Another week had come and gone, and December was fast aproaching. The hideout now showed no stains, and there were no apparent marks that might give away that a fight had occured there.
For the occupants of the hideout, the quickly approaching holidays were either a source of relief or a source of anger, sorrow, and tension. Several minor arguments had broken out, about half of them involving Chaos, whose displeasure with the VI4C had been growing since the fight.
Septi found herslef attempting to smooth ruffled feathers, and finally offered to take Mes and Raram to the mall, simply to get out, and get them out, of th hideout. The enthusiasm this suggestion was met with surprised her, but she did as she had said.
The car ride up was a bit strained, and the radio clumsily covered the awkward silence. It was a relief when they got to the mall and split up, Mes and Raram going one way, Septi going another. Septi was wondering in the vague direction of Hot Topic when someone called her name.
“Renee Carl? Is that really you?”
“Nito?” She asked, turning to see him jogging up to her. “Hey, how are you?”
“I’m great,” he said, hugging her awkwardly for a couple of seconds. “How about you?”
“I’m doing… okay,” she said, tilting her head and taking a good look at him. “I’ve been busy.”
“Really now?” he asked, smiling slightly. “Did it have something to do with that mystery job of yours?”
“Yeah, it did, actually,” Septi smiled back easily.
“Hey, d’you want to get a coffee or something?” he asked, shifting his weight slightly.
“Well, I don’t drink coffee-“
“Oh, that’s right. I think you told me that before.”
“Yeah. Well, I’d like to, other than that minor detail.” He laughed at that.
“Do you like pretzles?”
“Yeah,” she answered, a little surprised.
“Aunty Annie’s is just arround the corner, so why don’t we go get something from there, and then sit down.
“Sounds good to me.” They walked over, ordered, and sat down on one of the multiple benches that were scattered around the mall.
“So, you’ve been so busy with that job of yours that you couldn’t see anyone in the outside world?” Nito asked, watching Septi as she tore a piece of her pretzle off.
“Yeah,” she said, glancing up at him and catching his eye. “That pretty much sums it up.”
“Oh, good,” he said. “So you weren’t just avoiding me.”
“Nah,” Septi said, brushing her hair back with the hand that had not touched the pretzle. “I was a little tied up for quite a while.”
“Really now?” he asked again, his voice soft. Septi smiled slightly and lowered her gaxe. Nito leaned in and placed a hand on her knee, and Septi glanced up at him, startled. “I hope this won’t affect our relationship, and that we can pick up where we left off.” Septi blinked, her mind going numb.
“Um-” was all she could manage, and he smiled slightly and leaned back ,removing his hand from her knee.
“Just think about it, okay?” she nodded, and he glanced at his watch. “Holy cow, I need to go, ‘kay? I’ll see you later.” He took his leave, and Septi sat there for a couple of seconds, watching him go before realizing that she was smashing her pretzle. Just then Raram and Mes slipped up behind her.
“So that’s Nito?” Mes said, sitting down beside Septi, and tearing a chunk of Septi’s pretzle off. “I can see why you like him.”
“Oh, yeah!” Raram said, dropping down on the other side of Septi. “So, what did he want?”
“Just to talk,” Septi said absentmindedly.
“Just to talk? Yeah, right,” Mes said, rolling her eyes in an extremely dramatic fashion. “That look he was giving you was not an ‘I just want to talk’ look.”
“Oh, shut up you,” Septi said, punching her upper arm lightly and finishing off her pretzle. “So, you guys done?”
“No,” Raram said, resting her head in her hands. “We had just finished up in FYE when we saw you talking to Nito.”
“So you two thought it would be fun to eavesdrop.”
“Not eavesdrop. We were out of earshot,” Raram said.
“Yeah, Septi. Geez, we were just watching.”
“Great, so I have stalkers for my friends.”
“We’re not stalkers!” Mes retorted hotly.
“Sure, you’re not,” Septi said teasingly. “Alright, if you two aren’t done, why don’t you go finish up?”
“Okay,” Raram said. “Sounds like a plan.” Mes and Raram took off, and Septi sighed and stretched before getting to her feet. She resumed her path to Hot Topic and was just about to go in when Jade came out.
“Renee!” Jade squeeled, hugging Septi tightly.
“Oh my gods, Jade, are you a sight for sore eyes!”
“It’s the purple isn’t it?”
“No, though I love it!”
“You’ve cut your hair, too! You didn’t mention that when we talked!”
