Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 18

Besides seeing her at the game, or at least thinking I saw her at the game, and twice the next day, I almost bumped into her in the hall before she turned and abruptly walked in the other direction. She acted like she’d heard someone call her one time, and like she’d forgotten something, ducking back into her classroom the second time; I wasn’t imagining it. She was avoiding me.

I know Chef had said I needed to be patient, the pond and all that, and wait for her to make the next move, but it was killing me. On my way to practice after sixth period, I saw her standing next to her locker, by herself for once, digging through her backpack. I tried to tell myself to just turn and walk the other way, to give her some space, but my body didn’t seem to want to listen to my brain.

It was almost like I watched myself from the outside as I marched up to her locker, stopping and leaning casually against the locker next to hers, saying words that I couldn’t seem to stop from coming out.

“Were you at the game yesterday?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

She looked up at me in surprise, something like panic crossing her face before she smoothed her expression.

“What?” she said, incredibly casually, like we’d been talking all day.

“I thought I saw you in the stands yesterday after the game ended.”

“Nope. I had homework. Did you win?”

She was lying. I hadn’t been positive when I’d first walked over here, but as soon as she answered, I knew she was lying. What I couldn’t figure out was why. Why hide that she was at the game? It wasn’t like I was the only guy on the team she knew, so she could say she was there to see someone else if she really wanted to dig into me.

“Yes,” I said, and then did exactly what Chef told me not to do. “Why are you avoiding me? I know you were upset, but we can at least still talk.”

“I’m not avoiding you. Like I said, I had homework.”

“What about in the halls today? Twice you saw me and turned in the other direction.”

“Charlie,” she said, exasperated. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’m not avoiding you. I’m sorry if you saw me and thought I was being rude or whatever, but whatever you saw, I didn’t see you. If I turned the other way, it was probably for a reason, and you just misread the situation.”

She was gaslighting me hard, but other than calling her a liar to her face, which I was pretty sure wouldn’t give me the result I was looking for, I wasn’t sure what to do about that.

“I didn’t,” I said, trying to stand firm without actually accusing her of anything. “You looked right at me and turned away. You ducked into Mrs. Philips’ room the second time, and you don’t even have her class. Why would you go in there if it wasn’t to avoid me?”

“One of my friends was in there and called my name. Charlie, I can’t help it if you’re sad or whatever, but I don’t really want to stand here and argue over what you think I said or did.”

“Okay, maybe I misread it. If you aren’t avoiding me, then can I call you later so we can talk?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of homework, and my dad’s been piling on the chores. I might not have time.”

“Then you tell me when we can talk. I’m willing to work around your schedule. You say you aren’t avoiding me, but you can’t even find twenty minutes to just talk.”

“I’ll try,” she said.

“Come on, Sydney.”

Sydney sighed again, louder, dropping her gaze to the floor. “Charlie, we’ve been over this. I told you I’m not avoiding you and explained why I’ve been busy. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”

“I just want the truth. We can’t fix this if you won’t even admit why you’re mad at me or why we’ve barely spoken for days.”

Sydney rolled her eyes. “God, why are you being like this?”

I frowned. “Like what?”

“So clingy and desperate. I said I was sorry, what more do you want?”

She wasn’t wrong, I was being clingy and desperate, but I didn’t know what else to do. I really liked her, it was all slipping away, and there was literally nothing I could do about it.

“I’m just trying to have an honest conversation,” I said, trying hard not to sound exasperated. “Can you really blame me for being concerned?”

Sydney crossed her arms, leaning back against the lockers. “I told you, I haven’t been avoiding you. I’ve just been busy. I don’t know why you can’t seem to accept that.”

I mimicked her stance, watching her closely. “Because I know you, and I know what happened Saturday. If we can’t talk about this, we can’t fix anything.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said, throwing her hands up in exasperation.

“Sydney, I miss you. I miss spending time with you. I miss our lunches and phone calls. I just want to get things back to where they were.”

She glanced up at me, a flicker of some emotion I couldn’t read passing over her features. But as quickly as it appeared, it was gone, and her expression was guarded once more.

She shrugged. “People grow apart sometimes. It’s not a big deal.”

I blinked, stunned by her words. “Two days ago you told me you loved me, now you say we’re grown apart. That doesn’t make any sense. I know I didn’t say it back, but I still care for you a lot. I just need more time. I tried to explain this...”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it,” she said, pushing away from the locker.

When she tried to brush past me, I grabbed her arm. It wasn’t hard, and I put no pressure on it, because I wasn’t trying to hold her hostage. I just didn’t want her to storm off, especially with things like they were.

“But if we don’t talk about it, then how will we fix our problems?”

“I didn’t say we had problems. You made your feelings clear, and I’m just leaving it at that.” She was getting angry now, eyes flashing. “Why does everything have to be so dramatic?”

“You can’t be serious. You told me you loved me, and when I didn’t say it back, you shut down. Since then, we haven’t talked at all, and you’re trying to act like it’s just a coincidence and has nothing to do with what happened. I just want honesty, Sydney.”

She pulled her arm free and said, “I can’t do this right now, Charlie. I’m sorry.”

With that, she turned and walked off down the hall without a backward glance. I stood watching her go, a hollow ache in my chest. This entire conversation was probably a mistake, but I was certain if I let her she’d just avoid it. If she wouldn’t even talk about it when I confronted her, she definitely wouldn’t deal with it on her own.

It was hopeless.

Thursday, everyone was still riding high from the game on Monday. We had another away game on Friday, which was going to play hell with my schedule since I’d have to drive separately and rush from the game all the way back to the Blue Ridge for our gig that night. Worse, I still hadn’t gotten Coach Dean’s approval.

Technically, all students had to ride to and from away games together on the bus unless they had a waiver signed. Emancipation was making that difficult since the official forms still required a parent or guardian’s signature. At any other school, they probably would’ve figured something out.

I didn’t go to any other school though, and Mr. Packer was making it a pain for me. I’d tried to come up with a workaround and have Mrs. Phillips sign off on it, but Mr. Packer shot that down too. Since I only lived with her, she apparently didn’t count as a guardian. Coach Dean said he’d try to work something out, but so far, it looked like I was going to be almost an hour late to our gig, which was going to cut down on how long we could play and maybe lose us part of the crowd.

I could’ve sicced Mr. Eaves on him, but I still owed a boatload to Chef that I was trying to pay back. Lawyers were crazy expensive, and I didn’t exactly make the kind of money where that bill was no big deal.

At least things were going well with the team. Harry aside, I was getting a ton of support from the other players after my back-to-back plays over the last two games. Even Paul said something nice, and he only hated me a little less than Harry did. I guess the difference is that Harry hated me more than he wanted to win baseball games, and Paul apparently didn’t.

The team had also apparently taken my catch two games ago as a challenge. They kept hitting balls farther and farther out to right field, seeing if I could still chase them down. I didn’t catch them all, but I got enough to maintain my reputation.

I’d just missed one that had come in too high for me to get my glove on and grabbed it off the ground when, looking up, I saw Warren. Cast on one leg and a crutch under his arm, he was leaning against the fence, watching me.

I waved to Coach Dean, indicating my visitor, and got the go-ahead signal as I tossed the ball back to the second baseman and walked over to the fence.

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