one with the short brown hair, greenish bluish grayish eyes( it's debatable), and a strong liking for sports. I was the one with the shoulder length blonde hair, blue eyes, and a strong feel for drama. Even though we were practically opposites, that's never stood in the way of 'us.' Until now, when everything changed. Ever since we entered the 8th grade, we never go barging in to each other's rooms anymore. Okay, I know that I guess that should be the case, because we're too old to be in each other's private space. But I still miss those days that we would spend together, and I've always hoped that one day I could bring them back. I wonder if Toby feels the same.
As I'm trying desperately to find a way to my locker, I spot Luke Hunter bending over the water fountain in all his beauty. Luke, for your information, is mine, and mine only. I've been crushing on him since the 6th grade, and have liked him ever since. I've tried oh so many times to try to get his attention, like that one time when I kicked some girl in the shin to be in the seat next to him. Or that other time when I begged my mom to drive me to school early so I could go to the library just to watch him do his homework. Despite my desperate attempts, he pays me no mind. He usually gives me a short glance, and then continues with whatever he has to do. Sometimes it seems like he ignores me even though I try to convince myself otherwise. But even so, I'm drawn to him, and his golden blonde hair strikes me at the most random of moments. With him, you can never go wrong. Well at least that's what I think.
Mr. Tierney is going on a ramble about something involving atoms and molecules, the usual. Science is one of the three classes I don't share with Luke. On the other hand, it is the one class I share with Toby. We usually don't talk much, but when we have partner assignments we always work together, even if things are really awkward between us. Today, Toby's wearing his usual black and white Nike Airs and Flyers Giroux t-shirt. I wish I could just go over there and hug him, like I used to whenever I wanted, but it was different now. "Isabella, I assume you did not hear the bell ring for your next class." Mr. Tierney is bending over my desk, hands on his hips. I feel embarrassed, and quickly shuffle down the hall to Math.
"Toby!" By the time I get off the bus, Toby's already all the way down the block. He stops abruptly, and turns around. I don't blame him for being surprised, since I've never called after him before. "Can you wait for me?" I don't have time to note his confused expression as I run down the sidewalk to meet him. When we're walking side by side, I realize this is a bad idea. No one's said a word. "Umm...so." His eyes, which are more of a transparent green today, land on me. "Yeah. So." I can tell he's making an effort, but it's kind of awkward if you randomly start talking to someone you haven't talked to in like, 5 years or so. I want to start up a stupid conversation and go babbling on and on like I always used to do, but I didn't want to seem like a complete idiot. It's funny, cause I never thought about it like that before. When he reaches his house, he stares down at the concrete and shuffles his feet uncomfortably. "Well, see ya." There's nothing to say. What should I say? What could I say? "Wait! Toby.." He looks at me, surprised. "Yeah?" His house is still the same, with the grass freshly cut and the white paint on the house chipping off a little on the left side. I wonder how much the inside of it has changed. For some reason I'm wishing that it was exactly the way I remember it, but that's unlikely. "Do you—would you… like to come over later?" His eyes meet mine, and for a second it's deathly silent. He looks nervous, scared, even. I'm about to say that it's okay if he has something else planned, but he chooses the moment to reply. "I… I don't think I can go. I have a lot of homework and stuff." It's a complete lie, I know, because Toby never had an excuse not to come over. I avoid his eyes, and scrunch my toes in my shoes. "Oh. Okay. See you Monday, then?" He looks up at me kind of sadly, like it's his way of saying sorry, then starts walking up his driveway. "Yeah. See you Monday."
As soon as I know it Saturday and Sunday are long gone, and Monday's arrived. During Spanish, I spend my usual 45 minutes staring at Luke, memorizing his every move like it was the whole world. Which trust me, it was. "I'd like you guys to partner up and complete the following assignment. Use the hand motions properly as you say them." I look around the room for either Mary or Carissa, but neither of them or here. Shoot. Everyone seems to have found a partner, when I notice Luke sitting alone at his desk. Did I dare ask him to work with me? "Isabella, you and Luke can work together." I guess that settles that. Mrs. Pierlott's standing beside my desk, and points over to where Luke is sitting with her pen. Oh, god. Here goes nothing.
"Me llamo Isabella. Y tu?" He looks bored, and starts doodling little stars all over his paper. I hope that I'm not that boring. "Me llamo Luke." I don't know what we're supposed to do next, so I look around the room hoping to find answers. I see people shaking hands, so I figure that's our next set of action. I hold out my hand, and after a few moments he places his hand in mine. His hand is big and calloused, probably from playing hockey so often. Just at that moment I spot Toby standing at the doorway of our classroom, staring at us. There's no words to describe his pained expression.
I catch Toby just as he gets off the bus, and without thinking grab his arm. "Toby! Wanna hang out?" I'm just realizing how sudden this is, as he's trying to figure that out as well, I'm sure. He looks tired, and is holding his sweatshirt loosely in his right arm. Without thinking again, I take his hand quickly and start heading down to my house. I can't seem to focus properly. "You can stay for dinner and we can talk!" I don't know what's gotten into me all of a sudden. He doesn't look at me the whole way there. He probably thought I was on drugs or something. What was I even doing? Was I crazy? He probably thought I was. When we enter my house, my mom walks over and gapes at the sight of Toby. "Oh my goodness! Toby, you've grown so much! Look how handsome you've gotten over the years!" I'm just about ready to knock my mom out, but decide not to. I take the time to look over at Toby, and he looks uncomfortable. I feel bad for dragging him here, and I'm slowly starting to calm down. I wonder if he minds. He never used to before. "Wanna go upstairs to my room?" He doesn't say anything. I still feel a little disoriented. Couldn't he see that I was trying? "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought you here. You can go home if you want." His eyes meet mine, and I feel a cold chill through my body. "No, it's fine."
