Title is a lyric from the song “Good Riddance (Time of your Life)” by Green Day
Brittany strolled down the hall to her locker. The halls were deserted at this time of the day, no students or teachers around to see her, bother her, stare. None of her friends were around, either. She traced her fingers over the combination lock and twisted the dial, the combination as imprinted into her memory as her own name. The door opened, and inside were familiar things – a mirror, pictures of students and pop stars, books, makeup.
At the bottom of the door she saw the ghost of an old sticker that had been painted over and she let her fingertips trace its outline, realizing it was the familiar pattern of the school’s logo. Go, Warriors!
Suddenly, she remembered Artie’s words to her that horrible day.
“What’s going on with you and Santana?”
What was going on was that she was cheating on him – she saw that now. But at the time, it didn’t feel like it. To Brittany, it felt like comfort and familiarity and friendship.
“Don’t you see she’s manipulating you?”
Of course she didn’t, she never saw it when people took advantage of her, which was a serious flaw in her. She knew it – it wasn’t news. But when she thought about it, it had eventually become clear to her, and still she let it happen. Because somewhere inside she wanted it, and that was the realization that shocked her.
She’d let herself be manipulated by her best friend – who admittedly had her own pain and issues that she was working out – and it had been the final wedge shoved between Artie and her.
But then –
“God, Brittany, why are you so stupid?”
Those words hurt her, hurt her badly. More significantly, they’d come from the one person who’d never shared in the teasing about her around school. The jokes and the condescension – even her teachers couldn’t stop themselves from treating her like an idiot. And her parents – she knew they didn’t believe in her, saw her as a disappointment. The only person who really did believe in her – Artie – well, his thoughtlessness in that moment, it was not something she could easily forget, even if he was, in fact, not entirely incorrect.
No, Brittany didn’t think she was stupid, but she was being stupid, and there was an important distinction. Relationships were something new to her – she’d only ever fooled around with boys and with Santana, and so she didn’t understand how important it was to save certain types of intimacy for your lover. And maybe, deep down inside, she wanted Santana to manipulate her, to use her just a little. There was no denying she had feelings for Santana, always had and always would. But she had a duty to Artie and to their relationship, one she had been too easily distracted from.
She’d always been naïve and maybe a little too trusting, so if that was being stupid, then she’d certainly cop to it.
A noise behind her took her out of her reverie and she closed the locker self-consciously; after all, it was no longer hers.
“There you are – taking a walk down memory lane?”
She turned and shook her blonde mane, dispelling her melancholy thoughts – what good would they do her at her High School Reunion, fifteen years later? “Mm-hmm. The old combination still works – that can’t be very secure!”
“I was headed to the choir room – have you been yet?”
She looked down on her husband as he wheeled forward and smiled, shaking her head. “I was saving it up for when I could go with you.” She leaned over and kissed him tenderly on the mouth, then giggled as if she were 16 again – Artie’s beard, while not exactly new, still tickled from time to time.
She straightened up and looked down at her beloved, involuntarily recalling that day so long ago when he’d so thoughtlessly hurt her. But then she remembered his remorse – so complete and sweetly conveyed; the way he’d serenaded her in the Home Ec room a few days later. And she remembered the ways he never really stopped trying to make it up to her – helping her through her college applications the following year, coaching her for the SATs.
But she’d moved on by then – had thought she and Santana would make it as a couple. And they largely did – until the challenge of attending college on separate coasts made it more and more difficult to maintain their closeness, and Brittany’s eventual job as a spokes model for a leading cosmetics house had kept her in LA. That job still kept her there, only now she was their VP of product development, and Artie a top researcher in spinal cord injury treatments at UCLA.
Brittany remembered the day Artie had come into her life again like it was yesterday – he had come to her rescue with an umbrella on a rare rainy day in June at a shopping mall of all places. They’d got to talking and he’d invited her out for drinks, which had turned into dinner, then breakfast, and they had been inseparable ever since. He never again gave her reason to doubt his love and regard for her – but more importantly, his respect, and that was what had made her ultimately forgive him and see that he had never really stopped loving her, and it was what made her ask him to marry her just six months after they’d rekindled the relationship.
“I love you so much,” she told him, apropos of nothing.
“I know,” he said, his eyes unwavering on hers, with no trace of his old insecurity or doubt. He patted his lap. “Hop on Pop?”
She smiled and took a seat, snaking her arms around his neck and kissing him again. He held her close, strong arms around her waist, and she realized she had never felt as safe or as loved as when those arms were around her.
As Artie wheeled them down the hall, she laid her head on his shoulder, reflecting on her life. There was no doubt she was happy with where she’d ended up, and she wouldn’t change a thing. But she wondered sometimes if she’d be here if she had been able to forgive him at the time, if she had forgotten her hurt feelings and stayed together with him, if she had not earned both her independence, and his respect.
If she’d been stupid.
Thank you for your time.