It’s a December night. There are no stars in the sky outside your parents' house. You’re looking into the mirror in a self-critical way. In exactly fifteen minutes, you're supposed to leave for a party you don’t particularly want to attend.
The world is a little bit unsteady. You are a little bit unhappy. You're not sure how long it's been that way.
And you're seeing her, even though you don't want to. Or maybe you do.
Anyway... It's a party, after all. What are you wearing?
(set: $bitter to 0)
(set: $repressed to 0)
(set: $movedon to 0)
(set: $lastchance to false)
[[Something a litle too simple. You don't want her thinking you care.->simple]]
[[Something a litle too fancy. You don't want her thinking you're doing any worse than she is.->fancy]]
[[Whatever you'd usually wear. This shouldn't be a big deal.->whatever]]A sweater you haven't worn since high school. Jeans. The boots you were just shoveling snow in this morning. It doesn't get any more detached and casual than that.
(set: $repressed +=2)
When you step out into the night, you feel the cold hit you all at once. It's your last chance not to go, you know. The ultimate demonstration of showing you don't care is not showing up to whatever glorified high-school reunion lies in store for you. But something draws you to it anyway.
You know what it is. But you don't want to think it out loud.
[[Get in the car.->drive]]You wear a silk blouse that you don't even wear to work, and you spend an extra five minutes matching your lipstick to it, even though you don't even wear lipstick on a daily basis. Nora always had that polished, put-together image. What's even more maddening is that she always made it look effortless.
(set: $bitter +=2)
When you step out into the night, you feel the cold hit you all at once. You're eager to see her, almost. You admit to yourself that you've missed this feeling, the I-want-to-show-her feeling. Neck-in-neck over GPAs and class presidencies.
[[Get in the car.->drive]]You look fine as you are. Nice jeans and a button-up shirt. You give your hair a quick brush and smile at yourself nervously in the mirror, trying to prepare for a social encounter you're still not quite sure about.
(set: $movedon += 2)
It'd be fun to see your old classmates, you think. You haven't seen most of them since the summer before college. And as for the ones you have... enough time has passed all the same.
[[Get in the car.->drive]]The drive is too slow, or maybe the drive is too fast. The familiar lights of your hometown flash and blur around you. It's almost New Year's Eve, and things will liven up then, just a little bit, but for now people are staying in with their families.
The party was Amanda's idea. She never stays bitter at anyone, after all, which makes it harder to stay bitter at her. So when she Facebook-messaged (of all things!) the ten of you who had once haunted the school library after fourth-period AP Bio, and asked if you wanted to get together when you visited your families, none of you actually had the heart to say no.
And then you've arrived. The lights inside Amanda's house are bright yellow and pretty. It's only five minutes past the party's starting time, and you know for a fact that if Nora's even coming, you're here earlier than her.
[[Wait in the car for a while. You don't want to be too early.->wait]]
[[This is dumb. You're going in.->comein]](set: $repressed +=2)
(set: $bitter +=1)
You wait, keeping the heating on in your car; you think you can almost see the dry, snappy cold of the air outside. You check your school and work emails.
[[This is stupid.->knock]](set: $movedon =+2)
You leave your car. The cold is paralyzing and overwhelming. You know you go to school further south than this, that this is the reason the cold of home has grown unbelievable and paralyzing. You've gotten out of the habit of dressing for it. Still, though. You think this is the worst night yet.
[[Knock on the door.->knock]]You knock on the door; Amanda opens it, visibly delighted to see you. She throws her arms around you, as if it hasn't been years since you've seen one another. As if these are things that it's natural for anybody to pick up and leave off at a whim.
You hug her back, though, on instinct.
Amanda went to school in your hometown, and now she's bought a house there, too.
Your friends are standing by the bar, the four of you together making up your senior year lunch group. Johnny and Will wave you over.