When I open the door to my room, I'm suddenly all self-conscious about what Toby's going to think. I've changed a lot since the 8th grade, and it was a little obvious. I stand in the middle of my room awkwardly, then look in Toby's direction. I find him looking at my fashion magazines scattered all over my floor. I bend down and scoop them up, embarrassed. "I'm sorry for the mess." He seems to ignore me, but then turns to me and stares. The way he's looking at me is like we're two complete strangers that are meeting for the first time. "I thought you didn't like fashion and all that stuff." He tears his eyes off of me, and I see something in his eyes darken. I never thought things would ever be like this between us. Did we really still have a chance? I force a laugh, in an attempt to make the air more cheery and light. But as I suspected, it didn't. "I used to hate the thought of wearing makeup and pretty clothes and all, but now I think I kind of like it, you know?" Toby looks at my bedroom wall uncomfortably. He pauses, then I hear his voice again. "So you still like Luke?" I turn away, embarrassed. Why did he have to bring this up? "Um, yeah. I still like him." For some reason he seems angry, and he clutches his sweatshirt tightly to his chest. "Oh." I feel the need to say something, to make things more comfortable between us and make the mood more happy and bright. In a few seconds, I think up something to say. I hope it's the right thing to say, though. "Look. You know, this morning, with Luke and everything, that was nothing, really. We were just partners for this Spanish assignment and we were shaking hands to introduce ourselves." He stares down at his shoes, like he's confused and doesn't know what to make of that. I recognize his red Phillies shirt from some time before. Guess he didn't grow much, huh? "So why do you like him so much?' Another awkward moment of silence. I was starting to grow more and more nervous, and felt beads of sweat forming on the back of my neck. I wanted to change the subject, but didn't want Toby to realize what I was feeling. "I… I just think he's a great guy, you know? He's so nice, plus he's smart and good at sports." I wonder what Toby will make of that. "Not really. He may seem like all those things, but he's not." "What do you mean?" I can't help but feel I little defensive.
"He doesn't like you." Toby's facial expression shows that he's not too interested. I look at him angrily. I never wanted our conversation to turn into an argument, but if it's for Luke's sake I guess I have no choice. "You don't know anything! Keep your mouth shut!" He looks at me with the same look. "I'm only saying what's true. Just give up on him, Isabella. I feel like slapping him across the face right now, but don't want to get charged for child abuse. "Give up? You're not helping! Get out of my room!" I feel so frustrated, because me and Toby always got along before. Toby holds one last wavering glance at me, then obediently jumps off my bed and heads for the door. When he's about to leave, he turns around and faces me, irritated. "Don't talk to me again." Fine, I think, but don't dare say it aloud.
I don't get what's gotten into Toby. He was always the closest one to me, the one that would never hurt me even if he had to hurt himself. But now, he doesn't seem to care. I wonder if he forgot, about the pacts we made, the handshakes we promised we'd cherish forever. Then, I start daydreaming back into the world of Luke, completely dazed by his beautiful symmetrical face, glimmering blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes. How could I not like him?
When I saw Toby again that morning, I tried my best to avoid him. What, did he think he was on the top of the world? I couldn't even look at him, it made me so irritated. I can't help but think that this is somehow funny, like it was just yesterday when we were best buddies and then… we're not. But I guess in childhood, it's the same for just about everyone. Everyone has a little someone that they had when they were little, and then when you mature you slowly drift apart. But was this really what I wanted? Did I really… want this? "Hey." Startled, I quickly turned around to face my predator. "Lu—Luke?" "Hey." What the-? "Umm, hey!" It was no surprise that Luke looked straight down gorgeous today. I swear, he got better looking every day. "We gonna work on the Spanish project or what?" Oh, so it was about that. "Um, yeah, sure." He's looking at me like I'm supposed to say more, but I'm too busy looking at him. Long sleeved red Abercrombie shirt, dark Hollister jeans,… "Well, it's due this Friday, and I have hockey games this Tuesday and Thursday so…" He's looking at me expectantly, and I quickly break out of my trance. "Oh, yeah, right…" I'm getting frustrated with myself because I had practiced talking to him in the mirror plenty times before, and words were never as hard to say as they were now. "Tell you what. We can come to my place on Wednesday and if we need more time we can come to the library early on Friday. Sound cool?" Too happy for words, I just smile at him and give him a quick nod. When he turns around to leave, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.
"Toby's mom called today. She told me that Toby broke his wrist during basketball practice." Mom's voice is dull. I feel my heart thudding oddly in my chest. "Is he… okay?" Mom's giving me that look; like, hello, shouldn't you know more about this than me? Once she realizes that I indeed no diddlysquat about the incident, she starts talking again. "I'm not really sure. I think he just got back from the hospital a couple hours ago." I pause for a moment, then say, "Oh." Mom's eyes are wavering on me, and her mouth curves the slightest bit downward. "Didn't you notice that he wasn't in school?" "Not really." Out of the corner of my eye I see mom shake her head sadly, and there's a slight tint in her eyes that makes her look sad. "Why don't you two talk anymore, Isabel? He's a very sweet boy, you know." I don't look back at her this time, because it's hard to say that I don't know myself. "I don't know. I guess it's different when you're kids." Uncomfortable with our conversation, I carefully leave the kitchen in the refuge of my room. Only to have my mom barge in 20 minutes later. "Hun, I really think you should go give him a visit. I'm sure he'll appreciate it." I suddenly feel angry. What does she even know about how it's been between me and Toby all these years? "Why does this matter to you so much? So what, we don't get along as much as we used to. It's not my fault!" Mom's voice softens. "Toby's been down lately. His mom and I have been talking, and she says that Toby hasn't been eating properly and is having a struggle doing his homework." For some odd reason, I feel awful. How could I not have noticed? Behind his calm expression, how could I not have realized that he wasn't happy at all? Without another word, I run down the stairs, grabbing my coat before sprinting out the door.
