Rebuilt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic


Karise values nothing more than her friendship with John, the boy she secretly loves. But as a wedge is driven between them, she may have no choice but to bare her heart. ***Please feel free to
review and critique. This is the first work of fiction I've posted—mostly I stick to poetry. Fiction writing, however, is a skill I want to hone.

Submitted: May 01, 2018

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Submitted: May 01, 2018

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Later, she would blame it on nerves. Or fear. Or doubt. Or any number of related things, things that made her hands tremble and her breath stutter when she had never succumbed to emotion like that in her life.

Never love.

She could still recall the way John had taken her apart every Friday night. Just five hours of Star Trek—that was all it took. Five hours of Star Trek, and the boy sitting next to her could disassemble her thoughts as if they were made from the nuts and bolts he tinkered with, and then screw them back together in a way that left her completely wrecked and utterly remade at the very same time. He knew her in a way that no one else quite could—just as he knew machinery and chess and all things logical in a way that only he seemed to be able to explain.

She loved that. Admired that. Thrilled in that. It was what she had always wished for: complete objectivity. She wasn’t exactly the most emotionally expressive creature on the planet, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t aware of her own emotions. Far too aware, as far as she was concerned. As long as she took a step back, stayed focused on reality and logic and scientific reason, she could keep herself sane. When reality was shaken apart, however—when science was beyond her and logic seemed foreign—that was when she needed him. She never, however, entertained the notion that he needed her.

Except for that one time, sitting together in the theatre, waiting for the latest Star Trek movie to begin. She was sure the words he’d said to her then were seared onto her mind.

“We Trekkies have to keep each other straight.”

But that was best forgotten.

After all, who could possibly ever need her? She was unnecessary. Unknowable. She had once fancied herself an agent for change, but she knew now just how far that was from reality. One college girl could not affect the change she wanted. And as far as friends and family went, she was the extra bolt, the screw with no threads. Never with John. He knew exactly how to handle her missing parts, make her feel as if she somehow still belonged, and she loved him for it.

Perhaps she had always loved him, right from the instant they had first sat in the grass in the dorm courtyard, laughing together. She had been with Maurice at the time, but that had started out online—it was doomed to fail. Especially when the moment Maurice dropped to the ground for a spontaneous set of pushups, John had dared her to set the weight of his backpack on the poor guy’s back—and she had immediately done so. Later, when John had told her that she wasn’t supposed to do that, that she was supposed to take Maurice’s side because he was her boyfriend, the words had computed, but hadn’t quite rung true. After all, what was Maurice, but the second time she had mistaken pity for love?

John was different.

“Karise!” someone called.

Karise looked up, surprised to find she was standing in her dorm doorway, staring into space. Well, not anymore, because her roommate was standing right in her line of sight, looking at her expectantly with her hands on her hips.

“Well?” Janice asked. “What did he say?”

“Nothing,” Karise grumbled and tossed her bag onto the floor. She stomped into the bathroom they shared with the room next door and shut the door, locking both.

“Aw, come on, you have to tell me!”

Karise tuned her out, even when Janice started pounding on the door. Of course her roommate knew she wasn’t really using the toilet. The bathroom was the only place on the entire campus that offered even some semblance of privacy. It was the only place she could go and be absolutely certain no one would walk in.

Well, moderately certain, considering that Janice knew how to pick the lock.

“Karise!” she called again, rapping on the door. “Don’t leave me hanging, girl!”

“Nothing to tell,” Karise snapped, and it was true.

But it was better than the last time she’d spoken to him.

Karise at last stalked out of the bathroom when one of her roommates on the other side knocked hard, yelling that she’d been in there for over fifteen minutes. She stomped back into her room and flopped down onto her bed to stare at the ceiling. She was well aware that Janice kept sneaking glances at her, but she ignored her roommate. Janice never had any troubles with love. She’d had five boyfriends since the end of middle school and broken up with all five on her own terms. Karise, on the other hand, had dated exactly two boys for a grand total of five weeks since the end of her freshman year of high school. She’d broken up with Jason after two weeks and four days of pure stress, and three years later, had dated Maurice and had broken up with him for…a lot of reasons.

