A twelve year old Reyna swings vacantly on the swing beside Annabeth. On other occasions, they will swing vigorously in order to touch their toes to the tree tops above, but today was not one of those times. Today, they gently sway back and forth in silence. Reyna picks the sand up with her toes and it glides gently between them, the same way the sand of an hour glass glides as time marches on. It makes Reyna remember the times that she has watched Doctor Who with Annabeth.
"Someday he's coming for me," Annabeth says, "And I'm gonna see the stars and save the world."
Reyna smiles and then as if an afterthought, Annabeth adds, "And you can come too, of course." Reyna leans backwards in her swing, and hears Annabeth faintly humming a tune that she can't quite place. The almost-silence is nice, comforting even, until Annabeth breaks it.
"I'm gonna miss this," Annabeth says, looking far from Reyna. Her eyes lock on the expanse of the school yard. Dandelions are starting to peak their sunny heads out of the green grass that has grown very tall, blocking the view of much of the soccer nets, fences, and baseball diamonds. Reyna almost rolls her eyes in response. Annabeth does this all the time- talk about running away, but she never actually does it. She also talks about traveling the world in the TARDIS and going to Hogwarts, but that doesn't mean that Reyna believes that she will do it.
But Reyna still feels bad for her. Her stepmother hates her and her dad pretends that she didn't exist, but she has never run away. Reyna is sure that this time will be no different.
"And I'm gonna miss you too, Rey," Annabeth says, sending Reyna a sad smile. Reyna doesn't think anything of it and the rest of the day was uneventful, just their normal "hanging out" activities.
It is two days later that is eventful. The day that Annabeth doesn't show up at school, or at the school playground like she always did.
The day that Annabeth disappears is eventful indeed.
Reyna spends the next few years doing boring, uneventful things and missing her best friend and first crush. She finishes middle school there in Florida before she, her father, and sister move to Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha is nice enough. Colder than Florida, but less muggy, which is a plus. But it makes her slightly sad. Reyna is sure that Annabeth is still alive and just traveling, she knows it in her gut, though she still worries sometimes that she has died. She misses her home town too, with its muggy air and familiar atmosphere, though part of her feels glad to finally rid herself of the constant reminder of Annabeth's departure.
In Omaha, she does well in academics and thrives in band, though her father is rarely around. By senior year, she has become drum major, but that's also when things change.
She meets Annabeth again one day whilst taking a walk across the pedestrian bridge. It's something that Reyna does occasionally, just walking across the pedestrian bridge for a bit of brisk exercise and to look at the expanse of the river and the closest thing that Omaha has to skyscrapers. But on one of the benches on the bridge sits a girl with wild curly hair and a bright blue t-shirt, TARDIS blue. She seems to be looking off into the horizon, wishing she could float away into the sunset. Reyna considers passing her by because there is no way that this girl in Omaha Nebraska is her lost friend and crush. There is no way in all of God's creation, but the girl turns her head towards Reyna and smiles.
"Hey, Rey," she says. And Reyna knows that she was Annabeth Chase. Knows it the same way that she knows the sun sets in the morning and that Pepsi tastes better than Coke, but what she doesn't know is what to say. How does she summarize the past six years of her life? How does she tell Annabeth how much she's missed her, how much she's thought about her without sounding like a complete stalker?
So she settles for, "Hello Annabeth," as she sits down beside her on the bench. They stare off into the horizon together, forgoing the exchange of to many pleasantries for the sake of the moment. The sun sets deeply into the sky before Reyna realizes it has gotten late.
"I have to go," Reyna says softly, afraid that words will shatter the moment, that the beautiful quietude will erupt like a firecracker.
"It's alright, "Annabeth says, "Meet me here tomorrow." It's not a question and Reyna doesn't answer it. She and Annabeth both know that she'll be here tomorrow.
"Morning Reyna," says Hazel the next morning in the hallway. It takes Reyna a moment to force herself out of her daze.
"Morning Hazel," Reyna says, sounding a bit more distant than she normally does.
"Are you alright," Hazel said, concern saturating her voice, "You seem kind of off. You didn't really seem focused in band and you're always focused. Always." Hazel didn't have to say that she was worried for Reyna to know that she was worried.
"I'm fine, Hazel," she says, perhaps a bit more harshly than she had intended because Hazel's customary smile melts away. Reyna really wishes that hadn't hurt Hazel's feelings. That isn't something that she enjoys.
"I hope so," Hazel says, "I just don't want anything to happen to you."
"Nothing will," she says, though it may or may not be a lie.
When she sits down next to Annabeth the next evening, they're silent for a long time. Letting the fact that they're together soak in once again, before Annabeth breaks it.
