‘I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I BOTHERED picking up. Yeah, maybe I’ll talk to you about it eventually, after you stop acting like such an ass.’ I stood at the top of the stairs with a heavy box of textbooks balanced in my arms. Sara released a frustrated groan, so I assumed she’d hung up.
I made some noise as I neared the door so she’d know I was coming and could hold her temperament in check. She’d told me about her decision to end things with Jared, and I’d listened. But I was basically incapable of offering any guidance. Sara didn’t confide in me too much lately, afraid something would upset me. It wasn’t that I was that fragile. I just refused to talk about … anything.
‘Is that it?’ Sara asked, her smile brighter than usual, overcompensating for the annoyance that still lingered in her eyes.
‘You can tell me, you know,’ I offered, trying to be the friend that she needed right now.
‘No, I can’t,’ she said, redirecting her attention to the boxes stacked all over the room. ‘I don’t have much space to work with. This room is tiny.’
I let her avoid the topic, since that was what she preferred.
‘I don’t need anything. Really. No need to bother.’
‘I thought you’d say that,’ Sara replied with a small smile. ‘That’s why I only brought one thing to decorate your room.’ She reached for a purse so big it could honestly be called a duffle bag, and pulled out a frame. Flipping it around, she held it up under her chin with a beaming smile. It was a picture of us at her house, in front of the large bay window overlooking the front yard in the background. Anna, her mother, had taken it during the summer I’d lived with them. From the gleam in our eyes it was apparent we were on the verge of laughing.
‘Omigod,’ Sara said with a shocked seriousness. I tightened my eyes in confusion. ‘Is that a smile I see on your face, Emma Thomas? I was wondering if I’d ever see one again.’
I ignored her, straightening my lips, and turned towards the built-in desk in the corner of the small bedroom.
‘Perfect.’ Sara set the photo on the dresser, admiring it. I pulled out the textbooks and tucked them on the shelf under the desk. ‘Okay, let’s unpack you. I’m so happy you’re out of the dorms now. And I’ve always loved Meg … and Serena, even though she won’t let me do a makeover. I’ll work on it. But what’s up with Peyton?’
‘She’s harmless,’ I said, breaking down an empty cardboard box.
‘I guess every house needs drama,’ Sara noted, laying a stack of folded shirts in an open drawer. ‘And as long as Peyton’s the only drama in this house, I can live with that.’
‘That’s what I was thinking,’ I replied, hanging clothes in the minuscule closet.
Sara plopped a black boot box on the bed. ‘Should we keep the boots in the box or set them in the closet?’ She began to slide the cover off, but my hand slammed it shut. She jumped and looked up at me in alarm.
‘They’re not boots.’ I could hear the edge in my voice.
Sara’s mouth opened in surprise as she took in my intense expression. ‘O-kay. Where do you want it?’
‘I don’t care. I’d actually rather not know,’ I answered. ‘I’m getting something to drink. Do you want anything?’
‘Water,’ Sara requested, her voice quiet.
When I returned with the two bottles of water a few minutes later, Sara was making the bed, and the box was gone. Setting my shoes on the bottom of the closet floor was the final touch. There was a benefit to not owning much.
I sat on the rolling chair at the desk while Sara lay on her stomach on the bed, scattering the display of decorative pillows she’d just masterfully assembled. I knew I’d stuff them on the top shelf of my closet after she left.
‘You know I ended it because I can’t do the distance thing, right?’ Sara asked. I spun the chair around, surprised she’d decided to open up.
‘I know it’s hard for you. It always has been,’ I replied. She’d had the same challenge in high school when we were in Connecticut and Jared was attending Cornell in New York. But she made it work by visiting him practically every weekend for the last part of our senior year.
‘I’ll be in France; there’s no way I could do that to us,’ she continued. ‘It doesn’t seem fair to make him wait.’
‘But would you want him seeing anyone else while you’re gone? Because that’s basically what you’re giving him permission to do. And then what happens when you get back?’
Sara was quiet, resting her chin on her hands with her eyes focused on the floor. ‘I just don’t want to know about it. And if I meet someone in Paris, he doesn’t need to know about that either. Because in the end, I know we’re supposed to be together. But I’m not sure either one of us is ready to admit that.’
I still didn’t understand her logic, but I wasn’t about to challenge her.
She sat up suddenly, not allowing me the chance to say anything in return. ‘So, do you think … since I’m going to be gone … that I can let Meg know a little about you? Not everything, just enough so she’ll be here for you while I can’t be. I hate the thought of being so far away without someone –’
‘Looking out for me,’ I finished.
‘Yeah,’ she replied, smiling gently. ‘I don’t want you to be alone. You have a tendency to shut yourself off for days at a time. It’s not good. I’ll still call you every day, of course. But I hate not being close … in case you …’ Sara looked down, unable to finish the sentence.
‘Sara, I’m not going to do anything,’ I promised feebly. ‘You don’t have to worry about me.’
‘Yeah. It doesn’t mean I won’t.’