I stare at the boy in front of me, is that… Chase? I squint, trying to get a good glimpse of the figure ahead. I’m so stupid, I forgot to wear my contacts on the first day of university. The tall, broad-shouldered boy starts to walk in my direction, and I freeze. I look down at my plain cuffed jeans and a long-sleeved polo shirt, suddenly feeling very self-conscious.
‘He’s getting closer, Avery,” The inner monologue in my voice cries out nervously, and my legs seize up. I can’t run away, not now. This is my only chance.
‘Avery, he’s getting A LOT closer!’
‘Shush, I can see that.’ I think to myself and let out a deep breath I didn’t realise I was holding.
“Hey, Chase, isn’t it?” I ask when the young male walks past. He stops in his tracks,
“Uh, yeah? Do I know you?”
‘You should, Chase Willamson. Remember me? I’m the person who had a crush on you for a solid two years!’
“West Bridge High?”
“Oh, cool! Did you go there? God, I’m terrible with names… give me a second,”
‘Avery, he doesn’t remember you. You might’ve had a crush on him, but he didn’t know that. He didn’t even acknowledge your presence!’ Sometimes, I really hate my mind.
“Man, sorry. I don’t remember,” He says after a minute, it’s such a long pause, I know for certain he does NOT remember me. “I have to head to class, maybe we can talk another time?”
“Sure, I-” I begin, but he’s already walking to the entrance of the building.
“IT’S AVERY!” I shout after him, but he’s already too far away to hear me.
Everyone knew Chase back in highschool. I was in all of his classes, I just never was in his group, and he never noticed me. It was your typical love story, girl liked boy. Boy didn’t even know girl. The End. At the end of the year, he told the whole class he was going to Melbourne Uni, and yet, here he is, at RMIT. Weird. Again, to the whole class, he’d shown us his acceptance email, and everything else that proved he was going there to study medicine. So why was he here? Of all people, it had to be the boy I used to have a crush on. Used to… I sigh, walking to my first class. And then I freeze.
I can see the back of Chase’s head, as he sits alone in the lecture hall. I slap my hand against my forehead. What are the actual freaking chances that we’re in the same lecture class right now?! A lot of the seats are already filled, and few empty seats remain. ‘This better not be some cliche story where I end up sitting next to him, even though there are seats left.’
“Hey! Hurry up, you’re holding everyone up.” Someone yells behind me, and I quickly rush into the hall, and people file in after me. ‘I need to find a seat that’s not next to Chase.’ I think to myself, running to find a seat. I quickly sit down in one, that’s not next to Chase, thank goodness. Unfortunately, I am sitting a few rows behind him instead. Great. Wonderful. Fantastic. I am so overjoyed.
Class begins, and for the first half an hour, I concentrate on my note-taking. Suddenly, the back doors burst open, and a girl in black boots that go up to her thighs, a large black, wide-brimmed hat and ebony jacket walks in. Cosplay? She strides in, confidence radiating out of her. She takes one look at me, which sends a zip down my spine.
“Can I sit here?” Her voice is mystifying, somewhat deep, somewhat normal, but it's powerful, and I feel compelled to obey.
“Sure,” I move my things closer to me.
“You can all stop staring now!” She yells as people are still goggling at her, and the professor glares at her for interrupting the lecture a second time. People’s eyes return to the front, and no one looks back.
“Oh, uh, Avery. They/them pronouns. What about-”
“Claudia. She/her pronouns. Nice to meet you,” She holds her hand out, and I shake it, but before I can pull away from her firm grip, she laces her fingers into mine, entwining them.
“We’re going to be great friends.” Her grin is cat-like, and it feels like she’s the predator and I'm her prey. She grins again, and I swear her canines are sharper than knives.
The rest of the lecture goes on without major interruptions. However, I learn one thing. Claudia is everything at once. She can be quiet for a solid five minutes but then be talkative for the next.
“Avery, what's happening? Avery, what's the professor’s name? He's so boring. Hey, hey, Avery, who’s that guy you keep looking at?” I freeze at the last one and she smiles.
“Your eyes keep wandering over to him, is it because you think he’s hot?”
“Eh, I'm aro. I don't care about these things,”
“Ah, I see,”
“So? Who is he?”
“I… I’ll tell you after the lecture,” I go back to my notes and Claudia shrugs.
“Okay, then.” She shuts up for the rest of the lecture. She’s an odd one, that Claudia. Class ends, and I watch Chase bolt out of the hall, and I lose my chance to talk to him, again. Where is he going anyway?
“You were staring again,” Claudia breathes in my ear, and I yelp, stepping back in fright.