She laughs before saying, "You know, Rey, it's funny. This reminds me of when I traveled with Thalia and Luke." Her voice sounds wistful and a bit bitter. Reyna wonders if she had simply forgotten that she'd never mentioned these people before, or if she didn't really care. Reyna doesn't press the issue, because it sounds as if she had lost them.
"You know," Reyna says, "It actually reminds me a bit of my friend, Hazel. Sometimes we don't even need to talk. It's just that soothing friendly presence thing."
That seems to have taken Annabeth's mind off of her lost friends for a moment, and Reyna continues to speak about her life: Hylla, band, Hazel, funny stories from her time without Annabeth. Annabeth laughs. She seems nostalgic, yet sad that she'd missed this part of Reyna's life. Reyna wonders if Annabeth wasn't far, far away for most of the conversation. But her hand on Reyna's quells the sadness that the thought causes.
Reyna pours herself a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal and plops down at the kitchen table. She shoves the sugary cereal into her mouth. Normally, she takes intense pleasure in catering to her sweet tooth, but lately, everything but her evening escapades with Annabeth has seemed empty.
"Hey there, little sis," comes the voice of Hylla, "It seems like I haven't seen you in ages. Where've you been these past couple of days? I've been a bit worried."
"I bet that dad hasn't even noticed," Reyna challenges.
"That's not the point," Hylla says, "You've just been gone for the last two days."
"I'm sorry," Reyna says, though she really isn't, at least not much, "But I've been busy lately."
"With what," Hylla asks, "where have you been going?" Reyna considers telling her the truth, but it feels too personal.
"It doesn't matter," she asserts, though the words feel slightly blasphemous on her tongue.
Hylla seems more concerned than angry, "Baby sis, I'm just worried. Can you give me anything here?"
"No," Reyna says, as she's getting up from the table, "I've got to get to school, Hylla." Hylla pulls her into a warm embrace.
"Rey," she says, "I know you don't believe me, but you can tell me anything. I love you sis." Reyna returns her hug, but then staggers out the door without another word.
"Why do you travel so much anyways?" Reyna asks, though the question that she's dying to ask is why did you leave me? She shoots down the traitorous parts of herself that want to scream at Annabeth for ever leaving her in the first place.
"I tramp a perpetual journey," she says, though in a slightly disinterested way, like she's simply quoting a banal old idiom.
"It's not perpetual if you've stopped here," says Reyna.
"I tramp a near perpetual journey doesn't have the same ring to it," Annabeth says, with legitimate humor in her voice. Reyna smiles because that's the first time that she's heard Annabeth's true happy voice since their unexpected reunion.
The routine continues, Reyna going to school, and talking to her friends and pretending that nothing is changing, though a tempest of passion and interest rests inside her, not fit for mere mortals. Only Annabeth is deserving of that. Only Annabeth awakens her interest anymore, and though Reyna admits that it's probably unhealthy, she can't force herself to feign any more concern. The perfunctory features of her average little life march on.
"You know," Annabeth says one day, "If you look at the river from just the right angle, you can almost pretend that it's the ocean."
"I've had about enough of the ocean after that hurricane that hit Florida the year before we moved," Reyna says, with a humorous tone she never expected to have while speaking of the experience.
"Luke, Thalia and I were up in New York the time that hurricane hit," she says with that same sad look in her eyes, "I was worried about you."
"How sweet," Reyna teases, though she's secretly overjoyed that she'd thought of her.
"Shut up," Annabeth says.
"I think you prefer it when I talk," Reyna replies, "I've got stories even you, little Miss "I've Traveled the States" haven't heard."
"True," replies Annabeth, and they continue to talk about What-Ifs, the past, and even what Annabeth's missed on Doctor Who.
"So what brought you here anyways," says Reyna, "Why did you decide to come to Omaha, Nebraska? We aren't exactly the place to be."
"Luke and I," Annabeth said, "We-we parted ways, and I guess I just ended up here. I'm glad that I did." Reyna doesn't ask what had happened to Thalia or why they parted, she just relished in the small piece of information that she'd gotten.
"Do you suppose that someone would die if they jumped off this bridge," Annabeth asks, though Reyna's not sure that she means it rhetorically.
"I'm not sure," Reyna answers, "I'm not sure if it would be high enough."
"Pity," Annabeth says with a teasing tint to her voice and a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.
"Frank finally asked me out," Hazel says softly into Reyna's ear a few days later, "Finally."
"I'm so happy for you," Reyna says, though she's not sure her younger friend understands the true depth of word finally. She hadn't waited years to finally find someone again, but Reyna bites back the bitter part of her and smiles widely for her friend.
"Thanks Rey," Hazel says with a small smile that caused her golden eyes to glitter. It reminds Reyna of Annabeth's silver ones.
