Authors: Sonya Writes
“No! I didn’t mean it as a bad thing.” Acton followed her and put one hand on her shoulder to slow her pace. “I thought it was awesome,” he said.
“You did?” Ayita stopped walking and looked up at his eyes.
“Yeah, I mean, if I were you, I probably would’ve left, too.”
She put one hand on her hip. “Why’s that?” she asked.
finish after one section,” he said. “You have to be the smartest one in our class, maybe even the smartest one on the planet, so why wouldn’t you deserve a morning off now and then?”
“I came back during the next section
,” she said. “It wasn’t like I completely skipped out.”
“Yeah, but it must be nice to know you have that option. If I skipped the first section, most days I’d be there through the third.”
“I suppose.” Ayita sighed. After years of never saying so much as a friendly hello, suddenly he wanted to be her friend. Her stunt seemed to him an act of minor rebellion, but how would he react if he knew the truth? He would resist it, and then he would avoid her rather than simply ignore her. But, not knowing the truth, he thought her act of leaving was “awesome.” Ayita rolled her eyes again and started to walk away, but not as briskly as before.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
she thought, but she said nothing.
“It’s okay to be different, you know.”
Ayita stopped once more and turned to look at him. “Is it?” she asked.
, stepping close to her again.
“And what do you know about being different?” Ayita crossed her arms.
“I know that I am, and I think you are, too,” he said.
“And what makes you different?”
“I want something that I’m not supposed to have.”
“Like what?” she asked, uncrossing her arms
and relaxing her shoulders. She almost smiled. Perhaps he, too, desired to go swimming, to dance, to paint.
Acton closed his eyes and
quickly leaned down toward her, pressing his lips to hers while loosely holding her arms.
Ayita pulled away and looked into his eyes. “Please don't do that again.”
Her heart was racing. She knew that kind of affection was supposed to wait until after a husband was chosen for her and they were wed. Suddenly her first kiss was gone, and she knew she would never get it back. It was important to her. She valued her purity and intended to keep it.
“It’s okay to be different, right?”
“It's okay to be different,” she said. “But don't kiss me.” His hands were still on her arms, close to her shoulders. She wanted to shake him loose and run home. She wanted to cry. Their faces were close still, too close. Ayita brought her hands up to remove his, and stepped backward.
He moved as if he might step forward, but stopped. “You didn't like it,” he said.
“You should have asked, first,” she told him. “That wasn’t yours to take.”
“And if I’d asked?”
“I would have said no.”
Acton sighed. “I thought you were different
from all the other girls.”
am,” she said, “but it doesn't mean that I have to like kissing you.”
“In what ways
you different, then?”
“If I told you, you would reject m
e more than I rejected the kiss,” Ayita said, and she started to walk away.
“No I wouldn’t,” he said, following her.
“Believe me, you would.”
“Please tell me.”
“Someday,” she promised, “we’ll both know for sure how you’d react. It isn’t today.” She continued walking, and he stopped following her.
Aira was waiting on the porch when she got home. She stood and stepped closer. “Where were you?” she asked. Her voice was soft, concerned.
“I went back to
Her face lit up for a second, and she walked with Ayita into the house. “But…why did you leave?” She frowned, turning to look her friend in the eye. “Does this have anything to do with that book you found?”
Ayita sighed. Lying about it would only prove the influence of her library to be a bad one. She made the decision in this moment that no matter the risks, she refused to ever tell another lie
to anyone. “Yes,” she said. “I left because I wanted some time to think.”
o think about what?”
“You wouldn't understand, Aira.”
“You still believe the book, don't you? I knew it.”
“Be honest with me, Aira. Do you really not believe any of it? Do you really think all those images and w
ords were fabrications, lies?”
Aira thought about it, and didn't answer her.
“It's okay,” Ayita said. “You don't have to answer that. I know it's an unfair question. To admit you believe in Earth would be to put yourself at risk.”
“Why do you do it?”
“Put yourself at risk.”
Ayita thought for a moment before answering. “Aira, there are things in this world, and outside this world, that neither of us can explain. I want to know what they are. I want the explanations. If you can't handle that, then maybe we shouldn’t be friends.”
“You know what they're going to do to you, right? They're going to send
you to that place. You know they will. Sooner or later.”
“So be it,” Ayita said. “It won't change anything.”
“You need to get ahold of yourself Ayita. You need to stop all this craziness and think about what you’re doing, what you’re saying. You need to stop—“
“—being different?” Ayita
Being different. It's scary.”
“It shouldn't be.”
“Well it is.” Aira looked away, and sighed. “The truth is, Ayita, I don't care about Earth. I don't care whether it did exist or didn't exist. What I care about is you. I'm concerned about you Ayita.”
“Why should you be concerned?”
“You know why.”
Ayita nodded. “Don't worry about it,” she said. “I'll be fine.”