[[Ask them how they've been.->ask]]
[[Let them speak first as you look around furtively->look]]
[[Look around. Then say, "So Nora was too good for this one, huh." Wonder at the first time you've said her name.->be a dick]]The conversation moves in; it's better than you thought it would have been. Will and Amanda have been living together for three years, and you wonder at the life of high school sweethearts, going to college and living and dying in their hometowns. There's no bitterness, though, this time. You manage to be happy they're here. More than that; you manage to be happy they're here. And then there's Johnny, as jokey as ever, back from engineering school to work at his dad's company.
You think you have it in you to regret, just a little, that you won't ever be close to them again.
(set: $movedon +=3)
[[Then, the sharp sound of neat heels on a hardwood floor.->arrival]](set: $repressed +=3)
You look around, slightly guilty for not listening to what your friends are saying. But you feel closer to her than you do to the warm laughter of your group of friends in the corner. You and her both escaped for good; they either stayed or came back. They're pulling you back in now.
Another glance around the room. She's definitely not here yet.
You wonder if she's coming at all.
[[Then, the sharp sound of neat heels on a hardwood floor.->arrival]]Amanda rushes to come and greet her. You watch. Nora is as polished as you expected, as if she'd just come out from a business meeting. She had that put-together image years ago; now, she's perfected it.
(if: $bitter >= 3) [<i>A Swiss watch more than a person,</i> you uncharitably think. If she ever felt anything, you wouldn't be able to tell.]
(if: $repressed >=3) [A flood of memories does not come pouring from every place you've stored them away. This is only because you've trained yourself to make sure they don't.]
(if: $movedon >=3) [But seeing her feels less important than you thought it would be.]
[[Go talk to her.->approach]]
[[You don't want to talk to her.->don't approach]]You come up to Nora. She meets your eyes instead of shrinking from them.
What do you say to her?
[[Nora! How have you been?-> overit intro]]
[[I didn't think I'd see you here.->bitter intro]]
[[It's been a long time.-> repressed intro]]
(set: $movedon2 to false)
(set: $bitter2 to false)
(set: $repressed2 to false)You don't want to talk to her.
(if: $repressed > 2)[[Look away. If you looked at her, all of the practice of forgetting might not be enough.->repression hours]]
(if: $movedon > 2)[[There are other people she's here to see. And there's other people you're here to see too, you begin to realize.->just b chill]]
[[Maybe later. But not now.->just b chill]](set: $bitter +=3)
"She told me she was coming," frowns Amanda. Instantly, you feel bad. You don't want to drag your friends into this.
"What even happened between you guys?" asks Will, and you don't know how to answer. "You were, like, best friends there for a while. Back in senior year."
[[There is a sound of neat heels in the entrance hall.->arrival]](if: $bitter2 is true)[She blinks at you. "I got accepted to law school, I'm not the damn president," and you're forced to admit she has a point. The current of bitterness runs through you, but abates. There are other things to think about.]
(if: $repressed2 is true)[She bites her lip. And you hate yourself for always being the one who brings these things up. "You know, high school friends fall out of contact all the time. But I do regret it sometimes," you say, all in one breath. "Anyway. I heard you got into law school?"]
(if: $movedon2 is true) ["Poli sci!" she says. "I thought it was history."]
And then you and her are talking, about normal things that aren't metaphysical or philosophical or tied to high school in the slightest, and it's all far easier than you expected it to be. Until she stops, as if remembering something she does not want to remember. The expression is familiar to you.
[["I do need to ask you something," she says.->the big question]]But the practice of forgetting follows you all the same.
There is so much you did not say to each other.
There is so much you are not saying to each other.
(set: $sadending to true)
[[Try to say it.->approach]]
[[It'll stay unsaid.->leave early ending]] You fade back into the comforting voices of your old friends. Let it become like it was once. She hangs back, or hovers on the margins. You fade in and out of her awareness; the two of you exchange a few words.