“Yes, I cut my hair,” Septi said. “I didn’t have much choice in the matter, it was such a mess. D’you like it?”
“It’s cute,” Jade said, tugging at the strand of hair the was boardering Septi’s face.
“It’s taken some getting used to, as long as it was and as short as it is now.”
“I can imagine. Hey, d’you want me to hook you up with some hair dye?”
“Nah, thanks,” Septi said, winking slightly. “I can take care of it myself.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Jade said with a smile. “I forgot.” Septi shrugged.
“So, have you seen anyone?”
“Nito, for a couple of minute before I ran into you, and my mum, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Jade agreed. “‘Kay.”
“Yeah,” Septi sighed, and continued. “I was kind of, completely, out of touch with everyone.”
“Sounds like it,” Jade said, shifting her bag from one shoulder to the other, bouncing a bit on the balls of her feet. “D’you want to walk and talk for a bit? My boss’ll do a nutty if we stand here much longer.”
“Alright,” Septi said, stepping a little off to the side and letting Jade take the lead. Wandering through the halls of the mall, making small talk and retelling old jokes, Septi and Jade found themselveslaughing so hard they couldn’t breathe.
“Hey, Se- Renee!” Raram and Mesmer came jogging up, having located Septi at the book store. “We’ve been ready to go, and have been waiting for you for the last half hour!”
“Yeah,” Mes panted. “You could have at least let us know that you’d be late.” Septi glanced at her watch, her eyes widening as she saw the time.
“Oh, um… Sorry? Hey, d’you know Jade?”
“I don’t think we’ve ever met,” Jade said, extending a hand.
“So you’re Jade,” Mes said. “I’m Jasmina.” Jade shook Mes’s hand.
“Yeah, I am.”
“And I’m ‘Licia,” Raram said, shaking hands with Jade. “I love your hair.”
“Thanks,” Jade said, smiling warmly at her. “So, how do you know ‘Nee?” Mes, Raram, and Septi all tensed up, and Septi answered.
“Ah,” Jade stared at the three of them like she was trying to figure something out, then shook her head slightly.
“Ah,” Jade stared at the three of them like she was trying to figure something out, then shook her head slightly.
“We should probably be going,” Mes said, looking uncomfortable. Raram nodded her agreement.
“Alright,” Septi said, hugging Jade quickly, then turning to go. “Call you later, Jade.”
“‘Kay-‘kay,” Jade said as the three mutants walked away. “Nice meeting you, Licia and Jasmina.”
“Same,” Raram called back over her shoulder cheerfully. As soon as they could no longer see Jade, Mes turned to face Septi.
“You are the most inconsiderate-“
“Save me the speech, Mes. I’m sorry, I just lost track of the time.”
“Mes, give it a rest,” Raram cut in, watching Septi thoughfully. “She hasn’t seen her friend for about a month, maybe a month and a half. Let her be.”
“Thanks, Raram,” Septi smiled at her thankfully.
“Not a problem, Septi.” a sad look of understanding appeared on Raram’s face.
“You’re a good friend, Raram,” Septi said so only Raram could hear. “Even when I’m not.”
“Septi, it’s okay,” Raram said. “I’m not perfect, and I know I’ve hurt you with stupid things that I’ve said or done. But you’re not a bad friend, and nothing you’ve done can be counted as such.”
“Septi, shut up and unlock this car.” Septi nodded, and and fished her spare key out of her purse. Slipping into the drivers seat, Raram crawled in beside her while Mes got the backseat.
The car was silent on the way back, not an awkward silence, but a thoughtful one. When they had pulled into the garage, Mes got out and headed on in, while Raram lingered. Septi realized what Raram must be meaning to do, and began to stall on going in until she was sure that Mes was inside the hideout while avoiding looking at Raram.
“Septi,” Raram said, when Septi had turned to face her finally. “I’ve made my choice.”
“Oh?” Septi asked, a knot growing in her stomach. “And?”
“I want to be your friend, but I don’t think our friendship can ever go back to the way it was.”
“Understandable. We’ve both changed too much for that to happen anyways,” Septi said, feeling like she was being punched in the stomach.
“Yeah,” Raram agreed. “I’m just trying to say that while we can still be friends, I don’t think our friendship can survive on the same levels it was on.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Septi said, the knot in her stomach loosening, but setteling again like someone had replaced it with lead. “Okay, that’s great.”
“Alright,” Raram said. “I should probably go.” Septi nodded and leaned against her car, feeling weak.
