Every year, the Liberty High School senior class took a journey to some exotic location as a reward. A reward for what, they didn't exactly know. For surviving 4 years of high school? For winning the war in the battlefield of their hearts? Well, that was dramatic, but it was probably true.
Apparently there was nothing interesting or educational about their humble city of Pittsburgh because these trips somehow inevitably ended up in or near Philadelphia. Last year's senior class had a thrilling visit to the Franklin House and the National Constitution Center. This year, the Liberty High teachers found it appropriate to visit the Liberty Bell and take a long tour of Independence Hall. Most of the students didn't particularly care about any of these places but were grateful just to get out of town for a while and let off some steam before final exams.
As usual, the mode of transport for this trip was the school bus. 6 long hours of sitting in a dusty, smelly bus was never all that fun for anyone, but it was near the end of the school year and the students used the time to talk excitedly about college plans and what they were doing during the summer. It seemed like, even with all the chaos of a busy school year, everyone came together during these senior trips. Maybe it was a sense of nostalgia; knowing that in mere months, they might never see each other again.
Angela Chase was grateful the year was almost over. She'd spent the last year studying her ass off to pull her grades up and had just recently been accepted at the University of Texas in Austin. Everyone wondered why Texas when she could have gone somewhere much closer. "Well, you just answered your own question," Angela would say. She had to get out of Pennsylvania. For so many reasons. In Austin, she didn't have to worry about running into her dad and Hallie together, and she could go anywhere she wanted without being reminded of the memory of Jordan. She needed that. More than anything, she needed that.
The day of the trip, most of the senior class stood outside, chatting amongst themselves while waiting for the bus to whisk them off to Philadelphia. Angela was standing with Sharon, who couldn't stop talking about going to college in the Fall.
"Carnegie Mellon is, like, one of the top business schools in the country!" Sharon was saying. "There's so many interesting classes to take, and so many people from Liberty are going to be there. Didn't you get accepted there?"
"Yes. My mom made me apply there just in case I didn't get into UT," Angela said. "I know she'd rather I stay closer to home, but I think we both need our freedom."
"How's she doing lately?"
"Better...I mean, she's getting out of bed and brushing her teeth and taking a shower and going to work, but something's missing. I don't know what to do about it anymore. And since Danielle decided to live with Dad, well, Mom didn't take that well at all. My mom is, like, going through the motions or whatever. I don't know." She sighed deeply and avoided Sharon's concerned gaze.
"That's tough," Sharon said. "I'm sorry you've had so many bad things happen in the past couple of years."
"Tell me about it." Ever since Graham left Patty for Evil McTalkerson (this is how she not so lovingly referred to Hallie Lowenthal) and Patty's dad had a fatal heart attack shortly after, things just never got better. Jordan Catalano dumped her for some slutty freshman girl who had sex with him on the first date. Thankfully for her, Jordan had finally dropped out of school a few months ago to go on tour with his band, who had dropped the "Frozen" and were just known as "Embryo." Angela sometimes missed him so much it hurt. She was just now starting to be able to get out of bed and not have her first thought be of Jordan and whatever he was doing with whomever he was sleeping with.
"I'm going to miss you when you go to Austin, but I totally understand why you're, like, going. I hope you'll be able to find some peace when you're there. And hopefully Patty will have some time to center herself or whatever."
Angela nodded. "I think we're both ready for that."
The buses finally came roaring to the sidewalk and the students and staff began boarding. Angela spotted Rickie getting on the first bus with Mr. Katimsky. She waved but Rickie was in the middle of an animated conversation, as usual.
"Want to sit together?" Angela asked Sharon hopefully.
"Oh, I was going to sit with Andrew. But, look, I can totally bail if you need me to..."
Angela knew Sharon didn't want to be more than 2 feet away from her new boyfriend Andrew at all times, not that she could blame her. Andrew was hot. He also treated her so much better than Kyle did.
"Oh, no, that's cool," Angela said. It was not that cool, but who was she to interfere with true love?
