Closeness

I’ve been neglecting this story with so much going on this quarter, so here’s a very rough draft of another chapter. I’m going to try to finish up the rough draft this year, and it’s probably gonna be shelved while I work on finishing up Lady by the Window to complete the Tupper Jones Mysteries contract with Amber Cove, and Starfall with Cindy to wrap up the first superhero trilogy. This installment is 1560 words.

 


Robert watched Steven very closely over the next few days, and he didn’t like what he saw. He definitely seemed happier, and he was acting like his old self, only more carefree than he had ever been before. Ruby still sat by him every lesson, but now David and Leonard had moved across and sat with him, too. He was smiling and laughing with his three friends, and was doing his school work quite happily. If the teacher’s overheard comments were to be believed, he was even catching up to where he had been before Lindsay’s death.

It seemed Steven’s three friends were making a profound effect on everyone else at the school. People were questioning everything, and many were acting almost normal toward Steven again. It seemed that Steven’s life was returning to how it had been before the trial, but things were changing dramatically for Robert.

He was the only who flat-out refused to forgive Steven. He maintained that Steven killed Lindsay and should be absolutely hated for it. He made sure he never talked to Steven, and tried to convince everyone else to think the same way he did. Unfortunately for him, no one did, which left him the odd man out more often now.

As things progressed, Robert was sitting by himself in class all the time. He refused to speak to anyone who considered Steven a friend, so he spoke to practically no one. It seemed to Robert that their roles had reversed. Steven was becoming popular and happy, while Robert was becoming isolated and depressive.

Steven typed happily away on the computer while Ruby spoke to Leonard about something and David did nothing as usual. Robert typed in a corner of the room with his eyes glued to the screen. Ruby turned around and said to Steven, “So, what do you want to do tomorrow?”

Steven stiffened for a moment before he spoke slowly and quietly. “Well, would you want to spend the day in the city?” he finally asked with a tense smile.

Ruby smiled back, her voice at normal volume. “Sounds great! What time do you want me to meet you?”

Robert stiffened as he listened to his ex-girlfriend make plans with his ex-best friend. Ruby and Steven were heading into the city together, alone? Was it a date? Was something going on between them?

Leonard winked at Steven and the boy quickly looked away with a nevertheless proud smile. David and Leonard started to talk about what they were going to do the next day without “the lovebirds” while Ruby blushed and gave Steven a smile, then continued with her work. Steven sighed heavily and looked at his screen like it was making him want to throw up.

An idea popped into Robert’s head that he couldn’t ignore. What if Steven was planning something? What if he was going to do something terrible to Ruby like he had to Lindsay?

Lindsay hadn’t deserved to date someone like Steven, and neither did Ruby. They were both too good for him.

* * *

Robert paced around his room punching his bed at random intervals. Why was Ruby going out with Steven? Why was everyone turning against him and being friends with Steven? What was he going to do?

Get back at him for what he has done to you.

Robert spun around at the sound of the voice and found no one was around. He was alone in his bedroom with his movie posters and memorabilia. Why was he hearing voices? Was he going crazy now? He put his head in his hands and took some deep breaths.

He wasn’t sure why Ruby was going out with Steven, but he was determined to find out and put a stop to it before it ended badly. He refused to let her get hurt – or worse, die – because she had bad taste in guys.

If she was going out with me, I would make sure she didn’t commit suicide. I would keep her safe.

You can keep her safe.

Robert considered the voice for a long moment before nodding his head in agreement. He couldn’t be her boyfriend because of Steven’s lies, but he could still protect her. He could tell her the truth he never told Lindsay – that he, Robert, was the one they deserved. He was the only one who could save Ruby now.

* * *

Steven paced at the station, sweat dotting his upper lip and dripping down his back under his t-shirt. There were no longer butterflies in his stomach; a pack of Gorillas had taken up residence there instead and were fighting in a violent death match. He wiped his forehead and tried to calm down. It wasn’t meant to be a date, so why was he so nervous?

Steven didn’t flinch when the boy bumped into him, but when he looked up, he froze. Robert. Both boys seemed to stare for ages before Robert finally made to move on.

“Robert, wait,” Steven said. The silver-haired boy stopped and looked back. His teeth were bared through a tight scowl and his eyes burned with rage. Steven hesitated for a second but quickly gathered himself. “Robert, why are we still like this?” He waited for a response but none came. Steven took a breath and tried again. “I’m not asking you to forgive me, Robert. Please, I just want us back to the way we were. Or at least on speaking terms. I know you won’t forgive me for what happened to Lindsay, but I swear, I would never have let her hurt herself if I had known.”

Robert’s face relaxed as he stared at Steven. “Who are you?”

Steven felt like Robert had punched him, and he fought back tears. “Robert, please, don’t do this. Why can’t we be friends again?” He reached out, but Robert took a step back and held up his hands.

“Look, buddy, I don’t know who you are, but keep away from me. I don’t want any of what you’re selling.”

Robert turned and marched off. Steven continued to push back tears. Why had Robert acted like he didn’t know him? Steven tried to compose himself for Ruby’s imminent arrival, but he couldn’t get Robert’s furious face, or the blank stare that followed, out of his head

* * *

Robert hid on the platform and watched the door intently. A few minutes later, as Steven and Ruby entered the station, Robert studied the two teenagers.

Steven definitely seemed distracted, but from what Robert could see, Ruby hadn’t noticed. They bought their tickets and waited for the train. They didn’t hold hands, but stood close to each other, not quite but almost touching.

When they got on the train, Robert boarded after them and tried to keep out of sight, hoping they wouldn’t notice him.

* * *

Steven thought the train ride was fine; they simply talked about school and other normal, boring things. Steven thought he glimpsed Robert skulking around once but decided he had imagined it. After his earlier encounter with him, he knew Robert didn’t want to see him or speak to him, so it would make no sense for him still to be hanging around.

He and Ruby spent the day wandering the city. He showed her the things only someone who had lived in the area for years would know about, and she made fun of him for never having lived anywhere else.

She told him about the school she moved from, and how she had gotten on the wrong side of the wrong girl. She almost teared up once as she explained the way the girl, once her friend, had turned completely against her and brought most of the rest of her friend group with her.

Once the important stuff was over, they talked about graduation, their plans for the future, and laughed happily together at remembered antics of their mutual friends.

Steven couldn’t imagine how the day could get any better.

* * *

As they roamed the streets, Ruby struggled to understand exactly how she felt about Steven. She knew she liked him; that much was obvious, otherwise she would not have asked him out. The real, pressing question was how much she liked him.

At first, she thought it was just something like a little crush of sorts, brought on by a shared bond in being ostracized for things out of their control, but now she wasn’t so sure. Her feelings went too deep. They were too strong. They felt too real.

She really enjoyed spending time with him, and did as often as she could. He was funny, and seemed to have a really bright outlook on life once he had a support system to help him out of the funk Lindsay’s death had thrown over his life. Ruby was shocked at the person he really was, and was heartbroken to hear all that happened to change him so much.

But what exactly where these deep feelings inside her? Just what did she feel for Steven? Could she be so bold as to say… love?

She darted a glance at him and found him watching her with a crooked smile on his face. She blushed, grinned, and took his hand, expecting it to feel awkward like all new relationships did. But it didn’t. It felt right.

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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