"Isabella. It's been a while." Toby's mom smiles at me, but her smile is weak. She looks exactly like him. Toby, I mean. They have the same eyes, they're both short… "Come on in." When I walk in the door, I almost gasp, seeing how everything is almost identical to how I remembered it. "Didn't change much, eh?" Toby's mom puts her hand on the wall, and points up the stairs. "Toby's right upstairs in his room, the usual. Feel free to visit him." With that, she leaves me with a fumbled mind and an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. Making my way up the stairs, I recognize the smell and inhale deeply. It smells like—a mixture of grass, air freshener, and- cologne? It smells like Toby. When I'm standing in front of his door, I'm trying to imagine Toby's expression when he sees me. Will he be happy that I'm here? Will he be angry? Or will he just be plain and calm, like he's always been? As I put my hand on the door, I hesitate. He told me before never to talk to him again. So maybe this was not the best idea. I'm about to turn around, when I hear Toby's voice from the other side of the door. "Come in." I turn around, and open the door. A couple things are arranged in different places than before, like his basketball posters and trophies and stuff, but mostly it feels like the same room it's always been. It feels comfy. Toby's wearing a plain white t-shirt with red Nike shorts. I'm about to say he looks nice, when I notice his wrist. A cast is wrapped around it. He catches me staring at it. "Yeah, I know, my wrist is all beat up. That's why you came, right?" I catch my breath, and look at his bedpost. "Yeah. Are you gonna be able to play basketball still?" Despite the awkward air between us, I'm happy that we're at least making good conversation. Unlike before. "I don't think so. I mean, not for a while. I didn't talk to my coach yet, but he might take me off the team this year if I miss too many games." His eyes meet mine, and they're a dark shade of gray which makes him look awfully sad. "I'm sorry to hear that." After that, there wasn't much to say.
"I heard- I heard that you haven't been feeling well. Is something bothering you? If there is, you can tell me." I'm basically telling him that he can trust me, which is odd. "It's nothing." His eyes dart away, and I feel something make a pitfall in my stomach. "Well, I guess I better head home now." I give a light smile, and make my way towards his door. I feel someone grab the back of my shirt, and I turn around, startled. "Wait. Do you maybe want to- hang out this Wednesday?" I feel delighted that he's asking me, and almost immediately say yes when I realize. Luke had asked me to study with him. "I—I can't. I'm really sorry." I feel tears welling up in my eyes, and I blink a few times to try to make them go away. Before I leave, I spot a piece of paper underneath his door. Opening it up, it's Toby's handwriting.
I need to talk to you soon. Can you come over Thursday night?
I clutched the note to my chest, happy that maybe, just maybe, we could restore our friendship little by little.
It was Wednesday night, which meant I had to meet Luke at his house for the Spanish project. I wonder how many girls have been invited to his house? I try to make myself feel special by telling myself that I'm the first, but all my sources are saying that's impossible. I'm caught off guard by the ringing of our doorbell. I make a beeline for the door and open it quickly. I'm surprised again to be met by Luke's charming face. "Ugh-umm.. hi." His hair is all ruffled and messed up, and he smells a little like sweat. It seems like he was in a rush. "Hey. Look, I'm really sorry, but we can't study at my place today. My mom's having a meeting. But I'll see you tomorrow morning?" There's no words to describe my utter disappointment, but then I get another idea. "Wait, would you like to study at my place? My mom went out on her shift for work, so no one's home. You could stay for an hour or two. I'm sure she won't mind." After a few moments, Luke slowly nods his head in agreement.
Right when Luke steps foot in my house I feel embarrassed. Like, super embarrassed. This was a bad idea. I see Luke looking around, not making any comments. Or in other words, compliments. As we're cruising along inside to who knows where, I'm cleaning up things on the way. "I'm so sorry for the mess." He doesn't say anything in reply, which makes me feel even more embarrassed. He probably lives in a mansion. Not to mention, a clean mansion. I finally settle for the living room table, and he sits down obediently. "Anything to drink? A snack?" I'm making desperate attempts to make him feel comfortable. But he's not paying attention to me. Instead, he's playing on his phone. Giving up, I sit down across from him and put the textbook on the desk. "Okay, ready, so 'despiertaba' is the imperfect yo or el, ella, usted form for 'despertar." It takes me a while to get into it to finally realize that Luke's not saying anything and I'm doing all the talking. I must seem really really annoying! I glance over in his direction. He seems to be texting. Is this what he's been doing the whole time? That seems a little rude. I have no reason to take it personally.
About midway through our session, I hear the doorbell ring. Relieved that I have a chance to get away, I get up and walk over to the door. I'm not ready for who's waiting on the other side. Toby. I try to keep the door open just a crack, so he doesn't catch sight of who's sitting at my living room table. "Hey, can I come in? I need to talk to you." I look around anxiously, afraid to meet his eyes. "What's wrong?" Without another word, he steps into my house and puts his hand on my shoulder, shaking me lightly. "What's wrong, Isabella?" I shake my head, waiting for him to find out for himself. He goes pale and his eyes darken when he sees him. He takes his hands off me, and glares at me. Then, he goes out the door without saying goodbye.
I tried to avoid Luke all day, just because I didn't want to be caught by Toby. The tension between us was ten times worse than before, and I felt like a complete idiot. I wonder what he thought of me now? But then again, I had done nothing wrong, we were just working on our Spanish project, right? Toby probably took it the wrong way. But even if he did, why would it anger him so much? Beats me. All day I was just waiting, waiting, waiting for this day to end. Which only made if feel one million times longer than it really was.
Toby was on the bus at the end of the day, which was a big surprise to me. He usually was busy with basketball or had something else he needed to do. He sat about 5 rows behind me, so I shouldn't feel nervous, right? But I did. When it was my stop, or how should I put it, our stop, I literally sprinted out the door to be a good ways ahead of him. Right now, he was the last one I wanted to deal with. I really couldn't take it anymore. These days, whenever we were together all we do is argue. I try my hardest to change that, but it feels like he's the one that's not putting in the effort. If he never did his share, things were never going to work out. I hated being so negative, but I couldn't help feeling that it was the horrible truth.
