Rule the World - 8. Chapter 8 - Aftermath
"Zach, it's been like 15 minutes."
Yup. They were still there. In the middle of the street. Not that Zach wanted to move. The burning asphalt was but a small tease of how he'd feel sitting on the throne of his very own "Incredibly fucking up your perfectly fine friendships just for romance" level of hell.
It wasn't even well executed romance. It was sitcom romance. CHEAP romance!
"Please go on without me, Addy. I want to experience slow, painful starvation. God, not even the crows are going to wanna eat me."
Addy poked him in the ribs. That always worked! Well, except this time. Truly, Zach was but a hollow corpse of a man. Internally giggling,
she kept poking him multiple times to no avail. Hey, she wasn't gonna get another chance to do it, was she?
Okay, time to be a good friend again. "Look. It's getting dark, our parents are going to worry!"
Zach groaned, but didn't shift. "Ughhhhh but can't I just stay here and let the wolves eat me. Just lie to them and told them the aliens got me."
Addy pulled on his hair - but damn, nothing. You'd figure Zach of all people would at least care about his perfect hairdo getting ruined. She frowned.
"Zach, we could still go to Connor's plac-"
"DON'T say that name oh my god my soul is on fire."
"...Uh, we could go to his house and just fix it before you actually kill yourself or something."
Zach rolled defensively, so that Addy couldn't see his face anymore. "But Addyyyyyyy. I'm like, on my grieving period. I haven't even cried
over strawberry ice cream, sung off-tune love songs or whatever. Can't I just...let it all reach critical mass and have the most awkward
lunch time of my life?"
Addy sighed. Again. Really hard. Screw it. Addy took a deep breath, channeling all of her main character power, and picked up Zach over her shoulder.
"Let me go, Addy! LET ME GO I DON'T DESERVE THIS!"
Addy's face grew red, and she growled through her clenching teeth. "S-shut up. Fat ass. Oh my god you need to eat less sugar."
Zach let out a gasp. "How DARE you, even if it's true! I'm like 55kg tops!"
Addy took a few steps. And it was enough to make Zach forget his issues, out of sheer awe. "Girl, seriously, you'd figure the weight
of my sins would make me uncarriable."
"You ARE uncarrable! Ugh, screw this!"
Addy placed Zach down, gasping out for air. That was a terrible idea. But, hey, at least Zach wasn't on the floor anymore.
"And if you DARE lay down I will CRUSH YOUR RIBS."
Zach gulped, scratching his neck. "Thanks. You're hella sweet. I'm still sad though, so pretend I'm not grateful or anything."
Addy grinned through her aching pains. "Anytime."
And then there was a small, understanding silence. Until Addy spoke. "We can totally still go to Conn-"
A whole day later, you'd reckon one would feel less crappy. But it was literally exactly as bad the day before. It was like he'd been hooked to a
liquid sadness IV drip. Now, at least Zach wasn't gonna start singing really obnoxious love songs out loud. I mean, he was.
But not home.
He had to be low-key about this grieving thing. He checked his phone again - nothing! From Connor. Not that he was surprised - not getting texts
was as cliché as it got. Especially from Connor. Pretty sure Connor didn't even have a phone, nor had they even exchanged numbers, so why was he
waiting for those!? Did he even -know- how to text!?
He was being absolutely irrational. Thankfully, a knock on the door broke him out from Angstville.
"Zach. May we come in?"
His parents? Darn. That never happened. That may sound awful but it's just like, an unusual double knock. "Uh, sure...?"
The door creaked open, and Zach's parents walked in. There was silence for a bit, until Cody spoke.
"We were just, uh, wondering if you were okay."
Zach gulped. He had ALREADY blown his cover? What did he DO? He'd tried to contain his melodrama to this very small safe space!
"Err. Yeah! I'm super! Super duper! Why ya asking?"
His parents shared a worried look. "W-Well...you cooked eggs and ham this morning. Zero sugar. And...and you're studying. On a Saturday."
Zach rolled his eyes. "Guys, come on. I'm studying and cooking savory and THAT'S what worries you?"
Cody's eyes got teary. "You're not even making a joke around it just- this just isn't how we raised you!"
Zach crossed his arms. "Seriously? This isn't about my dead stare? My internet search history? My new found love for angsty poetry?"
His mother gasped. "We KNEW it! Something IS wrong!"
Loud groaning left Zach's lips as he stood up to push em up the door. "Ugh, it's called puberty or whatever. I'm studying! Hush!"