"I hope that you get whatever you're working through right now sorted out," she says, "And you don't have to tell me what it is. I just hope it works out." Reyna thinks of asking her how she knows, but the girl has already turned from her, leaving only her bouncy, cinnamon-brown curls as sendoff.
"The stars are wondrous tonight," says Annabeth as the two walk through the less populace areas of the city, "They glitter like tiny mosaic pieces."
"For a moment there I thought that you'd say diamonds," Reyna says.
"You doubt my linguistic abilities, Rey," Annabeth says, "Come on, I'm not that trite. I've been all across the United States, I've had to have picked up a better simile for the stars than diamonds."
"Touché," Reyna replies, and she feels that she ends up admitting defeat more often than she'd like to Annabeth.
"It's getting a bit cold," Annabeth said, rubbing her bare arms.
"Do you want to come home with me?" Reyna asks.
Annabeth's face holds a look of relief when she says, "Why not?"
Reyna turns her key and the two stagger into her residence. For the first time in her life, Reyna thanks the Lord for her father's long hours and the fact that her sister works long into the night on Thursdays.
"This is my house," says Reyna, gesturing to its expanse, "I hope you like it. We've got pop, snacks, blankets, beer." Annabeth made a noise that sounded similar to a dying cat.
"Are you alright," says Reyna, "God, are you okay, Annabeth." Annabeth regains her composure.
"Sure," she says, though Reyna can hear the fake calm that thinly veils the panic underneath, "I'm fine it's just."
Annabeth looks like she might not reveal what it's just, but Reyna sends her the puppy dog eyes that she could never refuse.
"Thalia got drunk one day and staggered out into traffic," Annabeth's voice trembled through the entire sentence.
"No alcohol," says Reyna, "Alright, that's totally fine."
"Can we just," says Annabeth, pausing for a moment, "go to bed?"
"Yeah," says Reyna, "Sure."
"Sorry," Reyna says, after leading Annabeth to her room, "But there's only my dad's room, Hylla's, and mine. I was pretty sure that you didn't want them walking in on you."
"No," says Annabeth, "This will be nice." And they cuddle up in Reyna's double bed, slightly scrunched because they are both tall girls.
"I haven't slept in the same bed as someone else since I left Luke," says Annabeth, her smile evident in her tone.
"You left Luke?" Reyna asks, and she tries to ignore the implications that the statement brings to mind.
"Too many bad memories," she says, "After Thalia, I just, I couldn't." And Reyna thinks that she understands. She wraps her arms around Annabeth's waist in a comforting gesture and Annabeth nuzzles her head into Reyna's hair. Reyna ignores the small droplets of tears that she can feel dripping through her hair. The warm, cuddly position of their bodies lulls Reyna very quickly to sleep.
Reyna's alarm chimes early in the morning, and she bangs her hand down harshly on the snooze button. She sneaks into her closet to dress, and after exiting it Annabeth looks at her.
"I suppose now's as good a time as any to ask," says Annabeth hesitantly, "Rey, would you run away with me?" That hits Rey like a train.
Run away, leave Omaha behind. Leave her sister, leave her band, leave Hazel? Could she just abandon them for Annabeth.
"Anna," she says, using the term of endearment that hasn't crossed her lips since their reunion, "I don't, I don't think that I can."
"Or you're just a coward," Annabeth spits.
"Be reasonable, Anna," Reyna says, "I have a life here. A life I don't really want to leave behind."
"Of course you do," she says, "You just don't know because you've never done it. It feels a hell of a lot better to leave than be left."
"Annabeth-" Reyna starts, but Annabeth cuts her off, "I should have known you'd be the same, Rey."
"You left me," Reyna says, anger boiling through her pores, radiating off of her like steam, "You're the one who left me. And now you're leaving me again."
"Just follow me," she says like it's the simplest thing in the world, "Just don't be such a weakling, Reyna. Make a decision, take a fucking risk."
"I can't," Reyna says, though she isn't sure that she means it.
"Fine," Annabeth says, "Fine Rey. Do whatever the fuck you want. I don't care." The crack in her voice implies that she does, but Annabeth slams the door and marches out the door.
"Rey," says Hazel, "Reyna."
"REYNA AVILA RAMIREZ-ARELLANO!" Hazel shouts.
"Oh," says Reyna, "Sorry." Reyna knew that Hazel must have been trying to catch her attention for a long time if she had resorted to shouting her first name.
"Reyna, where are you today," Hazel says, "You seem even more out of it than you've been for the past month."
"I'm so sorry, Haze," she says, "I just really haven't been here today." And that's when Reyna realizes it, what she should have done, her mistake. Lately, because of Annabeth, she hasn't been invested in her other life, and now she's letting Annabeth slip through her fingertips, but her life will feel empty.