I couldn't concentrate. I mean, seriously, who can concentrate on geometry homework when you're so caught up with everything else? I have to go over to Toby's house. I have to finally make things right, or make things better. And this time, I would make sure he tried to. This time Toby's mom didn't open the door, but the door was already left unlocked. I suddenly have a flashback of when we were kids. We would play tag, and then I remember my belly would rumble and then he would always say, 'you're hungry. Let's get something to eat,' and we would always just barge into his house cause the door would always be unlocked. When I was little, it didn't matter if I went into his house whenever I wanted, and I didn't have to ask. The door would always be unlocked for me to come and go as I pleased.
I can't help but feel guilty. Guilty for 'breaking in', guilty for making things even harder for Toby, guilty for not talking to him sooner. But everything would be okay, right after I talked to him. This time, with no hesitation, I open his door. When I walk into Toby's room I spot him sprawled out on his bed, blasting music. When he sees me, he jumps off his bed and shuts of his i-pod. He puts his hand on his forehead, which means he's embarrassed. I remember that from when we were little. "Hey,' I say, in an enthusiastic effort. He doesn't look at me. "Hey." He then gives me an annoyed look, like, 'what do you want?' Now it's my turn to avoid his eyes. I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. As I thought, it was the #1 worst answer in the whole entire world. "I need help with boys. I was thinking that since you are one, you could help me." I don't have to think twice to know that I'm blushing like a maniac. He seems really annoyed now, and kicks an empty soda can across the room. "Let me guess, you want help with Luke?" The way he says it is blunt and dull, and it irritates me a lot. I don't say anything because I can't think fast enough, which he takes as a definite yes. "Sorry, can't help you, bye." I shoot him a look, unfortunately, to the back of his head. "Hey! You can't just blow me off like that, I need you to help me!" He faces me, hurt. "Luke, Luke, Luke. It pisses me off! Talk about someone else for once!" His voice cracks a little. I look at the wall uncomfortably, and it's impossible to ignore him now. "What do you want me to say? Do you want me to leave?" I swear I see a tear run down his cheek. Suddenly, he comes over to where I'm standing and leans in close to my ear. "What am I to you?" He waves his hand. "Bye." I'm on the verge of tears, confused and angry, and leave without saying another word. Just like before. What's gotten into him?
I really didn't know anymore. I felt something buzz by my head and I quickly jerked my head up as a reaction. Terry, a good friend of mine, gives me a look like, 'are you alright?' I nod back to her in reply. I couldn't even concentrate during Spanish class. I tried to get myself to talk to Luke, but I just… couldn't. It felt wrong. But then again, it was a free country. "Isabella, you okay? You look a little pale." I look up to find Luke staring down at me. I blush, realizing the worried look on his face. "Y—yeah, I'm fine. Just didn't get much sleep last night." Hearing this, he smiles. "I know what you mean. A lot of things have been on my mind lately." I feel my heart beating loudly in my chest, and I secretly pray that he can't hear it. He understood what I was feeling. As soon as the bell rings, Luke quickly gets up. "See you tomorrow, then?" His smile is so amazing that I don't even realize that it's time to leave.
"You're going to be late for the game." I avert my eyes to my doorway, where my mom is standing with a stern look. Shoot. I had a volleyball game today. "I was just about to get ready." Lie. I already know that mom caught my bluff. I just didn't want to admit it. "Well then, hurry up and get your butt downstairs so I can drop you off." She gives me a warm smile, and heads back down the hallway.
We lost the game. More like, we forfeited. Five people from our team didn't show up, for what reason, probably the same as mine. That makes me laugh a little, knowing that I wasn't the only one who was slacking off in my athletics when there were so many other things that were more important.
My feet hurt. I've been walking for a good 20 minutes now, heading home in hopes for a nice cup of hot chocolate. Yeah, right. I know better than that. Strutting passed the bakery, I flick my eyes briefly inside… and spot Luke. He's sitting alone at a table, arms crossed, picking off of a cherry filled Danish. I wonder if this is what he meant by, 'a lot of things have been on my mind.' I don't realize how long I'm watching him much away to his heart's content until I hear the familiar ringing sound of a bell. I swing my head toward the door and look up to find Luke staring down at me. I feel my face turn red, and I can't even explain how embarrassed I am right now. Luke gives me a look, like this is the usual reaction he gets from every girl. I wish I could just curl up into a ball and disintegrate. I take another short glance at him, to find him staring down at his sports watch. I hope I'm not wasting his time. I suddenly feel the need to say something, but thankfully he talks before me. "Hey, wanna go to the dance tomorrow night?" I'm too surprised to even realize that he's not even making eye contact with me. "Me…?" I point to myself. "Yeah, why not." His tone is blunt. I'm too stupid to realize that either. I'm so caught up in being surprised. I feel the need to cover my face with my hands, and calm myself down. But I don't have the time. "Yes!" I realize that I'm pumping my fists in the air, then quickly stop, embarrassed.
Through the whole first half of the day, I've been dying to eat lunch. I swear that my stomach has growled more times than I can count. Hopefully no one noticed. Although it was impossible not to. "The bell rang, you know." Mr. Tierney's gazing at me through his glasses, and it feels like déjà vu. Except this time, he's not annoyed, but smiling. He probably just thinks I'm another one of those dumb idiots. I scoop up my books quickly, desperate to end my stomach's constant complaints.
