Thor and Morrigan had become two of my closest friends. They weren't the best of friends to each other; but they had an understanding and were mostly polite to each other when we shared company. Although, they sniped at each other occasionally. We mostly hung out during the school year. During summer, they took off for vacations, going on sailing adventures or seeing exotic places that the upper class families usually went for holidays. Me, I stayed home and hung out with my neighborhood friends, playing games, camping out, or just going to the beach. We started having bonfires and stayed up late into the night. We took a radio with us to the beach at night and sang and danced under the stars to the songs playing on the FM station.
House music was on the rise. Depeche Mode and New Order moved the masses to the innovative, inspiring beat of electronic music. Madonna and Janet Jackson ruled the airwaves. Hip hop was rumbling in the underground like a volcano that would soon explode across the music landscape. And by the time we started high school, MC Hammer was the biggest musician on the planet. Parachute pants were the trend of the day. Not that I owned any. Still, fashion had changed, and we traded our tight torn jeans for oversized, loose clothing--big T shirts, baseball caps, and baggy jeans barely held up by extra long belts.
And it wasn't just fashion that was changing. Puberty had taken over our bodies. Hormones were let lose and we grew taller, moodier, and hairier! We were feeling intense emotions we had never felt before and the stirrings in our loins frightened and fascinated us with their primal, uncontrollable urges. It was a confusing time; it was an exciting time. Everything felt new and dramatic. We were dealing with deep conflicting issues for the first time, and we didn't have the benefit of experience to temper our reactions. It was a time of many changes.
I was excited that first day of high school. I spotted Thor and he smiled and waved me over. He had gotten taller, and so had I. We were both still skinny kids; his hair was longer; I was sporting a faux hawk. We were generally happy to see each other. We greeted each other enthusiastically and proceeded to catch each other up on how we spent our summers and compared our class schedules. There was a general excitement in the air, and we were caught up in it as well. We met our other friends and soon started laughing again.
A movement at the corner of my eyes caught my attention. I was suddenly captivated by appearance of the longest, smoothest pair of legs I had ever seen. I slowly scanned those legs upwards. My gaze lingered a bit on the tiny white shorts that encased the top of those long, lean thighs. And when those legs started strutting, I moved my eyes up a long torso to see who those legs belonged to. And I was stunned to realize that those legs belonged to Morrigan! Clearly, she had undergone a growth spurt over the summer.
Thor grabbed my shoulder, leaned in and whispered, "You still got a thing for her, huh?"
I replied, "I can't help it; the thing has gotten bigger."
Thor raised an eyebrow, and we chuckled at the realization of the double meaning of what I had said. Thor said, "Stop bragging you perv."
I laughed, "It's not bragging. It's the truth!"
High school was great time of experimentation for me. I had made peace with my father's passing, and it made me realize that life was too short. The summer before high school, I got a real job, with a paycheck and taxes and punch cards! It was my first job, and surviving it changed my perspective. I realized that if I wanted things to happen, I had to take action and make them happen. No one was going to hand me my dreams on a silver platter. I wasn't that lucky. Life is what you make of it. I decided to become more active in school, meet new people, and try out new things. I felt very empowered, that I had some control over my life. At least in school, I could make my own choices and decide what I was going to do that day. I was also starting to take a stand, refusing to do the things I didn't want to do. I was starting to question things, earning a reputation as a smart ass and rebellious kid.
My circle of friends expanded to all types of people--jocks, smart kids, artists, gangsters, and party kids. I felt just as comfortable and at home with my nerd friends as I did with my delinquent buddies. I floated in different circles, and I enjoyed it. I was also speaking up more. Thor brought it to my attention one day over lunch. He said, "Dude, I remember when you were so quiet and kept to yourself. Now you're just all over the place, and out of control."
I laughed. I didn't think I had changed on the inside. I was still the same person, only I was learning to speak my mind and express myself. And while I was busy making friends across the spectrum, Thor had solidified his standings in his circle of upper crust followers. These were the rich kids, some of them were real snobs. In time, he would be the leader of their affluent pack. He was also a part of the jocks circle, full of talented athletes from different backgrounds. But Thor and I still hung out and even played on some of the same teams in high school. We were still close, and we still shared things with each other that we could not tell our other friends. He confided in me his fears of never living up to the great expectations of his family, of never reaching the goals he set for himself. I shared my fear of getting stuck in our small town; I wanted to see the world.