Cody managed to sneak in a "We're always here when you're ready to talk." juuuust before Zach shut the door gently on them. And went back
"Oh my god. I really am studying. On a Saturday. I need sugar."
He whipped out his phone, texting Addy their meeting location before stepping out. His parents were still there, next to the door. They just stared
at each other. As Zach quickly stepped out of the house.
Cody scratched his chin. "Should we check out his internet history?"
His wife elbowed him on the ribs.
Addy and Zach sipped their Skybucks milkshake. Okay, Zach sipped his milkshake. Addy had finished her a while ago, and this was Zach's 5th one.
Addy seemed worried. "Are you sure you should be drinking this many? This isn't even the best value for money."
Zach struck the cup on the table, and slowly slurred at Addy. "I'lllll say when I've had enuff!"
Addy rolled her eyes. "These aren't alcoholic, Zach."
Zach pointed his finger at her. "Shaddup! You don't decide what things are made of!"
Addy ran her palm across her face. "Zach. You DON'T have to go through all the break-up montages. He didn't even say no!"
Zach planted his face on the table. "Literally ran away from me. How am I going to LIVE Addy. I'm studying for MATH! I KNOW MATH!"
The staff at the restaurant glared at them. Hey, place was empty. No need to be that uptight.
"Zach, it's not the end of the world. We've gone through a lot! He wouldn't just...stop being friends with you."
Oh yay, the glorious friend zone. That was -exactly- what Zach needed to hear. "Urghhhhhhhhh. Don't even get me STARTED."
Bad move, Addy. Bad move.
Feelings were complicated. Connor knew this best, being such a weird jumble of them himself. They'd all been manageable, though. He
could research about them, or ask his parents. But this truly wasn't a situation like the others. He felt alone. And sincerely unable
to convey what he felt. Was it admiration? Did he -like- Zach? Were they just friends? There so many mixed feelings coming across...
Connor sighed. All he'd been doing was staring at the ceiling's fan spin. And spin. And, well, spin.
Figuring that Addy would be hanging around Zach, and that he couldn't speak to Zach...who else was he supposed to talk to?
His parents!? He'd done a great job so far of not worrying them, despite his rocky school life, so there was no way he was going to change that now.
...Well, there were Ron and Ericka. Er, scratch that. There was Ericka. Ron didn't seem like he'd be very helpful.
He didn't have her phone or anything. Gosh he really needed to get with the times. It's like his circumstances had been carefully crafted
to make this weekend as unnecessarily long and excruciating as possible. He'd just have to talk to her during class.
But his chest felt heavy, and his throat super weird. And he had no appetite. His condition carried over through the whole weekend, straight into Monday.
He almost wanted to puke when he sat down. His face felt like weird colors by this point. For once he was glad no one really looked at him in class.
"Woah. Dude, are you okay?"
Ericka plopped down near him. So much for that! Worst part is it confirmed his worries: he truly did look like shit.
He cleared his throat. Play it cool. "I...I'm okay."
Ericka blinked at him. Many times.
Connor groaned. "Fine. I am troubled. Could...could I talk to you about it during lunch time? In, um, private?"
Ericka did a fake gasp. "A private audience with sir Connor? ...Well, sure. We can use the sewing club's room...If you're asking me, it must be really serious, huh?"
Connor look down towards his desk. His fingers kept softly tapping the material. "You could, uh, say that...Thank you for saying yes."
Ericka beamed him a smile. "No probs! That's what friends are for, right?"
And so she left to sit at her desk, since class was about to start. It really made Connor think, though. Would this end badly? Would he still be friends with Zach and Addy after all this?
"Zachary. How about you?"
Math class. Just what he needed, wasn't it? I mean don't get a dude wrong, there's something oddly soothing about solving useless number combinations.
Addy had tried to cheer him up all morning but he'd just kept the dead stare going. So she gave him some space. He solved the problem, and sat back down.
Well, at least if he died alone as a crazy dog old man he'd still have math. Math was cool right, guys?
Zachary heaved a long sigh into his desk. Elena looked at him, perplexed. While she handed out some assignments back, she stopped a bit longer by his desk.
"Zachary, could we speak after class? You're not in trouble, if you're wondering."
Zach lifted his face to make brief eye contact. "Yes ma'am..." He rolled a little paper note telling Addy about having to miss lunch for a bit. Just great, his facade of being fine had crumbled completely in less than a week.
Elena shook her head. Zach could NOT get an existential crisis. Not with the Olympics being tomorrow! N-Not that she didn't care about her students all the time.
