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Meetings and Partings

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avatar ieryana
Level 25 : Expert Princess
73
Word Count : 5415 WORDS (sorry)
For Chiaro's Writing Contest.


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It was a clean, crisp autumn day. The kind of day that, whilst warm, has the smell of winter in the air. The day that makes you want to wear your favourite scarf and gloves, even though it’s still t-shirt weather. The airships buzzed overhead, sending their frozen vapour trails into swirling eddies as they crossed paths, the low hum from the engines mingling with the noises of life all around. Driverless electric cars hummed by on designated roads, the overhead metro whizzed past taking hundreds of city workers to their jobs and drones swept the pavements clean on a continuous loop, never needing rest.

Ignoring the scenes around him, a young man tucked his books to his chest and stumbled around masses of other new students, old students, lecturers and general public on a crowded campus.
Rhys was on his way to college. First week in a big town, a city almost, and the first day in a university he’d wanted to go to for ages. His parents had tried to dissuade him.
“Stay home” they’d said to him, “Work with us on the farm, it’s no life, studying all the time, you want the fresh air” as they’d gestured to the wide open spaces where they farmed cattle, sheep, even chickens. But he was sick of the farm, sick of the early mornings and late nights, the physical labour and strain on his back. He was only 21 for goodness sake and he wanted an education, and by the Gods he was going to get it. Although, whilst he was glad to be here, he was a little homesick for the wide open spaces. The sky here was too close.

The buildings were so tall, and so clean, bright and shiny. They had beautiful intricate patterns built into the glass and steel structures that loomed over the older, brick buildings, squat and ugly in their historic settings. The metro linked a lot of the taller buildings up, walkways between groups of skyscrapers too, saved people descending hundreds of floors, personal airships crowded the sky and even on a bright, clear, sunny day it was hard to get a sense of openness and height like back home.

“OOF” A well built, dark haired young man had run into the back of Rhys, causing him to scatter his papers and books over the floor like a badly written 1990’s teen film. He smiled briefly at the thought of the ancient classic films they were shown in high school before getting on his knees and grabbing his things.
The boy who ran into him crouched down to help.
“Dude” he offered him a folder “mate, I am so sorry, but like, you were just stood there, what were you doing?”
“Oh, sorry, I was just…I don’t know, I guess a bit overwhelmed, I’m new here”
“Ahhh, country boy huh? You’ve got that look about you. I’m Baz, I’m in charge of socials here, mixers, parties, informals and formals and so on. You thinking of joining a group?”
“I…I don’t know?” Rhys rubbed his nose, and sign of nerves, and grinned shyly at this onslaught of friendliness.
“Great!” Baz was like a one man hurricane of enthusiasm, it was hard not to instantly like him, “Look, I’m organising an ice breaker at the student guild hall tonight, why don’t you swing by? Find me, I’ll get you a drink, introduce you to a few people, I feel bad slamming into you like that”
“Ok, sounds erm…cool I guess?” Rhys took the leaflet Baz was offering and grinned his shy grin again, “I’ll, see you then?”
“Yea! Great dude, ok, cool, see ya then”. Baz waved over his shoulder as he jogged off into the crowd. Rhys hoisted his bag onto his shoulder, grabbed his armful of books even closer and made his way to the first class of the semester.

Later that evening Rhys stood in front of the mirror he’d brought from his room back home and adjusted his shirt.
‘Tucked in, or left out?’ he wondered to himself, untucking and tucking his shirt from his new jeans. Usually wearing bust up Levis on the farm to do the work he felt strange wearing “smart” jeans. One last look in the mirror.
“I’ll do” he said to himself out loud.
The students guild hall was in an old part of the campus, from back when it was first built. Made of red brick and stone, it was a stout, unsightly building compared to the tall, elegant glass spires that twisted into the sky. It has it’s own appeal though, the stone work was intricate, and inside the marble floors and high, curved ceilings were reminiscent of old money, very old.
Rhys could hear the music before he’d even walked through the door. Showing his student ID to the bouncer, he was nodded through and he entered the main room. Almost immediately Baz came bounding over to him like an excited puppy.
“Mate! You made it! Awesome! Follow me!”
Before Rhys could even say a word Baz grabbed his hand and dragged him to the bar.
“What’ll it be pal?”
“Oh…erm, just a coke thanks, I don’t drink”
“Cool” shrugged Baz and waved at the bartender. “So, what are you studying?”
Rhys thanked the barman and took a sip. Slightly too warm, but it was ok, as far as cola went.
“Oh, network engineering – I’ve always been good with computers”
“Oh cool! Ok, so these are the computer tech nerdy guys”.