Angela didn't think of herself as unpopular, but it seemed like nobody wanted to sit with her on this long bus ride. Since Sharon insisted on sitting with her dreamy boyfriend and none of Angela's other close friends were nowhere to be seen, it looked like she'd be sitting by herself. Sighing, she took a Stephen King novel out of her backpack that she'd been meaning to read for a while but never had the time. If nobody wanted to sit with her, she could at least catch up on her reading.
Before the doors closed, a rush of students flooded the tiny bus. Angela spotted Brian and said, "Hey, Krakow, you can sit with me if you want!" Brian grinned for a second but Sharon, who was sitting just one row in front of Angela, coughed and said something like, "Don't do it."
"Oh, um, I'm going to sit in the back. I have to study for finals, you know how it is." And he kept walking. Angela sighed. They were just getting back to their normal friendship after the whole letter debacle. After Jordan dumped her, Brian was extra awkward for a few months until Angela had to confront him. She came to his house one cold night and they shared some hot chocolate.
"You know, Brian, I am so, like, flattered that you wrote me that letter. But the thing is, and there is definitely a thing...I just don't think we should, like, ruin our friendship like that. At least not now. Maybe in the future, in college, or something like that. I just need...to focus on myself right now. But thank you so much for thinking about me, and caring about me. It means a lot."
And it did. But no matter how hard she tried, Angela could not find any sort of attraction to Brian Krakow. It took a month or two, but Brian finally came to peace with just being Angela's friend. Needless to say, it was a relief. For Angela, anyway.
Brian shuffled to the back of the bus and when Angela looked up, she saw none other than Rayanne Graff searching for an empty seat. Angela sighed. She knew Rayanne didn't want the seat next to her just as much as she didn't want Rayanne to have the seat next to her. They weren't fighting, exactly, but they weren't talking, either, much to the dismay of seemingly every single one of their friends. Rickie was constantly trying to negotiate peace between the two of them, but they were both stubborn. It was more than the betrayal at this point. It was the principle of the betrayal. Sometimes the situation was so depressing for Angela, she just wanted to find Rayanne in the hallway and hug her. But most of the time, she was just...apathetic. Like she was towards most things in her life. It was easier that way.
"Rayanne, look, there's a seat next to Angela!" Sharon chirped happily. Angela kicked Sharon's seat. This did not seem to have any visible effect.
"Oh, I don't think...aren't there any other seats?" Rayanne continued her desperate search for another seat, but Sharon pulled on Rayanne's sleeve and said, "No, the only empty seat is next to Angela. You should totally sit together."
Angela spotted an empty seat somewhere near the back, but Sharon pointed to one of her friends and they put their backpack on the seat. "Sorry, this seat's saved."
"Sharon, what are you doing?" Angela tried to whisper.
"Yeah, what is this, like, an intervention or something?" Rayanne asked Sharon.
"Whatever. Just sit next to each other, you guys. It's not going to kill you."
"It's a 6 hour bus ride," Rayanne muttered. "You couldn't have tried an intervention on a shorter trip?"
Sharon ignored her and started telling Andrew about a class she wanted to take at Carnegie Mellon. Rayanne hesitantly sat next to Angela, being careful not to touch any errant body parts or any of Angela's belongings. Angela shifted and moved as close to the window as possible.
Angela reopened her Stephen King book. "Look, I'm just going to, like, read this, if that's okay with you."
"Whatever." Rayanne put some headphones on and pulled out a CD player from her backpack and slipped in some unrecognizable CD. It was probably techno or some other crap Angela couldn't bear to listen to.
Angela heard Sharon sigh loudly with exasperation. She wanted to ask Sharon why she suddenly decided to undertake this project. Sharon and Rayanne were friends but they weren't close; not that Angela knew of, anyway. Why was this so important to her? Angela was doing fine without Rayanne Graff in her life. Sure, there was this tiny empty hole in her heart, but she felt like she'd get over that eventually. Along with her father leaving, her grandfather dying, Jordan dumping her...she'd get over it all eventually and she didn't need anyone to help her with that.