I slide down next to Terry, and immediately begin choking down my chicken filet sandwich as fast as I can. A couple people across from me look at me in disgust. I slow down, embarrassed. Terry's turning to face me, her face bright and enthusiastic. At least someone cares enough to make polite conversation with me. Even if it's out of pity. "Hey, so how was your day so far?" I still can't believe that she's flashing her teeth at me, even though everyone else is too grossed out to even look at me. I'm so lucky to have someone like her. "It was great, how about you?" I give her my best smile in return, hoping I can somewhat repay the favor. My mouth hurts from forcing a smile, but she somehow continues her smile streak with absolutely no effort at all. I wonder if deep down she has any problems going on, if she goes through hard times too. Maybe she's just really good at playing along. And then suddenly all at once I remember my amazing collision with Luke yesterday. Finally, something to smile about. Without thinking, I blurt out: "I'm going to the dance tomorrow with Luke." Terry looks at me, surprised. She beams at me, shaking my shoulders in pure delight. "That's great, Isabella! I hope you have a great time!" "Yeah, I know ri—" Out of the corner of my eye I see Toby glaring at me from the end of the table. He definitely heard me, without a doubt. I feel a guilty feeling welling up in the pit of my stomach. "You know, I think I'm going to go to the bathroom." I get up quickly, desperate to get away from Toby's haunting glare.
"Isabella, you not feeling well?" I'm lying on my bed, the covers pulled up to my chin. I don't feel like thinking or doing anything. I'm about to snap at my mom to get out of my room, but she talks before I can. "Toby wanted you to come at 5. But if you're feeling sick, then you don't have to go." I jerk the blankets off of me and sit up. "Toby invited me?" Mom stares at me, surprised. "Yes, he did. But again, hun, if you're not feeling up for it-" "I'll be there!" I don't waste a minute and grab a clean shirt from my closet.
The door to Toby's was open again, but this time I didn't hesitate and invited myself inside. When I step foot into his room, I'm hit with that familiar smell. Childhood. "I came." Toby's still not making an effort. Can't he at least be happy that I came? Mom was right, I wasn't feeling well, but I came anyway. Cause I care about Toby. And if he wants me someplace and sometime, I'll be there. It was a promise we made to each other a long time ago. He probably doesn't remember. "Congratulations." I turn to face him, unsure of what he's praising me for. But then I realize that he's not praising me. "Look, Toby, I—I just want to have a good time, that's-" Toby deliberately cuts me off. "What? that's all? Is that what you were gonna say? You mean nothing to him!" The way Toby says it makes me realize that he knows something that I don't, but I can't force myself to believe him and cover my ears. "Shut up, shut up, shut up! I don't get why you care so much!" I look anywhere but at him. "Because I don't want you to get hurt." His voice is so soft that it practically comes out as a whisper. For some reason I don't find it reassuring, but irritating. I really don't know what to say to him anymore. "Why are you doing this to me? I know what I'm doing better than anyone else, including you! So stop trying to protect me from something that doesn't even exist!" I'm yelling now. Toby looks a little ticked off, and kicks his bedpost, hard. "I'm trying to help you, Isabella. Don't you get that? How can you act like I'm the worst thing that's ever happened to you!" I face him, hurt and too angry to think straight. "Cause you are." I can tell I've gone too far right when the words leave my mouth. I hold out my hand in desperation, trying to mumble that I didn't mean it. The only thing I remember after that was a look coming from Toby like he no longer knew me.
Sophomores were all over the hallway, hanging out flyers for the dance. I felt sick to my stomach. I knew I shouldn't have come to school today. Out of the corner of my eye I spot Luke talking to his group of friends. I toss my slick blonde hair over my left shoulder, hoping to catch his eye. He does, and gives me a quick glance. I hate this part of me, this 'fake' part of me that wants to be flirtatious and be someone I'm not. Someone who's supposedly 'better.' But I can't help it when I'm around Luke. This part of me is fighting to dominate. And I always let it win.
During science Toby doesn't even look at me. I feel like I'm constantly being slapped in the face, on one side of my face and then the other, over and over again. Toby. Toby. Toby. Toby. Please look at me. Just, look at me. My heart's pounding violently in my chest, and it hurts. It aches. I don't like being ignored Toby, you know that. I told you that a long time ago. Have you forgotten? Do you no longer care enough to even talk to me? To ask me if thing's are alright? I'm blanking out. I can't think straight. This is wrong. This is very…. Wrong.
"Toby! Toby!" I'm shoving past people in the hallway, fighting to keep him in my sight. "Toby!" I see Toby's head jerk in my direction. Our eyes meet for a few seconds, but then he turns around and only walks faster. "TOBY! ARE YOU GOING TO THE DANCE TONIGHT?" I'm yelling as loud as I can. Everyone around me faces me in utter confusion and bitter annoyance. I see Toby flinch slightly, but he doesn't give a reply. Not even a thumbs up, shake of the head,… I shake my head wildly in complete anger. Screw him. If he never had any intention of putting any effort into this in the first place, then I had no reason to either. I wouldn't have anything to do with him anymore.
"Hey." I turn around to find Luke holding out a rose. "For—for me?" He gives a little laugh. "Yeah." I feel myself blushing, again. He gives me a wink, and for some reason I feel kind of sick. "Dress pretty, okay?" I give him a nod, and he runs down the hallway to catch his bus. What was that all about? A rose? Dress pretty? What was I even doing?
Toby was on the bus again that day, but when I caught his eye he would look off towards the window. I just about wanted to punch him in the face. How could he act like this towards me? Did he even realize how important this was to me? I remember how much Toby hated talking about Luke back then. The memory's engraved permanently in my mind. I've been thinking about it quite often, now that I think of it.
