She could feel them watching her. She knew she shouldn’t have came. Even sitting with her legs crossed – usually a sign of awareness and excitement – seemed to create a dent in the ground; pressing into the wood foundation with the heaviness that set upon her shoulders. A heaviness that they could all see.
“I’d never thought I’d say this Claire but … quiet looks good on you.”
Of course he’d notice. Fourteen years of seeing her face contorted in confusion, wet in tears and pouting in defiance – he’d never not notice. She wanted to hide now. But she would have been mad if he had said nothing.
She stared into the thick rimmed glasses she encouraged him to get back in high school. The transparent amber was accentuating his light brown eyes and dark brown skin. Granted, they weren’t the exact same pair but she still demanded a thank you for every “girl that went gaga over his goggles,” as she put it.
“I feel off balance,” Claire somberly announced to the group.
“Off balance how,” this was not the comforting voice of her best friend. This was one of curiosity; a note out of tune with the melody of the small group. She hated the sound.
Claire slowly shifted her eyes from the old fashioned ottoman that held her friend to the hanging hem of bright powdery red. From there she took her time wiping the defiance from her face as she met Lev’s eyes.
“I’m not sure.”
Lev’s eyes held her – black and un -moving as if they already knew all she would have to say. Who does he think he is?
She looked away and aimed to say without feeling, “I don’t know.”
“We’ve been studying too much!”
Jelly returned with a normal size mug of hot chocolate. It was early December but she didn’t drink it for warmth. There were many warm summer days a cup of hot cocoa accompanied the girls conversation about boys or teachers or just about anything. Claire reached as if to ask for some. Jelly shot her ways glance and gingerly sat on the couch.
“You need something,” Jelly asked as feigning ignorance.
Claire feigned a pain staked chest.
You’ll be alright. Now boys and … girl we need a break. It’s five – we’ve been at it since three. And I’m getting the heeby jeebies.”
“Probably the sugar,” said Lev.
“Spell heeby jeebies,” Adam chimed in.
“Sugar free,” Jelly says between sips. “And H – E – E – B JEEBIES!”
Jelly laughs until symphonic jingle rings through the house.
“PIZZAAA!” Jelly screams in a voice that weakly resembles a football player getting pumped up for a game.
“I guess it is time to take a break. How about it Dan?”
Dan didn’t care about studying. His head lay against the top of the lazy boy with his mouth stretched wide. Long limbs sprawling out over its fabric. The sessions were just so he could spend time with his friends. He said he needed to be around his real family after Adam died, the golden boy of his family. After Adam’s death, Dan claimed to know what truly mattered. He was graduating just to appease his parents – the only thing they were adamant about.
Claire didn’t bother saying his name again. She knew he would pop up when the scent of pizza reached the basement.