‘Well, it’s more than you expected, or deserve,’ she thought, rudding her face and massaging her temples. ‘I guess I’m not really surprised that that’s Raram’s choice, but Mes… What’ll Mes choose?’
‘Does it matter what Mes chooses? Is that friendship even worth it?’
‘Yes, it matters,’ she answered herself. ‘And as to the is it worth it, there’s nothing outstandingly good or outstandingly bad. In fact, there’s nothing. It’s all gone, been sucked dry. So what’ll I do if Mes chooses to remain friends?’
‘You have to explain that you need to back off a bit.’
‘Is that the only way?’
‘No,’ she thought, biting her lips. ‘I could either say that she and I can’t be friends, or I could go on acting like nothing’s changed between us, therefore opening myself to a world of hurt.’
‘So what’ll I choose?’
‘Maybe I won’t have to choose,’ she thought hopefully. ‘Maybe Mes’ll say that she doesn’t was this to continue.’
‘Don’t be a coward, Septi. This isn’t just about Mes’s choice. It’s your choice as well.’
‘I suppose I’ll choose to remain friends, but not good ones.’ She sighed, and stared up at the garage ceiling.
“What a mess” she murmured, then she straightened up and walked to the door leading to the main part of the hideout, feeling mentally and emotionally worn down.
Septi sighed as she finished putting her clothes in the closet and moved the box off of her bed. Turning, she caught sight of the boxes still filled with her books, waiting to be shelved. A slight moan escaped from her lips.
“I have a lot more things than I thought I had,” she muttered, stretching. Her door burst open with a bang and Mes walked in.
“Thank goodness,” she drawled. “I finally found you.”
“I’ve been here since supper,” Septi said, opening one of the boxes of books. “Could you help me find the A’s, in authors last names?”
“Um, sure,” Mes said, opening another box and delving in. “They’re here.” She said, shoving the box over the Septi.
“Okay, thanks,” Septi said, taking the books and shelving them on the built in bookcase. “So you were looking for me?”
“Yeah,” Mes stood and stepped away from the boxes. “I, um, wanted to tell you that I’ve made up my mind.”
“Oh?” Septi tried to act disinterested, but she felt like she was going to be sick.
“Yeah,” Mes looked extremely awkward. “I don’t think we can ever be, er-“
“Best friends? I agree with you,” Septi said, rumaging through the boxes, looking for books written by authors with last names that start with ‘B’. “So you chose what?”
“We can still be friends,” Mes said, her words tumbeling out. “But not good friends, y’know?”
“Yeah,” Septi exhaled softly. “In fact, I agree with you. I was hoping that you wouldn’t say that you still wanted to be best friends, or anything like that.”
“Please,” Mes said with a short laugh. A slight look of relief was on her face, although the rest of her body language still showed that she was uncomfortable. “It’s just, while there’s really nothing of our friendship left anyways, I don’t really want to… I don’t know…”
“Lose my friendship?” septi asked, not looking at Mes as she shelved her books. Her hands paused as she came to the end of the row, and she looked down at the floor. “I understand that feeling all to well. It’s a horrible feeling, when you’re all alone in the world.”
“You sound like you’ve had a lot of experience with lonliness.”
“I’ve have more than enough,” Septi said, looking over at Mes with a closed look on her face.
“Okay,” Mes said, her voice hesitant. “That bad, huh?”
“Oh, yeah,” Septi said, resuming her shelving. “Trust me, it was like a living hell.” Mes raised her eyesbrows, and although Septi’s back was turned, she cut off Mes’s next comment. “No, I’m not exagerating, nor will I change my wording.”
“Great,” Mes shifted her weight slightly. Septi paused again, and look back, locking eyes with Mes.
“Is that all?” she asked. Mes nodded. “Alright. If you want to go, don’t let me keep you.”
“Alright,” Mes said, breaking her stare off as she turned. Septi waited until the door had closed behind Mes, then she sank down to her knees, crying.
‘Don’t be stupid, Septi,’ she thought. ‘Nothing’s wrong. In fact, isn’t this what you wanted?’
‘Of course it is.’
‘Then why are you crying?’ she dried her eyes and looked around her at the books. Shifting her possition so she was sitting with one leg tucked up and the other leg curled under it, she rested her chin on her knee, her arms wrapped around it, as she tried to figure it out.
‘I guss it’s because I’m relieved,’ she thought finally. She sighed a barely audible sigh, and let her hair fall and hide her face. ‘So this is how things are going to be.
‘Can I live with it?’