Emily was fidgeting at our kitchen table with an array of small plates spread out around her like some sort of weird food-based model of the solar system. Clearly Mom had been attempting to feed her, but she wasn't interested. I'm not really sure why, but my mom has an almost pathological need to feed people snacks whenever they visit. She doesn't ask if they want something, she just quietly provides food. And evidently in this case kept quietly providing food. Had she kept Emily in the kitchen for a while before she came up go get me? I didn't take that long dithering before I came down.
"Xavier," said Emily in evident relief when I entered the kitchen. She briefly met my eyes, then immediately looked away. "Is there somewhere we can talk?"
That didn't sound good. "Sure," I said, and with barely any hesitation but plenty of internal panic I lead her to the Lab.
What is it about secrets that you've kept for a really long time? I was having heart palpitations all the way down the hall, and it was less the fact that I was seriously freaked about what Emily wanted to talk about—though that certainly played a role—and more that I was planning to actually show someone outside the family the Lab. It wasn't like I'd ever had a bad experience with someone mocking me because of my interest in manga; outside of manga stories themselves, I didn't have a single reason to believe that Emily would do anything more than shrug when she found out. Yet despite it all as we passed the stairs I almost veered up them and redirected us to my room.
Then again, I was in a manga. Taking a girl to my room raised so many narrative flags I could think of easily a dozen different pre-made scenarios that could play out—none of which would help my central dilemma of needing to ensure that Emily understood what was going on with me and didn't try something stupid like breaking up with me because she'd heard a rumor I'd flirted with someone at Tracy's.
Hold up. Why was Emily here so soon after that, anyway?
I don't think Emily said anything as we walked down the hall, but I probably wouldn't have noticed even if she had.
At last we drew even with the closed door of the Lab. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door, lead the way into the room, and checked under the table and behind both chairs while Emily sat down and gave a cursory glance at the shelves before redirecting her gaze at her feet.
After I closed the door and sat down in the other chair there was a long stint of uncomfortable silence. Emily was avoiding my eyes—and fidgeting, of course, because sitting still suited Emily about as well as playing fetch suits a cat—while I was trying to force myself past my ongoing feelings of panic and broach the topic of oh, by the way, we're apparently fictional characters.
Yeah, that approach was going to work brilliantly. I hadn't thought this through at all.
Unfortunately for me, before I was able to properly order my thoughts Emily dropped her bombshell. "We're moving away!" Emily blurted out, making me almost jump out of my chair in surprise at her sudden outburst. "My dad got transferred to Spokane, and we're moving there next week. I'm sorry, Xavier, but need to break up."
"What?" I said. "No. Spokane?"
But Emily didn't even pause. "It was really sudden and I told my parents I didn't want to go, but everything just lined up too perfectly and Dad said that this was an opportunity he couldn't miss and if we missed out on the house we might have to move in the middle of the school year which would be awful, and I'm sorry Xavier, but it's just too far."
She was still refusing to look at me. "No, Emily…I mean, this is too sudden. Look, maybe we can…"
She finally made eye contact with me, and although she wasn't crying her eyes were absolutely brimming. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I'll miss you, Xavier." And before I could do so much as reach for her, she was out of her chair, the door to the Lab slapped up against the bookshelf behind it, and she was gone.
"Emily, wait!" I called, scrambling to follow her, but she was already down the hall. Before I made it that far I heard the distinctive creaking noise of the front door's hinges, and all I could do was watch from the doorway as she climbed into the car that was waiting for her at the curb. And then she was gone.
I just stood for several seconds staring as the Holt's car steadily ate up the roadway, turned the corner, and was out of sight.
I don't know how long I stood staring at the empty road, emotions bubbling through me like pasta in a pot of boiling water. Now sadness floats to the top, then submerges again as anger throws itself forward. Disbelief, denial, despair; each jumps to prominence only to fall back as anger roils to the surface once more. Then sadness, a feeling of helplessness. I don't know what to do.
"Peanut?" says my mom. I didn't even notice her coming up behind me from the kitchen. "Do you want to talk?"
"No," I said shortly, and shut the front door. At least, not to her. Barely seeing Mom, I turn and stride to my room. Where did I leave it? There, on the corner of the desk, where I normally dropped it after getting home. I grabbed my phone and stabbed the favorite I had saved for Emily so hard I nearly stubbed my finger. I rarely called her—we typically communicated via text, or by preference face-to-face—but the few times I'd called her to arrange a date or meet-up she'd always answered within the first couple rings.
The phone rang endlessly, my heartbeat accelerating faster each time as I anticipated the shifting sound of a connection, then Emily's voice. Finally, the change in background noise finally came, but it was only an automated message. "The number you have dialed is not…" blah blah blah. Damn it!
I tried again. And again. She didn't even have it setup to accept messages for some reason. I sent her a text. Emily, please can we meet up to talk about this?
No response. No response when later that evening I sent a follow-up text.
No response for an entire week, until one day I woke up to find her last words to me floating on my lock screen.
I'm sorry. Goodbye.