The Difference a Year Makes
Did you ever like me back? Those words rang in her mind as she stood there, looking through the doorway of a familiar bookstore chain at an unfamiliar mall. Ian had suggested they make a pitstop here, that it might be fun to shop at a mall in another town, that they had plenty of time to get back before Sunday evening. All these things were true, of course, but as Allison saw the oddly familiar face of a stranger in the bookstore chairs, she began to wonder if maybe the universe had guided her here. That, of course, depended entirely on if that girl with the long, brown braid was who she seemed to be.
How does one approach someone who seems familiar in this manner, though? Allison suspected it might be a bit much to go running up, yelling a name that clearly wouldn't belong to the person she was trying to talk to. But then again, her brain reminded her that Ryan was pretty bad at picking up on subtlety, and if it really was him, or actually her, then she might have some issues trying to just imply that she knew this girl, and boy, assuming this kind of thing wrong had its own issues. Walking toward the store, she moved to place the shelves between her and the familiar stranger, to give herself a moment more to decide just what she wanted to say. With a deep breath, she casually walked over to the empty chair beside her query, and planted herself in it. “Hey, whatcha reading?
As the girl with the comic looked toward Allison, there was a moment, just one, where her eyes betrayed her 'disguise,' but if one wasn't looking for it, they'd never notice. Smiling softly, the girl replied. “It's the new volume of Black Wings Kaminari.”
“That title sounds familiar,” Allison replied. Brushing her bangs aside, she turned her eyes away from the girl she was now certain she knew. “You know, I knew someone who liked that comic once. A quiet, lonely boy.”
“Oh, really? That's interesting...”
Allison looked back on the now clearly disinterested girl, ready to pounce, so to speak. “Well, I say boy, but really, it turns out that she was a girl. At least that's what she told me right before she left.” Between the hairs that covered this mystery girl's eye, Allison noticed her glancing back. “I'm sorry I slapped you that day.”
There was a moment of dumbfounded hesitation before the mystery girl spoke again. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, Allison.”
Allison's face lit up, nearly outshining her long blond locks. “It is you... thank goodness you're okay!” She reached over and hugged the stunned girl she once knew only as Ryan. “I was afraid I'd never have the chance to say I was sorry.”
'Ryan' smiled once again. “I've never been much for Facespace or social media stuff.”
“Look at you. You've really changed,” Allison observed, leaning back a bit to get a good, long look at the 'boy' she once loved. Well, not so much anymore, clearly. “What should I call you now? It's clear that the name I used to use wouldn't be appropriate.”
The girl turned her face away, a subtle pink building to red in her cheeks. “Um... it's Rain, now.”
“I don't even like it. It's so gloomy and depressing.” Ryan sat before her, gazing out the window as the water ran slowly down the glass. Perhaps it was fitting that she had noticed him staring into the gray sky, like there was someplace better, somewhere sunnier he wanted to be.
“Just like you.”
Allison stood beside his desk, glancing at him as he stood up. “Well, you are. Even when I kissed you all those years ago, you didn't smile.” Perhaps she had expected him to say something, anything at all, in response to that comment. Instead, silence. Even his face didn't really communicate the answer she had been looking for. She turned back to him. “I heard you were moving after finals.”
“Yeah.” So matter of fact, so distant. It's almost like it wasn't really Ryan, just a shell of him standing in front of her.
“Did you ever like me back?”
Time passed as the girls caught up with each other. For the first time she could remember, Allison saw that Rain was comfortable talking with her. They talked of school, friends, and boys, although that part was a bit awkward. “So he's gay, but he was interested in you. That's pretty impressive, girlie.”
With her cheeks nearly solid red, Rain only managed to reply a fair bit later. “Well, um, how's your love life these days?”
“Well, we're on the way back from meeting Ian's parents. He's a freshman at the state university, so he lives pretty close to me at the moment.” Allison felt a smile come to her as she sat next to her old crush talking about her new love. “His parents seem okay, I guess, but they are a bit bothered by him dating another girl, so it was awkward.”
“Another girl? What, does he have someone waiting at home for him?” Rain pondered with a giggle.
Allison laughed aloud, not really caring who might hear. “You really are as adorably naïve as I remember.” She turned to face her now very confused conversational companion. Changing thought processes, her face darkened a bit as she looked into Rain's eyes. “Do you remember the last conversation we had before you left?”
Turning her eyes away, Rain sighed. “How could I forget? I told you what I was dealing with, and you yelled and cried and slapped me.” Glancing back sheepishly with a small smile, she added, “I still have the hairstyle my aunt came up with to cover the mark.”
It took more effort than Alli had expected to keep from laughing out loud again at the realization. She settled for a small giggle before getting back on topic. “I honestly didn't believe you when you told me. I kinda thought you were trying to spare my feelings or something, so I got kinda angry about it.”
“I don't really see why someone would lie about this.”
“I know that NOW, of course. And not just because I saw you today.” Glancing out the entrance to the store, Allison caught sight of Ian waving at her. She waved back, then returned to the conversation. “That doesn't change the fact that you never gave me an answer. Did you ever like me back?”
Rain sat for a moment, clearly pondering how to respond. After what seemed like many minutes, she finally replied. “If I had said yes, and stayed, what would have happened with us? I'm exactly the girl you see in front of you. How would things be different if I'd stayed?”
After a deep breath, Allison gave her answer in return. “I might have lost some friends, caused my family to worry about me, struggled to understand while wanting, more than anything, to do so.” She smiled brightly, and continued. “So, really nothing would be different for me in that respect. I'm glad things turned out how they did, and I like the person I've become. I imagine it's the same for you these days.”
“It's been nearly a year, but it feels so long ago,” Rain replied. She looked over to Allison, then stood up, leaned over, and whispered something in her ear. Stepping back with a smile, she walked to the counter to pay for her book.
Allison smiled, stood up, and jotted something on a bit of scrap paper. As Rain turned back, she handed the paper to her, clasping her hand with both of her own. “Don't be afraid to get in touch, okay?”
With that, the two seperated again, but hopefully not for as long as last time.
As she sat in the passenger's seat, she went over the text message again. A simple thank you, well wishes, and the like, but now she could finally talk to Rain again. They may not have become lovers, but friendship was its own wonderful thing.
“So, I guess this detour turned out pretty well, huh?” Allison looked over to see Ian, smiling slyly at whatever crazy thought was running through his head.
“I'd say so. Always nice to reconnect to an old friend, after all.”
Maintaining eye contact with the road, Ian laughed just a bit. “So, that was Ryan, then?”
“Her name is Rain now.”
“Rain, huh? Yeah, that's pretty cute.” Turning his gaze to Alli for a moment, he answered her unasked question. “Don't worry, I won't say anything about it to anyone.”
She replied with a playful grin. “Gee, thanks, Rachel.”