Oh. There she is.
Standing face to face with Eric is a wide-eyed and snowy-faced girl, her shape hindered by a black graduation robe.
He had been about to go looking for his girlfriend, to look all through the lawns and domineering building. Eric knew she didn’t want to be found, but that was exactly why he had to find her in the first place. If Callie hadn’t been avoiding him all week, he wouldn’t have had to do this now.
But even with all of Eric’s preparation for this moment, rehearsing in the mirror and making sure his father wouldn’t interfere, the sudden confrontation is like a powerful icy gust. Nothing could have truly readied him for this.
Regretfully, it takes him a moment to compose himself. By then it’s too late.
“Callie - ”
But she’s already darted towards the stage. Callie is surprisingly quick for a girl with such small legs. He follows her.
“Callie, if you would just listen - ”
“Go away, Eric.”
“Look, I’m sorry - ”
“I said, go away.” She speaks through her teeth as if speaking at a normal volume is an arduous task. It intimidates Eric. Callie is usually slow to anger.
“I promise it - ”
Up the stairs and past the heavy black curtains, he follows her. Eric catches his breath. “Callie, I swear it only happened once.” His girlfriend pretends to ignore him, seemingly searching a cluster of black boxes for something, but Eric can see through her facade. He always could.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“We had music class together and we were sitting together and she was struggling so I helped her out sometimes. It was late after class one day, and I got caught up in the moment, and I made a mistake. I regretted it as soon as it happened and I’ve missed you all week. I only kissed her once, I - ”
“WHERE THE HELL IS MY HAIR CLIP?!” Callie shouts. She kicks a box, turns away, and puts her face in her hands.
“Look,” he starts, after a moment, “I’m not leaving until you listen to me.” To Eric’s surprise, she doesn’t move. When it seems like Callie can’t be going anywhere, he takes a deep breath and begins.
“I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I made a mistake. I know that. But it was never going to happen again. The only reason I didn’t tell you about it myself is that I knew you’d make it a big deal, and it’s not a big deal. It was one - ”
When Callie whips violently around. “Not a big deal?! You cheated on me, Eric. You humiliated me - ”
“I know you’ve got pride, Callie - ”
“Don’t interrupt me!” She takes a deep breath. Nearly-hidden tears paint a breathtakingly bewitching painting of their story over her face. Every meticulous moment, from their first kiss in the firelight to the day Eric messed it up and everything in between is in her eyes.
“You cheated on me. Do you understand what I’m saying? Everything we’ve been through and you cheated on me. And after all this time. I trusted you and you broke my heart, Eric. Maybe you and your stupid face can’t understand but that hurts. This isn’t something you can just get over. I’ve been crying for a week straight and I feel like I’m drowning and - ” Her voice cracks violently, tears dripping down and poisoning her speech. She seems frustrated with herself. Probably for having instinctively explained her pain to him, like so many times before. Callie looks back up at him. “And having to deal with that without your best friend… it’s impossible.”
She looks scared, Eric realizes with a start. Why would she have to be scared?
This can’t be the end.
“But it doesn’t have to be alone, Callie. We can do this together. We can figure it out,” Eric begs. He steps toward her and clutches at her arms.
A million emotions saturate Callie’s eyes at once, filling the silver with dozens of coloured clouds. Light red desire. Thick grey sadness. Navy desperation.
For one brief, shiny, magnificent moment, Eric thinks he has her.
Then she shuts them, closing the windows to her soul. Shutting him out. She shuts them hard, squeezing them closed as if the very sight of Eric is attacking her.
This can’t be the end.
Callie pulls her arms away and steps back with a sob as if it takes every ounce of her being to do so. “No, we can’t.”
For the first time, cold fear pierces Eric’s heart. Foggy uncertainty, thin at first, hangs in the air all of a sudden.
She catches Eric’s eye. This can’t be the end, he thinks. It just can’t.
That’s not what comes out. “But… I love you.” Eric knows how pathetic it sounds, but he doesn’t care. He’s never had any pride when it came to Callie. For a time, she didn’t either.
It shatters her. She lets out a heartbreaking, frustrated, earsplitting wail. It shatters Eric too.
“I know you do too. Just say it back. Say you love me and everything can be okay.”
This can’t be the end.
She shakes her head and doesn’t look at him. “Goodbye, Eric.”
Callie turns away and delicately begins to wipe away her tears with her fingertips. She’s getting ready to walk away, he realizes. She’s leaving.
Eric starts to panic. Desperation burns in his bones. Disbelief sings in his eardrums. This can’t be the end.
“No, no, Callie, please. This can’t be goodbye.”
“We’re going to be late.”
She pushes past Eric, careful not to touch him, and walks back through the curtains. He follows her.
“Just give me another chance. We can figure it out.”
Down the stairs and through the atrium, she walks faster. He follows her.
“I was stupid, okay? I’m sorry. I’ll do anything.”
Out the door, through the lawn. He follows her.
“Callie, I’m sorry. I love you. Please, don’t - ”
“Shut up!” She hisses at him, cheeks blood red.
For the first time, Eric sees everyone on the lawn watching them, listening. He tries to follow her. A classmate steps in front of Eric. He doesn’t know who.
He doesn’t follow her, but his ghost will in the years to come.
Eric was right. It isn’t the end.