Limp weeds crushed under rain boots. Chubby hands intertwined.
Bright smiles. Rosy cheeks and noses.
Squeals of laughter filling the air.
That was the earlier memory of the Spring Festival he could recall.
It was rainy. And that would be enough of an excuse for the vendors and money makers to ask for a ‘rain date’. But, never once, had Tailes delayed their Spring Festival, and being superstitious people by nature they refused to be the ones to start a trend of delayed events.
In the muggy weather. The air was warm and humid. Kids ran around, wetting the cuffs of their jeans with rainwater that made it over their bright rain boots. Or...he remembers that she was wearing a dress, with slacks and rainboots. Her hair in pretty twin braids. She got her socks wet instead...
The Olivia he played with. Instead of the other boys. The Olivia he proposed to at the age of 8. The Olivia, wearing her mother's heels, who squealed a resounding ‘yes!’
Liam could admit to being a little obsessed with his childhood friend. His first love.
The spring festival has more or less always been their thing. They always went together. (Liam recalls throwing a tantrum to stay at his small-town during spring break instead of going to NY). At least, when they were friends...he hasn't gone once without her.
They split ways when they were 14. Highschool. It was mostly his fault. But she wasn't free of blame. It was simple. He wanted more than friendship, and she didn’t want to give it.
Their failing out happened, you guessed it, at the Spring Festival.
They were at the Dance Square. A path of settled down sand. And then fast songs had stopped playing…
This was his moment.
As Vi started to pull away he caught her hand and tugged on it. She looked back at him, over her shoulder, her expression was hesitant. “Please,” he wheedled, “I want to learn.”
That, he knew, was her weakness.
She loved it when he said that. When she was able to teach him something.
“Just one dance,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck. He nods, not able to talk over the lump in his throat.
The music started. And she led the dance, he followed, he pretended to not know the steps. His gaze caught on some girls at the side of the field, whispering to each other, looking at them.
“You know,” he said, “there have been rumors.”
“There's always rumors.”
“It’s because you are so popular. No one would talk if you weren't so charming.”
His heart skipped a few steps but his feet, thankfully, didn’t.
She was killing him.
“The rumors say that we are secretly dating,” he felt her startle under her hands, alerting him that she had no idea about the rumors. Which wouldn’t surprise him. She preferred to focus her energy on campaigns and protests, and her books than in schoolyard gossip. “You didn’t know?”
“I did,” Vi whispered, her voice thick, “but you should ignore them Lee. They will die soon.”
“After this dance?” Liam chuckled darkly, “I doubt it.”
“Do the rumors bother you?”
“No,” answered Liam immediately. “Actually-it’s just, er,” he sucked in a deep breath, “I wish they were true.”
He pulls back enough to get a look at her face. She looked....terrible. Distraught. Uncomfortable. Like...she was scared...but! But! He was so sure, all of their life…
“Vi,” he whispered, “can you… say something? Anything?”
Her exotic eyes were filled with tears. Pale face was blotchy and her hands were shaking on his neck.
“I…” her voice wobbled, “I think it’s best if the rumors didn’t come true.”
The time she helped him pass his test flashed through his head. In the library. Her long Asian hair was down and she was leaning into him. Teasing him.
The time she stayed after everyone had left, at his 12th birthday flashed through his head. How she stayed behind to help him clean up. How she hugged him extra long and then made him go to the park to look for shooting stars. Setting their sleeping bags, side by side. Laying with their finger intertwined. Vi insisted she saw one. Maybe she did. He was too busy staring at her.
How she held him close. Cheered him on and supported him through both success and failure.
How when he flirted, she rolled her eyes or occasionally flirted back. How when their parents teased them her cheeks went pink and she’d hid her face in her hands. Dragged him away, practically.
It was...it was all there...but…
He stopped dancing and pulled away from her. They were dancing in the corner of the square so it was easy to slip into the shadows.
“I-i’m sorry, but I can't be with you like that,” she whispered, shaking. “I really like you. And maybe someday, I might want that.”
She couldn’t even look him in the eye. She looked like she wanted nothing more than to run away and hide.
Another throb went through him.
She looked helplessly around, “Can’t we just stay the way we are? Things are so great between us...why should we lose that? We can still be friends…”
Being just her friend was torture.
“I told you this because I can’t just be your friend anymore,” he told her, his voice shook and he clenched his hand into a fist. “Because-I love-”
She surged forward and covered his mouth with her hand. “Please, “pleaded Vi, “don’t say it. Were too young to know anythi-”
He peeled her hands off and took a few steps back, “Please don’t speak like you know how I feel.”
Unintentionally, hsi voice was cold. The same business tone his father used. She recognized it and flinched. “I’m sorry.”
She turned on her heel and fled.
Liam regretted that day. He regretted not chasing after her. He regretted collapsing into himself, obsessed with how deeply he was wounded to think about her. About how scared she looked.
He regretted using that tone with her. Not keeping her as a friend, at least.
He regretted it when on Monday he let her avoid him. He regretted it on Wednesday that when she finally wanted to talk he brushed her off.
He regretted it when he ignored her texts.
He regretted it when he let his best friend of 12 years stay silent.
And here he was. For the first time in 5 years at the Spring Festival.
Liam Hestworth was quite a popular local. With his money and his irrefutable good looks, he created quite a scene when he left.
So of course another scene would happen when he comes back. People he missed, people he didn’t remember, people he rather not see, all of them swarming him and peppering him with questions. As soon as he got rid of one group, he ran into another.
It was annoying.
