~Trying Too Hard~
“Can you stop that? It’s starting to piss me off.”
Suddenly, you felt like you didn’t know him anymore. You had heard rumors—rumors about what sort of hair he liked, what sort of personalities were attractive, and what sort of style clothing you had. It still felt strange having to go off on rumors alone. In the past, you had known everything about him. He hadn’t been afraid to share what he had been thinking of. The two of you were always there for each other.
So what happened? you often wondered. Where was the shy, kind-hearted friend you used to know…and love?
Your old childhood friend sneered. “I can’t even stand to look at you,” he hissed as he looked down at you with heartless ice-cold eyes.
That was the breaking point.
He hates me. He really hates me.
“E-Excuse me,” you quickly said and walked as quickly as you dared without breaking into a run. You didn’t want to look so distraught—at least not in front of him while he was still watching you with those eyes.
You felt sick like nothing you had experienced before. What was this? Was it sadness? Nausea? Whatever it was, it felt horrible. Your heart felt like it was going to explode. Your stomach was twisting itself into knots. Your breath was short, and your eyes were started to fog up like poorly suctioned goggles underwater.
This was heartbreak.
Where had it all gone wrong? When had he stopped acknowledging to you?
There’s something missing, you thought. Where did the rift come from?
You began to search. At first, you thought something had happened to him, but his life had gone just as normally as it had in the past. His friends and brother had said so, themselves. It had to be you. You had done something to make him disgusted by you. The look he had on his face was nothing short of loathing; that you were sure of.
“Emil…” you whispered as you continued to walk down the hall. You wanted to get out of this blasted building as fast as possible. The sooner, the better.
The reason wasn’t completely explainable, but a part of you drove you to continue to hold onto the hope that one day, he would be able to see you as a friend again. However, no matter how hard you tried, his feelings never swayed, and you had drifted far away from his familiar presence. He had pushed you so far that you didn’t think you could stand to see him anymore for fear of bringing back the bittersweet memories followed by such agonizing heartache.
“Clueless little brother,” Lukas sighed. He had watched the whole thing. This time around, he didn’t need any of his little messengers to report what had happened.
“It’s not my fault,” Emil grumbled and dug his heel into the hardwood floor. He didn’t like being scolded; then again, he couldn’t think of anyone who did.
“You made her cry this time, you know.”
Emil tensed up. He knew very well that he was hurting ____________ the more he continued to put up this act, but he kept on holding to the excuse that it was too late to redo things.
Was it really too late, though? It had started when they began to really grow up. Things changed. They weren’t children anymore. Emil had always told himself that he needed to mature. Being the youngest in his close group of friends had always made him feel insecure about himself in ways he couldn’t tell _____________. What he hated most of all was his inability to cope with these maturing feelings. It annoyed him to no end, and worst of all, he took out his frustration on ____________. Now he had caused her to cry.
I really haven’t grown up at all, he sighed.
“Aren’t you going to tell me what an idiot I am?” he asked his older brother. In the past, Lukas had pointed out how ____________ was changing, too. She had undergone an extreme variety of changes from cutting her hair to wearing clothes she had once claimed to never be caught dead wearing once upon a time ago. He knew very well why she had done these things: to get Emil’s attention. Yet all the same, he had refused to acknowledge her.
Lukas crossed his arms and leaned on the wall. “I think I’ve dropped enough hints for you to get it through your head,” he said. “By now, you should be able to know what’s right.”
But I don’t, Emil thought. All this time, I’ve only been hurting her more and more. I don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore.
“If you don’t go, then I will,” Lukas said, cutting into his brother’s thoughts.
“No, I’ll go,” Emil quickly said. “I think I know where she went.”
His brother rolled his eyes. “Then you’d better hurry. You don’t have that much time.”
You don’t need to tell me that, Emil thought as he dashed past his brother. He knew exactly where to look.
Emil had always been modest and shy. He was weak, unable to stand up for himself and having to rely on others to take care of him. He had thought that by straying away from ____________, he wouldn’t have to come to rely on her support anymore. It only made things worse, though.