Meanwhile, Morrigan had branched out into the smart circles, the intellectuals and nerds and drama club. She also hung out with the athletes because of her excellent volleyball and tennis skills. In fact, that's why she took to wearing those tiny white short shorts. It was part of her tennis uniform. I had gone jogging one evening and happened to end my run at the park when I heard someone call my name. It was Morrigan. I didn't know she played tennis at this particular park.
She introduced me to one of her tennis buddies. I had seen her before at school, one of the rich, society girls. I didn't really care for her, but she was a member of Morrigan's circle, her close friend. I called her Tamar. Tamar was one of the fashion clones at high school, always wearing the latest trends, vying for queen bee status among the popular girls. I didn't find her particularly interesting, but then I never really made an effort to get to know her. Still, I was polite to her.
Once I learned that Morrigan played tennis at this particular court, I made an effort to run by that park a lot, just so I could see Morrigan and hang out. I also started studying up on tennis, so we'd have something to talk about and I would appear genuinely interested in the game. I didn't want to look like some perv just out there to watch girls in tiny, tight shorts run around, and bounce, and pant as they worked those rackets and whacked those balls. And the funny thing is, I actually became really interested in tennis, and I still follow tennis to this day.
My feelings for Morrigan were conflicted as we grew older. I guess I always knew that I liked her a lot, but it wasn't until I was a 16 that I realized that I might possibly be in love with her. Not that I knew what love was; but it was a strong feeling of attraction that I've never felt before. The only person I told this to was Thor, and he kept it to himself. He wanted to know what I was going to do about it. I told him I wasn't sure. And that was the truth. I wasn't sure how to handle it.
On the one hand, she was one of my closest friends, and we shared an amazing connection. She told me her greatest fears and her biggest hopes. She wanted to be independent and she had great ambition; she wanted to prove that she was just as good, if not better, than her older siblings, whose academic accomplishments her father frequently bragged about. She told me that she trusted me with things she didn't think her other friends would understand. And I liked that I could be honest with her, as she was with me. She didn't hesitate to tell me when I was acting like a total jackass, and I did the same for her. In a way, we were sort of each other's anchor, the one who held the kite string while the other soared to the heavens. I wasn't sure if I could risk ending a great friendship over unrequited love. I didn't think I would be able to face her after making a move and then getting rejected. I didn't think I was brave enough for that.
But on the other hand, we flirted a lot. She enjoyed telling me dirty jokes and we shared a twisted sense of humor. It was a little confusing trying to read her. She liked to lay her head on my shoulder and frequently asked me to massage her shoulders. And if we were sitting on a bench or the grass, she'd put her legs over mine. I suppose that would be normal behavior in any friendship, except, she seemed upset when other girls did the same thing with me. She would give me this dirty disapproving look when she caught me with my arms around another girl. But rather than waste time analyzing the ambivalent nature of our relationship, I decided it was safer not to pursue anything more with Morrigan. I could live with just being friends, and at the time, that was enough.
It's not like I needed Morrigan's approval on the girls I wanted to spend time with. In fact, I rather enjoyed spending time with other girls. It wasn't easy, and I didn't always succeed. But I figured it was much better to take a chance and ask a girl out. Was I nervous? Hell, yeah! I remember my heart racing, sweating, and trying not to sound scared; but I hated feeling regrets and missing out much more than the anxiety of asking a girl out. I found a great way to meet girls was by joining various clubs and activities. Whether it was painting a mural or planting trees or singing in a choir, there was always time to meet new girls and hang out with the ones I liked. But the best place for me to approach girls was the dance floor. Dances were a great way to spend a short time with various girls and try to leave a good impression. I enjoyed dancing, and a lot of girls liked to dance, so it was a win win situation for me.
I was earning a reputation as an all round good, fun guy, quite different from the quiet, loner image I had in junior high school. But my relationship with Thor was also changing. We had always had this friendly rivalry that started when we first raced each other back in junior high school. Back then, it was all in good fun. But in high school, our friendly competition was elevated by higher stakes and more dangerous games.
We weren't just competing on the tracks and fields of sports; we expanded into academic and social arenas as well. Thor was gifted in math; he wanted to be an engineer. I had to work harder and longer to understand concepts that came so easy to him. But I still kicked ass in science and classes that required writing papers. I became so good at the written word that I found myself ghost writing papers for other students, even upper classmen. I got paid well for doing it, and that money paid for my recreational activities.
