“Gout is something you get if you’re a character in a Dickens novel,” silence filled the room.
“What…?” Haden asked hesitantly, almost afraid of the answer as he grabbed a book off the shelf and sat down on the plush beanbag.
“Gout,” Rachel repeated, looking up from A Christmas Carol, “you know, when one of your joints swells when you eat too much seafood. People in a Dickens novel are rich, so they would get gout.”
Haden just stared at her for a moment, a blank expression on his face and no emotion behind his blue eyes. “I’ll take your word for it,” he said, turning back to his own book. Rachel looked at him a moment longer, huffed to herself in frustration, and went back to reading. An uncomfortable silence permeated the air, making it hard for Haden to focus on the words printed on the page. He tried to read anyway.
We only have a few hours, so listen carefully.
If you’re hearing this story, you’re already in danger. Sadie and I might be
your only chance.
Go to the school. Find the locker. I won’t tell you which school or which
locker, because if you’re the right person, you’ll find it. The combination is—
(The Red Pyramid, Rick Riordan)
Haden groaned, set the book on his lap—pages against his legs, and sank back against the beanbag. The words swirled in his mind: garbled, out of order, and unreadable. There was no way he would be able to read any more right now, not with how the room feels. He stared at the ceiling, seeing glow-in-the-dark plastic stars littering the plaster. It was too early for the late summer afternoon sun to set, so they remained their off-white color, not yet turning green.
Summer break was almost over. Both him and Rachel would have to go back to school in just a few short weeks. They would be entering their first year of high school, but neither were quite ready for the shift from the nonchalant of middle school to the high-strung stress of high school. Haden sighed, thinking over how to best talk to his best friend. Things had been a bit tense between them lately because of the looming stress of school starting. Today was supposed to be a day to unwind and relax. Instead, they’re bickering about the tiniest things. How should I fix this? Haden thought. Drawing a blank, he decided to ignore it for now and change the subject while he tried to come up with something.
“Do you want to go play Mario Kart or something?” Haden asked, looking over at Rachel while still sprawled across the beanbag. She opened her mouth to respond when a tinny beep sounded in the room. Rachel fished her phone out of her pocket, flipping up the screen to look at the notification. She read it over with a slight grimace.
“Sorry, Haden. Mom wants me home right now. Maybe we can play later, though?” Rachel told him while typing a response to her mom through the keypad.
“Okay, sure!” Haden watched as she grabbed her book and followed her down the stairs to the front door. He opened it for her and she stepped outside. “I guess I’ll see you later, then?”
“Yup! Bye, Haden.”
“Bye, Rachel.” Haden watched her walk down the steps and through the lawn. Once she turned left down the sidewalk and disappeared around the corner, Haden closed the door. I wonder what that was all about, he thought as he went back to his room.
“Mom, I’m home!” Rachel yelled out into the house when she opened the front door and walked inside.
“I’m in the kitchen!” her mom called back. Rachel went into the kitchen and saw both of her parents sitting at the table. She narrowed her eyes slightly, immediately suspicious of what was going to happen next.
“What’s going on? Did something happen?” she asked her mom and dad as she sat down across from them.
“Everything’s fine, sweetpea. We just need to talk to you about something,” her dad answered.
“Okay? What is it?”
“Well, honey,” her mom said, “we have something to tell you. We’re moving.”
“We’re moving to Virginia. I got a big promotion at work, and my new position is in Virginia. We’re leaving in 3 months, so we have time to settle in before I start work after the New Year,” her dad explained. Rachel sat there, frozen. Scenes ran through her mind like a stampede of buffalo: thoughts trampling one another in a heated battle to become the worst-case scenario in her head.
“We know you don’t want to leave, honey. But, think of the opportunities this will bring,” her mom kept talking, but Rachel couldn’t hear past the ringing in her ears. It filled her head, making her more disoriented. I have to leave, she thought frantically. She stood and ran out the door, back to the one place she knew she could calm down and think rationally about this.
Haden was passing through the living room when someone frantically pounded on the door. He grew worried since the knocking was obviously from someone where something went wrong. He ran to the door and flung it open.
“Wha— Rachel? Are you okay? Are you hurt? What happened, I thought you went home?” Haden asked her, rambling through the panic he felt rising in his chest. He led her inside by the wrist as she was in no condition to do so herself. Tears streamed down Rachel’s face, making stark tracks against her cheeks. Haden sat her down on the couch and pulled her close, hugging her tightly as she sobbed. “What’s going on? How can I help?”
