It’s quiet, is the first thing Ricky thinks as he sinks to the ground, his back against a row of lockers. There’s the distant sound of the musical happening somewhere else in the school, but right here? It’s quiet. The hallway is empty and the only real sound is of Ricky’s own breathing.
He pulls his knees closer, not completely against his body but just close enough that he feels a little smaller. Curls his fingers into the fabric of his basketball shorts, and stares ahead at the spot where the wall meets the floor. There’s a small crack, half of it hidden behind another set of lockers. His eyes focus on it, as his mind continuously turns over and in on itself.
She brought her boyfriend.
She brought her boyfriend.
His mom brought Todd to opening night.
What the fuck.
His breath stutters out of him, his fingers still curling in on themselves. The crack in the wall isn’t that big at all, not really. His dad is smiling and his mom is smiling and things feel normal and then-
"Ricky? Hey, what's going on?"
The voice startles him, breath stutter stopping once again as he jolts, looks up and around. Standing a few feet away is Gina. Her costume has changed since Stick To The Status Quo, for some reason that’s one of the first things he notices.
"Nothing- I'm fine, it's fine." He rubs his hands against his thighs, rubs until there’s the familiar tingling that indicates if he continues, he will rub his palms raw. He has to concentrate, tell himself to stop, to press his hands against his bent knees and keep them there.
"You don’t look fine.” Gina comes closer, until her sneakers are millimeters away from his own. They’re holographic. The hallway is quiet. “You’re shaking.” And then she’s there, crouching down, the toe of her sneaker bumping his own. He catches the way her eyes flicker to his knuckles, jump back to his face. “Ricky, what happened?"
He takes another breath, it comes a little smoother than before. He can’t look at her, he feels out of focus, like the outline that makes up his body is just slightly blurred, and he can’t stop looking at her shoes.
The memory of his mom pointing up at him while Todd kisses her cheek comes back to him, unasked for, and he has the sudden urge to reach out and touch one of Gina’s purplepink shoelaces.
“No lockers were harmed in my anger.” The joke falls flat, he can tell by the silence, by the way she hasn’t stopped looking at him. He flexes his hand, feels the way his knuckles faintly sting in protest. Nothing’s broken, nothing’s bleeding either. It’s just enough to hurt when his fingers move. It’ll probably bruise.
“Todd- Todd happened.”
“Wait, your mom’s Todd? Thanksgiving Todd? That Todd?” She asks, and Ricky manages a nod. “Oh. Oh, shit.” At the last word, her knees slide to the floor, and she’s moving forward so instead of bumping at his sneakers, her knee is pressed against his ankle. “Are you ok?”
“I feel like I’m going to throw up.” The words sort of just tumble out of him. He finally looks at her, at her face and her eyes and. It’s not exactly pity that he sees. It’s something else. Something more comforting than pity could ever offer. It makes it easier to be honest with her. Because they’ve always been honest with each other. “I’m also cold. But like, my entire insides are cold.”
There’s a pit in his stomach that feels hollowed out and empty, like it’s branching out to the rest of his body and sucking away the warmth beneath his skin.
“I think you’re in shock, Ricky.”
“Oh.” Yeah, that seems about right. Shock. His white hot anger burned it’s way clean through him, and left him cold in the aftermath. He can see the edge of Gina’s sneaker, just a peak of it, where it glitters when she shifts her foot.
“Here, give me your hand.” Gina says suddenly, as she reaches forward, gently taking his uninjured hand before he can even really answer. But he doesn’t pull away, because he still feels a bit blurry and because it’s Gina.
“Uh- why?” His eyes move from her sneaker back up to her face. She looks soft like this, he thinks, fleetingly.
“I think you’re having a panic attack. Or, something close to it.” She presses their palms together, interlocking their fingers. “When I have big freakouts, where it’s hard for me to focus, my mom always does this with me. I’m going to squeeze your hand, and you’ll squeeze it back, ok? Hopefully, it’ll ground you, in this moment. Give you something to focus on.”
Gina squeezes his hand, fingers fitting between his knuckles. It takes him a second, but Ricky squeezes back. He waits for her every time, the pressure against his palm, the back of his hand. In between one squeeze and the next, he finds himself thinking of the musical again. That moment where he was high up, singing, feeling it.
There was a lightness in his chest. Like there was no harness or wire, just him and that basketball, held up there by his sheer happiness alone. He couldn’t help but glance at his parents, he wanted to see them. Wanted to see their reactions, to know if their smiles were as big as his.
In an instant, everything dropped. Everything was ripped out from under him.
The feeling of Gina giving his hand another squeeze snaps the memory in two, making him suck in a sharp breath through his nose. He squeezes back, like routine. Adds another one for good measure, and one more when he doesn’t want to let go. When he realizes the chill in his stomach is going away.