He grabbed Rhys hand and practically dragged him across the floor to a group of people stood around a table. First glance they looked like your average bunch of guys, but you soon saw things that gave them away. A one guy was wearing a red bowtie, elf ear body mods on another guy, a cute tiny girl with blue and green hair was even wearing a nasa t-shirt, that amused him. He was sad when the agency closed down, but everything was privatised these days, and Space-X was doing some amazing things with space. The Mars colonies was his eventual plan, it’s why he took network engineering – can’t beat a farmer who knows how to code he figured. Especially in a colony.

“Guys! This is …OH MY GOD Dude I didn’t even ask your name! What am I like” Baz grinned maniacally and punched the top of Rhys’s arm. “WOAH, dude you are SOLID!” He grabbed Rhys’s arm and squeezed.
“Um…” The short girl with blue hair poked Baz “When you’re done being…well, being yourself Baz – who is this?”
“Haha, omg ok, so he’s new and he’s one of you guys” Baz swung around “OH! Look! It’s that new poetry guy, I'ma catch you later” and he danced off, leaving the group stood blinking. Rhys was beginning to recognise that expression, like surviving a flash flood, but this was a Baz flood.
“So….” The girl waved awkwardly “Hi, I’m Ruby, I’m doing network engineering, year one – again….”
“Rhys” he said “Year one, first time, but I took a break after school before coming to uni so I’m older too”
“Oh, cool” she smiled slowly. It was a strange smile, slow and creeping and all of a sudden she’d been smiling for a while and you didn’t even notice. She wasn’t what you’d call amazingly gorgeous. She was short, really short, and her nose was all snubby, her cheeks chubby and a dusting of freckles covered her nose, cheeks and forehead. Her eyes were hidden behind thick rimmed glasses, but then she smiled and it was like seeing the sun rise on a grey morning.

“Arwen” they guy with elf ears thrust his hand out and pumped away at Rhys’s arm, slightly harder than was necessary, “year two advanced computer coding” he spoke in a tight, short voice and whilst his smile was friendly enough, the eyes behind it were cold and glittered with ice. He put his arm around Ruby. “We’re together” he smiled again, coldly.
“That’s great” said Rhys “I have a girl back home on the farm, I miss her, you’re lucky to be together” he didn’t, but his hackles were up with this guy, and he wouldn’t give him an inch.
The bowtie wearing guy coughed and awkwardly put out his hand.
“H-H-H-hi. I’m M-M-M-mmmmmm”
“Mike” chorused the group, unthinkingly.
“M-mike” he said thankfully. “I’m th-th-the group s-s-s-tudent representative” The last word flung itself out of his mouth with such intensity Rhys was momentarily taken aback, but realised this was the way he could get harder words out. Instantly feeling a warmth towards him, Rhys grabbed his hand and shook it firmly.
“Nice to meet you” Rhys said, and meant it.

The night wore on and they chatted, Rhys found himself relaxing happily into a group. They all exchanged palm pilot info and got to know each other. Mike shared his love of intricate networking code, and even Arwen chilled enough to talk about farming techniques he knew from his own community. Ruby was chatty but guarded, she didn’t give much away, but he found her easy enough to talk to.

As he chatted away in his new group of friends, someone caught his eye. He peered through the crowds and saw a tall, thin, elegant looking girl. Her arms were covered in bright, watercolour style tattoos, she had a few facial piercings, and bright purple hair. He blinked and she had vanished into the throng of people. He turned back to his new friends, the image of the girl leaving his mind as he chatted away. Happy he had come to the meet and greet now, he found himself looking forward to his time at university a lot more.

