“Then what is it? What’s wrong?”
“I, um…Karla’s never going to forgive me, and honestly, she shouldn’t,” I confessed. “I abandoned her and her sister when they needed me the most, and nothing I can do can remedy that fact. I walked away and left her drowning.”
“She’s just hurting, Greyson, with good reason, but she loves you.”
“I don’t even know if she does anymore.”
“She does,” she disagreed.
“How can you even be sure of that?”
“That many years of love don’t disappear because of one tragic year. You just have to give her time to come around again, and for now, you have to do one thing.”
“Keep showing up, no matter what. She’s going to push, she’s going to scream, and she’s going to make you want to go, but you can’t walk away again, Grey. You have to keep showing up for her, even on the hard days,” she said. “Especially on the hard days. Which is why I got us tickets to go to a baseball game in two weeks. I already talked to Allison and she’s going to clear your schedule for the evening game. I also invited my cousin, Shay—I hope that’s okay. Plus, I talked Karla into going saying it was for Lorelai’s birthday. It just takes a few steps at a time to walk toward change.”
“Thank you, Eleanor,” I said.
I stuffed my hands into my pockets. “Being my reason to smile today.”
After the partied ended, I stayed a bit longer to help clean up the mess. When everything was put away, and the dishwasher was running, I collected my things to head home.
As I walked to the front door, I paused as Landon spoke my way.
“Hey, Eleanor? Can I just have a word really fast?” he asked.
I turned toward him and smiled. Landon looked so grown up compared to the boy he was all those years ago. Shay would’ve hated how handsome he had become.
“Yeah, sure. What’s going on?”
He slid his hands into his pockets. “I just wanted to say thank you for everything you’ve been doing for these girls, and for Greyson. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but thank you. Today was the first day I felt like my best friend was really here. He’s been a ghost for the past year, and it has been the hardest thing to watch. So, yeah, just keep it up, okay? Whatever it is you’re doing, just keep doing that.”
I grinned. “I don’t know if I’m much help, but I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
“Trust me, you’re the biggest help. Also, I, uh, I owe you an apology for the asshole kid I was in the past—calling you Brace Face and stuff. That was fucked up.”
I laughed. “I mean, yes, it was, but I guess since you brought a pony today, we can forgive and forget.”
“For sure, and I mean, it looks like it worked out for you, ya know, those braces.” He gestured toward my mouth. “It looks good. So, yeah. Good for you.”
Oh, Landon. For a superstar you sure are awkward.
“Okay, well I’ll let you go. Make sure to tell your cousin Shay that I said hi.”
I would definitely be telling Shay that as soon as possible.
“I will do. Safe travels, Landon.”
The minute he left, I pulled out my cell phone and texted Shay.
Me: Landon asked about you today.
Shay: Oh yeah? Did you tell him to burn in Hell? I hope you told him to go to Hell.
I smirked, knowing it was getting under her skin a little.
Shay: How did he look? Did he look uglier in person than he does in the movies?
Me: Oddly enough, he looks even better.
Shay: Ugh. Of course, he does. Whatever, I’m done thinking about him.
Shay: But just to be clear, did you tell him I was doing great and I never thought about him again after high school? Next time make sure to tell him that.
Shay: God. I hate him. How dare he just randomly ask about me! The nerve.
She kept rambling on and on, and I felt a bit pleased about it. It was nice to have something to tease her about now, seeing how she always teased me when it came to Greyson. It felt as if my cousin and I were finally on an even playing field. Each time she mocked me, I’d be ready to mock her right back.
“How long are you going to walk me to class?” Karla groaned as we headed to her first period of school the Monday after Lorelai’s party. It was our new normal, and needless to say, she hated every second of it.
“Until your father tells me to stop, I guess,” I replied.
She groaned. “He’s been extra annoying lately.”
“He’s just doing his job, Karla. That’s all. He’s been going through a lot.”
“We’ve all been going through a lot.”
“Yeah, I know.”
She huffed. “You have no idea,” she grumbled.