"Hey, Isabella!" He's running toward me, carrying a box of chocolates. Oh yeah, it was Valentines. He holds them out to me expectantly, and I take them happily. "Thanks, Toby!" He's looking at me curiously, like I'm supposed to say or do something more. "Do you… is there anything… for me?" Suddenly I feel horrible. I hadn't even thought about getting any chocolates for Toby. He had told me a couple weeks ago that he wasn't too fond of sweets, anyway. "I'm really sorry. I didn't know you liked chocolate." His smile wavers a little on his playful lips, then it's gone completely. "Oh." I want to make him feel better, give him something else, something that could make up for it, but I don't know what. He continues sulking, staring at the ground in complete and utter disbelief. I didn't know he would make such a big deal about it. Suddenly he stares up at me with his big blue eyes and frowns. "I—really wanted chocolates." I think for a second that he's going to cry. "Didn't anyone from school give you any chocolates? A lot of girls like you, you know." I smile at him, in attempt to get him to do the same. But he doesn't. "I only- I only- wanted one from you." For some reason the way he says it makes my heart spin, and for a minute I don't know what's happening. He's still in the middle of talking. "Did you get any chocolates for anyone else? If you didn't get one for anyone to begin with, then I don't mind." I don't really get what he means by this. I hesitate before answering his question. "I… I have some for Luke in my backpack." I see Toby flinch at hearing Luke's name, and I wonder why. He's always been sensitive when it came to Luke. I wonder if he had something against him. I feel bad. "But you can have them! Here, I'll give them to you." I quickly start unzipping my book bag, when I feel Toby's hand push mine away. "It's okay. It won't be the same." He gives me a sad smile. I never understood what Toby meant by that. I still don't. Maybe he was jeal-? No way. There's just no way.
As the memory slowly becomes blurry and unclear, things start blacking out and fading from my sight. Why, why, why? I'm so confused, left to face the burden of my childhood when I drift away into a different world.
"Isabella, Isabella!" I feel my shoulder being pushed back and forth, and I quickly jerk my eyes open. "Goodness, Isabella. You've slept for over an hour! You have to go to the dance soon!" Now I'm fully awake. I jump out of bed as fast as I can, ashamed that I forgot about what was going to be the best day of my life.
Thankfully I had a dress from a couple years before that was fitted for the occasion. It was a slick red one strap dress, and sprouted with ruffles from the hip to the knee. I hope this was what Luke meant by, 'Dress pretty.' After all, it wasn't like we were going to the prom or a wedding or something. It was just a casual high school dance. This dress is going to be just fine, this dress is going to be just fine; I keep reassuring myself over and over again while looking in the mirror. I find a pair of red flats to accompany it, along with a cluster of red bangle bracelets. I leave my hair down and curl it, which is rare. I look like a totally different person when I look in the mirror. I can't tell whether it's in a positive or negative way. But it'll have to do.
By the time we arrive, I'm shaking uncontrollably and the palms of my hands are sweating. Mom gives me a worried look. "I'm okay!", I manage to say cheerfully. She doesn't deserve to worry about something that has to do with me, and me only. "Hun, you sure you'll be fine?" Mom's looking at me with concern, and I keep trying to tell myself that I'll be okay, that Luke will like how I look tonight. "Okay Isabel. Have fun, okay?" Mom smiles at me, then climbs back in the driver's seat. No… Don't go… I watch my mom's Honda driving away, getting smaller and smaller until it's nothing but a white dot in a midst of black. For some reason I feel like I'm gonna cry, like going back to that first day in kindergarten when you can't bear leaving your mom for a whole day. I put my hands on my head and sob. Why did I feel this way? I was supposed to be happy. This was supposed to be the best day of my life.
As I'm heading down towards the table where the drinks are I'm feeling kind of dizzy. Had Toby came? Was he here? Maybe I should go look- right at that moment I hear two familiar voices coming from behind me. When I see Luke I'm about to go running over to him, until I see her. Maddy Barringer. One of the most stuck up, messed up, most ugly-gorgeous girls you've ever seen in your life. Did I also mention that she goes out with people for no longer than a day and dumps them? I'm starting to think the rumors are true. Suddenly feeling exposed in their sight, I quickly stumble over to the other end of the table and pretend to be getting some jello shots. Trust me on this one, I would never, and I mean never eat a jello shot again in my entire life. I remember the time when I tried this fruity kind and it tasted nasty. For all you kids out there, it does not taste like regular jello. I realize that I'm getting distracted and quickly focus my attention back on Maddy and Luke. Anger pumps adrenaline into my veins, but I stay put. For now.
"I'm so glad I could make it," Maddy says sweetly with a stupid smile on her face. Luke looks at her and smiles. I would give anything for him to smile at me like that. "I'm glad you came too. Wanna get something to drink?" Oh shoot. I'm about to run over to the girl's bathroom when Maddy clings on to his arm and pulls him close to her. What the heck? I'm getting really mad now. "Aww, Luke, you okay? Sad that you're going to have to dump your date? Oh, what's her name again? That plain blondie one? Oh, isn't she Bella or something?" I feel angered and confused at the same time. Luke's gonna dump me? Surely she was just joking. Luke would never do something like that! And how dare she call me plain and 'Bella.' Desperate to here Luke's response, I cling onto the bottom of my dress and wait impatiently. Luke pauses for a minute like he's trying to find the right thing to say. "Yeah. I'm fine. I'll probably bump into her later. I'm sure she won't care. I'm pretty sure she already has a boyfriend anyway, that Toby kid." I feel my cheeks flaming. Bella laughs playfully and nudges him in the shoulder with ease. How can she touch him like he's her property? And how could—how could Luke say something like—something like that? I'm not going out with Toby! And he doesn't even know my name… I feel my eyes burning and I'm straining not to let the tears come out. Not here, not now. Anywhere else is fine. I start running for the door when I hear Maddy whisper, "There she is." I turn around to realize it's the last thing I should've done. Luke is next to her, and Maddy's still clinging on to him like a magnet. What an idiot. I see Luke's mouth start to open, but I won't hear of it. "I heard it. I heard all of it!", I yell. With tears springing down my cheeks, I race for the door and head outside as fast as my feet would carry me.
