Before Alexander died, I was an extremely disorganized person. But, for whatever reason, I now find an odd comfort in being perfectly organized. Before bed every night, I make sure that my bedroom is clean and I pick my outfit out for the next day. I mark up my planner with the events for the day and try to regularly follow the layout. It's like outlining your life, and when your life is outlined, nothing can really go wrong- just like if you were giving a speech. Nothing can go wrong when you're following a tight, strict plan.
I'm on the phone with Abi when I realize that I need to make a new plan. "Remember when Avalon said that I need to get over Alexander?" I ask, in the middle of her story about her brother's new lizard that she hates. "Sorry for interrupting." In all honesty, interrupting people is probably the worst habit that I have. Well, along with biting my nails. It's not that I'm not interested or listening to what others are saying, because I am. I just have a really hard time keeping my ideas inside my head.
"Oh please," she laughs. "I'm used to it. Anyways, I told you not to listen to her. Grieve in your own time."
"I think that she's right, though, Abi. I'm so stuck in the past that I hardly feel like I'm living now." I explain. Abi's silent on the other end. I guarantee that she agrees with me, but doesn't want to say it aloud. "I think it's time for a new beginning. Alexander was a phase in my life. He'll be someone special to me forever. A story of love for my grandkids. But, I'll never have grandkids if I don't move on, right?"
"So, what's the new plan?" She asks, her high voice tentative. "Are you beginning again, or something?"
I smile to myself, thinking that a new beginning is precisely what I need. "Yes. I want to get out there again." Truthfully, I had never been interested in dating before I met Alexander. He was my first and only boyfriend. But, I remember how much I loved having someone who cared so deeply for me, and who I cared for back. "And, I want to stop being afraid of cars."
I hear Abi sigh, but she's silent still. "So, you want to date and drive?"
"Yeah. I mean, obviously I want the whole dating thing to happen with whoever it's meant to happen with. But, I should put myself back out there, yeah?"
"I think that this is a really big step that you're taking, Aaryn. Definitely in the right direction." Even though her words are encouraging, her voice falls flat. "But, if you don't feel comfortable with this, you can step right back out and everyone will be okay with it. You know that, right?"
I smile at my best friend's kindness. "Thanks, Abi. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Right on, Aaryn."
Bright and early the next morning, I found myself itching to get to school. First day jitters were common in nearly everyone, but this first day is my last first day, at least as a high schooler, and the first day of my new beginning. My jitters were destroying me. It might also be the fact that I plan to ask my mom for a ride to school today. I had spent the entirety of last year walking, no matter what the weather was. Luckily for me, Jackson, North Carolina is relatively warm all year round. Another bonus is the fact that I hardly live a twenty minute walk from the school.
I zoom through getting ready-first day jitters, even on my thirteenth first day- and when I walk downstairs to eat breakfast, I see that I have nearly forty-five minutes before I have to leave. My stomach is churning, a feeling that I've almost gotten used to, but not entirely. "Good morning, my beautiful senior," my mom cheers as I take my seat at the table. "Happy eggs, toast, and orange juice, pretty baby." I stare at the plate of food, wondering if I could even take a bite. Instead, I pick up the orange juice and take a small sip, hoping that the littlest bit could help me take in more.
"Are you nervous?" mom asks me, watching me eat. This is something that both her, my dad, and Abi have done since the day after Alexander's funeral. They were all waiting for me to get worse, but I had said my peace in the hospital, and knew that that was the worst time that I would have.
"Um, I actually wanted to ask you if you could drive me to school." I can tell that this question comes across as shocking to her, because she audibly gasps before covering up her mouth, fearing that her visible excitement would recant my request.
"Are you sure?" I look up at her, and see the worry in her eyes. "I mean, of course. Why don't you hop in for a moment to make sure you can do this? Take a seat in your car." I nod and watch as she heads up the stairs to change, a slight bounce in her step.
My palms begin to sweat, and I instantly regret talking to her about this. My parents have always been very supportive of me, and cared about the things that I cared about. They loved Alexander. However, they've kept an annoyingly close eye on me since Alexander died. Never had I tried to harm myself or anyone else, but they- along with half of the town's population- were waiting for me to.
I should have done this first step by myself. I lace up my sneakers and walk into the garage. Almost a cliché, my car is covered with a tarp, which I rip off to reveal the beautiful red Hyundai Elantra that my parents had bought me nearly two years ago when I turned sixteen. I had yelled and screamed at my parents for a long while about selling the car. I'm glad they didn't, but I'm upset that it's sitting here collecting dust when half of my friends don't have cars.
But I do.
