Looking Back At It

Submitted into Contest #99 in response to: Write a story about characters going on a summer road trip.... view prompt


Fiction Friendship Sad

I met Kayla two years ago. The memory of walking up to her for a question about Trigonometry was still burnt into my mind. It was the first time I had even noticed her. A teacher had recommended me to go and ask my doubts. Her being the best in class.

  She usually sat with a select group of people during lunch, and did not attract anyone's attention, ever. Any teacher stopped her from answering even when she rose her hand, in hopes of some more obscure student getting a chance, so half of the class did not know what she sounded like.

  I was also usually on my own. It was easier like that. Even if I started a conversation, I never knew how to grow it further, so they only lasted for about five minutes. But after she had smiled and taught me how to solve it, I had always wanted to talk to her. Math was something I was generally interested in, but never understood that well. Kayla made it understandable, and it was easier to talk to someone who had the same interests. Topics could grow on their own.

  A week after asking her that question, I asked another one, and then another. For some reason, she also talked to me. And then Math was left behind and we were talking about movies. If there was a Guinness Record for how long I have talked in a single conversation, that day would have won. Soon after that, every alternate day would have stolen that award. 

Present time, Kayla was sitting in her car, watching me struggle to pull a heavy bag along the pavement with a devilish smile. She liked to see good people suffer. Or maybe it was just me.

  Dumping the bag in the trunk after much heavy lifting, I got into the passenger seat and let out a huge sigh. "Took you long enough." Kayla said in her sharp voice.

  "Very funny." I said, and bent forward to turn on the AC.

  Kayla slapped my hand and stopped me from doing so, "The point of me borrowing my dad's convertible instead of using my trashy pickup truck, is that we enjoy the natural air."

  I chuckled, "I don't have a problem with that, but the only thing you will be enjoying is the smell of my sweaty shirt. Good luck with that. If I was saving anyone, it was you."

  She did not reply. Looking forward, she started the car and we were off. I had told my mom that we were talking a round trip across the state, but the truth was that there was no plan. We would stop wherever it felt right, and stay however long we wanted.

  The convertible's top whirred open and the sunlight hit my face. It was not welcoming at all. The reflecting rays and whatnot gave me a headache. I took my bag from the back seat and ruffled through it, pulling out a cap and putting it on. 

  "That looks awful. You can't handle a little bit of nature?" Kayla said. She was only wearing her sunglasses. But I guess those would have been enough if I was wearing them. Alas, I did not have the luxury of buying black tinted glass.

  We were about to exit town and had not spoken to each other till now. None of us wanted to start what would be one of our last times talking in person. I was moving out in six days, and leaving for another country. Kayla did not like the idea, but had agreed for this last trip anyways.

  She still had interest in Math, but I didn't. Somewhere along the way, I had started to just not care about it. I was more interested in literature now. Escaping this world and entering another one was a fun experience. Kayla also liked reading, but nothing beat lines and numbers.

  Yesterday, she had been talking about a new professor and how weird his methods were. I had tried to pay attention, I swear, but I understood nothing anymore. She had sensed that and changed the topic. In the month that she had known about the move, she hadn't talked about it except for the first time.

Out of town, the car sped up. "You're gonna try and find a Kayla in the new place too?" she finally asked.

  I replied, "I already have a Kayla. It's you. I can still call you, you know. But yeah, hopefully I'll try harder there."

  "Try hard, sure. You will also have more friends. The only ones here are me and Mark. Too bad he isn't here to say goodbye." Kayla said.

  "This is not goodbye. We have three whole days to roam around. And then three days after that for you to still visit if you want." I corrected her.

  She stopped again. It was starting to feel like any other talk I would have with any other random person. She was obviously upset, but I had never guessed it would be this much. I didn't understand how I could possibly mean more to her than she did to me.

  The trees were zooming by. There was no other car on the road, as expected. Everybody was probably busy at work right now. Thankfully, I was already out and Kayla had taken a leave. My shirt fluttered in the wind, the sweat had disappeared already.