When I'm safely outside, I lean against the wall and slump down, sulking. Toby was right. After all, he was always right. Just at that moment I hear a voice coming from the parking lot. I turn my head quickly in the direction of the voice and see Toby Mitchell. How come—how come he always knew the right time to come? Even when we were kids, Toby would always be there for me when I needed him. I guess some things never change. I realize Toby's staring at me, and I'm about to turn away but know that it's hopeless. He already saw me crying, I'm sure of it. Instead I look down at the pavement, and trace circles on it with my index finger. The feeling between us is intensely uncomfortable. "So, your lil' prince charming wasn't all he cracked up to be, huh?" Toby's eyes don't land on me. It's kind of annoying. "Shut up." Both me and him are surprised that I have the strength to speak. He doesn't say anything for a few moments, then starts talking again. "He never cared about you from the start, you know." The way he says it makes me realize that he's serious. But didn't Toby always know? Somehow, he always knew everything that I didn't. Like he was protecting me so if I fell, he would be there behind me. "And how could you possibly know?', I ask. I'm not too sure, but I think I see some color forming in his cheeks. It makes him look adorable. So adorable that it should be illegal. "I- I just overheard some conversation Luke and Maddy were having. He said, "I would look stupid not going with anyone so I'll just find some girl and take her for a night." For some reason I'm not surprised by this. "And why didn't you tell me?" His eyes flicker on me for a brief moment, then flutter off elsewhere. "I- I- I didn't think you would believe me." His eyes are dark and heavy. It makes him look sad, and I don't like it. But anyway, I can't believe I'm hearing this from Toby. He's the only one in the whole world I could trust! I suddenly start to wonder if he feels the same way about me. Chances are slim. Toby shifts his black and white Nike Airs uncomfortably. Basketball shoes. They were always his thing. I realize it's my turn to say something, and I know what.
"Toby, look, I'm sor—" Toby deliberately cuts me off. He's still not making eye contact. "You don't have to say anything. After all, I'm sure you're still upset about everything." The way he says it is sincere, after all his negative comments from before. But something isn't right. But I don't know what. Toby gives me a small wave. His eyes are full of an emotion I can't read, and his mouth isn't curved up or down, like he's straining from revealing his feelings. There's so many things I want to say right now but can't. He feels too distant. "Go home and get some rest, kay? Let me know if you need anything." I jump a little from hearing his voice as I'm thinking about him. No. Yes. I do need something. As Toby starts walking away, I run up to him and grab the back of his sweatshirt. He turns around in surprise. We're about the same height… I quickly start talking, aware of how much more good looking he's gotten over the years. How hadn't I noticed? "Can I—get a ride?" He hesitates, and then pulls out his car keys from his back pocket. "Let's go." I feel nervous, but go running after him.
When I walk into his car it smells like him. Like Toby. It smells kind of good. But I would never tell him that. I pretend to stare intently out the window as he pulls out of the parking lot. For some reason my heart's beating fast, and I feel nervous. Should I be embarrassed for asking him for a ride? I mean, we've always asked favors from each other before, so it should be no big deal, right? "Hey. You okay?" The light from the lamp outside reflects off of Toby's eyes and turns them into a glowing blue. I turn away and feel myself blush. This was really awkward. Toby's eyes are still wandering on me. Right. I still haven't answered his question. "Yeah, I'm fine. But thanks so much for tonight. I really mean it." He smiles briefly, then focuses his attention to the front window. The ride home is really quiet. Not in a peaceful kind of way, but in an awkward 'nothing to say' kind of way. Arguing with one another is one thing, but not talking at all is ten times worse. In my opinion.
When he pulls up in my driveway my feet are numb and I feel… disappointed. Had I forgotten something? "Tonight was great. Thanks a million.", I say. We used to say that all the time. Thanks a million. It was 'our' thing. I doubt he still remembers, but what he says next makes me think otherwise. "I remember that." He laughs, and puts his hand on his forehead like he's embarrassed about something. "Hey. Don't be embarrassed." I tug on his sweatshirt playfully, then let go all of a sudden. What in the world was I doing? I turn away and know I'm blushing. "Well, I got to go. Thanks again." As I'm opening the door and about to hop out, Toby's voice stops me. "Could you- please stay a little longer?" For some reason I feel extremely delighted. Mom wouldn't mind if I went out for another hour or so, right? After all, I did come back from the dance about two hours early. "Fine, but… could we pull up somewhere? And not stay in front of my house?" I start to laugh, and I realize that he's laughing with me. We both stop and look at each other. Our eyes collide for a moment too short.
"Where are you taking me?" my feet are shaking with anticipation. "You'll see." I hate that. Toby said that to me all the time. "You'll see." Like he was hiding something. Suddenly I feel a wave of exhaustion overwhelm me, and before I know it I'm leaning toward the left… when I feel my head hit something. Toby's shoulder. I lift my head back up abruptly and turn towards the window. "Sorry." When I turn back around to face him after a moment's humiliation, he's smiling jokingly. "Just tired, huh?" I laugh. "Yeah. Just tired."
I feel the car stop. "Where are we?" Toby's smile has been pasted on his face for as long as I can remember, and I think it was about time I joined in on the fun. When I open the passenger door and turn around, I gasp. "It's… still here?" Toby grins. "I still come here all the time, you know. I never stopped believing." The Fraser Building. It used to be a hotel, but now it was just an office building where people worked daily. When Toby and I were young, the lady at the reception desk would always let us run around to our hearts content. We would run up the stairs and play tag, go in the elevator and explore different floors, or just barge into empty rooms and jump on the beds. This was the place I came to when I was young. This was childhood.