The night carries on, but you can't see it from the warmth in Amanda's kitchen. There is something admirable to you, suddenly, about the fact that she will die in her hometown. Not a point of envy, maybe, but something approaching it just slightly.
She's left before you know it. You wave her goodbye; she smiles at you.
(set: $itturnsoutfine to true)
[[Let it end there. ->leave early ending]]
[["Nora, wait."->approach]]As before, there are no stars in the sky. But the lights of Amanda's windows follow you home.
You write to Amanda occasionally. The next year, she hosts another party.
Nora doesn't come.
(if: $itturnsoutfine is true)[You find that you don't mind.]
Of course you wonder sometimes. But you try not to wonder too often.
(if: $sadending is true)[You don't see her again. Someday, the question in you dies down and then fades away to a memory of a vague, discomforting feeling you have had at points in your life. You only miss the question a little, and try to count that as a victory.]
[[END.->restart]]"Why did we stop talking anwyay?"
[[Tell the truth.->truth]]
[[Lie.->lie]]She asks, and your impulse is to think <i>you've gotten braver</i>. It floods back. Senior year; the competition, and then the friendliness, and then the filed-down thinning wall between the two of you. A winter night like this one. Your car. A linger on the edge of something more than friendship, as intense as competition but in a different direction.
The briefest - the smallest - of contacts.
"Because I liked you too much," you say. "And I could feel you being scared of it."
She looks at you, and you perceive the fact that she's looking at you now with the same sort of intensity you had in the car all those years ago.
(if: $bitter >= 4)[["I think I'm glad I backed off, anyway," you say. "You can't say you wouldn't have been afraid. And I wouldn't have been good at hiding."->apologize]]
(if: $repressed >=4)[["But that's all in the past now," you add, quickly; too quickly.->backpedal]]
(if: $movedon >=4) [[And truthfully, you add: "It sucked. It wasn't a good way for me to handle it. But we've both moved on, you know?" ->backpedal]]She asks, and your impulse is to think <i>you've gotten braver</i>. It floods back. Senior year; the competition, and then the friendliness, and then the filed-down thinning wall between the two of you. A winter night like this one. Your car. A linger on the edge of something more than friendship, as intense as competition but in a different direction.
"I don't know if there was a real reason," you say. "You know senior year. We were busy. I guess we were just getting ready to abandon everyone else."
[["I guess so," she says slowly.->backpedal]](if: $repressed >= 4)[The doubt is clear on her face, but she's not going to voice it. You know she's not going to voice it.]
You're breathing easier now. You can talk to her normally. You can ask her when she leaves for school. If she's found an apartment yet in the city she'll go to law school in.
And it's normal.
(if: $bitter2 is true)[And you hate it.]
(if: $movedon2 is true)[And you like it.]
(if: $repressed2 is true)[And you can't believe you've blown it to this extent.]
(If: $movedon >=3) [[Leave to talk to your friends after catching up for a few more minutes. Truthfully tell her it was nice seeing her.->leave contented]]
(If: $repressed >= 4) [[Realize that this was the chance you'd been thinking about, the chance to speak and be heard and say anything you didn't say to her years ago. Realize you've given it up.->lastchance]]
(set: $lastchance to false) When the door clicks shut behind you a few hours later and you step out into the night, you feel a strange sense of freedom.
Amanda has a few more parties. Nora comes to them, and so do you. The third year, you ask her what she's doing afterward, and the two of you go out for drinks.
You and her don't talk about what happened four years ago, which becomes five and then six and seven. But you talk about law school and political science. You talk about your dates, your interests, your holiday plans.
Friends are friends and others are others and the night is the night and the cold is the cold, and you and Nora and you and Nora, and you didn't have it all figured out then and you don't't now.
But life moves on. You find that you're grateful for this.
[[END.->restart]](set: $lastchance to true)
[["Or maybe it matters after all," you say. ->honestytime]](if: $lastchance is true)["I was afraid, is the thing," you said. "That's why I backed away. Choosing was easier than having you choose for me."]