She had never told him the most pressing one: that she’d begun to have feelings for another not five days into their relationship.

Karise threw an arm over her eyes and sighed.

“You just gonna lie there all day?” Janice finally asked.

Silence. Then, “Nope.”

Karise threw her legs over the bed and padded to the wall hook on her side of the room, where she kept her keys. She stuffed them into her pocket and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?”

“Nowhere.”

Karise opened the door and stepped out of the room, letting it swing gently closed behind her. She found herself staring across the narrow hallway at the door belonging to her RA, the dorm floor’s resident assistant. Rebecca was responsible for enforcing the dorm’s rules, but was also available to lend a listening ear when her residents needed it. Karise had spoken to Rebecca exactly once before: last semester, when John had first rejected her right on the tail end of roommate troubles and she had found herself unable to keep her composure. She still remembered it as if it had been yesterday—following him back from their classroom just down the dorm hallway, struggling to keep up, asking him if he would be free at all before Christmas break.

“No.”

“…Oh.”

“I’ve been spending most of my free time with my girlfriend.”

“…Oh! …G-good for you!”

“Thank you.”

And then he had walked right past her, as if determined to leave her behind. Karise had stood there, staring at the door to her room, for a good five minutes, all concept of time erased from her mind. The door before her, interspersed with sequins and adorned with her and Janice’s painted wooden initials, had appeared blank, invisible. She had leaned against it, the scene with John replaying in her mind in an endless loop, until she had slowly turned and found herself staring at her RA’s door just across the hall. She had avoided that door all semester, preferring to go it alone and handle her own problems. But that day, at wit’s end, she had knocked and waited as her RA opened the door.

Karise blinked, snapping herself out of the past, her knuckles already poised over the thick wood. Rebecca, known to her residents as Becca, opened it a second later and furrowed her brows in concern.

“Karise?”

Karise blushed and looked down at the carpet. “I have a problem.”

The very same words she had said to Becca last semester. This was dangerous.

“Come in.”

Becca opened the door wider and Karise walked in, fidgeting with her keys in her pocket.

“Want to talk about it?”

“I’d better,” Karise said. “I can’t concentrate.”

“Tell me.”

“John.”

“Yes?”

“He…”

Karise broke off. There was a choking feeling in the back of her throat. She swallowed and looked askance.

“Sit down,” Becca said. She pulled out the chair that would belong to her roommate, if she had one, and took hers for herself.

“Thanks.”

Karise sat on the chair and hunched forward. She could feel the telltale beginnings of a quaver in her voice, a trembling in her shoulders and legs. She always felt it in her legs the worst. But the more upset she got, the more her entire body started vibrating like a string that had been played the wrong way. Like a screw teetering in a hole that didn’t fit quite right.

She looked up, met Becca’s eyes, and noticed that the other girl wasn’t saying a word. It was one of the things Karise loved about her. She made a good RA—she only spoke when she knew her residents wanted her to. Karise didn’t have to worry about being rushed through a heart-to-heart, or losing her listener when they assumed she didn’t want to speak and just randomly changed the subject.

“He just…walked right by,” Karise choked out. “He just looked at me and walked right by.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was as if he didn’t even see me,” she said. “As if he’d forgotten about everything we once had together—and I don’t even want to date him! I wouldn’t even put him in a position to make him choose. He has a girlfriend now, why would I even tell him how I feel? All I care is that we stay friends, but I really care about that, we have to stay friends, I don’t know what I’d do if…”

She broke off again, holding back a little choked sob. She took comfort in Becca’s kind eyes, saying nothing, letting her speak. It reminded her of him.

“He used to do that, too, you know,” she said. “He used to just listen while I talked. Whenever we’d do…this…it used to be him, you know. Every Friday night, it used to be him…”

“Perhaps he’s uncomfortable being so close to you now that he’s in a relationship?”

