A noisy warning bell resounded through the momentarily empty hallways of Dobee High School. Less then a moment later, those same linoleum-floored hallways were flooded with all kinds of edgy, rebellious, and energetic teenagers. The busy, bustling hallways were hectic with students rushing to get to their locker or to their next class. In the huge and almost frightening mob of teenagers there was a freshman by the name of Evangelina Henderson, who was on her way to Algeba with her friend when something interesting caught her attention.
“Hey,” the girl spoke up over the loud hum of conversation, her eyes never leaving that one person she’d spotted through the crowd as if a spotlight was shining right on him in the middle of the hall. Petite little Lina clutched her friend’s shoulder and nonchantly pointing at him when she was sure he couldn’t spot them. One could tell just by looking at him that something was missing…
“What?” asked Lina’s friend when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She squinted over at the boy as directed, a puzzled look crossing her features.
“Audrey isn’t here with Ezra today,” Lina explained, making her voice go up in slight shock.
“Oh yeah. That’s weird. She’s been missing a lot of school lately, hasn’t she? I wonder what’s wrong with her…” her friends trailed off and shrugged, not knowing the two upperclassmen well enough to care.
“I hope it’s nothing serious,” Lina murmured half-heartedly, wrestling her own attention away from the Ezra.
Lina knew both Audrey and Ezra; however, she doubted Audrey remembered her. While she and Ezra had talked many times before, she’d only spoken with Audrey once or twice. In fact, she wouldn’t have been surprised if Audrey hated her because of those two times they’d talked. The reason was that although Ezra was two grades ahead of her, she’d liked him since she was in the sixth grade. Since the first time they’d conversed she’d had strong feelings that she couldn’t abandon. She felt silly for thinking that she was in love at such a naïve age, but unlike most preteens she knew for a fact what she felt was more than just a crush. For the life of her, she couldn’t put a finger on why she felt such a strong attraction to him—especially since her love was unrequited…
On a frigid winter day in December, she’d bravely decided to confess her attraction for him in person. She had gone in confidently and unprepared for rejection—they were good friends, after all. The setting was perfect in her mind for a confession like hers; the snow was falling beautifully and gently in big, puffy clumps and she was dressed in the cutest outfit she owned. She could easily ignore the freezing weather that was making her fingers go numb. Just like every other time she’d talked to him, her heart was racing in her chest and she twiddled her thumbs nervously as she recited the words she had planned to say in her head. She knew what to do; she’d stop him when their current conversation came to a close, stand up straight, look him in the eye, and say what she wanted to say without hesitation. And that’s just what she did.
However, instead of the positive reaction she was expecting, Ezra’s lips fell into an immediate frown. This action alone sent her heart plumeting and she regreted even thinking about confessing her true feelings to him. Her eyes constantly roamed, resting on everything besides him as she waited patiently for an answer. She shifted back and forth from her heels to her toes and folded her hands behind her back.
“Evangelina…”he began, observing every single movement she made. The way he had spoken her name made her limbs feel like jelly and her cheeks heat up. The only people who’d ever called her by her full name were the people that were closest to her. Such a little thing made her heart swell.
“I like you, Lina. I don’t think I like you the same way you like me though,”he had said to her in an uncharacterstically gentle voice. Seeing how disappointed she was he continued,“You’re a great girl and I like being your friend. We’re good friends. I’m sure we’d be more than that if I didn’t like someone else already.”
“Oh…”she breathed, lowering her head. She could feel tears building up and a lump forming in her throat, but she hastily blinked back those stupid tears and swallowed the ridiculous lump in her throat. She tried her hardest to smile at him—to hide how truly crushed she was—but her lips just quivered and fell back into a forlorn frown. She’d never felt so broken and unwanted in her life. She had failed and on top of that, the one she cared about more than anyone didn’t feel the same.
“You’re really brave to tell me that. I’m glad youdidtell me.”
There was a long silence before anyone spoke as Ezra very patiently waited for a response and Lina tried to find her normal voice instead of the depressed, choked-up voice she knew she’d end up speaking with if she’d spoken right away.
“Do you mind…if I ask who you like then?” She couldn’t believe herself for asking him such a question. It’s not like it mattered—not like she could do anything about it. As soon as he’d spoken that name, her heart was weighed down with jealousy and hopelessness. She knew she had no chance against that girl.
“Oh, I think I know her. She’s really talented, isn’t she?”she asked him, suddenly curious about the stranger.
“She is. We’ve been best friends since first grade,”he told her, a look that she couldn’t even begin to understand in his rusty brown eyes. There was obvious loyalty and there was passion, but it didn’t look likelove. It looked like desperation. The emotion that Lina held for Ezra was not the same emotion that Ezra held for Audrey—she knew this for certain. She had yet to forget that look; it scared her.