“God, don't do that! That's so creepy, I had a heart attack,” I sigh and she laughs. Her laugh sounds familiar, but I don't recognise it completely.
“Are you going to tell me now?” She whines, showing another emotion other than ‘emo’.
“His name is Chase. I went to high school with him,”
“So… Why isn't he talking to you?”
“He doesn't know me,”
“Oh. Well! I can help you out,”
“We’re friends now, right?” I hesitate for the slightest second.
“Yeah, guess we are,”
“Wonderful, let's go after him,”
“What?! That's absurd!”
“Come on, Avery!” Even in those boots, Claudia can run really fast. How unfair, I'm as unfit as a potato. I sprint after Claudia, who’s nearly out of view, as we chase after, well, Chase.
“Stop!” Claudia hisses in my ear when I finally catch up to her. Chase is on the phone, hiding his face by facing a vending machine. We hide behind the wall.
“We look like stalkers,” I point out but Claudia waves me off.
“Hey, Chase!” She calls, emerging out of our hiding place.
“I'll call you back,” He says into the phone, and then snaps his head up to us.
“Oh, hey, it's you again!” He grins and my heart hammers against my chest.
“April? No, Audrey?”
“Avery,” At least he got the first letter.
“Sorry, a friend texted, I'll leave you to it,” Claudia abruptly announces, and leaves me alone with Chase.
“So…” He says awkwardly, “You were in my class last year?”
“Yeah, and every other year,”
“Oh, wow. I feel bad not knowing you,”
“Don't worry. What are you doing at RMIT?” He winces,
“You remember everything I said last year?”
“You were going to study medicine at Melbourne University,”
“Well, I did announce it to the whole class. That's my bad,”
“I didn't get it...” He whispers, and I blink. He had all the official documents and his acceptance letter.
“I- how? You showed everyone the letter!”
“I know. It's complicated, just don't tell anyone from our high school,”
“Dude, we’re not the only two from West Bridge,”
“I know, I know. I'm trying to keep a low profile. Promise you won't tell anyone?”
“I- sure. Hang out with me every now and then, no one notices me, so they won't care less about you,”
“It's the truth. So, how did you get those letters?”
“They were my brother’s?”
“But it had your name?”
“He altered it with editing software… I just- everyone expected me to be the top of everything, and I couldn’t let all of my friends down,”
“Are you ever going to tell them?”
“I don’t know,”
“I think you should. If they’re your friends, they won’t mind. You don’t have to be the best for anyone, except yourself,”
“Thanks,” Claudia comes running back, and she adjusts her hat.
“Are we good to go? I'm starving!” Chase chuckles,
“Sure,” He gives me a look for confirmation like I'm the leader of this little group. Which I'm not.
“Yeah, let's go.”
“Hey, do you still like Chase?” Claudia asks one day, while we’re hanging out in our dorm.
“Uhhh, is this a trick question?”
“Nope, I'm just curious,”
“Oh, well, then yes,”
“Hmm…” I give my friend a pointed look.
“Spit it out, Claudia,”
“It's just… Someone told me they fancy you in my Law class,”
“Oh, well, I can't tell you, can I?”
“Ugh, come on Clauds, tell me!”
“I promised them,”
“So you promised, but you won't tell me, your best friend and the person they like?”
“And if I ask Chase? He won't know,” I sigh, defeated.
“Okay, just forget it,”
“I gotta head out, want anything?”
“Some more instant noodles would be nice,” She rolls her eyes, grabbing her wallet.
“So be it.” She waves and shuts the door. The second she leaves, I rush over to her desk, peeking at her books. Maybe I can find something that will give me a clue. I move her school things away and focus more on her notebooks. After a couple of minutes of searching, I sit on the floor, exhausted from flicking through millions of pages. I lean against the wall, sighing. I wince, turning around, something pricking my back. I stare at the wall. There's a small crack in the wall, and inside are papers squished in between. I laugh, there's no way something this clichè is real! I pry my fingers into the small space and pull out the papers. I scan the paper, there's nothing to do with someone fancying me. Then, I stop, staring at the stationery. It's marked with the West Bridge logo. I frown, it's not mine, I didn't bring any with me, and there's no way Chase would have any. I take a picture of it, sending it to Claudia, demanding an explanation. I pack up her books and notebooks, and I notice she’s left me on read.
“You sure took your sweet time getting home,” I scoff, hands on my hips when Claudia comes back to the dorm.
“I’ll explain everything,” She replies, putting the groceries down.
“I… It started at West Bridge. You saw the paper, I went there as well,”
“Why was that such a big deal?! You could've just told me!”