He had never meant to hurt anyone. At first, all he had done was keep his distance. He didn’t return calls, he would pretend to forget to meet her, and soon, he stopped talking to her altogether. Such actions only drove ______________ to try harder. He had made the mistake of making her think it was her fault that he was acting up. She had tried so hard to change for him—and that annoyed him.
He didn’t want her to change. She was fine the way she was. It was he who needed to change.
I’ve been so stupid! he angrily thought, his breath growing short from running. He was never the best runner.
All this time, he had failed to tell her the reason for such changes—that it was because he was doing it for her. While he had been changing for what he foolishly thought had been for the better, she had been changing her character for the worst.
It angered him that she wasn’t the person he knew while growing up. Even so, she didn’t deserve any of the cold, harsh things he had said to her. If he was going to be angry with anyone, it should have been with himself. If he could take it all back and start over, he would, but the damage had already been done.
Suddenly, neither of them knew each other or themselves.
Your fingers glided across the worn wood weathered by years of rain and wind until the splintered surface became smooth. You had many fond memories of this place: memories of the innocent times when you knew nothing about the challenges you would have to face as maturing adults. Those times had been the most blissful moments in your life—and you had shared them with someone you had once thought to be the most significant person you had known.
He won’t come here, you thought and took a seat in the corner of the little clubhouse. He stopped coming a long time ago. He won’t find me here, and that’s good... Your eyes were beginning to grow hot and watery again.
...because I don’t want him to see me cry…
It was nearly dark. The sun had set far past the hills and the buildings, and the daylight birds had all gone to roost in their nests. Emil remembered the time when he and ___________ had stayed at the clubhouse past dark. With no flashlights or streetlights to guide them back home, they had spent the night all alone in fear that they would get lost if trying to find their way back to their parents’ houses. However, during that time, they had each other, and when the morning came, they were able to go home. Sure, their parents had been furious, but it had been fun sleeping side by side in their special clubhouse.
How could I have forgotten those times? Emil asked himself. Neither of us cried that night. We were happy.
Eventually, he saw the clubhouse coming into view. It was small. He remembered choosing the place alongside ______________. It almost took an entire year, but they had finally built a sturdy little fortress made just for the two of them—and their friends who had bothered to follow them through the thicket. He was surprised it was still standing. He thought that with all of the years of neglect, it would have fallen apart—much like the way he had been neglecting his bond with ____________.
No, he thought. Like the clubhouse, this is fixable. It can’t be too late. If Lukas said so, then there still might be a chance.
At first, he thought of calling out ___________’s name, but his voice was hoarse from running. He had nearly run out of breath twice while trying to find this place, and he didn’t want to startle _____________ if she really was here. It would be better to see if she was there for himself.
Sure enough, when he poked his head into the cramped room, he saw his old childhood friend curled up in a corner. She had been crying so hard that she didn’t even notice his presence.
“Oh, ___________...” he breathed. It was worse than he thought. He couldn’t believe this had all been his fault, but it all was.
“_____________?” he softly spoke as he cautiously approached her. “Hey…”
He dared to reach a hand out and touch her shoulder. When he did, however, __________ snapped her head up and stared wide-eyed at him with a frightened expression.
“Y-You!” she gasped and backed up against the wall.
“___-____________, I— ” Emil began only to have his words fumble into silence. What was he supposed to say? That he was sorry? Would a simple apology really undo the damage that so many years had done? If it were up to him, he wouldn’t have thought so.
Unfortunately, before Emil could bring himself to find an answer to his dilemmas, ____________ began to run out of the clubhouse.
“Wait!” he cried and latched onto her wrist. He dared not let go. If he did, he feared that she would completely vanish from his life, and frankly, that was the last thing he wanted.
“It hurts,” she whimpered.
Emil loosened his grip in response, yet his hand still held fast.
“It hurts,” she repeated.
Then it hit him. She wasn’t talking about her wrist.
