A broad smile spread across Hallie’s face. Finally, after all these months, the documentation had been processed. The first adoption from her orphanage was about to take place. She’d made a difference.
She turned around, looking outside of the window. Having her office windows overlook the children’s playground was originally just for convenience, but today, as she watched them play on the monkey bars, he view had gained a special significance.
Sigrid had no idea how her life would change in the months to come. A kind new family was about to welcome her with open arms. She’d have a new home. A new life. But right now, the girl wasn’t even slightly aware of any of it. And still, she seemed content.
If that wasn’t going to give Hallie the reassurance she needed, nothing was. She’d done well. She smiled, deciding to head outside to join the kids.
Hallie wasn’t the only one watching the children play from the distance. Ever since meeting the orphans during the Snowflake Day festivities, both Hope and Aslan started to spend time at the orphanage. Hope dove straight in to playing with all of the new friends they’d met. She couldn’t quite understand why her cousin kept his distance.
Aslan, in the meantime, observed. Observed Alexus, that was. He just couldn’t make any sense of it. Watching her play horseshoes with Donnie, she seemed like any other kid he’d met. But he knew that wasn’t quite true. Should he approach her directly? See if she somehow blows her disguise? The boy was at loose ends.
“Hey Aslan,” the girl waved at him with a smile.
Plummity plums, Aslan thought, jumping back. Had she read his mind? He knew from aunt Peyton that aliens were capable of that. Was Alexus really as friendly as she’d like everyone to believe, or was she just playing a game and seeing right through him?
He wasn’t going to risk it.
“Mind your business, silly girl!” Aslan panicked. “Like I’d talk to you! You’re way less important than me, and you have cooties on top of that!”
Alexus frowned. Aslan wasn’t sure if she was onto him or if she’d bought the distraction. She couldn’t know he was interested in her, right? Who knew what aliens in disguise could do?
“Suit yourself, kerbal!” Alexus said angrily, storming off towards the monkey bars.
Their confrontation was over by the time Hallie’d gotten to the garden. All she’d come to was a bunch of children playing horseshoes peacefully, though she did notice Alexus sat way aside from the others. Than again, that didn’t surprise her. The girl liked to seek company.
She took in the view, feeling content. The days when she’d been lost seemed so far gone. Today and every day, these kids mattered. Her life mattered. What could be better?
It took her a while to notice the man reluctantly making his way towards her.
“Oh. Um… hi.” She stuttered over her words at the sight of Larobb. She’d heard about him from time to time over the years, of course, but they’d never really spoken to each other since that awful night back in high school.
From what Vito had said though, it seemed like Larobb was doing well for himself. That he was happy. And Hallie was pleased about that. Though there was a strange part of her that had a hard time accepting her once-upon-a-time best friend was no happy with his life, without her in it.
And now he was stood right in front of her. She wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“Hey Hallie,” Larobb said, sounding equally awkward. “I haven’t had a chance to tell you how, uh, neat this little orphanage thing is…”
“Thanks,” she forced a little smile. Then it dawned on her. “Are you here to pick up Aslan? He’s staying at his mom’s tonight, right?”
“Yeah.” Larobb confirmed. “But it’s not like Alyssa had to pick him up, you know. I wanted to do it.”
“That’s nice,” Hallie replied stiffly. “I’m sure she appreciates the help.”
Larobb took a deep breath. “That’s not what I meant, Hallie…”
“Look, there’s no good way to put this, but I really wanted you to know that I’m happy for you.” He explained. “That you’ve found what you’re looking for. I still don’t quite get it, really. But that doesn’t matter. Believe it or not, even after all these years, you’re the best friend I’d ever had. So I’m really glad that you’ve gotten what you’ve been wanting. That you’re happy. Even without me. Wow. Ok, this is embarrassing. I’ll go find Aslan…”
“Larobb, wait,” Hallie interrupted him. “Thank you for that. I mean it. I really do. And I feel the same way. For you.”
Larobb’s face was hard to read. “You do? I… I don’t really know what to say.”
“Should we sit down?” Hallie gestured towards the camp fire seating area.
“So… let me get this straight,” Hallie started. “You came over here because of me.”