“I can't lose you, Ayita. You're all I've got. My parents ignore me, and I don't have other friends. I’m so afraid to lose you.”
A part of
Ayita wanted to give her the cold shoulder. She wanted to tell her to make other friends, but there was a tenderness in Aira's words that told her she really did care, in her own unusual way.
“If you care,” Ayita said, “accept me as I am.”
“I do,” said Aira. “At least, I think I do. But no one else will.”
“That doesn't matter to me.
I’m OK with not being accepted. But if you want to be my friend, you have to. You have to accept me, even if I believe the opposite of what you believe.”
“Ayita, you’re my best friend. It’s been really scary
for me to see all these sudden changes in you.”
“They aren’t so sudden. I’ve always been a little bit different, and I think you know that. In fact, I think everyone here is a lot more different from each other than they like to believe.
We’re all different, but we force ourselves to be the same. Finding that book helped me learn a lot about myself.” She paused. “Aira, do you realize that you and I are probably the only people on this planet who know about Earth?”
“Being my friend is going to get harder, before it gets easier. If it gets easier.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Aira said. “
You can choose to blend in.”
“I would never be satisfied if I chose that path.”
Ayita felt a strength growing up inside her. The more she spoke about this topic, the better she felt. It was good to speak the truth and be unafraid.
Aira sighed. Her lip was trembling and her eyes starting to water. “I don’t think I’m strong enough to be your friend,” she admitted.
Ayita touched Aira’s shoulder and looked into her eyes. “Our culture tells us to silently follow the crowd,” she said. “If you need to reject me in front of everyone, in order to go on living in peace, I will understand. Just promise that you don’t reject me in your heart.”
Aira knew that if she said anything, she would cry, so she only looked at Ayita and nodded. Then she pulled her in for a tight hug and closed her eyes. A couple of tears fell from her eyes, and after a deep breath, she stepped back and tried to smile. Ayita smiled at her, too.
We’re going to be okay.
They stood and looked at each other in silence for a while. Then Aira turned to walk home. As Ayita opened the door to go inside, Aira stopped and said, “Ayita?”
“I liked your painting.”
Ayita smiled. “Thank you.”
then continued her walk home.
tched her walk away. Then, as she stepped inside and was about to close the door behind her, she heard her name again. It was Acton.
She stepped outside.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” he said.
“You don’t even know me,” she reminded him.
“I know you’re different. Maybe you didn’t like me kissing you, but there’s still something different about you, and I want to know what it is.”
“Why does it matter?” she asked.
“Because I feel alone,” he said. “I want to know that I’m not alone.
I feel so out of place because I’m always longing to be touched. I don’t think anyone’s intentionally touched me since I was little and my mom would tuck me into bed.” He sighed. “I just thought that maybe if you’re different, and I’m different, even if we’re different in different ways…maybe we could be different together.” He looked down at the ground and dug the toe of his shoe into the dirt. His eyes looked sad. It reminded her of the look on Sophie’s face when no one would comfort her.
, too. “You know we don’t get to choose who we marry, even if we did decide we wanted to be together.”
“We could be together anyway.”
She shook her head. “I’m not okay with that.”
“We could try to arrange our own marriage,” he sa
id. “It’s based on our success in class. If we both dropped out of class on the same day, chances are….”
“You’re talking about marrying me, and you’ve only just met me. Sure we see each other in
class each day, but we’ve never talked before now.”
“And chances are that I’ll have never talked at all to the woman I am paired with.”
She didn’t know what to say. He was right. And, possibly, she thought, her only chance at an understanding husband.
“Please tell me how you’re different,” he said. “I want to know. Even if all we ever are is friends.”
She didn’t say anything. She breathed deeply and thought. Could she tell him?
“Let’s start small,” she said. “Let’s each come up with something little about ourselves that we can share, and go from there
. We can think about it tonight and tell each other tomorrow after class.”
“Okay,” he said.
Then he smiled. “I look forward to seeing you tomorrow, Ayita.” He had a big, goofy grin. Ayita couldn’t help but smile at him in response. His eyes lingered on her for a moment, then he nodded his head and turned to walk home.
The silence at dinner was torture. Her father didn’t say a word to her the entire evening, not even to ask how many sections it took her today. Ayita would have preferred his disappointment in hearing the word “two” over being ignored, but it didn’t happen. Ayita slowly chewed her food and watched him through the corner of her eye. He wouldn’t even look at her. Her mother, clueless as she was, didn’t notice the cold in the air between them. She didn’t know about the lie; now her father was keeping secrets too.
When Ayita finished eating she excused herself to her bedroom. As she ascended the stairs, the phone rang, which was highly unusual. The phone almost never rang. Ayita stopped to listen, and sat down at the top of the steps. They couldn’t see her, but she could hear everything they said.