Reyna takes a deep breath, and makes what might be the biggest decision of her life. She's not fully invested in it. She might still change her mind, but the fact that she's considering this is life-changing.
"Bye Hazel," she says, pulling her into a bone-cracking hug, "I love you. You've been a great friend." She takes off on her newfound quest with a confused Hazel shouting after her.
Reyna sits down beside Annabeth, dangling her legs off of the side of the bridge. Annabeth sends her a sad smile. They sit together for quite a long while in silence, looking off into the horizon. Reyna isn't sure what to say. She had left Annabeth hanging, but she's not sure if she wants to go through with this yet. Reyna's not ready to commit, which has always been a flaw of hers. Though she's overjoyed that Annabeth hasn't left yet, it's frightening to consider why.
Do you suppose that someone would die if they jumped off this bridge?
She sees the river winding through the land, the buildings protruding from downtown Omaha, and the grove of trees near the shore on the Iowa side. She hears bicyclists whishing past and feels the slight breeze blowing her dark locks into her face. Reyna places her hand on Annabeth's but Annabeth looks away.
"Annabeth," Reyna starts again, "what are you doing here?"
"Thinking," Annabeth replies in a disinterested tone.
"About?" Reyna prompts because Annabeth's words keep echoing her mind.
Die if they jumped, die if they jumped, die if they jump, die if they, die if they, if they-
"It doesn't matter," Annabeth says in a vacant tone, jerking Reyna out of her thoughts.
"Of course it does," Reyna replies, forcing the baneful words to the back of her mind.
"Nothing matters, Reyna" Annabeth says, her voice suddenly low and quiet, trembling with emotion, "I have never come across anything that matters. We are born, we die, and nothing that happens in the middle matters. It's getting tedious, Reyna. I've traveled all across the U.S and it's all the same: flimsy people living flimsy lives that can go up in flames any moment. Thalia's life ended in the blink of an eye because of one stupid mistake, and no one, no one except Luke and I cared. It didn't even matter. It didn't matter to anyone else as it set her life ablaze. And I'm no different. Rey, does anything on this god forsaken planet matter at all?" And Annabeth's normally hard grey eyes glitter like diamonds in the sun, the beginnings of tears forming on her golden lashes.
"You," Reyna replies thoughtlessly. Annabeth stares at her for a moment and then Reyna grows bolder.
"You, Annabeth," Reyna repeats, "You matter." She pauses, trying to gather the dandelion seeds of her thoughts back together to form a coherent whole.
Annabeth opens her mouth to protest, but Reyna cuts her off, "You matter, Annabeth Chase. You matter to me. You are unique in the universe. You're witty. You are intelligent. You are gorgeous."
She swallows the spit that has started to pool in her mouth and continues, "We'll all end up dying and meeting the void face to face and blah blah fucking blah, but the thing is that's tomorrow. This is today. You remember Thalia, so she matters. And you matter because you're alive. Your heart's still beating. You can still do shit. See shit. Be the shit. Annabeth Chase, you can still do anything."
"You left me," Annabeth accuses.
"You left me," Reyna shoots back, her anger saturating her once comforting tone.
She takes a deep breath, and in a more calm tone she says, "But we both came back."
Reyna holds out her hand, "Just trust me." It's both an invitation and a plea.
"Will you come with me this time," asks Annabeth, "Really come with me. Will you make this thing matter?"
"Will you leave me too?" asked Reyna quietly, remembering all the people Annabeth had left in the dust: her family, Luke, and even Reyna herself.
"Will you cut your string someday and just float away from me?" Reyna elaborates.
"Not if you keep hold," Annabeth says, sending Reyna the first real smile of the conversation. Reyna thinks about this, really thinks about it, for the first time. She thinks about what this sort of a choice would mean. Annabeth is a stray balloon, sailing about with the tailwinds, exploring the world and searching for meaning. Reyna is still firmly planted, and she knows that if she floats away she can't return to her normal life. Annabeth is whishing through time in a stolen TARDIS and this is Reyna's one and only chance to see the stars with her.
Does Reyna want to tramp a perpetual journey? She isn't sure, but the part of her heart that had sung a freedman's melody when she left Florida is screaming at her now. As are the dreamer and the lover within her but she can feel her chance slipping through her fingers. The girl that she'd chased for as long as she has lived, the girl that she thought she would never see again is floating away like smoke. Her normal life has slowly crumbled beneath her fingers, partially self-inflected. Reyna can see where this is going. She makes her decision.
Annabeth's string is once again soaring out of reach. Reyna reaches desperately out and grabs it.
"Yes," says she as she holds the string tightly, "Oh God yes." Reyna doesn't want to have to go chasing her again.