Thor and I also started competing for girls. It started out innocently enough, when we both started talking to the same girl. Neither of us wanted to back off. Then we went after the standouts, the pack leaders, and most desirable girls in school. It wasn't anything serious; we just wanted to take them out once or have them as a date to a school dance. He had his family reputation and golden boy image to rely on; I had to use my charms and skills to compete. We were pretty much even, until it came to the dance floor. Thor liked to play it cool and sit on the sidelines, surrounded by his adoring entourage; I liked to get out on the dance floor and get my groove on. I had an advantage. And by the end of my sophomore year, I had girls asking me to dance, because they knew I would get out on the dance floor with them, slow song, fast song, any song.
It wasn't all fun in high school. I mean, I do remember some tough experiences. But I just felt so much more in control of my own life in school. However tough my home situation was, in school, I felt free; I knew that one way or another, I was getting out of my small town to see the world. But while I was busy trying to break out, Thor was getting boxed in. If I had spent more time with him, I might've seen the signs. But by the time I was an upper classman, I started dropping out of school teams. They were cutting into my socializing time. I couldn't very well go to after school parties or enjoy other activities if I had to stay for practice. When I was a junior, the only team I still played on was track and field, because the season was shorter, and I still enjoyed running. And when the season was over, I didn't join any more teams. So, my interaction with Thor was cut to just a few classes we still shared and the occasional lunch, when I was in school and not cutting class with a different crew.
I thought we were still close, but I was blind to the storm looming on the horizon. And by the last semester of our senior year, that storm would devastate the very foundations of the friendships and trust I've built over the years. While I was busy planning my escape into the big world, Thor was feeling trapped. I had nothing, only dreams and hopes and sheer will power to carry me forward. Thor had everything. His future had all ready been planned and laid out by his family. He would go to a top privileged college and he would get a job in government, a career in politics, like his father, and his forefathers before him. His dreams of being an engineer were dismissed and discouraged by his father. Though I tried to encourage him to follow his dreams, he couldn't imagine going against his family. He felt he had an obligation to keep up the family name and reputation. I guess he felt helpless, like he had no say in his future. Maybe that's why he did what he did. I don't think he meant to hurt anyone; he just wanted to make a choice on his own, to go after something he wanted, something that was important to him. Of course, back then, I didn't see it that way.
But Thor wasn't the only one having a personal crisis. A lot of us did. Sure, I knew I wanted to go away to far away places, but I was sad to realize that I was running away from my family, because it just hurt to be around them. I wished my family was close and supportive, but I realized that we were just too different and too selfish to ever put aside our differences and work things out. I was sad and angry that my poor mother was cursed with such ungrateful, horrible children. I couldn't change my family; but I didn't have to let them hurt me anymore with their petty feuds and manipulations. I was leaving them all behind, and I had my mother's blessing and encouragement to go forth and seek out my own fortunes.
Morrigan was starting to doubt her strength, wondering if she would ever get out from the shadow of her older siblings, whose academic feats were near legend in her family. She wasn't sure if she would ever be independent; her goal was to be free of her family, to not have to rely on them to make it in life. That would set her apart from her siblings. She had her hopes tied up in getting a scholarship to pay for college. But towards the end of our last year in school, she confided her fear that maybe she wasn't strong enough. She admitted that despite her goal of being independent, she felt lonely. She avoided getting into serious involvement with anyone because she was focused on getting ahead; she didn't want to have to rely on anyone but herself. There was less chance of getting hurt if the only person you could count on was yourself. But she worried now that she was weak, because she did want to have someone to rely on. I could only hold her and tell her that she could always count on me, that I would always be there for her. She just sighed and told me that she was glad to have me in her life as a true friend.
A friend, huh? I thought to myself. And as I held her, I made up my mind to take a chance. It was our last year in school, and in a short while, we would go our separate ways, maybe to never see each other again. I decided to just comfort her for today. Tomorrow, I would take the plunge and ask her to the Senior Ball. I was going to step out of the friend zone and risk it all for a chance at love. In that moment, I decided that if I wanted her, I needed to ask her to be mine, and risk losing her forever. And when I saw Thor later, I told him of my plans. He gave me a strange look, asked me if I was ready to deal with the consequences, good or bad. There was no turning back, he said. Once you leave the friend zone, you can never go back. I told him I was ready. He wished me luck. And I went home, in a daze, knowing that tomorrow would be the day my life would change.
