I wonder, briefly, if Noah knows that we’re very alike in one extremely specific way. Though, I would argue that he probably has it worse. Definitely has it worse. His mom just died, and he has no other family, which leads me to wonder where everyone else from his family is. Dead? Abandoned him? Could he know more heartbreak than what I’m feeling at this very moment? I wonder if he knows that I could understand his pain. But, I guess I’m the cryptic one here, not him. So there’s no way that I could blame him for not sharing, is there?
“Did you like Fahrenheit 451?” Noah asks, ruffling his mop of hair, something he’s done a lot in the last few hours that we’ve spent sort of together.
“I like it. Well, up until the end, that is. Easily the worst ending I’ve ever read,” I say, repeating the mantra I had given to Abi this morning. I could tell that he could sense the distance I’ve been placing myself at with him.
Still, his tone is easygoing and friendly. “Oh, you wound me, Aaryn Lake.”
I freeze up, for only a second, thinking back to the moment that I met Alexander, and how he nearly always called me by both my first name and last name. Noah notices this. I conjecture, for less time than it takes him to begin to speak, if he’ll say anything. Thus far in the day, he hasn’t said anything about my meltdown at the bakery yesterday. Unfortunately, he is not so nice this time. Or, maybe he’s too nice. “I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?” he asks, quickly. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
“I don’t like for anyone to call me that,” I say, my voice low and hollow, a dull pain beginning to form in my chest, where I feel emptiness abound. I stare at Noah, awaiting the look. I know fairly well that I’ve probably already given it to him. Even people who know and hate the look give it to others. It’s a natural reaction, I guess.
The look never comes. And I’m unsure why.
“Can I tell you a secret?” he whispers, leaning in closely to me, clearly unfazed this time by my strange behavior.
Intrigued, I also lean in, our faces close enough that to anyone else, it might look as though we are about to kiss. “My mom always called me Junior, because I’m named after my dad. So my Aunt always calls me that, now. And I hate it.” I nod in understanding. “But I think that it makes her feel better, too. Mom’s death didn’t just affect me. And so I let her call me it even though I hate it.”
“Yeah, but you calling me ‘Aaryn Lake’ won’t make you feel better.” I state, pulling my head back slightly when I realize that we’re still sitting with our noses nearly touching.
“But I do like your name a lot,” he says, a smirk present on his lips.
The silence settles around us as it had much of the morning, and I can’t wait to get out of class, knowing that I wouldn’t have another class with Noah.
Abigail is rushing out of AP Lit because her next class is across the school, so I opt to walk out with Liam instead, who shares study hall with me for sixth period.
“So, since you and Noah are the nerds of our group, I assume you’ve gotten to know each other pretty well,” he states, but more as an inquiry. Noah did note at lunch that we had spent pretty much all of the morning together.
“Not really,” I admit, humbly. “I’m just not so good at making new friends. I mean, you guys know that,” I state. And it’s true. If it hadn’t been for Liam and Abigail’s incessant insisting that I be friends with them, I would have begun to stay to myself again, like I had before Alexander and I met.
“Oh,” he muses. “I just thought since you two were practically making out in class that you had found something in common.” I can feel my cheeks instantly heat up as he laughs. “Neither Abi or I actually read all of the book, so we watched you two awkwardly talking the entire time.”
I decide to change the subject quickly. “Speaking of books, how is yours coming? Isn’t it due soon, or else your famous author friend won’t write you a letter of recommendation?”
He groans, pushing back his dark hair. “It’s awful. I’m so uninspired and everything with Avalon is going on again. It’s just been really rough.”
“You and Avalon either need to quit or grow up. You two can’t keep trampling on each other’s hearts all of the time.”
He smiles a bit. “I don’t know, Aaryn. It’s like, I’d rather be filled with passion and have my heart broken a million times than play it safe, like you.” My favorite thing about Liam is that, besides Max, he’s the least likely to treat me like a paper thin piece of fine China. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad- now- that you never said yes to going out with me, but you’re a beautiful girl, Aaryn. So many boys here have asked you out and you always have rejected them, for fear of falling.”