There was no more talking after that. In the night, we checked into a hotel and took seperate rooms (Kayla's idea). I went inside mine and did not care to set anything up or even get ready for bed. I just crashed on the bed and fell asleep.

  Middle of the night, I heard Kayla crying. We were alone on that floor, so it couldn't have been anyone else. I was woken up by the sounds. Quietly opening the door to my room, I tiptoed to the outside of her room and pressed my ear on the door.

  Monotonous sobbing, followed by a few seconds of unintelligible whispering, and then the sobbing again. I could have opened the door, but I decided not to. Maybe it was a bad idea, maybe it wasn't. But it was what felt right at the time.

Next morning, she knocked on my door with a huge grin on her face. "Ready to start?" she asked.

  I nodded and told her to wait for a moment. I went back, picked up the bag again and dragged it outside to the corridor. "Let me help you with that." Kayla smiled and picked up one strap of it.

  Together, we hobbled down the stairs and checked out at the reception. And then, it was back to the road. I did not bring up last night at all.

  Kayla was talking today. Less about math and more about books and movies. I replied with utmost joy. It finally felt like I was back with the one person I felt I knew.

  "I never did get you a gift, did I?" Kayla asked.

  I did not remember her forgetting to give me a gift. I did take pride in my memory, so it was embarrassing. I shook my head, admitting it anyways.

  Kayla managed a half-hearted chuckle, "I'm gonna miss that. You remember Middle-Earth lore better than this entire state combined, and you forget about the time you saved my life."

  It hit hard. I genuinely had forgotten about that day a year ago. It felt like something from the deep, deep past.

Me and Kayla had decided to cycle to school together that month. On the sixteenth day of the "cycle-a-thon", we had been talking about some kind of robbery that had happened last night. I don't know how we did not notice the truck rushing forwards, the driver asleep. But Kayla was ahead of me, going much faster than usual when the truck hit her.

  When I used to sit alone, back when I had no friends, I used to fantasize things like these. I used to create such situations and make myself a hero who saved this new friend of mine. I was in one of those fantasies right then, and she was lying on the ground, blood gushing out dangerously fast from her head. I did nothing then. I just stood there, powerless.

 Someone in the crowd that gathered moments later had shouted to call an ambulance. That brought me back. I had immediately called the hospital and taken her there.

  Till the next week, that was all everyone talked about. People bombarded me left and right, wanting to know how all the blood looked. I know now why I had forgotten this incident. It was precisely because of this. I hated myself right then.

  All of those people who asked me questions were exactly like me. Pathetic loners who just made fake arguments and won against themselves. It made them feel good, just like me. If not that, then they were people who got excited after hearing stuff like that. I was one of them not long ago. But they would never know. Not until it happened to them. All of their preparedness, all of their courage, it would disappear in that split second. The sight of someone dear in a perilous situation would leave you paralysed. That is how unreal it felt when you were standing there.

  I answered none of them. Just kept walking. And then when Kayla returned, she was the one who got all the attention. Not all of it was pity and care. But she had promised me a gift right then. Anything for what I had done. I never claimed it.

"Hey, you here?" Kayla asked.

  I jolted back to life and nodded. I said, "I don't think I'll claim that gift yet. I will come back when you are super rich and ask for a mansion or something."

  "As if." was the reply.

  Kayla continued, "But I'd give it to you. It would be worth it, honestly. You're my best friend, after all."

  That felt good. I did not have any other friends. But the one I did have, I meant something to them. I always felt good when she said that. There was that chill down your spine that you feel anytime you read something good.

  "I don't blame you for forgetting that incident." Kayla said, "The only reason I remember it is because I need to keep myself prepared for when you jump out of the abyss and ask me for something. You know what, I never asked you. Let me do it now. How did you feel? When I was lying there?"

  How did I feel? Never thought of that. I just knew I froze. How did I feel was an different matter entirely. I tried my best to explain it.