After this moment, Ezra and Lina had gone on pretending nothing had been said about either of their feelings. They were still very close friends, but she couldn’t help but feel like Ezra was trying to put distance between them—so much so that at times it appeared as though their friendship was hanging by a thread. Never in her life had Lina been so well-acquainted with the feeling of pure envy. She tried to wipe it out of her mind, to forget about her feelings completely, but every time she spoke with Ezra she seemed to fall more deeply in love with him. Audrey had everything she wanted, and it made her sick. She had popularity, she had the unwavering attention a seemingly great guy, and she succeeded in almost everything she did. Lina couldn’t help but blame hers and Ezra’s disintegrating friendship on that girl. Every time Audrey’s name was brought up, Lina’s thoughts would automatically turn into negative ones. She’d tried her best not to feel this way. She didn’t want to have such negative feelings for anyone—not even Audrey—but her heart was too soaked with jealousy to keep the thoughts at bay.
Every now and then Lina would observe Ezra and Audrey when they were together. She noted how comfortable they were with each other. Audrey seemed to be closer to him than she was with her older brother, and everyone knew how close the siblings were. What she saw was an extremely deep friendship, but nothing more. They acted as if they’d spent every waking moment day in and day out together; so much so that they seemed to be able to predict each other’s actions or reactions to outward conflicts. Sure, it was a much deeper friendship than she had had with him, but there didn’t seem to be a trace of romance. If Lina looked closely, she noticed that each smile or happy looked they gave each other seemed forced and that their eyes looked dead as a puppet’s. That was a thought occurred to her; what if Ezra truly loved Audrey, but knew that she didn’t return those feelings. How utterly ironic and pointless and idiotic that would have been.
How could she be so selfish? Here I am stuck with a crumbling friendship with him. Why can’t she realize how lucky she is to have his love? Why does she have to take him away from me?
When Ezra graduated middle school she was, to her surprise, relieved. Perhaps she’d finally be able to forget about him. Perhaps all of those bad thoughts she’d had would finally be pushed away from her mind. It was her 7thgrade year, Audrey’s 8th, and Ezra’s 9thwhen she noticed her thoughts start to crawl back to him. She couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel for both Audrey and Ezra now that they couldn’t be going to school together, so she began to watch Audrey, wondering how she was taking the whole thing. To her surprise, Audrey’s actions seemed to be more genuine than they had when Ezra had attended school there as well. That year, the girl seemed to be a lot happier and freer than she had previously been. This certainly did not fail to shock Lina. It could have been a coincidence, yes, but in the back of her mind she thought that maybe it had something to do with Ezra. Although this was the last time she ever wondered about Audrey and Ezra’s relationship, never did Ezra permanently leave her thoughts.
When Lina was in her final year of middle school, she began to like a different boy named Jace. She truly did like Jace, but her mind would always end up back on the same boy. Jace seemed to have all the cliché things that Lina looked for in a boy; he was cute, nice, sporty, tall, and most of all he genuinely returned her feelings. He confessed his feelings for her first, and later they became the most well-known couple at school. However, her feelings for Ezra never truly faded away. She had begun to think that there was no way her unconcious mind would allow her to move on. There had always been a trace of of her feelings for him there, no matter how much she adored her boyfriend. While she was in class her thoughts would wonder over to how Ezra and Audrey were doing in high school or how excited she was to see him next year. It never ended. She knew she’d be going to Dobee High School with them and still had a little flame of hope burning in her chest that maybe Ezra had gotten over Audrey.
That tiny, dying flame lasted until she went to the last volleyball game of the season at Dobee High. Lina took advantage of the fact that her brother attended the high school, guessed that Audrey would be on the volleyball team, and ended up going to watch the final game of the season. She watched the game in silence, feeling out of place around all the high schoolers that were throwing around popcorn and skittles as well as cheering loudly for their team. She doubted half of the people cared about the actual game and were just looking for an excuse to be wild and roudy. Again, Lina’s jealousy was sparked as a whole section of freshman began to chant Audrey’s name when it was her turn to serve the ball. Lina was barely surprised; it was impressive for a freshman to make it onto the varsity team after all. She noticed how mature the girl had gotten; she’d gotten slightly taller, her face had gotten prettier yet, and she had obtained perfect curves. How lucky could she get?