I sigh. “I haven’t had a boy from this school ask me out since the last day of sophomore year. It was you, for the record,” I say, smiling in remembrance of the day that I had met Alexander. Liam had actually asked me to dinner about twenty minutes before, and, like always, I had declined.
“Really? Well, maybe you should ask someone on a date, then. Like Max. You know that he’s got that weird thing with you.”
I scrunch my nose up. “I don’t know. Like, you know that I think Max is cool and everything, but I wouldn’t ever want to ruin our friendship.” I think about how close Max and I have become since Alexander’s death. It has always been evident that he has a crush on me, but more than that, I like being his friend. I’m unsure if his kindness is a result of the crush, but I do know that I like the caring personality that he has. I’m very unsure if I’m willing to change that.
“Oh, just do it. If everything goes to shit then he’ll realize it, too. And then you guys will be cool as just friends.” I nod, but decide to speak to Abi about it first.
One of the worst things about me is the severe social anxiety that I have. Since talking to Abigail (“Oh my God, yes! I always thought that you and Max would be perfection together!”), I’ve been practicing asking Max to go on a date with me in my head for two periods. I’ve probably come up with three responses to any answer that he could give, and all the while I feel like throwing up. I don’t know if it’s because there’s a possibility that I actually kind of like Max or because I legitimately always feel like throwing up.
I have planned out to the moment when I will ask him. Unfortunately, I completely forgot that Noah would now be joining us on the walk home. While Max’s mom has always taken him to school, when he found out last year that I walk, he began to walk with me, seeing as his house is three down from mine.
Noah stands in between me and Max, and they excitedly talk about Noah’s first day at Jackson High. I’m quiet for most of the walk, internally cursing at myself when I miss the spot where I had planned to ask Max on a date. “Aaryn, you okay?” Noah asks, leaning in closely to me. His voice is gruff and low, so he casually gets closer every time he speaks. If he didn’t, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have even heard him.
“Oh, yeah. I, umm,” I pointedly look at Max. “I, uh, wanted to ask you something.” I mentally slap myself because I hadn’t planned on sounding so stupid when saying that.
His one of a kind smile forms on his lips as he says, “Sure. What’s up?”
“Well, I was wondering if we could hang out sometime.” Inwardly, I groan. I sounded completely unconfident and plain embarrassing.
“We hang out a lot, Aaryn. You feeling okay?” His easygoing smile is still present on his lips as he teases me.
“I meant, like on a date.” I watch as his smiling face turns into one of confusion, his eyes dark and wide as ever. “Unless that’s not cool, then, like, whatever.”
Looking at Noah, who stands so gawkily stands between Max and me, and I know that this is one of my more embarrassing moments in life. His face is red from holding in laughter at this clumsy encounter between Max and I. I groan, this time audibly. “Never mind, that was so dumb.”
Max quickly steps towards me, grabbing my hand. “No,” he shouts in protest. “No, that’s a great thing. It just threw me off, is all. I’d, uh, really like to go on a date with you. How’s Friday?”
I smile, relieved that I haven’t made a complete fool of myself. “Friday is great. That’s great.”
Fortunately, I don’t have to withstand the awkwardness of the entire situation because we’ve arrived at my house. “See you two tomorrow, then.” I say as I give them a small wave.
“Goodbye, Aaryn!” Max nearly yells, as Noah turns him around, still laughing at the hilarity of the events that had just occurred.
Unfortunately, I enter to an empty home. When the house is empty is when I feel the worst. So I invite Liam over to hang out until my parents get home. His parents both travel a lot, so he’s never too busy with his family life to do anything, so he spends a good deal of his time at our house, especially since finding out that my parents aren’t really home anymore either.
I tell him the entirely embarrassing story of me asking Max out in front of Noah, and he laughs the entire time, as expected. My mom calls me around eight o’clock to inform me that neither she nor my father will be home tonight. Normally, I call Max or Abigail to sleep over when this happens, but now that Noah is staying with Max (combined with the fact that I’m not sure if I can handle seeing him before tomorrow), I decide to ask Liam instead, since he’s already here. As he enters the bedroom across the hall from mine, I smile at him, glad to have him as a stable friend in my life.