“Because… I liked you in high school! I- I still do! You never knew who I was, just like Chase never knew you! So, when I heard we were going to the same university, I changed my personality during the summer. I became the person people were intimidated by, I wanted people to see me,”
“You knew Chase never liked me, and… You encouraged me to go up to him anyway?! You lied, Claudia!”
“I didn't want to tell you. You would only laugh and tell me to leave you alone!”
“Do you think that lowly of me?!”
“No! I- You…”
“No words, how sad. God, just get out of here, Claudia. I would’ve still been your friend, I wouldn't have cared! What I do care about is that you lied! For months, I thought you were helping me get closer to Chase when you were just getting close to me for your own gain!”
“I know, I'm sorry!”
“Sorry doesn't change anything! I trusted you, I befriended you, let you live in my dorm, I've spent every day with you, Claudia! And this is how you repay me?! Some friend you are!” I yell, as tears spill out of her eyes, her sobs competing with my shouts.
“Just- Get the hell out! I don't want to see you again! How could you do this to me?! It could've been different, Claudia!”
“I'm so sorry, Avery-”
I race to Chase’s dorm, tears breaking the surface. I knock on the door rapidly, and Chase opens it.
“Hey, where's Clauds? Crap, are you crying?! Come in, come in!” He ushers me in, and I sit on his bed, head in my hands.
“Avery, what happened?”
“S-she lied! About everything!”
“She pretended to help me!”
“I LIKE YOU CHASE!” I scream hysterically, and he takes a step back.
“Since high school. That's why I came up to you that day! Do you understand how much it broke my heart to know every day you never knew who I was?! Because that's how it's always been! And then she comes around and tells me she liked me and I never noticed her! How screwed up is that?! She's not even aro, she lied about that too! Faked her personality so I would notice her, why would she do that?!” Chase is staring at me, and he brushes a stray hair behind my ear.
“I don't know how to tell you, Avery…”
“Just say it!” I screech, “I'm so done with secrets!”
“I… I don't like you like that,” He begins, and even though I knew, my heart shatters.
“You're my friend now, Avery. I don't…” I stand up suddenly, and storm out of his dorm. I can't deal with any of this, the way his fingertips brushed my skin, and how he looked at me like I was a lost puppy.
‘Remember me?’ Life calls out to me, and I scream. This is not fair. None of it. It has always been inevitable, I just refused to believe it.
“Avery, wait!” Chase calls after me, and I know if I turn around I will fall in love with him all over again.
“Please, Avery,” Claudia says softly, and I grit my teeth together, so she’s here too.
“Leave me alone!” I shout, continuing to walk away.
“No, you always run away from your problems, Avery!” Claudia says and I freeze, giving them time to catch up to me.
“You always hide away from the people who care about you,” Claudia continues, and my head snaps up, and I face her.
“You? Care about me? YOU LIED TO ME FOR MONTHS! Telling the truth is never easy, but I wouldn't have minded! I might have even liked you back, Claudia. And Chase, I'm sorry I confessed. I'm sorry I liked you, and still do because it's wasted time I will NEVER get back,”
“Avery,” Chase puts his hand on my shoulder and I inhale sharply.
“We do care about you. We both do. You don't have to push us away,”
‘But if I don't, I'll be vulnerable.’
“You don't have to be alone any longer, Avery,”
‘I'm so used to being alone, I don't think I can handle having people beside me.’
“I still like you, Avery. There is nothing wrong with you, I'm sorry, it was my fault,”
‘Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!’
“If there’s one thing I've learnt, it's that it's always my fault one way or another,”
“No, that's not true, don't be blind to the truth,”
“You can't say that Chase, you never noticed me,”
“But you never noticed me,”
‘Why is this so confusing? It's not fair, none of it.’
“Please, forgive me, Avery! I like you, so I wanted what made you happy. That's why I helped you talk to Chase,”
“Thanks for nothing then,” Claudia takes my hand, while Chase’s hand is still on my shoulder.
“We know this will take time to process. We can give you space,” He tells me.
‘They care, Avery. They do.’ The little voice says in my head.
‘What if they don't?’
‘If they didn't, they wouldn't have come after you. Claudia had her reasons to hide her past, she didn't want to ruin the friendship you made. And Chase, you can't help that he doesn't like you.’
‘I… I know.’
‘I know you do, it's about time you figured it out.’
“No… I don't need space, it's okay. I'm sorry I snapped,” I apologise, hanging my head low. Chase lifts my chin.
“Don't apologise. It's us who are sorry,” The two of them hug me, and this time when the tears flow, they’re not ones of sadness.