Rachel sniffed and hid her face against his neck. She squeezed him harder, trying to comfort herself.
“I’m moving to Virginia in three months,” she cried. Haden sucked in a shaky breath and tucked Rachel’s head under his chin. They sat there until Haden’s father rounded the corner from the hallway into the living room. He looked at them with a confused and worried expression on his face, able to tell that something was wrong with his son and pseudo-daughter. Haden glanced up at his father and gestured for him to leave. His father nodded slightly in understanding and left the room. Haden pulled away from the hug, but kept Rachel within arms reach. She wasn’t sobbing anymore, but silent tears still slipped from her eyes.
“Tell me what happened? What do you mean you’re moving?” Haden asked gently. Rachel took a deep breath and wiped at her face with the edge of her shirt.
“My mom said she needed to talk to me when I got her text to head home,” she said after she had collected herself. “Both of my parents were waiting for me at the table when I got there. That’s when they told me we’re going to move. Dad got a promotion at work, I guess, and it requires him to be in Virginia. It starts sometime in January, but my parents wanted to give us time to settle in before he has to work.”
Haden stared at her after she finished speaking. He couldn’t believe it. They had lived on the same street together since they were in diapers. He couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t together. Now they were expected to be hundreds of miles apart for the rest of high school at the very least? He didn’t know how to handle this. He didn’t know how they would cope with being so far away from each other. Haden blinked rapidly a few times to shake himself from his thoughts. He focused back in on Rachel, who was looking back at him with the same blank, hopeless expression he was sure was on his own face.
“We can get through this. I know you don’t want this, and I don’t want it either, but we can do this. We’ll do it together, like we always do. Everything will work out fine,” Haden soothed. Rachel seemed skeptical for a moment, but her shoulders lost some of their tension and she relented.
“Okay. We’ll be fine. We’re moving in three months. That just means we have to spend more time together!” Rachel exclaimed, a look of resolve and determination in her eyes.
School started on a good note. Rachel and Haden had spent every last moment of their summer break together, and that closeness continued into the school year. They ate lunch together, shared classes, and walked home with their hands connected. They did everything they could to see each other.
Somewhere along the way, the closeness Haden felt with Rachel turned into something more. His heart raced when he saw her, his palms sweat, a flush rose in his face, and he stumbled over his words. He couldn’t seem to focus when he was around her, everything in his world narrowed down to only her. But, he didn’t want to ruin anything. He had to stay in her life in whatever way he could. If confessing would only tear their relationship apart, then he had to keep these feelings to himself.
Halloween passed quickly in a blur of candy and costumes. The days grew colder and shorter. Haden and Rachel knew their time together was running out. They spent their last weekend together at Rachel’s house, lying facing each other in bed, soaking in the other teen’s presence, hands brushing together. The day before, their class had thrown a going-away party for Rachel. There was cake and small presents, and so many goodbyes. Haden was drawn out of his thoughts of the party by Rachel pushing their foreheads together. He blinked at her before closing his eyes and sighing quietly. He was happy he could spend this time with her.
It was the morning of Moving Day. The first snowfall of the season had happened just days before, and Rachel’s parents wanted to leave before winter really set in. Both families had gathered by the moving truck to say their goodbyes. The parents were a few paces away, conversing. Rachel and Haden had been hugging each other for the past few minutes, making their last moments together count.
“I don’t want to go,” Rachel whimpered.
“I don’t want you to go either,” Haden agreed. He buried his face in her hair, trying to remember everything about his best friend. They held each other with a bruising force, not wanting to let go.
“You’ll call every night, right?” Rachel asked.
“Every night,” Haden said.
“And text me all the time?”
“Every thought I have.”
A silence passed between them as they continued to embrace. Haden could hear a quiet sniffle from Rachel. A few tears slid down his own face, but he had to stay strong for her.
“I’ll miss you so much,” he whispered to her.
“I’ll miss you too,” she murmured back.
“Rachel,” her mother called out, “it’s time to go.”
“Okay,” Rachel said, breaking the hug. Haden and her held hands as they walked over to the car parked next to the moving truck. He helped her into the backseat, squeezing her hand one last time.
“Bye,” he said quietly. Haden gathered his courage before pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head. He hoped that would be enough to show her how he felt. Rachel blushed and directed a beaming smile at him. He thinks she got the message.
“Bye,” she said as he closed the car door.