It was a couple of days later and he was walking to his class. The pavement less crowded now everyone had started to settle into the routine. The leaves on the tree’s had begun to turn orange. He smiled, there was no need for it, the synthetic leaves on the cities trees worked year round, but every year they turned orange for the autumn and early winter, and shrank away into imitation twigs for the winter, unlike the real tree’s back on his farm, which really did turn orange and shed their leaves. Humans were a funny bunch, he mused, we’ve made such a mess of things, but we still like things to be as they should be. As he was walking along admiring the trees, Rhys noticed the purple haired girl walking towards him. She stopped to look at her palm pilot and Rhys walked over to her.

“Hi” he said…”I, um, I don’t usually do this but I noticed you at the party the other night and …um….I like your hair?” He ended his sentence in almost a squeak as nerves took over and his voice rose.
She smiled, a beaming, wide smile that reached her eyes and lit up her entire person.
“Hi! Thank you! Most people think it’s too 'out there’ yanno but it makes me happy” She grabbed a bunch of it and flung it about. “it’s so retro right?”
“Haha, yea I guess” said Rhys “very twenty-tens!”
“I know right! I’m Jen by the way”,she stepped in and gave Rhys a quick hug. She was a bubbly, enthusiastic girl and babbled away at Rhys happily, not minding at all he’d approached her. “so, what do you study?”
He realised he’d just been starting at her as she spoke, and shook himself internally.
“Oh, networking and that..” he said dismissively.
“No way, cool! Me too! I’ve just missed the first couple classes but I’m on it now! In fact, I’m meant to be on my way now, are you going that way? I think I’m lost, I was just checking the campus map when you said hi.”
“Yea I am actually” Rhys fell into step beside her and they walked to the class together. He found her enthusiasm strange, she reminded him a lot of Baz, in fact, she looked slightly like him too now he thought about it.
“Do you, do you know Baz?” He asked her.
“YEA! Yea man, Baz is my brother, you know him too?”
“He actually invited me to the party the other night, I’ve not seen him since though, is he ok?”
“Yea he’s cool, just busy, student council and organising and stuff. He actually graduated last year, but stayed behind and took a job here for a year.”

They carried on chatting throughout the lecture, to the disapproving glances of their peers, and into the lunch hall together, not even thinking to call off their conversation, Rhys found himself opening up to her about his whole life, the farm, his loving but slightly over-bearing parents, his desires to join a colony and so on, and she told him all about her family, about growing up with Baz and how they teased each other, and how her complete lack of direction but enthusiasm for computing lead her to take the course. Most days after that they met up and walked to class together, usually with one of the others on the course as well.

That first semester was full of warmth and happiness. Everyone was great friends and very close. Jen and Ruby would tease the boys, threatening to do their make up if they fell asleep, taking silly pictures on their palm pilots and dressing up in costumes at any opportunity. Mikes stutter had become part of the conversation, the gang would fill in automatically for him, or tease him good naturedly about it and though it would never go, when he was with his friends it was much less noticeable. Arwen had lost his stoic coldness once he realised Ruby really was totally into him and he didn’t need to be so guarded. He confided in Rhys one night that his mother and father had a very jealous relationship and he realised that it wasn’t healthy. They talked deeply that night, and as the sun rose the two men were solid friends. The autumn bled into winter which fell into spring. Long nights around campfires drinking and talking turned into long study session as exams loomed and essays were due. The gang could often be found at each others rooms working together, studying, chatting or just playing the VR together. The work was hard but interesting and Rhys was smart enough to cope with the load.

As time went on though, Rhys began to notice Jen was looking drawn, the circles under her eyes were getting darker and she was slowing down. She wasn’t the bubbly, outgoing girl he met at the beginning of the term, even the bright purple hair that first caught his eye hadn’t been re-dyed in a long while.

One day when they were chilling in his room he sat next to her and took her smooth, manicured hands into his large, rough ones.
“Jen,” he looked at her seriously, “are…are you ok?” his shyness that had left long ago returning suddenly at the thought of confronting his friend.
“Honestly?” She rubbed her face. “I … I don’t think I am.” Her chin wobbled and she took a huge breath in before fiddling with her fingers and avoiding his eye “I know like, that you and Ruby and the others find it easy and I really am trying and I don’t wanna let you down but….like…. I’m struggling with the work and it’s really making me kinda ill. I’m so stressed about not getting a good mark that I can’t sleep, or eat, and of course then I’m tired all the time and I can’t concentrate and it makes it worse. I don’t know what to do”
Rhys pulled her into his shoulder and stroked her faded hair.