She bites her lip.
"I was scared too," she says quietly. "But <i>you</i> never gave me the chance to pick."
There's a long silence between the two of you.
(if: $bitter <= 5) ["I'm sorry," you say quietly. And she nods and mouths, "Me too."]
"Listen," she says. And then you do listen. Not to anything she says (because she's not saying anything) but to the space between you and her and everything that has been said or hasn't been said or has yet to be said.
You expect her eyes to move toward the door. Instead, she asks, "Come home with me?" out loud.
(if: $bitter >= 4)[["I don't think so," you say, quiet but firm.->rejection]]
[["Yes."->YOU WIN]]Her brows draw together. When she speaks, her voice pitches high, like it did when AP Gov class got too political, and you're fascinated and disappointed at once by the fact that your memories of her are tied inextricably back to that year of your life, to a year that really, objectively, you don't think about unless you're thinking about her.
"Don't you think," she says, "that you should have let me decide that for myself?"
[["Nora, I backed off. And you didn't do anything. I think that proves me right enough."->leave angry]]
[["Maybe. But maybe I was scared of what you'd decide."->honestytime]]
(set: $bitter to +=2)You feel as if the two of you have been shouting, even as the room is silent.
"It was years ago, anyway," she says suddenly. Her voice is cold.
"Of course," you say. "Water under the bridge."
A long silence, a space within which to rescue the conversation. You let it sink.
"Good luck at <i>law school</i>," you tell her, derisive.
She rolls her eyes a little bit, and the two of you don't talk after that. For the rest of the party, the air around you feels as if it has an electric, unsteady charge; as if you've run too far, or breathed too fast.
You leave the party at midnight; the night has, if anything, grown colder.
You think about waiting in cars, about dressing up. You think about confrontations, their own sort of fantasy. How they never turn out just how you want.
[[END.->restart]]A reaching out, and then a shutting off.
You've thought about this before. Imagined how it would go.
In reality, it was softer. Less angry. And she withdraws; you almost see her doing it physically. She doesn't argue. The corners of her lips turn up slightly; whether it's forgiveness or politeness, you can't discern.
You look for the anger that was there earlier. But you can't feel it the way you planned.
You watch her say her thanks to the hosts, make her rounds amongst the guests.
You watch her leave.
You search for the sense of satisfaction, and cannot find it either.
[[END.->restart]]A smile passes between the two of you. She pulls on leather gloves in the entrance hallway. The golden warmth of the light in Amanda's house gives way to the brutal cold of the outside.
Nora looks at you, and you look back. Her eyes are bright with light long overdue.
You don't know what will happen next.
Into the starless night, you follow her.
[[END.->restart]](set: $movedon +=3)
(set: $movedon2 to true)
She raises her eyebrows. Not in an unfriendly way.
"Not bad," she says. "I graduated. Going to law school next fall."
(if: $bitter > 3) [She acts as if you don't know all this already. As always, she acts as if she's better than you.]
[["That's cool," you say. "I'm going back to school, too. Getting my poli sci masters." ->askher]](set: $bitter +=3)
(set: $bitter2 to true)
Either she misses the aggression, or she chooses to ignore it. "I didn't think I'd see anyone here," she says. "I mean, this is basically a glorified high school reunion."
A pause. Whatever you were imagining from the situation, it wasn't this.
[["All I mean is that I thought you were too good for this kind of thing," you say. "What with your law school success and all."->askher]](set: $repressed +=3)
(set: $repressed2 to true)
"I guess it has," she says distantly.
She looks at you, and instantly you remember you are the one who chose not to contact her in college, to keep things distant between the two of you through the latter half of senior year.
A flood of guilt comes back to you.
[["I guess that's my fault. I'm sorry."->askher]][[Restart from the beginning?->beginning]]