“Well, yeah,” He agreed hesitantly. “Having a legit reason like having to pick up Aslan did help me drag my plum here, but… pretty much. I’ve missed you, Halls. Things got really weird between us, but when I remember the times before, that’s not what I remember. I just remember my pal that always had my back. Us being the only two sane people in Magnolia High…”
He almost laughed.
“Those were the days,” Hallie smiled. The fee-good memory didn’t last long though. “But… with everything that happened. I mean, does Alyssa know all this? How would she feel about this chat we’re having right now, given our history?”
Surprisingly, Larobb’s face actually lit up at the mention of his girlfriend.
“Believe it or not, Alyssa was actually the one who suggested I talk to you?”
“What? That doesn’t make any sense!”
“Clearly you don’t know her…”
They’d been going out for a while now, but Alyssa always found a way to surprise him. Larobb had never met anyone like her. It was the first time he’d ever felt quite as serious about a relationship.
“Babe, I was wondering… what if I moved in?” He blurted out one night.
“You what?” Alyssa broke off from the kiss.
“Well, it seemed like the next natural step. We’ve hardly started dating yesterday. I’m here most of the time anyway. Aslan likes me. And I’m pretty sure you do, too.” Larobb attempted a joke.
“Right… Don’t take this the wrong way, Larobb, but I kind of find it hard to plan for the future with you,” she confessed. “You’re an amazing guy, it’s just… I’ve known you since we were teenagers. It’s not exactly a secret that you’d drop everything if she suddenly changed her mind about things…”
Larobb let out a soft laugh. “What? You can’t be serious! That was ages ago. I’m way past that. I’m with you. And I want you. Only you, Alyssa. No other girls matter. Don’t you know that?”
“How can you even be so sure?” She asked. “You haven’t talked to Hallie in years!”
“Exactly! She’s not even in my life. So why are you worried about her?”
“Because she’s the one that got away.” Alyssa replied pragmatically. “Everybody and their cow plant knew you were in love with that girl. And right now, you’re not talking. That doesn’t sound like something that’s resolved to me. It’s a land mine waiting to be stepped on. Her orphanage is right across the street. And with Aslan spending more and more time there every day these days…”
She paused for a moment.
“What I’m trying to say that if you still are hung up on her, I’d rather find out sooner rather than later. So that neither of us wastes time. I mean, look me in the eye and tell me you don’t miss her.”
“You’re right,” he agreed. “But only partially. I do miss her. As a friend. She was my bro. I never quite had that same thing with any other friend. But I’m not in love with her anymore. I’m in love with you.”
Alyssa tried her best not to get flustered by his proclamation. They had both been careful not to use the L-word with each other, until now.
“Then you should just go talk to her,” she said firmly. “I know you think you’re being honest, but it’s hard to believe you don’t have any hidden feelings there anymore. But in any case, it sounds like the answer is revisiting the past. If you’re still living in it, it’s better for both of us to know. But if you mean it, that you’re really over it, and only want her to be your friend… well, then maybe you and I can really have something.”
Larobb pulled her closer to him. “You’re quite the lady, you know that?”
“Of course I do.” She smirked. “Do you?”
He just laughed. “Well you should know you have nothing to worry about.”
“So there you have it,” Larobb concluded. “Not only Alyssa knows why I’m here, she instigated it.”
Hallie chuckled. “Sounds like she’s testing you.”
“Yeah. And I do want to prove that she’s who I want to be with. But that doesn’t discount anything, Halls,” Larobb added quickly. “I’m not here to tick a box. She has a point. If we both miss being friends, there’s no need to avoid each other anymore, right? Because we can just be. Isn’t that what you said, back then?”
Hallie looked at him, wondering what it must have taken for him to become this whole new person.
“Yeah. I did want that,” she nodded. “I still do.”
Neither of them said anything else, but they were both beaming. Hallie noticed the sun had set while they were talking, she lit a match, starting the camp fire to warm them up in the winter night.
And then it dawned on her.
Years ago, their friendship ended by a fire pit. Dying fire, dying relationship… She thought he was gone for good. That they’d never speak again. And for the longest time, it seemed that would be the case.
But looking at the newborn flames right beneath her feet, it appeared that perhaps, nothing was ever gone forever.