“Oh Jen you daft girl, why didn’t you say anything, you know we’d help”
“I know, but, I don’t want help, I want to be able to do it, but honestly, I really don’t feel very well at all.”
They sat on his sofa and talked, a very serious, very long talk. He hadn’t realised just how ill his friend was. Jen was really struggling with the work, and he could see the mental strain was affecting her physically. By the end of the night they’d talked together about her leaving. He didn’t want her to go, she was his best friend on campus, and his confident in most things, and he realised just how much he really cared for her. But if it was making her poorly, it wasn’t right that she carry on struggling. They dm’d the others and they all came round, palm pilots pinging almost immediately in response and by the end of the night they had, as a group, figured out the best route.

Two days later Rhys leaned out of his dormitory window and waved goodbye to her, the promises to talk every single day still on his lips and the smell of her freshly dyed hair in his nose as they’d clung tight. He watched her fathers van full of her things leave the campus and head out onto the road, the electric engine humming quietly as she went out of sight. He cried then. He sat down on his bed, sank his head into his hands and sobbed like he hadn’t since he was a young boy. The last time he cried like this he’d lost his childhood dog to old age. He hadn’t realised just how much he really did care for Jen. The way her smile lit up her face, the infectious bubblyness of her personality, the silly ideas she had and the way she was always there for him. That time he’d caught the most awful cold and she’d brought him chicken soup and teased him about his “man flu”. All of this hit him deep in his stomach. He knew she wasn’t far away, but she’d gone, and it hurt. He cried himself to sleep that night.

The semester spun along, as spring turned into summer they all finished their exams and said goodbye for the summer holidays. Promises to meet up, dm’s from Jen and arrangements were made, and Rhys went home to the farm. He’d missed his parents, and they were thrilled to have him back. The summer passed by in a whirlwind of family gatherings, barbecues and even his cousins wedding. He invited Jen along as his partner and they had the best time, laughing and drinking. Before she left they drove up to meet Ruby and Arwen, and spent a weekend at a lake house. The artificially heated waters filled with screams as the young adults splashed each other and messed about whilst the airships whizzed by in the hot summer sky over head.

Summer soon left and with it Rhys left the farm, this time to a shared house near the college with Ruby, Mike, Arwen and another girl Tina, who was studying Law. Baz had left the university now, moved onto a role in a large company that sent him all over the world. They had the occasional message, or vlog from him in some random country where he’d set up a huge data system, or met some interesting locals he wanted to share.

The year passed slowly, the laughter was much less as the work got harder and everyone more serious. Ruby and Arwen argued hard, and made up even harder, their bedroom door often banged on and a yell to “keep it down” from the other housemates. No one minded really, they all were still as close as could be, and it was a way to blow off some steam. Jen messaged now and then to say she’d make the trip up, but days, weeks and eventually months passed with no visit. She’d taken a role in her fathers company and was learning how to run the business, presumably to take over from him eventually they all said, and she was busy. Exams rolled around again, and the messages slowed to a monthly catch up, and eventually trickled to a stop.
Jen would drop him a line now and then, full of news about her life, the bubbly Jen he knew, but on the other side of the country now. The conversations full, but brief. He’d reply with just as much news, but over time, eventually she stopped texting and he stopped replying. Not on purpose, but work, university and life just took over, and Jen, and Baz to an extent, became a distant, fond memory for all of them, a like of a post on Instafan, or a “lol” comment on MyBook and that was it.

