Finnley had never seen Mia in such a state, and it broke his heart. She was always so sure of herself, never having regrets or poor decisions. This was a completely different person, but she was still the same. Finnley cared for her no matter what, though, whether she was on top of the world or being crushed beneath it.
Mia finally stopped shaking with tears, and Finnley carefully let go of her. "Are you okay?" he asked, his eyes searching her face intently. She nodded slowly and sniffed one last time.
"I'll be fine. There's just one more bit I have to say." Mia took a deep breath, in and then out again. "Her brother's leg- something was wrong with it, something other than the break. Somehow, it got infected, but they didn't notice it until it was too late. They ended up... they had to take his leg. He has a prosthetic one now. It took all that her parents had to pay for it- I'd never noticed that they were struggling before then.
"It was never the same again, between us. No matter how I tried to make it up, there are some things that just can't be made up. Eventually, I stopped trying. We settled into a frosty standoffishness, which soon fell once again into rivalry. We've been edging around each other for years, and she's finally tried to take a stab at me again. Through you."
Mia looked long at Finnley, her dark eyes bright with unshed tears. Finnley took one of her hands in his, and stared right back at her. "You know we can't strike back at her," he said fervently. "You know we've got to let her get her anger out. We can't cause any more damage."
"I know," Mia replied quietly, looking down at her pale blue socks. "I know that. I think I always have. But sometimes, when I see her in school, staring me down, it's hard not to fight back. And that's how we've gotten to the place where we are."
Finnley looked at his watch and jumped. "And the place where we are right now is your house, when we should be at school!" he cried.
"What?" Mia asked, confused, though she was already pulling herself to her feet.
"Four minutes until school starts!" he yelled, leaping off the couch. He snatched his backpack from the ground and Mia charged up the stairs. And just like that, they were back. Ten seconds later, Finnley threw open the front door and the pair of them sprinted to school, sliding into the front hall with thirty seconds left.
Mia gave Finnley a mock salute and a grin. "See you on the other side, Finn."
He raised a hand in reply. "I'll see you," he said, breathless. Then they skidded into their respective classes. Finnley landed in his seat in the middle of the classroom with ten seconds to spare. The teacher still gave him a disapproving shake of the head, but Finnley was all smiles. He'd done it. Even Sylvie's overwhelming presence couldn't throw him off now.
Sylvie had clearly seen the change in Finnley and guessed what had happened, for she hung back in all of their shared classes. It seemed like a retreat, but instead of advancing himself, he considered how he could talk to her alone and explain. Maybe not fix things, for he wasn't sure that anything ever could, but at least come to a peaceful agreement. And besides, there was something about the story of her brother that plucked at his memory...
At lunch, it was back to just Finnley and Mia, and he was never so grateful for that. Sylvie and her gaggle of girls shot them glares from across the lunchroom, but they didn't care. Finnley did, however, keep an eye out for Monica. Where was she? He wanted to thank her for what she had said the day before.
"Hey," Mia said, nudging him with an elbow. "Aren't you going to ask what color my dress is?"
Finnley blinked, trying to take in the sudden change in topic. "Dress?" he asked, mentally flailing.
Mia rolled her eyes and bit into her apple with some kind of casual grace. "Homecoming. Remember? Yes, yes, we've got the plan, but what am I supposed to do, leave the house in a t-shirt? Then our ruse would be discovered!"
Finnley nodded. Of course, that made sense. He just hadn't thought through the details yet. "Oh. Yeah. Why do I need to know the color?"
Mia rolled her eyes again, this time so violently that Finnley worried they would roll right out of her head. "Finnley," she said slowly, staring him down. "Have ever been to a school dance before?"
Finnley's grimace was all the more answer she needed to hear. She went into full instruction mode. "Right then. We need to make sure our cover is complete. Since we would theoretically be going as a couple, we have to match outfits. So, you buy a tie the color of my dress. Alright? Can we do this?"
"Right. Yes. We can do this," Finnley said, with more confidence than he truly felt.
"Good!" Mia said, leaning back in satisfaction. "My dress is red, by the way."
"I'll make sure I match for the sake of appearances, then," Finnley said with a smile, picking at his sandwich. "My mom is going to want to take so many pictures."
Mia laughed at that. "She totally will. We're going to have trouble keeping her off our backs after this. Next she'll want us to get married!"
Finnley practically choked on his water, which just made Mia laugh harder. She was nearly crying. "You should see your face!" she crowed. "Ha!"
"I don't trust you and your schemes, that's all," Finnley said once he recovered. "My mom could say we'd be perfect for each other and you'd agree just so you could steal Rory to yourself."
"That's true," Mia said, considering. "Though, you might actually get angry at me. Maybe I'm better off just marrying the rabbit instead of you."
That made them both laugh again, and Finnley smiled. It was good to have Mia back again. The plan was in place, and everything was going to go well.