The game went by rather quickly, Dobee High easily winning against the other team. Even when they’d won the game and everyone around her was wooping and cheering she remained seated, her eyes searching for that one familiar face. Her heart sped up and her pupils dilated when she saw him jogging out to the sidelines to meether. He’d gotten even taller and more attractive than Lina remembered, just like Audrey. He’d let his hair grow out just a bit longer than before but his eyes remained the same rusty brown color that she adored. The emotion in them hadn’t changed a bit either. She noticed the same passion and the same desperation in them as before. They were still void of the love he’d proclaimed. Even as he picked the girl up and swung her around, even as he leaned down to kiss her on the lips, even as they hesitantly parted ways there was nolovein that gaze.
Lina laughed without humor, hopped up from her place on the bleechers, and walked out onto the court where Ezra was standing. He was being pushed around and mocked jokingly by some of his friends. She walked right up to him, skillfully ignoring the strange looks she received from his friends and gave him a joking punch in the arm. She gave him her best, brightest smile and waited for him to respond. She didn’t even glance around at the tall, sophomore and junior boys that surrounded them. It was only her and Ezra at the moment.
The sophomore looked at her confused for a moment, seeming to search for a name. She knew she’d change a lot in the two years they hadn’t seen each other, so she didn’t blame him for not recognizing her. Lina was absolutely stunning. Her long, dark chocolate colored hair, nice figure, and dazzling blue eyes stood out among other people. Her dominant cheekbones were speckled with dark freckles that looked like chocolate chips had just been sprinkled into the tasty cake batter. Despite her good looks, the teen had no confidence in herself, having been rejected by Ezra in the past. She would always see herself as lower than Audrey, and if she was on a lower level than Audrey then she wasn’t good enough for herself.
“Evangelina!”Ezra greeted her, ruffling her hair like a big brother would his little sister.
“Who’s the kid, Ez?”one of the guys asked him, and Lina had to stop herself from snobbily rolling her eyes at him.
“She’s a cool middle schooler, okay guys? She was my friend,”he explained to them with a light-hearted chuckle.
Lina felt as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Was. Theywerefriends. It was reasonable enough seeing as they hadn’t spoken in almost two whole years, but the word still pained her. She was determined to revive this friendship no matter what the cost.
“Yeah guys, I’m a ‘cool’ 8thgrader,”she teased the group of guys around her with a giggle, but automatically turned her full attention back to Ezra. “That was a good game, wasn’t it? Audrey was really good.”
He nodded once, giving her alook. “So what are you doing here?”
“I came with my brother,”she explained. “I heard that Audrey was on varsity so I thought I’d come and watch. I figured since she was playing, you’d be here too. I wanted to see you.”
“Oh that’s nice. So how’s your last year of middle school been?”
Before Evangelina knew it, Ezra’s friends had left without him and the two of them taken a seat on the bleechers to continue talking. They talked on and on for what felt like mere minutes but it had already been going on an hour. The bleechers had already been cleaned, the volleyball net had been taken down, and some of the gym lights had been dimmed. It didn’t matter to her that she was in people’s way or that she was inconviniencing the people trying to close up the gymnasium, because talking to Ezra felt so natural and just plain right to her. Having a simple conversation about their lives had her feeling complete again. However, she could feel herself slipping once again—slipping, stumbling, and falling into love with him once again. That feeling of love didn’t cause her guilt though. The fact that he was dating another girl or that she was dating another boy was accidentally fogotten as she leaned toward him, her lips aimed at his. However, much to her displeasure, her lips were just a bit too far from their target when a voice spoke up, interrupting both their conversation and the dangerous thing she was just about to go through with.
“Ezra,”Audrey greeted as she approached them, her eyes watching Lina’s actions in confusion. Her wavy hair—which was in a pony tail the last time Lina had seen her—was now wet and dark, proof of the shower she’d just taken in the locker room. She was dressed comfortably in gray sweatpants, a volleyball T-shirt with her last name and the number 11 written on her back. She carried with her a black sports duffel bag, but she immediately set it on the floor once she’d made her way over to them.
“Audrey,”he greeted her, standing up to circle his toned arms around her waist. “Amazing game, babe.”
Lina looked away, chewing on her bottom lip as she tried desperately to calm her rage. She knew what would have happened if they hadn’t been interrupted, and this caused her eyes to water in anger. Why did Audrey have to come at that exact time? Why couldn’t she have been distracted for a few more minutes?
