Welcome back team! If you need a refresher - Summer finally came clean, Micah wasn't exactly thrilled. Word spread and the entire band knows what she did. Micah is chummy with Summer's band rival Kaila again. The whole band just found out that Summer has alopecia. Summer can't handle her anxiety anymore and misses a band rehearsal. Micah reaches out and wants to talk.
I show up at the park ten minutes early out of habit. The pavilion I chose has two rows of picnic tables. I initially choose one facing the parking lot, so I'll be able to see him coming, and sit on the bench. But then that feels too formal and weird, like we're going to sit across form one another, so I sit on top of the table and put my feet on the bench, which means he'll have to sit next to me, and I'm not sure if that's more or less weird.
I rub my sweaty hands on my jeans and try to take some deep breaths. I didn't consult with May or anyone last night about this conversation. I tried not to think about it too much at all.
My mom said that she's going to call some therapists who take our insurance tomorrow. I'm actually looking forward to my first appointment. It'll be nice to figure out how to screw my head on right.
A bright blue car pulls into the parking lot. This is it. I gulp down some fear, hoping my throat will stop constricting, and rub my stomach hoping my probable festering stomach hole that isn't actually an ulcer behaves itself.
Micah gets out of the car and silently walks towards me.
Do I speak first? Will he speak first? Should I smile? Stand up? Wave?
I should have called May.
"Hey Anna," He says as he approaches the pavilion. There's a slight smile on his face, but I can't tell if he's joking or making fun of me, or what.
I freeze. Every possible retort I can think of dies before they can even reach my lips.
He moves around to the other side of the table, clearly not wanting to sit next to me. I quickly flip around and sit the way I originally did, facing him across the table.
"Can I start fresh?" I finally say. "As Summer?"
"Hey Summer." He's not smiling.
"I'm really sorry. For everything."
He doesn't say anything.
I stare at him. I don't know what I'm supposed to say next. May told me to apologize. I did. I feel terrible. He called this meeting.
He rubs the back of his neck. "There are a million things I wanted to say to you, but now that we're here I'm sort of at a loss for words."
Good thing or bad thing?
"To be perfectly honest, you made me really mad," He says.
My stomach starts to churn. He's going to chew me out. I deserve it, but I still brace for impact.
"Why did you do it? You see me every single day at school. We've even talked at school, that's the even crazier part. You could have talked to me any time you wanted, and instead you pretended to be Anna Blackwell. Like, that's so weird, and so creepy, and I don't know."
"I know, I'm sorry," I whisper to the table.
"I was honest about everything I said and I really did enjoy talking to you and wanted to keep getting to know you. But then to find out the person I was connecting with was living this giant lie," He shakes his head.
"It wasn't a lie though."
"Okay, I saw all of the messages you sent explaining what was true and what wasn't, but don't you understand that the whole thing was a lie. The whole thing. Just the fact that you had to clarify what was real and what wasn't, is a problem. And all of this after I tell you my last girlfriend cheated on me and it's hard for me to trust people. That's messed up."
"I know," I hang my head again. "I'm so sorry. I really am. I know it was wrong and I handled everything in the worst possible way. But please believe when I say I wasn't trying to hurt you or manipulate you or anything. I didn't have a big master plan." I'm close to tears and I will myself to keep it together. "I just wanted to get to know you and I was too scared to try at school in case it didn't go well."
"I know you're not some crazy, manipulative psycho, but that doesn't just magically make it all better."
"I don't know," He rubs the back of his head again. "This whole thing is so screwed up and so confusing."
I don't know what to say. I want to ask if he was the one who told everyone what I did and I want to ask who told about my alopecia if he didn't, but I also don't want to be the one steering this conversation. He's looking for closure so he can move on in peace and I should try to give him that.
"About your alopecia," He finally says to the table. "I'm sorry it got out, but I honestly didn't spread that around."
"I believe you."
"Is that why you weren't at rehearsal yesterday?"
I nod. "I was bullied in middle school when I started losing my hair, which is why I made a point not to tell people at this school. So when everyone was talking about it at the game, it brought some of that back and my anxiety got really out of control."
I almost tell him I'm going to start seeing a therapist, but I don't want him to think I'm looking for his pity or something.
"I'm sorry." He looks sincere enough that I remain convinced that he wasn't the one that spread the information.
"If you don't mind me asking, if you didn't tell anyone, how did it get out? Other than you, Bryn was the only person that knew."
He takes a second and drums his fingers on the tabletop. "I really didn't tell, but it's still my fault. After I found out you were Anna, I told Kaila the basic gist of what happened - that I was talking to someone on Chat With Me and that person turned out to not be who I thought she was."
"Kaila?" My stomach sinks. All of my worst suspicions and ideas that there was something between them, bubble to the surface again.
"We've been friends since middle school," He says simply.
"Okay." I try to squash all of the thoughts soaring into my mind about them being more than friends since middle school.
"Later that night Kaila and I were hanging out. While I was out of the room she got into my phone so she could see for herself who I'd been talking to since I wouldn't tell her."
"So she's the one that started the rumor in the first place."