But it kept him from risking a one on one encounter with Vi Jiang.
No, he wasn't over it. Or maybe he was and was just missing closure.
Maybe he should try and rekindle whatever happened.
Maybe pigs will fly.
Eventually, the people around him fizzled away, looking for the next excitement. Around that time is when he saw her. He recognized her immediately. Probably because he was looking for her. Some of it may be due to stalking her Instagram account, (which should really be on private!!), but it was mostly because of her aura.
It sounded cheesy, he knew, it was cheesy.
But no one was as efficient and kind and lighthearted and efficient as her.
His heart roared in his chest. A ringing sound in his ears.
It was loud. So loud she heard it. Why else would her neck snap up and look right at him?
A big part of him expected her to look past him, or nod at him, then look away. He didn’t expect her to look genuinely pleased to see him, for her to wave and make her way to him.
Liam wanted nothing more than to make a run for it.
Instead, he helped her close the distance between them, smiling politely. “Hi.”
Her smile was as bright and warm as the day, “Hello! It's’ been forever.” She gave him a once-over, “You look so handsome! It’s been…” she trailed off, using her fingers, “five years, now?”
“Well look at you now! You got your fancy internship in the big city, doing well, I heard.”
But...Liam wanted to say, I missed you.
(It was when he was ordering coffee and he automatically ordered a cookie too. Because Vi liked cookies and would prefer that over any drink he insists he buys for her. It was when he was studying and he brought out his gum to help him focus. The same brand and flavor she originally bought for him. It was when he came across a meme online and on reflex, his fingers were already moving to press share.)
“I knew you were destined for success.” Her grin was brilliant and Liam felt some heat creep up his cheeks. “I mean… you are so…”
“Grown-up, like some businessman and not the boy that used to lick crayons to check if they had flavor.”
He swallowed a laugh. “That was forever ago. I was young!”
“You were six.”
“See?” Liam insisted, “still wearing diapers!”
Her lips twist in a smile, “I sadly believe that.” Loud laughter escapes him. And he was startled at how easily he was falling in sync with her. Maybe she felt it too since she smiled at him softly, “I miss that laugh.”
He stiffens. And she seems to notice, her beautiful browns squinting.
“It’s okay,” she whispers, “that was forever ago.”
Something uncomfortable lights in his stomach, “What d'you mean?”
“I’m not mad anymore. I get that you needed time...and eventually, the time to reconnect was missed. It stung like hell but...I’m glad you're doing fine.”
She was mad? He thought she didn't notice his absence. Sure, she might have missed him. But he always cared for her more than she did for him...at least, he thought.
She was wearing a t-shirt and shorts. Her long legs are tan and well-muscled. “I’m doing much better now. I took a year out of my plan to discover myself. And I like who I am.”
“Wait,” Liam wet his dry lips, “what do you mean?”
Her eyes widened like she just realized something crucial, a sigh left her lips making her body turn smaller. “Why don’t we sit?”
“Aren’t you running this thing?” Liam asked. “Will they be good without you?”
“James will take care of them.”
She said it so casually it was like she expected him to know who James was. In this small town, everyone knew everyone. And he...was out of loop.
He sat on the chair and watched her as she fluttered around the tent. Grabbing a water. He half expected for her to offer him one but she didn't.
“When you confessed to me I was suffering through depression.” She told him bluntly. The words pierced through him like a bullet. “I couldn’t stand the sight of myself. But I had you. You distracted me from how much I hated myself. You took care of me so well that I didn’t get the chance to neglect myself.”
She was smiling at him.
“But when you confessed, you were so sure of how you felt and what you thought of me. So sure of your feelings. So confident that I'd return them. And I… felt so small. I was a Queen on a pedestal in your eyes. And I felt like I tricked you. You thought I was a hero and I couldn't even keep myself from drowning. I tried to reconcile with you but you ignored me. I sunk completely into depression...my mom noticed and got me help. Help I've been needing for a while.”
She took a long drink of water.
“Please don't think I’m creepy but I kept tabs on you. To see how you were faring when we parted ways. You were always surrounded by friends. Always upbeat and sweet. I was… I actually took it quite well. I thought that maybe,” she made a weird choked laugh, “you wanted some time apart to clear your head. But a month turned into a few months then half a year. Then a year. Then nothing.”
Liam stared at her. The girl who he failed.
“I’m not blaming you for what I went through,” she said as if reading his mind. “I have depression and I was finally able to get help. But I was mad for a long time. And I thought you knew that and I wanted to assure you that I’m not anymore. It’s been five fucking years.
Vi laughs, “I’m not sure why I told you I liked myself now. I think I just was so used to trying to impress you. It’s practically written in my blood. Talking to you was easy. Falling into a routine with you, it’s easy.
“We’re easy. So… yeah. Wait, don’t cry-” she rushed forward about to scoop him into her arms before faltering, unsure. That made him cry harder. Because he denied himself his best friend for 5 full years.
He didn’t see her suffering.
He didn’t assure her that she wasn't in the wrong.
And she didn’t blame him one bit.
Not because she was stupid. But because she didn’t think that way and didn’t assume others she thought highly of would too.
Vi, His Olivia. His Angel.
He...was going to win her friendship back. Even if it took twice the time he was gone!
He wiped his fingers down his face.
“So,” he smiled through his tears, “can you spare me an hour for old times sake? Just today, you can save Robert tomorrow.”
“James,” Vi corrects, “and yeah. I’m sure he won’t mind,”
(Later Liam met James. A frazzled Uni Art student who definitely DID mind. Not that the fact stopped them.)