“_____________, please don’t run away,” Emil whispered. “Just listen to what I have to say. Please…”
_____________ didn’t say anything. He took this as a response to let him know she was listening. With that in mind, he took a moment to catch his breath before speaking.
“The truth is, I don’t hate you,” he said.
What a stupid thing to say! he scolded himself. Now she’ll think I hated her before!
“You don’t?” ___________ replied.
“I— ” Emil paused. “No, I don’t.” He pressed his lips together and thought of what to say. It was all so strange saying these things to her after trying to push her away for so long.
“I never hated you,” he then said. “What I hated was what you were doing to yourself.”
______________ didn’t say anything so he continued.
“The reason I was being so cold to you was because I wanted to grow up. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want to have to rely on other people anymore—especially you. I didn’t want to feel embarrassed. You…You were always there to stand up for me. The least I could have done was do the same, but to do that, I thought that I would have to distance myself away from you. I felt that if I didn’t get way from you, you would always protect me.
“I didn’t hate that you tried to stand up for me. That part always made me feel happy. I know I’ve never told you this, but whenever you stood up for me, I felt that you still cared about me. I’m sorry I never got around to telling you about it before.”
“But what I did hate was when you began to change. I was stupid. I always thought it was because you were becoming someone else, someone I didn’t know anymore. I liked it when you were just you, when you were just _____________. It wasn’t until much later that I realized you were only changing because you still wanted my attention. I’m also sorry I didn’t realize that earlier. If I had…then maybe the damage wouldn’t have grown so large.
“So, ____________, I just wanted to let you know that I— Hey, y-you’re still crying…”
Emil cursed in his head. No amount of advice from his brother would be able to tell him what he was supposed to do in this kind of situation. When had she gotten so small? Or perhaps he had gotten bigger. To know that he had made her cry like this was starting to break his heart. Had he said something wrong?
“S-Sorry, Emil,” _____________ suddenly apologized between hiccups. “I didn’t mean to worry you like this.”
“N-No, I should be the one who’s sorry,” he quickly said. “I made you cry, didn’t I?”
_______________ nodded. “Yes, but that’s because I’m happy.”
Emil was baffled. “Happy? B-But I hurt you. I said all of those things, and I even stopped being your friend for so long! How could you be happy?”
“B-Because,” she sniffed, “you said you don’t hate me. You still like me for who I was.”
“_____-______________...” Emil muttered. He should have been relieved, but something was still missing. He still hadn’t told her how he truly felt about her. Yet, something was wrong. The words weren’t coming out of his mouth. His heart was beginning to beat faster. There was something remarkable about these different tears that drew him closer to ____________’s face. Was this the right thing to do? Would his brother have done the same thing? If so, it was too late to find out because what was done was done. Before he even knew what had happened, his lips had gravitated towards _____________’s and sealed themselves into a kiss.
It was wetter than he had imagined it to be. He had imagined his first kiss to be in a romantic place like a gazebo filled with flowers as far as the eye could see or atop a balcony of a fancy hotel or a cruise ship, not in an old clubhouse where he had played at as a child. Now, however, the moment felt right. This was the place where he had been happiest, the place where he would always remember, and the memories contained here would remain with him forever. The clubhouse was a satisfactory place for his first kiss.
When the moment was over, Emil noticed how dark it had gotten. He didn’t have a flashlight or a cellphone on him, and from the looks of it, it didn’t appear that ____________ had any of those things, either.
“How do you suppose we’re going to get back?” he asked looking at the pitch-black sky.
“I don’t know,” ____________ replied. “It might be better to stay here just like that time when we were kids.”
“Just like old times,” Emil sighed and leaned his head against _____________’s. “Hey, ___________?”
“I love you.”
____________ chuckled. “I love you, too, Emil.”
Emil frowned. “Lukas is going to be furious with me for not coming home.”
“Let him be,” ____________ smiled. “I’ll stand up for you—just this once, okay?”
“Thanks, _____________,” he replied, feeling secretly relieved. His brother was more lenient with __________ than with him.