Angela and Rayanne sat uncomfortably for almost an hour before either of them said anything. Angela kept rereading paragraphs in her book she wasn't even paying attention to. Rayanne was playing the same song over and over again. They took turns blankly staring out of the window, barely noticing the pastures and the greenery and the urban scenery of the highways of Pennsylvania.
When Angela couldn't take it any longer, she shoved her book back into her backpack, tapped Rayanne on the shoulder and said, "Hey...is that Jane's Addiction?"
Rayanne look startled. She took her headphones and said, "I'm sorry, what?"
"That song that you keep playing over and over again, is that Jane's Addiction?"
"Yeah. 3 Days."
Rayanne looked at her as if she expected to say something else, but Angela didn't want to further the conversation. She was just that stubborn.
But before Rayanne could put her headphones back on, Angela sputtered, "When I first discovered that song, I listened to it 12 times in a row. I was obsessed with it. It was so, like, meaningful to me."
"Me, too," Rayanne said, trying to mask the shock of Angela actually speaking more than 2 words to her at a time. "It was during, well, a rough time."
Angela nodded, understanding completely. In the seat in front of her, she could sense Sharon with her smug, satisfied smile.
"I guess that song is, like, good for depressing times," Angela said wisely. Rayanne didn't say anything, just stared down at her lap. When Angela didn't speak again for a minute or two, Rayanne put her headphones back on. But before she could do that, Angela spoke up again.
"What...what happened?" Angela asked hesitantly. It was a long trip. They might as well be civil to each other. When they got to Philadelphia, Angela could go off by herself, which was the way she preferred it these days.
"Why do you care? You haven't spoken a single word to me in...six months and 13 days. And that was just to say, 'Get out of my way, Graff,' in the hallway."
"You counted?" Angela smirked.
"Of course I counted. God, Angela. You're so..."
"So what? What am I?"
"Dumb," Rayanne said finally, frowning. "Okay, well, not dumb exactly. But you're dense if you don't think I counted. You're an idiot if you don't think I think about you every damn day. I've never had a friend like you. So, yes, I counted."
Angela never was one to beat around the bush. "You should have thought of that when you slept with my boyfriend, Rayanne."
And there it was. The elephant in the bus. The words that were dared to be said. Finally it was out in the open. Angela felt remarkably better. But that only lasted a few satisfying seconds because Angela knew what was coming, and Rayanne didn't disappoint her. Rayanne waited a moment to speak, clearly thinking of the best way to say the words Angela knew she was about to hear.
"He wasn't, like, your boyfriend, Angela. You said you were over him. And it wasn't like we did it to spite you or whatever."
Angela inhaled. And exhaled. And tried not to say every word of every thought she was having.
"It was still a crappy thing to do," she said softly. "After months of talking about how my every thought was consumed by Jordan Catalano; how my soul was ingrained with his very being...it was a crappy thing to do."
"I never thought it wasn't a crappy thing to do. I was drunk. He was drunk. We both missed you in our own way, but it was kind of the same way when you really think about it, I guess..."
"What does that even mean?"
Rayanne knew what it meant. It meant a lot of things in a lot of ways, and it wasn't like she could just explain it to Angela. She couldn't just explain that in a way, she craved Angela's innocence; her utter naivety when it came to life in general. She craved Angela's life so badly that she actually began to crave Angela in a very tangible way. How would she ever explain that? There was just no way.
"It means a lot of things and it doesn't mean anything. But in answer to your original question, about eight months or so ago, my dad came back, right? He said he wanted to work things out with my mom. Neither of us trusted him but we both wanted to believe him, right? My mom was so desperate to believe him. Naturally he wipes out her bank account and leaves us practically homeless. It was so hard not to drink, Angela. You will never understand how hard that was. I wanted pills, I wanted alcohol, I wanted anything that would make me forget for a few hours."