Karise dashed a hand across her wet eyes. “The thought had crossed my mind.”

Becca’s eyes crinkled sympathetically.

“But I don’t need that,” Karise said. “All I want is to be his friend. I don’t want to lose that—I can’t lose that. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever known and…I…I can’t lose him.”

She blinked away tears and glanced up at Becca.

“I don’t care if we never watch Star Trek together again,” Karise said. “I don’t care if we never race like children. I don’t care if he never fixes bugs in my computer or pours Drano down my sink. I don’t care if we never eat at a restaurant together or buy ice cream or joke together on Milton Road…I don’t care. All I want is him, as a friend, as anything, I’ll take anything I can get…but I can’t…I can’t take this.”

She blinked slowly, the logic system in her brain turning on with a soft click. She wiped her eyes.

“I can’t,” she said.

Silence.

“I can’t.”

Another pause.

“There’s one thing I can’t do,” she whispered. “I can’t operate without evidence.”

Becca tilted her head.

“I don’t know what he wants from me,” she elaborated. “I can’t risk making the wrong move. Saying the wrong thing. As long as he’s ignoring me, I don’t know what to do.”

She frowned.

“But…” Karise paused. The puzzle pieces were fitting together. “But it’s going to be me who makes the first move, no matter what. Because I’m the one…I’m the one who can’t lose him. And maybe…maybe…well, I don’t know. But it’ll have to be me.”

Karise stood. She had never gambled, not once. Not like this.

“Feeling better?” Becca asked.

Karise stopped for a moment. She cocked her head, considering. Then she shrugged.

“Maybe.”

Becca smiled, and Karise left the room.

She headed straight down the dorm hallway, up the stairs to the second floor where John lived. Instead of turning right and heading for the laundry room, she turned left. She walked down the hall toward the corner of the building and found his door.

It was the most recognizable of them all, at least to her eyes. There was a sign on it that asked for people to slide scratch paper under the door. Karise knew that he liked making cool projects out of repurposed paper. Always the engineer, always making something out of nothing. It was his particular brand of creativity, and she loved it. She loved everything about him.

She had not stood outside this door in over two months. The whole month of November, she hadn’t seen him because he was constantly busy with school, and she had respected that—it was one of the things that made him John. Then, December, they were both home for Christmas break. That was right after he’d rejected her in the hallway outside Becca’s room, and no matter how many times she thought about writing to him that month, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Then, once school had started again, she had let a week go by before trying to contact him, but suddenly seeing him pass by her in the hall had her jumping out of her skin and abandoning all pretense of logical reasoning. He had never replied to the email she sent, and a week later, she had confronted him on the stairs. His words had been abrupt, careless, and had left her feeling like she’d lost a limb. And then there was the last time, just minutes ago outside her own door—when he’d given her only silence.

This was a gamble. He had given her no data to work with. In all the months of their friendship, she had never taken the lead. Now, if she didn’t want to lose him, she had no choice. She couldn’t even formulate a hypothesis based on his behavior. It could mean anything. Usually, she tailored her responses to his—or to anyone’s. She never initiated a conversation in her life, not truly. She made sure the other person was on the same page. She made no room for error. With her limited social skills, she could not afford error.

She knocked.

Three short, stuttering taps against the heavy wooden door. Then three seconds that lasted a lifetime.

The door opened, and Karise nearly lost all nerve.

He was looking at her. His face betrayed nothing. But then, she had never been good with faces. And they had lost their connection a while back. She liked it better when they were on the same page. Now, she had to get them there.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hello.”

“I…”

He stared at her.

“Well, I…”

She examined his face. Nothing.

“How’s it going?” she finally asked.

“Fine.”

“And…your girlfriend?”

“Fine.”

“Y-you…never did tell me her name.”

“You never asked.”

“Right. Crap.”

She looked down at the carpet. He kept looking at her.