The faint sound of cheering filters through the halls, and it makes Ricky tear up, just a bit. It crawls through the seams of the little quiet bubble they created and reminds him of the musical, of what he’s missing.
“I hate change.” The words choke out of him, trying to lodge themselves in his throat. “I hate it so much. But everything in the last few months has done nothing but change.” His eyes focus on Gina’s and the blurry feeling is melting away, leaving behind the promise of a headache. The type you get when you’ve been crying. Or when you keep yourself from crying. “First my mom leaves, and then Nini and- well, I know I basically packed her bags and sent her off myself but that's not the point. And then, you.”
The last bit sounds watery, even to Ricky. And he hates himself for it. Hates that he’s still gripping Gina’s hand like a lifeline and the tears just want to pour out of him. It’s so much all at once, completely going off script from how Ricky thought opening night would go.
“I had to go.” Her voice is quiet, her mouth pressing into itself as she looks at him.
“But you ghosted me, Gina. Didn’t even say goodbye. Here one day and gone the next like- like it didn’t matter. Like none of it mattered.” Ricky wants to be angry, he really does. Because for the last week he has been. In the span of a few days he went from worried to frustrated to angry, and now he’s just tired, and a little confused.
Gina shrugs, and he can feel the way her fingertips press into the back of his hand. “I kind of really hate goodbyes. They just hurt and nothing good comes from them. It’s better that way, no tears or promises to talk that no one really ever keeps.”
“It’s not better. Not for me.” He shifts against the lockers, as he feels the cold empty spot in his stomach fill warmth and the whisper of emotions. As he wants to be closer to her. “I thought we were- I thought we were friends. People don’t just disappear when they care.”
“I just- I didn’t want to say goodbye to you.” There’s a single curl that’s come loose from her ponytail, and it’s so cliche, he knows, but it catches his attention. “You’re right though, I shouldn’t have just left like that. I’m sorry.”
Ricky isn’t sure who moves first, but their hands are untangling and his arms are filled with Gina, her face tucking itself into his shoulder. They sit like that for a bit. He isn’t sure how long the hug lasts, probably far longer than hugs should, long enough to move into the category of just holding each other.
Gina is the one to pull away first; moves so she’s sitting next to him, her face still pressed close to his shoulder. “Are you going back? To the musical, I mean.”
“No. I don’t think I can, even if I’m feeling better.” And he is. He’s not completely better he knows, but being here with Gina, with her hugging him close, it helped ease the churning emotions in his gut. “I mean- There’s this Dean for a performing arts school in the audience for Nini? And, I can’t screw that up for her. I can’t. And I’m afraid that if I see Todd’s face I’m going to do something stupid like chuck a basketball at it.”
“You can’t blame Todd, he just showed up because your mom invited him.”
“I can’t throw a basketball at my mom.”
Gina hums a vague nonanswer in reply, sitting up a little straighter against the lockers. He misses the feel of her cheek against his collarbone. Her fingers hook into the pocket of his hoodie though, faintly playing with the edge of it, keeping that connection between them. He wonders if she’s aware of it, or if her hand moved on it’s own.
“Well, since you kind of hijacked our Chad, think you could reign in your chaotic basketball throwing anger long enough to put his jersey on? Taylor and Chad are in a few of the scenes together, so if you end up getting the urge to throw anything, I can be there to squeeze your hand.”
A laugh bubbles out of him. It’s a little dry and haphazard, like his throat forgot how to for a brief second. “Hate to break it to you, but if this is your way of flirting, Taylor never had a chance with Chad. Have you seen HSM2?”
“Oh my God, shut up.” The way she laughs settles something inside of him. Or maybe it makes him feel warmer. He’s not completely sure, he just knows he likes the sound of it. Likes the way she pushes at him before standing up and stretching her hand out for him. “C’mon, you weirdo.”
Things still feel confusing, and nothing was really truly settled. Not between them, or to do with the entire situation with his mom. There’s still things left unsaid, and a big Nini shaped something in his chest. But right now, he feels calmer than he did before, a little lighter, and that has to count for something, right? So he lets Gina help him up, and gives her a closed lip smile as he starts to hum what he can remember from I Don’t Dance.
“Stop it, you’re not funny.” But she’s smiling, which completely contradicts her words, and only makes his own smile widen.
“Actually, I think I’m hilarious.”
He bumps his shoulder into hers, and starts off back towards the bomb shelter, still humming. A second later, he feels her hand slip past his elbow, hooking their arms together. Gina doesn't say a thing about it, just raises an eyebrow at him and keeps walking. Yeah, it counts for something.