This is a first-draft excerpt of the novel I finished writing last week. Note the “first-draft”, which means this is unedited…
I was sure Rob would have to go home, but at lunchtime, he was sitting in the cafeteria at the far end of the table where Talia and I sat. Talia was there too, reading something on her phone. They were back to ignoring each other, and to making me have to decide which one to talk to.
No one else sat near Rob either. Most people didn’t even look at him. That was rare. Even when we sat together, someone almost always talked about him and put him down.
I went over and sat beside him. “Your stepmother didn’t take you to the doctor?”
“She did. He changed the bandage.” He touched his nose. “He said it doesn’t seem to be in any worse shape than yesterday, and to stay away from things that might injure it further. Unfortunately, certain people don’t think that means I should stay away from school.”
“That sucks.” Of course his parents wouldn’t have let him stay home the rest of the day. Not when he’d already missed one day. Being afraid of someone hitting or yelling wasn’t enough reason not to be in school.
“Yeah, well, that’s what happens.” He poked at his sandwich. “I don’t know why I waste money on this stuff. It’s barely edible, and I feel sick anyway.”
“Did you eat anything yet today?”
The corners of his mouth twitched. “I have parents. I don’t need another one. They probably wouldn’t care whether I ate or not, but still. No, Mira, I haven’t eaten anything yet today. I’ve been feeling sick all day.”
I didn’t want to be pushy, but I was worried about him. Someone had to be. “Sometimes if you don’t eat because you feel sick, you end up feeling worse. You should try to have something.”
“Stop telling me what to do.” His expression didn’t change, but he sounded ticked off. “I’ll deal with myself. You don’t have to pretend I’m this important.”
“I’m not pretending!” I shivered at a sudden chill. I’d never given Rob any reason to think I didn’t care about him, but right now, he was definitely acting as if he believed I didn’t. And I had no way to convince him other than keep telling him, which he would probably go on not believing.
If he didn’t think he had anyone at all, though, I wasn’t sure what he would do. All the times he’d thought about hurting himself, one of the things that had stopped him was knowing I would miss him. Those times, he’d believed he was important to me. I wished I knew what had changed.
“If you say so.” He touched his sandwich. “Doesn’t it bother Talia when you talk to me instead of her?”
“Why would it? You’ve been my friend longer than I’ve known her. She understands.” Maybe now he would stop saying I was pretending he was important. He knew how I felt about Talia, but I was giving up time to talk with her so I could make sure he was all right.
“If you say so,” he said again. “If I matter to you, how come I never see you anymore? You’re always working or with her. You don’t even talk to me much at night.”
I stared at him. I must have crossed into some alternate dimension where I was the one doing the things Rob did. “You’re the one who’s been ending the text chats. I’ve been answering you, except the other night when I was sleeping. But I answered as soon as the phone woke me.”
“I’ve been cutting them short because you don’t want to talk to me,” he said. “You’re tired. You have homework. You have to get up earlier to meet your girlfriend for coffee.”
Instead of sounding angry now, he spoke in a monotone. He’d already decided I wasn’t on his side anymore. He didn’t even look at me, just kept poking his sandwich with one finger.
There had to be something I could say. He was my best friend. Seeing him hurting so much hurt me, and I wanted to make it stop. He didn’t deserve to feel so bad. Especially when other people were most of the cause.
Apparently I was part of the cause now too. He’d checked out of the friendship. He was lucky I could be just as stubborn as he could. I took a deep breath. Maybe he wouldn’t listen, but I was damn well going to try to get through to him.