And I refuse to sit in it, let alone drive it.
I take a deep breath and open up the driver's side door, and instantly the scent of coconut fills my nostrils. Alexander had bought me a car freshener when he insisted that my car had too much of a “new car smell” to it. I decide that the best way to do this is to not think about it, and jump right in. So, I take a seat.
My heart rate speeds to an unreasonably high level, and I recall 1, 2, 3, 4. Since Alexander died I had been recounting those numbers. 1. I was upset with Max, 2. I was leaving the house, 3. I saw Alex run out, 4. I heard the horn. Those four minute seconds changed my life almost as much as Alexander himself had.
I tell my mom that I need to walk to school today. I can see the disappointment in her eyes, but there’s also something telling me that she knew that I wouldn’t be able to go for a drive today. But, something in me tells me that I’ll be able to someday.
“Hey,” Abi says, panting from running toward me. “You’re late. We were worried that you wouldn’t show.”
I smile at her. “I, uh, sat in my car this morning, and majorly freaked out,” I admit.
Her face shows confusion, and I know that she can’t tell whether to feel sorry or happy for me, so I say, “It’s a good thing. I mean, no one really should have expected me to just one day up and drive, right?”
“Right. Just like I shouldn’t have expected myself to be able to read Fahrenheit 451 in one day,” she says, the corners of her lips quirking up into a smile. “Can you tell me about the ending? Knowing Ms. White, she’ll make us take a quiz on it, even though it’s only the first day.”
My own grin widens to mirror hers, “Of course I can. Truthfully, the ending sucked.”
“May I sit here?” a deep voice startles me in homeroom. I look up to see Noah, whose hair is just as messy as it had been yesterday when I first met him.
“Oh, uh, hi,” I mutter, my cheeks reddening at the thought of how ridiculous I must have seemed to him yesterday, sobbing and all. “Yeah, take a seat.” I say, with more clarity in my voice.
“Thanks.” And then it’s silent. It’s slightly awkward. I mean, we technically should make friends with each other, because of how close Max and I have become, but I can’t force the image of me hyperventilating, snot coming out of my nose, and my red, puffed cheeks from yesterday. “It’s Aaryn, right?”
“That’s a nice name. Max has told me a lot about you,” he notes. His voice is gruff, which is a little surprising. He’s not exactly what you would call handsome, but he’s cute. If you’re into the wiry type. Alexander was muscular. I turn my head to him, wondering if he knew about Alexander. But, not only does he not mention this, he doesn’t mention my scene yesterday.
“Uh, thanks. And your name is Noah.” It isn’t really a question, but he nods anyways. “Yeah. Avalon told me yesterday that we’re all in AP Literature together. That’s cool.”
Then we’re quiet again. Unfortunately, I can’t really escape the awkwardness that Noah and I have boxed ourselves into. My first three classes are AP classes, all of which he is in, and then lunch, where he sits with the crew. Well, the crew minus Abigail and Peter, much to my disappointment. Seeing as he doesn’t know anyone else, we sit together and partner up in classes.
When we finally enter fifth period AP Lit, I am beyond excited to see Abi. “Oh my god, have I missed you,” she says, wrapping her arms around my neck. We pick out the perfect seats, with Avalon and Piper seated directly in front of us. Ms. White saunters in- a decently young teacher, but also one of the toughest in the entire school. I look to my right and notice a mop of blond curls, beyond him is Liam, who Avalon had pointedly sat away from. Of course, I think to myself, almost laughing at the never ending cycle the two of them go through. I begin to wonder about Noah’s backstory. Even though we’ve spent the whole morning together, neither of us really talked about anything personal. I suppose that when you’ve both got recently deceased loved ones, there isn’t much you’d like to share.
When Noah turns and sees me looking at him, he gives me a small smile, which I clumsily return before tuning back into Ms. White’s speech. “Stand up,” she’s saying, “You’ll all be partnered up to discuss Fahrenheit 451.”
Abigail and I grin at one another, excited to get to spend some time together. Although, she might be more excited that she has someone who won’t judge her for not actually finishing the story. “Don’t get too excited,” Ms. White says, quieting the classroom of excited chatters down. “I’ll be partnering you up.”
Piper gets partnered with some gorgeous boy who I’ve never met, Avalon is paired with Alyssa Mila, the class president and an incessant know-it-all, and Abigail and Liam find themselves high fiving as they’re partnered together. And then, I suppose that the world knew something that I didn’t about coupling. Because, after partnering up all morning, I am paired with Noah.
“Here’s to beginning again,” Abigail says, raising a fake glass in the air.
“To beginning again,” I mutter, nodding at Noah.