And my life would definitely change, except not in the way I envisioned. I had arrived early to school, getting ready to ask Morrigan as soon as I was alone with her, before classes started. But the first person I saw was Zaria, and she seemed to need a friend. Zaria was another close friend of mine. I had known her since junior high school as well. And while she was considered a popular girl, she was genuinely a friendly person. Too friendly, I suppose. She was a smart girl who wore her heart on her sleeves and had a thing for bad boys. Not surprising, seeing as she was one of the friends I used to skip school with. We'd eat breakfast at school, then catch a ride to a party off campus or visit another school to crash their dance. Sometimes we came back for lunch and class. Other times, we just went to the beach to hang out with other people.
When we were sophomores, Zaria fell for Aphophis, a senior who had a bad boy image. I didn't like the guy. And it wasn't because he was older, but he just seemed shady to me. He was a pastor's son, and he drove a nice car. But he had a reputation for cheating on girls, and I thought Zaria was too good for him. But Zaria didn't want to listen. She was in love and she couldn't see the jerk for who he really was. Even when he dumped her once for another girl, she still took him back. When we heard rumors that Apophis had gotten the girl pregnant, Zaria reasoned that he had changed and it wasn't his child. But that morning when I saw her, she finally admitted the truth. Her eyes were red and swollen, as if she had cried all night. She told me that she found out from her sister, that Apophis had gotten married over the weekend, to the girl who was carrying his baby.
I tried to comfort her. She broke down and cried. She felt like such a fool. Then she said that she felt like an idiot, because Aphophis had called her just a few days before to confirm that he would take her to the Senior Ball. But she didn't want him in her life anymore. Now she had a dress but she didn't have a date. She didn't want to embarrass herself and show up at the Ball alone. I could see my plans for asking Morrigan out were slipping away. And I sighed. I had no choice. I needed to be there for Zaria, help her through this. So I told her that I would be her date, that I would gladly go with her, because together, we'd have a great time. We always did when we got together. And that made her feel a little bit better, to know that I wasn't there to judge her and tell her, I told you so. I was a shoulder she could cry on, someone to hold her, to help her get through the tough times. That's what friends do for each other. And she was one of my closest friends. I trusted her and leaned on her when I needed help in the past. Now it was my turn to be there for her.
I didn't get a chance to see Morrigan until lunch. When I got to our usual hangout, I saw Morrigan and Tamar excitedly sharing some news with Zaria and our other friends. I had gotten used to having Tamar around. She and Morrigan were close, though I still thought Tamar was high maintenance and superficial, clueless. As I greeted them all and sat down, Morrigan was smiling and excited. I thought it was good to see her so happy, and I couldn't wait to see what could've caused her so much excitement.
I asked her, "What's up? You seem very happy about something."
Morrigan just giggled, and Tamar said, "Oh, you'll never believe what happened in Calculus. Tell him Morrigan!"
Morrigan had a glint in her eyes and smiled and said, "Thor asked me to the Senior Ball, and I said yes!"
Immediately a chorus of aaaahhs and clapping broke out from our small crowd. But the sounds of cheering and laughing faded to silence in my head. I could only hear my heart beating, I wasn't sure if I was still breathing. I thought, no, this must be some dream. I must've misheard her. There was no way this could be happening. Thor would never ask Morrigan out! He'd never do it! He couldn't, now, could he? I looked at Morrigan, who was still giddy, laughing, until her eyes connected with mine. She seemed confused, concerned, and asked me if I was all right? And that's when I realized that I had been holding my breath. I took a deep breath, put on a smile and said, "Yeah, I'm all right," and I forced out, "I'm so happy for you."
But I wasn't happy for her. I wasn't sure what I was feeling, except that it felt unreal. I excused myself to say that I had something I needed to do, and I walked away before they could ask me any questions. I could hear their laughter and excited chatter about the Thor and Morrigan getting together as I walked away. I needed to get away. I felt a pain in my chest, like someone had suckered punch me hard. I didn't know where I was going, only I needed space, I needed to be alone, away from the prying eyes and chipper chatters. I suddenly found myself in the library, deep in the sections that no one bothered to visit. It was lunch time, even the nerds had to eat. I was all alone. I found a table, dropped my backpack, and I slumped into the seat. I folded my arms on the table and laid my head down on them. I closed my eyes and let out a deep painful sigh. My world had come crashing down. And I wasn't sure how I was going to live through all of this, or if I wanted to live after all.