“So…” She dared to look at him. “Still friends?”

Silence.

“Look, I…I’m sorry I didn’t email you over Christmas break, I just thought…”

Silence. He really wasn’t going to help her out here.

“I just thought…that…”

His eyes bore into hers.

“That…maybe you didn’t want to hear from me?”

“Why?”

Crap. There was genuine curiosity in his tone—and did she detect an undercurrent of hurt? As if she was completely wrong. He had wanted her to write to him, and if not for the whole girlfriend issue, she would have. In a heartbeat. She would have told him all the things she did over Christmas. She would have asked him what presents he got. She would have asked him to tell her all about his new girlfriend, whether she was a Trekkie like them, whether she was going into engineering like him, whether she had loads of homework and was smart as heck, whether she was generally a good match. And she would have teased him. Teased him mercilessly. Because that’s what she did with all her guy friends who got girlfriends. Except she loved him too.

She loved him too.

And it had taken her all of Christmas break to even consider being able to speak to him without being emotionally compromised. She valued logic above all things, and she knew she would hurt their friendship if she let her feelings bleed through then, when she was at her most vulnerable. So she had gone radio-silent on him, and not said a word.

She realized she had been silent for too long. He was closing the door.

“Wait!” she cried, and he peeked out again. “I’m sorry.”

No answer.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“I asked why.”

Of course. Because he had to be logic-oriented too. He couldn’t just accept an apology—he had to know what he was dealing with, he had to have all the data, just like her. Damn him. She loved him.

“Because…”

“Because?”

Could she say it? Could she risk it? Could she risk telling him the whole truth, the entire truth, the reason why she had gone radio-silent, if it meant she could save their friendship?

Her heart thudded in her chest. Her legs were trembling and she wanted to sit down. Every muscle in her back tensed. She couldn’t. She couldn’t. She didn’t tell people things like that.

She had to.

“Because…I liked you.”

Silence.

“Really liked you.”

His expression was shutting, closing, even more that it had before. Damn it, no. He thought she was trying to open the relationship door. What a jerk she’d be to do that, when she knew he was involved with another!

She forced herself to continue.

“And I’m telling you that because…because it doesn’t matter to me, what we are. I just want to be your friend. I think you’re one of the most incredible people on Earth, you have no idea how much I respect you, how much I miss you, and I will never give up on our friendship. Heck, if you were free right now I wouldn’t want to give it up, I value it too much. Relationships are…dangerous, scary, I’ve already failed two of them, and…and I just want to be your friend, okay? That’s all that matters to me. We never have to watch Star Trek again, we never have to run around like children—John, when I was with you, I could breathe, I was free, it was one thing after another and you were always in the lead, but it was a pace I could keep up with, I…just…please.” She dropped her gaze. “I know we were close, but we don’t have to be that way again. I just want to be your friend. I’ll take anything I can get—but I won’t let you go.”

John stared at her for one long, world-ending moment.

Then he gave her that look. Brows furrowed, frowning, confusion. Karise could have cried. How she had missed that look—of logic fighting for dominance over sentiment.

“Do you still want to watch Star Trek?” he asked.

This was the time for honesty.

“Yes,” she replied.

He smiled. “Emily doesn’t like it.”

Karise blinked. “What?”

“Emily. My girlfriend. She doesn’t watch Star Trek.”

“What? But…I assumed…”

“So,” he said, “I still need someone to watch it with, or I’ll go insane.”

A grin broke Karise’s face. Months ago in the theatre, he had said something similar—that, as fellow Trekkies, they needed to keep each other straight. Maybe he did need her after all, in some small way. Maybe this friendship wasn’t just about her needing him to put her back together. Maybe, somehow, she helped give him someplace to belong. A tear leaked from her eye, and she didn’t try to stop it. John had seen her much more vulnerable than this before. She didn’t mind. She trusted him with her life. And now, with her heart.


© Copyright 2018 EmmaG. All rights reserved.

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