I combed my hand through my hair and gave her a small smile. “You know, I was around your age when I lost my mother, too. So, I know how hard that can be.”
“Yeah? Did it leave you scarred up like a monster, too?” she asked before glancing my way and shaking her head. “Oh wait, nope. You’re still beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful, too, Karla, and trust me, this is not what I looked like in high school. My nickname was Brace Face.”
“Oh, wow, so I guess you and me are the same!” she exclaimed, her sarcasm loud and clear. “My scars are just like having braces. I can’t wait to grow out of this stage of my life. Oh wait…” She rolled her eyes extra hard.
“Watch where you’re going, freak,” someone muttered as they bumped into Karla, making her stumble backward.
“Hey, watch it!” I barked, though Karla seemed pretty unfazed by it all. Those kinds of things happened to her more often than not, even with me standing right there beside her. I couldn’t imagine the things they were brave enough to say to her when an adult wasn’t around.
“Just let it happen, Eleanor. Muggles are gonna do what muggles are gonna do,” she said matter-of-factly, keeping her head down.
I raised an eyebrow. “Did you just make a Harry Potter reference?”
“You’re a Harry Potter fan?”
“It’s only the holy grail in today’s world, Eleanor,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Um, hi, Hufflepuff here, reporting for duty. I’ll have you know I loved Harry Potter before you were even born. I used to have to wait years for the next book to come out. Years!”
“Congratulations, you’re old as dirt. And you would be a Hufflepuff,” she said with a slight tone to her voice.
Before I could reply, another person bumped into her, and when he turned to look back he said, “Sorry, Hunch,” then hurried off.
“What did he just say to you?”
“Nothing,” she huffed, tugging on the sleeves of her black hoodie. “It’s nothing.”
“It sounds like it’s something.”
She sighed and looked up to me, shrugging her shoulders. “Some people call me Hunch. You know, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, because of my posture.”
“Okay, that’s where the line is being drawn. I’m going straight to the principal’s office to report this.”
“Don’t waste your breath. What are they gonna do? Kick out half of the student body because they’re making fun of the freak show?”
My heart shattered as she said those words, because she spoke them as if they were so absolutely true. “Karla, you are not a freak show.” She didn’t reply. “Do you hear these things from these people every day?”
She nodded slowly.
I couldn’t even imagine.
“Come on,” I said, grabbing her arm.
She cocked an eyebrow. “What?”
“What? I can’t. I have science.”
“Not today. Today we’re skipping class.”
“I know, but I’ll deal with your father later. For now, you and I are leaving this building and having a mental health day.”
“A day where you say screw high school and screw the closeminded muggles. Then you go home and watch a marathon of Harry Potter and eat food that’s super bad for you until you want to vomit.”
A small smile appeared on Karla’s lips, and I swore it was the first time I’d ever seen her grin. She looked absolutely stunning when she smiled.
“More of that, Karla,” I said without thought.
“More of what?”
I snickered. “Nothing. Never mind.” I combed her hair out of her face, and nodded once. “So? What do you say?”
“Is this some kind of trap? Like some reverse psychology kind of thing?”
“Nope. Just a break from reality. What do you say? Are you in?”
She nodded slowly at first, but then it quickened as the grin stayed plastered to her face. “Yeah, I’m in.”
We turned around and headed straight for the exit, not looking back once. The moment we hit the car, it was as if I could see Karla’s demeanor completely shift as her body relaxed. School was stressful for the average teenaged student, but I couldn’t even begin to imagine what a struggle it had to be for someone like Karla. Not only was she dealing with the bullying from her peers, she was also still grieving the loss of her mother.
I knew life wasn’t fair, but it seemed extra cruel to Karla.
We stopped by the store to pick up some goodies for our movie marathon, and then we headed to the house to get started. We laid out some blankets and pillows in the living room and made it into the comfiest space known to mankind. Then we kicked up our feet and started the first Harry Potter movie.
For the first time in a long time, I saw Karla light up.