University ended and Rhys moved back home. Applications to jobs sent out he took on some freelance work which sent him around the area and eventually around the country. Word got about that he was quick, capable and an honest worker, and he soon found himself charging more and more, and busier and busier. He reached out to Ruby and they went into partnership together, within months they had set up a company and employed more staff. He even managed to do some work for his childhood dream company Space-X before the Mars projects collapsed in a major disaster. Two years after he had left university he was in his office replying to emails and working on a new data centre design when ruby burst into his office and thrust her palm pilot at him.
“What?” he mouthed at her. She just grinned and closed the door.
“Hello?” he asked, wondering what had got Ruby so excited.
“Rhys?”
“Jen?” he whispered “Is that really you?”
“It IS! OMG RHYS” She squealed and he held the phone away from his ear a second, grinning like a schoolboy. He could hear her manic fast babbling “and so I saw your picture in the Business news section on the pilot when I was catching up and I recognised you like right away and then I saw your company name and so I rang but your line was busy so I tried again and got hold of Ruby and omg doesn’t she sound great are her and Arwen doing ok? I saw on MyBook that they had gone to Bali for the summer don’t they look sweet I can’t believe he got rid of his ears though but I guess we’re all serious now ….” She took a breath. “So, anyway, I’m in your area on business and wondered if you’d like to grab lunch?”

“Um…yea, sure..when?”
“Oh, like now?”
Rhys burst out laughing, she hadn’t changed a bit. “You know what, yea, why not, I'd like that, There’s a great little fusion place round the corner from the office, do you know the address? I’ll buzz it to your pilot now.”
“Yey I got it! Ok, see you in 20 mins?” she hung up before he could reply.

Suddenly his heart raced, he hadn’t seen her in what? Two, nearly three years? Not since the summer of his cousins barbecue? Had it really been that long?

He stood in front of the mirror in his office. The same mirror that had followed him all that time ago from his little farm house bedroom, into the city and now into his high rise office. He smoothed his hair down.
Money was kind to people and he dressed well, and looked good. But he felt like that out of place country hick thrown into a city party again. He threw on a jacket and stuck his head into Ruby’s office.
“So… I’m going to meet Jen for lunch” he said, with a bemused look on his face.
“Oh my god” she giggled, “That’s so Jen, so random! You going to Chiaros?”
“Yea, love me a bit of fusion”.
“You sure do! Ok, have a great time.”
“I will”
He left the office, shook his head to the offer of a car from his doorman and walked around the block. As he entered the restaurant the owner bustled over.
“Mr Rhys sir hello! Table for one sir as usual sir?”
“No, actually Chi, I’m meeting an old friend. Two please, and quiet?”
“Quiet?” a voice over his shoulder made him jump “since when were we ever quiet?”

He turned around to see her stood there, bright purple hair shining as the sun gleamed through the windows and hit it just right, like something from a cheesy movie. She was dressed smartly in a business suit, her facial piercings gone apart from one tiny gem in her cupids bow just above her lip. She grabbed hold of him and squeezed him so tightly he made a slight “urk” noise.

“Eep sorry!” she grinned at Chiaro and he grinned back, leading them to a booth and taking drinks orders.
As they ate they talked about the past couple of years. Rhys didn't realise just how much he missed out, he rarely checked social media these days, just used it to keep in touch with clients mostly.
“So” she asked with a mouth full of udon “Are ya married at all? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Both?”
He blushed slightly. He'd forgotten how forward she was.
“No” he said “no one, I mean, I have friends that I see sometimes like that, to, you know, meet up and....you know. But no, no one official. You?”
“Well, I nearly got married, but he did some bad things, not to me!” she held up her hands on seeing the alarm in Rhys' face. “Not to me, but I couldn't see past it. It wasn't the same afterwards, so currently no. No one actually and it's kinda nice.”

They split the bill and stepped outside. Jen grabbed Rhys again in a tight hug.
“So, I'm gonna be around here quite a bit. “she told him as she finally let him go “Should we hang out more? And the others too? I missed you guys”
“Yea, we missed you too. Mike isn't about much, he moved across country, not seen him for a while actually, but we should get together again for sure. But hey I better get back to work, I'm the boss but I can't be slacking now.”
“Sure, same here. I'll dm you later and we'll arrange stuff”
“Great, yea, sounds amazing”
Jen waved down a driverless taxi and hopped in. As the rear lights vanished around the corner Rhys straightened up his jacket and headed up to his office, Jen filling his mind. He had missed her, more than he realised and seeing her again he felt … strange actually. Like a huge pressure he didn't even know was there was suddenly lifted off his shoulders.