  "It was fake. All of it." I said, "As if I was watching a movie. For those few seconds, I felt like I was going to wake up and everything would be fine. Because otherwise, the only option was..."

  "Going back?" Kayla asked.

  I nodded. Going back. It was denial. I had spent so long without a friend that it felt wrong to lose someone I had just gotten. When you crawl out of a dark hole and finally step into the light, you don't want to go into that hole again.

  "What if I died right there?" Kayla asked.

  I was the one who stopped this time. I did not even want to consider that possibility, much less try and imagine going down that path. 

Same story that night. We checked into another hotel and took seperate rooms. I slept, and woke up to her crying.

  I cannot explain how much I hated that sound. I could not understand that why she cried. I wanted to, but I did not have the power to open the door as I stood outside it.

  But tonight, I head a voice from the room. Much louder than the rest of her whispers. "You're selfish. You're the most selfish person on this planet." Followed by a loud bang of the floor.

  I rushed back into my room and did not fall asleep. I was awake the entire night, wondering where I had gone wrong.

Back in the car next morning, we decided to go back home. We would be a day late, but it was fine. 

  I decided to bring up last night in a twisted way, "Say, Kayla. Have I ever been a bad friend? I mean, I want to make sure I did everything right before I see you for the last time in a long time."

  Kayla nodded. "Yeah. You did it all right. The best I could ask for."

  I sighed. I thought there was no way I was getting her to say anything about last night without a direct question. But she saved me. She looked at me for a second and said, "Mark does not like movies or books. He does not like Math. We are just friends because we like to talk. Everyone before I met you was like that. You are different."

  "But they are still friends, right?" I asked.

  Kayla laughed. She answered, "Just because our English professor knows Math does not mean he can teach it. Does not mean the English professor is bad. He just isn't the man for a particular job."

  "And you like Math better than the other subjects?" I asked, understanding what she meant. She nodded.

The next day, we were close to the town again. She had not cried last night. It had all been peaceful.

  Kayla finally said, "Tell me. What would you have done if I died right there?"

  I had been thinking about that for a while now. I said, "Nothing. That's it. I would have done nothing. It wasn't in my hands. I could not control it. I could blame myself for talking to you and making you miss the truck, but I would be lying if I said that talk wasn't worth it."

  Kayla forcefully nodded. I had understood where she wanted to bring me. The point she had wanted to make had started two days ago. She was comparing that incident to this one.

  She was losing the one thing which mattered. She liked her other friends, but I was a bit more. I was much more interesting. Just like Kayla was a much better Math teacher to me. But here, she did not have a choice. I was already dead. All she could do was stand and stare. Nothing was in her hands. I was not the only one losing someone extremely special. 

Stopping at my house, she helped me take the bag out and got back in the car.

  I leaned inside and said, "I'll take that wish now."

  She sneered, "Sure. What is it?"

 I said, "Call me every day. I know you won't if I didn't force you like this. I might be dead, but Heaven has phones. And my number's still the same."

  She laughed. The door to my house opened and she said goodbye. The car drove off. I never saw her again. But she called me the day after I left, and then the next, and then the next.

June 19, 2021 10:07

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04:41 Jul 01, 2021

Blog appears incomplete as Kayla's grief isn't brought out.


Varun Balodi
12:33 Jul 01, 2021

Thanks for the feedback! That was also bugging me a lot, and I tried to write a version where Kayla does break down. But it did not feel natural. I wanted to keep Kayla as a sort of pillar to the main character. That is why she never actually expresses herself freely and properly, because somewhere, she knows that it is childish and wrong to cry and shout at the main character when there is no choice to be made in the situation. She wants us to believe she supports us and is just upset because we're leaving. We are never supposed to know ...


14:29 Jul 01, 2021

Thanks. Regards.


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14:30 Jul 01, 2021

Thanks. Regards.


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14:30 Jul 01, 2021

Thanks. Regards.


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