"So...how did you deal with that?" Angela asked, captivated by how strong Rayanne always was.
"Music. Jane's Addiction. And I started working out. And I started going to the counselor at school. That was the hardest part, but it's not so bad. She makes a lot of, like, suggestions that are helpful for me."
Angela was genuinely impressed. "Wow. That's...wow. I'm so sorry about your dad, though."
"Yeah, it was a tough situation. But it's cool now. Amber's been doing our tarot cards and he's not in them at all."
Silence permeated the air for a few minutes while they both reflected on the conversation. Angela was just about to get her book out again when Rayanne asked, "So how have you been?"
Angela sighed. "I'm sure Rickie's told you all about it, Rayanne. You don't have to pretend like you don't know."
"I mean, he tells me things, but he doesn't really...tell me things, you know?"
Looking out the window, Angela sighed again. She was sighing a lot lately. There was just so much to tell Rayanne, and so much she'd wanted to tell her. The one thing she refused to admit was how badly she missed just talking to Rayanne. How she missed their long talks about everything and nothing. How she wanted that back more than anything but was so full of stubborn pride that she refused to make it happen.
"Well...I haven't talked to Jordan in a long time. Before he dropped out, he even refused to look at me in the hallway. I don't miss him much anymore or whatever. But, like, for a month or two I had to drag myself out of bed. My mom would have helped but she could barely get out of bed, herself. My dad left her for Hallie Crapenthal. My grandpa died a month later. I don't know how she's even functioning anymore but somehow she's still going to work every day and making sure to come home at a reasonable hour so we can eat dinner together. It's been rough. But I can handle it. My mom can handle it and so can I."
Rayanne stared at her old friend. She knew things were bad, but she had no idea how bad.
"Oh, Ang! That is all so...intense!"
"I know!" Angela said, and then laughed. Rayanne joined her, and before long, the two of them were doubled over in laughter.
After being shushed by a teacher, they collected themselves. Rayanne put her serious face back on and took Angela's hand. Angela was so shocked, she let her.
"Are you talking to anyone about this?"
"I talk to Rickie and Sharon sometimes. But mostly, no. Nobody needs to hear my sad story. Like, it's my stuff to deal with, right? I'm just trying to throw myself into school and riding my bike and I don't think about Jordan and I don't need my dad and I'll be fine."
"Angela. Angelika, listen to me. You don't have to do this on your own. FIrst of all, you can always talk to me. Always. And the counselor at school, she's amazing. And you should talk to your mom, too. She needs someone to talk to, I'm sure.
"It's just...I don't want to burden anyone with my, like, issues. It's no big deal. I just need more time. I'm going to UT soon and then I won't have to think about this stuff anymore. I'll be far away, nobody knows me, I can start over. I can escape."
"Angelika, you can't run away from your problems. I know that sounds like...like a cliché or whatever. But it's true. You think everything is going to be easier when you're in a different state? It's just going to be harder because you won't have a support system. Everyone needs help sometimes. I've been clean for almost a year and it's the hardest thing in the world, but I have help. I'm just saying...don't be too proud, Angela. You have a lot to deal with and so does your mom. You guys need each other right now."
Angela nodded, holding back tears. She did not want to cry. Not right now. Not on this bus full of people she knew so well, yet barely knew at all. When did Rayanne become so wise? She'd been content to go about her life thinking Rayanne was a backstabbing screw-up and she wasn't missing out on anything when she cut her out of her life. But it was amazing how much she missed her old friend.
"Well...thank you," Angela said, and squeezed Rayanne's hand. They both sniffled and tried to compose themselves for the rest of the bus trip.
For the next three days of the trip, they treaded carefully around each other. They made sure to hang out with Rickie and Sharon and not be alone much, because it just wasn't time for that yet. Eventually they'd be able to feel comfortable alone again. Eventually they'd be the old friends they needed each other to be. But for now, they weren't alone, and that was all they needed.