“Thanks,”Audrey had replied simply, still staring directly at Lina as if challenging her—at least that’s what it seemed like to the one being stared at. Only when Ezra swiftly leaned in for a kiss did her gaze waver. It was a simple kiss, much to Lina’s relief, and Ezra was the one to break it. When he pulled his lips away from hers, he nuzzled his face against her neck with a smirk. Lina noticed his lips moving rapidly, whispering something against the Audrey’s exposed neck. A somewhat eerie smile crept onto Audrey’s lips at his words and oh how Lina yearned to hear what had been said, because despite the affection being expressed between the two teenagers, she was never more sure about the lack of love. Yet again, their actions showed just how close they were, but thatlookin their eyes—a look she’d never seen anyone besides the two of them use before—suggested quite the opposite.
This isn’t fair. She doesn’t love him, I do!
“Oh yeah, Audrey, do you remember Evangelina? She went to middle school with us. And she’s coming here next year,”Ezra spoke loud enough so that Lina could hear this time. He stepped away from Audrey and gestured with his hand toward Lina as if Audrey hadn’t already seen the girl sitting there.
“No, I don’t think I do…”Audrey had said with a thoughtful expression.
Lina rose to her feet and smoothed her skirt down before offering a hand to Audrey. If Audrey didn’t know her, she wouldn’t know Audrey either. She’d start fresh, pretend she didn’t care about who she was. After all, as far as Lina knew, Audrey hadn’t know about her friendship with Ezra. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, you too, Evengelina…”The name rolled off of Audrey’s tongue smoothly and to match its elegance the female gave a charming, white smile. She took Lina’s hand and gave it a quick shake before almost rudely dropping it and folding her hands behind her back. “That’s such a gorgeous name, by the way.”
“I go by Lina, though. I don’t know why, but only the people that I’mclosestto call me by my full name,”she explained. Her words had come out a bit more snarkily than she’d intended them to and as soon as she was done speaking, her gaze wandered over to Ezra.
Audrey certainly hadn’t missed the look Lina had shot at Ezra and it made her shift toward Ezra in a possessive manner. The girl put her hand on Ezra’s shoulder and softly said, “Um…Ezra, I need to go home soon. Are you sleeping with me tonight, or no?”
At hearing this blunt question, Lina’s eyes grew bigger than her head and her jaw dropped in absolute awe. Again, an emptiness—a dark, negative feeling—seeped into her body giving her the most unpleasant of feelings. She may have been an innocent-minded young lady but she certainly wasn’t sheltered enough not to understand the question.
“Yeah, we can leave whenever you’re ready,”he responded, causing an already shocked girl to be more shocked. What surprised her even more was the nonchalant way they’d discussed it—in front of her, even!
“I’m sorry but…what?”Lina asked, unintentionally glaring bullets at Audrey.
“Oh. It’s honestly not what you’re thinking,”Audrey assured her. “Sometimes Ezra sleeps at my house when my parents go out.”
“Yeah we wouldn’t…you know.” Ezra winked at Audrey, causing a pretty blush to rise upon her cheeks. She rolled her eyes at him.
“Oh. Well I’ve got to go now anyways. It was awesome talking to you again, Ezra. And It was good meeting you Audrey,”Lina hastily remarked, looking at her phone to make it realistic. The truth was, her brother probably wouldn’t be ready to go home for a while since he was roaming around campus and goofing off with his friends. She simply couldn’t bare to be reminded of the fact that their friendship was closer than hers and Ezra’s. There was clearly no way for her to change that unbreakable bond without causing either of them pain, and no matter how envious she was toward Audrey, she simply couldn’t watch the girl suffer. Even if there was no love in their relationship—which Lina was now certain about—she could tell that they were important to each other and that she could never compare.
She shuffled past the two of them hurriedly, not pausing to hear their goodbyes in return. She sprinted out of the school and to the side of the building where she wouldn’t have to worry about being caught. She let the tears flow freely and it seemed to calm her nerves as if the negative feelings were flowing out with the warm tears. She didn’t mind that she was all alone, she prefered it that way when she was in such a situation. The fragile girl sat with her knees hugged tightly to her chest, leaned up against the bricks that made up the exterior of the building. Violent sobs shook her entire body and quiet, unwanted noises of sadness escaped her throat.
“I just want him to love me,”she remembered whispering aloud to herself before she shut her eyes dozed off against the side of the building.
Lina’s eyes lingered upon the boy she still loved walking away from her, completely indifferent about her presence. However, the smile on her bright, cheerful face never faded. Perhaps it was because she knew for certain there was no true love involved—that Audrey could never hope to love Ezra as much as she did. The smile that remained curved upon her lips wasn’t there because her feelings had subsided—no, if anything her feelings of envy and affection had grown day by day. She could see it in their eyes as the two of them acted out their lives, their relationship, that they wouldneverbe in love. Pretend was the game that nobody could beat them at, the game that they played day after day. It was a game that, though seemingly childish, was their whole life.