I didn't know how long I laid there in silence, my mind had shutdown from the influx of intense emotions that threatened to take over my body. I was barely maintaining control. I was afraid that I had lost my mind; I was afraid that I was going to cry. It was just too much to deal with. I had lost all sense of time; I could only focus on breathing. I had shut away all other noise and thoughts. And as I laid there alone, it felt like I was falling, everything had come undone. Darkness had overtaken me, and I wasn't sure if I was going to get out, or if I even wanted to get out.
I didn't hear him come in or sit down; but I knew he had come. I didn't know how he found me, but he did. I didn't know how long we sat in silence. Time had become irrelevant. For now, we were at a loss at what to say to each other. The silence was welcomed. If I could've stopped time, I would've frozen it right then, just so I wouldn't have to hear his voice. I thought that it would hurt too much to hear him speak. My best friend, my closest friend, the guy who I thought of as a brother had betrayed me. And I was afraid. I was afraid that hearing his voice would unleash a rage in me that I would not be able to control.
But I couldn't control time, so Thor finally spoke, "I wanted to tell you first," he said softly, unsure, as if he was afraid, "I wanted to ask you first, if I could."
I suddenly felt an anger building up in me, but I bit my lower lip and kept silent. Thor continued, "But I heard in first period that you had asked out Zaria instead of Morrigan. So I went ahead and asked Morrigan if she'd go with me to the Ball."
I could feel my body tensing up and my breathing was starting to get rapid. I kept my head down and tried to focus on taking deep breaths. Thor was quiet for a little while before he continued again in a low voice, unsure, and guilt ridden, "I want you to know that I never meant to hurt you, bro."
I tensed again when I heard him say that. I suddenly wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. This had to be some cosmic joke. Only, it wasn't so much funny as it was excruciating. Thor continued as if he was making a confession, agonizing over his words, "I'm sorry if I've hurt you, but there's something I have to tell you. Something I've wanted to tell you for a long time but I've been so afraid of what you might say."
I held my breath, waiting for what he was going to reveal. Thor continued, "I didn't know how to tell you this," he paused, "But I've been in love with Morrigan since the first day I saw her back in 6th grade. Only, you talked to her first; you said you liked her first; and I didn't know what to do."
I was stunned by the revelation. Thor had been in love with Morrigan for as long as I have! But he had kept his feelings about her a secret, all while listening to me carry on about my own feelings for her. He went on to say, "I was afraid to tell you how I felt about her, because I didn't want to lose you as a friend. You're my best friend. And I've always been jealous of how close you were to Morrigan," he paused,"I've always envied you. You have everything, everything that I've ever wanted."
I was confused, what exactly did I have? I wasn't rich; I didn't have any political connections. My family wasn't going to pay for any top private college! I certainly didn't live the high life of the affluent. But Thor continued, "You're so fearless; you know what you want and you go for it. You've always done what you wanted, no matter what anyone else said," he paused, "I just wanted to be like that, even for just one moment. And I want Morrigan more than anything else! I took a chance, and she said yes. I love her, you know. I've never felt this way about anyone before. I just couldn't keep it to myself anymore."
We sat in silence some more. I didn't know what to say. This was all too much to digest. Thor got up and left. I still sat at the desk with my head buried in my arms. When the bell finally rang to signal the end of lunch, I got up from that desk and left school. It was all too much for me to handle. The rest of the week, Zaria and I kept cutting school to go to parties and hang out at the beach. I couldn't face Morrigan or Thor. It was just too painful for me. I ignored their phone calls and avoided our usual hangouts. I changed my running route just to avoid the park where Morrigan played tennis. I felt confused and angry and sad and guilty at the same time. I didn't know how I should feel. I was mad at them, because I did feel betrayed. I was mad at myself for not stepping up sooner. I was mad at myself for feeling anger towards Morrigan and Thor when they seemed so happy together. And I felt guilty for thinking angry thoughts about them. And I was sad because I was mourning the loss of two of my closest friends. I felt so alone, because I had no one to talk to. It was the end of the world, and I didn't know how I was going to survive it.
I thought the worst had happened, that I had hit rock bottom. But I was wrong. Come the night of the dance, we would all make choices that would change the rest of our lives and relationships forever.