His was a good life, he hadn't realised anything in it was missing but suddenly he realised he didn't want to not see her again, to not have her around. He realised he cared for her, really really cared for her.
Before he realised it he was calling her.
“Hello? Rhys? Is everything ok”

“Jen! I need to tell you. I....I really like you. Like, I like you like you. Omg this is so not me...just....I missed you, and when you left uni I was so upset, and I didn't tell you and now I've seen you again it's like we were never apart and I really missed you and and.....” he trailed off, out of breath and suddenly lost for words.

“Oh...erm....I have to go” Jen hung up on him, and he stared at his palm . Bright red, upset and stressed out. He straightened his jacket and made his way to his office in a daze.
He waved a vauge hello to Ruby as he passed her office and slumped at his desk, head in his hands.
“Oh, god... ”he thought “I've not spoken in years to her, what...what possessed me?! I'm a successful business man in a leading organic technologies BLOODY sector why am I acting like a BLOODY teenage loser!”
He swiped his arms across his desk and scattered holopapers.
“Wow” Ruby's voice startled him “what....dude, should I even ask?”
“Nah” He gathered up the holopapers and put them back on his desk “Don't even ask, I'm just a complete idiot that's all. I'm gonna head home if that's ok? I'll catch you tomorrow”
“Ok then?” Ruby frowned at him in confusion, then just waved her hands at him in a sort of 'I don't even know' gesture.

Rhys flung his jacket and bag onto his sofa and slumped onto his bed. Lying with his legs dangling off the end, his hands over his head, he dreaded opening the message he'd noticed Jen send him, but he had to.

“Rhys, sweetie. You mean the absolute world to me, you really do. But I don't think of you like that, I never really have, we've always been best friends and you're everything to me. I'm not looking for a relationship, or a partner at all really. I'm just out of one, and it's not that I don't absolutely love your very bones, I do! Just...not like that. I never really even thought about it and your admission shocked me.
I won't hold it against you, I just hope we can be friends with no awkwardness?
I'm so glad to find you again. Please don't be awkward with me, I won't be with you. Promise”

He sighed. Of course he was sad she didn't feel the same, or was he? He Wrapped himself up in his duvet and set the lights to dim. He was so happy she was back, of course he was, and he wasn't going to let this stupid moment spoil their friendship, he'd sooner have her around as a friend than not at all, especially now she was back in touch, he had genuinely missed her. He rolled over and fell into a fitful sleep.

After that, they met up a few times. Jen's natural craziness soon stopped any awkwardness he felt, she simply didn't mention it, or act like it bothered her, and he soon was dragged along in her wake. She was just the same as always. So they were both leading business people, she didn't let it change who she was.
Their group soon met up regularly, starting with lunch meets and soon enough they were meeting for late night drinks, game nights, and as the summer opened up the nights they headed to the beach with drinks and music. Occasionally he would see Jen look at him with a weird look, but it was so brief he thought he imagined it.

It was one of these such nights everyone had gathered to celebrate Baz's returned from West Asia. He'd been working on some top secret business project that had finally finished. Jen had contacted a lot of people from uni, and home, and they'd set up a big party on the beach. Everyone from uni was there, and a bunch of people they'd not seen for years.
It was a typical early 2000's party, light bulbs on strings, a bonfire, beers and cocktails. Rhys didn't drink, but he found himself with a cocktail in his hand and shrugged. He wasn't anti drinking, just never saw the point. He sipped the blue liquid and looked across the fire to see Jen looking at him right back.

She smiled, not her usual grin, a different smile. She walked over and stood close.
He found his breath caught in his throat as she hugged him, longer than she usually did, and he smelt the smell on bonfire in her hair as it fell over his shoulders.

He opened his mouth to speak, but she placed her fingers on his lips and kissed him. He tasted the same blue cocktail on her lips.
When she pulled back he swallowed, “Jen...I haven't changed how I feel” he whispered to her.
“I know, and as soon as I sent that message I regretted it, but you seemed to have pushed it away...and I've had time to think. And, I feel the same too. I think I always have but I didn't want to spoil what we had.”

He stroked her bright purple hair and kissed her back, the party fading away as they met again, and for the first time.
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