I remember that first text message from Camilla and learning they all heard the news from Kaila. I guess then I assumed that someone told her and then she spread it, not that she was the original source.
"She did," He confirms. "And I was mad at her for a while too because I never wanted all of my business out there like that. But she was also the one that told people about your alopecia."
I'm not at all surprised at this point.
"I was with her that night when you were sending those clarification messages. She saw that you were messaging me and she was surprised I guess that you were still talking to me. I told her to drop it and I ended up arguing about it with her. But she got that picture you sent and she sent that out. I haven't talked to her since."
My throat feels dry. "Why would she do that?"
"I don't know. That isn't like her."
She probably has a crush on him and wanted to take me out of the picture, and look how well she succeeded.
"I appreciate knowing it wasn't you," I say. "Thinking it was made me question a lot of things, too."
We fall into another silence.
I don't want this conversation to end because I feel like once it does this could be the last conversation we have. I'm still waiting for the big reason he called me here in the first place. Closure, maybe. But he hasn't said why he changed his mind and decided to talk to me again.
The words so why did you want to meet up today rest on my tongue, but I can't quite spit it out.
Before I can wrestle them out, he says, "I really did like you, Summer."
My stomach twists. Did.
"I don't know where to go from here. Everything I said to you was true. I felt a connection, I wanted to keep getting to know you, and I was excited to meet you. But I don't know how to get past the Anna thing."
He liked me. Did like. As in not like anymore. As in I could have had everything I was hoping for from the beginning, and now it's ruined.
"I'm so -"
He cuts me off. "Don't say you're sorry. I know you're sorry, okay? But that doesn't erase what happened."
"I know," I say softly to the table.
"Are you sorry you got caught and people are mad at you, or are you sorry that you really messed me up?" He asks sharply.
His tone takes me back. "Both. Everything," I stumble. "I feel terrible. It was a terrible thing to do to you, and I don't know how to fix it. I wish I could just start over completely. But I swear, I'm Anna. I'm exactly as I portrayed myself."
He lets out a long breath. "I just don't know."
Tears well up in the back of my eyes. I dared to hope for a second when we were talking about Kaila, that maybe we could move forward from this, but I don't think we can. I thought I was prepared for this outcome, but I guess not. My heart twists and pounds and my stomach claws at the untouched tissue circling it’s-not-an-ulcer hole.
"Why did you want to meet up to talk then?" I hate that I sound like I'm about to cry.
"I don't know."
"You obviously had a reason." I've never been this assertive in my life, but I guess if the bridge is already on fire, what do I have to lose?
He stares at the table, silent. Any last twinge of hope I had that maybe this will end okay, dwindles.
I can't take it anymore. "It's fine," I stand up from the table. "We can just let it go. I screwed up. I'm always going to feel bad about it. You're always going to be upset about it. We don't have to talk about it anymore."
He doesn't look up from the table.
"I'm glad we were able to clear some of it up. I'm sorry again. I won't bother you anymore. I guess I'll see you at school."
I fight back tears as I walk to my car. I dig through my purse trying to find the keys, why didn't I clean this stupid thing out before I left? I just want to go home and cry.
Right when my fingers finally wrap around my keychain, a hand touches the back of my arm.
I whip around. Micah is standing a foot away from me. I didn't even hear him get up. I stare at him. If I open my mouth, I'll cry.
"Tell me why you did it," He says firmly.
"I..." I stare into his brown eyes and force myself to exhale and not cry. "I thought you were cute and funny and smart and I had a crush on you and I wanted to get to know you, but I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to talk to people I like and not worry about what they think or what other people think or even what to say. I just wanted to get to know you."
He stares at me again. My fingers are still wrapped around my keychain and his hand is still on my arm and I'm afraid to move or breathe in case it breaks this moment.
"For what it's worth," I say softly. "I still really like you. I never really stopped liking you. But if you don't like me, that's fine."
The hand that was touching my arm rubs the back of his neck. My heart pounds into my ears. I don't know what's happening. What this means.
"Summer, I read all of our conversations back before this. There were a lot of things I planned to say today, and...I don't know. I believe you're sorry...I believe you were being mostly honest...I..." He rubs the back of his neck again.
I stand frozen. I have yet to take my fingers off of my car keys.
"This is all so weird," He says. "But I can't deny that I do like you, Summer."
I'm going to pass out. I let out a shaky exhale and unlock my knees.
"I'm mad it's all gone this way, but I don't know. I felt the connection."
There he goes with past tense again.
"And I think I remember myself saying something like, once we meet in person I would ask you on a date or a casual hang or something so we could actually get to know one another."
I remember that perfectly. I suddenly can't breathe again. His eyes meet mine.
"I like to keep my word. Can we go out on a date sometime?"
I splutter like a fish. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine we would end up here. "Um..."
"Or a casual hang if that's preferable." He flashes a small smile and I swear I could collapse into the concrete.
"Um...yeah...a date...would be fine."
"Saturday? After our next competition? I'd say we could use a do-over."
"Okay cool." He smiles again. "I'll plan something casual. No pressure."
My heart beating literally outside of my rib cage says otherwise. But I smile and nod and say, "Can't wait."