It takes me a moment to realize that Toby's grabbed my hand and we're running over to the building. I'm laughing. This felt amazing. We stop at the double doors, and decide to just lean against the brick wall. "Ha ha! This is so awesome. I can't believe we're here." Toby's eyes meet mine. This time he doesn't look away. I feel nervous all of a sudden. "You're thinking about it, aren't you? The times when we would run around, jump in the rooms and stuff, right?" How did he- "It changed a lot, didn't it? I knew it wouldn't always stay the way we left it." The way he says it is sad, and it almost makes me want to cry. Now I can't help myself. I have to ask him. "Why—why did you bring me here?" Toby looks up as if the answer's written in the sky. "Because I wanted to know if you still remember. If you still remember when we were kids, and all the time we spent together. I want to know if you remember that time we climbed over Ms. Harper's fence, or that other time…. During Valentine's that one year." I felt my heart stop. So he's been thinking about it too? All this time…? He hasn't forgotten? It's gotten colder, and my breath is starting to become visible. "Answer me." Toby's voice is far away. "I- I do remember. And I think about it all the time." I laugh lightly. What were we even doing? We weren't kids anymore. Things would never be the same. When Toby speaks I notice that his voice is close. I realize that he's moved closer to me. I'm about to move away when he puts his hand on mine. My heart's racing again. "Tell me what's on your mind. Tell me what you're thinking, right here, right now." My cheeks are red. I already know. "Toby… do you like me?" After the words leave my mouth it feels like the world has stopped spinning. That everything has stopped. Toby feels distant again. "Yeah. Ever since the moment I met you up until now." I feel dizzy, and his words are replaying over and over again in my mind. "Yeah, ever since the moment I met you up until now…." But he's not finished yet. "I've made it so obvious, yet you never got the hints." He laughs. "I thought you would've found out a long time ago, but you never did. You're so dense." He laughs again. I have to ask the one question. The one question that means everything. "Why me?" I'm surprised that the words come out smoothly, I surely thought I would stutter. His words are straightforward too. "Trust me, it could've only been you."
I can't contain my whirlpool of emotions. Everything's zoning in and out, out into a different world then back into reality. I can't see straight. Everything's blurred, like an abstract painting. My ears are all clogged up inside. I can't hear a thing. Suddenly I see a blinding flash, and I put my hand on my forehead uneasily. Toby looks at me, concerned. "You okay?" I'm back. I'm in front of the Fraser Building. "Fine. I need to get home." His eyes are still on me, and he gets up quickly. "Sure. Let's go." In the dim lighting it's hard to make out Toby's expression. He hasn't said anything. I wonder if I had done something wrong. "We're here." I almost jump at hearing his voice. At about this point I'm desperate to leave. This feeling between us is too much. For a moment I'm about to ask him if- "I'll walk you there." I open the passenger door and plant my feet on the sidewalk. Toby does the same. When we reach my front door Toby's no longer looking at me. He's staring at my grass like he's never seen it before. "Umm, bye. Thanks for everything." Desperate, desperate, desperate. I reach for the door handle but then turn around. He's already halfway to his car. Desperate, desperate, desperate. I reach for the door handle and turn it. My heart's beating fast. Too fast. I know what this is. I know the meaning behind it. Maybe it's been like this the whole time but I've never realized it. Maybe there was more to this than just him. Maybe it was me, too. Letting go, I turn back around and run after him. "Toby!" I fling my arms around him. He's small, like he always was, and really warm. I realize that I'm still clinging on to him like some dumb idiot. I slowly let go, but suddenly Toby brings his hands up and grabs my arms. "Don't let go." So I don't. "Toby, I—" "Turn around. I want to talk to you face to face." I feel my face turn hot, and I look down at my feet. "I- I ca—" Right at that moment Toby chooses it as the perfect opportunity to fling me around. Oh god, oh god, oh god. We're face to face now, and my arms are getting looser and looser by the minute. Toby holds them in place again. "What'd you wanna say again?" How can he be so casual about stuff like this? He just confessed to me like 20 minutes ago, yet he doesn't find this awkward. I guess he's lucky, in a way. All of a sudden I feel Toby's hands cup around my face. Oh god, oh god, oh god. He's not going to- he leans in close to my ear and whispers, "What'd Izzy wanna say?" Izzy. The nickname he made up for me that he hasn't used in years. It's all coming back. I turn away shyly, but he grips my face a little tighter so I can't look anywhere but at his eyes. His eyes. Today they're a shiny light blue towards the middle and a darker shade of blue on the edges. I try to yank away from his grip because I'm sweating, but he won't let me. Must he put me through this torture? "You just thought, 'why is he doing this?', didn't you?" His smile makes my heart stop. What was this? Was this- normal? "I like you." Toby's eyes widen, and he loosens his grip on me. Suddenly I'm scared. Did he not like what he heard? Instead he brings his hands back up, but this time he grips onto my shoulders. He puts his head down so I can't see his face. Smiling playfully, I take my hands and put them on both sides of his face. Then I lift my hands up so he's looking right at me. "Now you can talk." His cheeks are red as anything. "You really are cruel, Isabella." He laughs, and I nudge his shoulder gently. "So are you." I wrap my arms around him and am comforted by his warmth. I tug at his sweatshirt. "What?" He says loudly. I put my index finger up to my lips and say, 'Shhhh. I'm cold." Toby gets the message. He slips off his sweatshirt and ruffles his hair. "Here." He hands his sweatshirt to me and I clutch it tightly. It's still warm. I peek over to where Toby's standing, and he's perfect. He's adorable. I take his sweatshirt and slip it on. It fits almost perfectly. I giggle, realizing how we're pretty much the same in size. We're both short and have small frames. Toby's still blushing. "Don't laugh. It's not my fault I don't grow." I kick him in the shin, hard enough to get him to look at me but not hard enough to cause him pain. He looks at me. "You don't need to grow. You're fine." I know that in my head 'fine' means several different things, but he doesn't need to know. Besides, he's smart enough to figure it out for himself. Toby's looking down at his shoes, like he's trying to hide. "Promise me…" I stand still. "Yeah?" His voice is so soft it's basically a whisper. "Promise me you'll never leave me alone again." So we feel the same way. "I promise."
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