But this was kind of an important event for everyone involved, okay?
And so, when everyone left for lunch, Zachary stayed behind. Elena closed the door and got straight to it. "You seem down, Russel. Are you alright?"
Zach lifted his gaze to meet his teacher's. He could play it cool and deflect suspicions. But...but ranting felt so good!
"Okay so, I have this friend of mine named Connor. He's hella shy-cute and kind of a dork. So we hit it off pretty well even though he rejected a smoothie and that was kind of pretty rude. But aside from that everything was going great! We even had like a super secret library club. And oh my god the Halloween party was the best because he dressed up as a samurai even though Addy almost broke my nose. He even hugged me 'cuz he totally didn't wanna go but he went and had fun. But then he met ERICKA- ms I'm SO PERFECT AND I SEW AND YOU SEW AND OH NOW WE'RE TOTALLY GOOD FRIENDS but it's like I SAW CONNOR FIRST you get me Ms. Elena!? So I totally freak out because no WAY I'm gonna let her just randomly take him before I can even tell him I like him so I BLURT IT OUT LIKE A RETARD and he just LOOKS at me and, and and he just RUNS away and I drop on the ground crying internally and it ruined my life. IT RUINED MY LIFE!!!"
Elena just looked at Zachary wide eyes. Oh dear Christ high school drama. She took a deep breath. And another one.
"Okay, so first of all...you shouldn't say retard."
If there's something Connor could be thankful for, it was that Ericka was a pretty open minded person. She didn't squelch or belch or yelp when he told her about
his current situation. In fact...she'd been way too happy to hear about it. A bit -too- happy. She didn't even seem to find an issue. How could she not!?
Connor paced around the room. "I don't...I don't know what to do, okay? What if I like him just because he's been nice to me?"
Ericka brought a hand to her face. She rubbed her forehead in annoyance. "And just what else ARE you supposed to like him for!? His money!?"
Her sudden outburst made Connor flinch, not that she wasn't right. "T-That's not what I meant."
Ericka sighed. "Well, do you want to kiss him or nah?"
This made Connor's face flare up like the insides of an active microwave. He spouted many sounds, none of which were words.
Okay. A tad too blunt for the poor pepper. Ericka decided it was time for another approach. "Well. Addy's cute, and nice to you. Do you want to kiss her?"
Connor took a long pause to think about it. "N-No? She doesn't count though. She's as close to me as Zach is."
Ericka walked slowly towards Connor, and laid her left hand on the desk next to her. She stared at him intensely.
And her words turned the flare in Connor's cheeks into an arctic wasteland.
"Well. I'm cute, and nice to you. Do you want to kiss -me-?"
Connor snapped. "Fuck! Why would you feel that was appropriate right now!?"
And he ran straight out, leaving Ericka like a deer in headlights. Well, more like a roadkill.
She began to pursue him. "W-Wait Connor! It was just a prank! Connor!"
When Addy entered the cafeteria, she noticed their usual lunch table was empty, except for Ron. She figured Connor wouldn't want to be present, but where was Ericka?
"Hey, Ron. Zach had to stay behind for some math stuff. Have you seen the others?"
Ron groaned with the angry face of his. "Don't know."
Addy sat down and brought out her food. She noticed Ron hadn't started eating yet.
"You know, I don't think they'll be joining us. You should just eat with me."
Ron leaned his elbow on the table, and put his cheek on his palm. He glared at Addy.
"Ericka's not here. So, like, we don't have to pretend to be friends. Can you fuck off?"
The hell? That's so rude! 11/10 rude! Addy slammed her hands on the table, returning his glare. and leaned in slowly towards him.
"Listen, asshole. I don't pretend. I do as I damn please. I'm just a nice person, unlike your rude arse. I'm not pretending all day to keep the attention
of my dear lovely Ericka or whatever that shit you've got going on is. So maybe YOU should fuck off!?"
There was a very high tension in the air. They glared at each other. Was-was Ron getting teary eyed? Oh no. His lower lip was shaking!
He sniffed. "W-Whatever! Fuck you too!"
He stood up and ran towards the cafeteria exit. Addy scratched her head. She didn't want to make him cry! Just...feel a little bad. Make him
reflect a little, you know? She ran outside as well - so much for a normal lunch time.
"Ron? Ron?? Ron??? Dude, I'm sorry. We can talk about this!"
Damn it. The school was too big! Maybe she'd be able to catch him getting detained for running on the halls. Turning a corner, Addy crashed right into Connor. They plopped into the ground, like trash bags getting thrown on a bin. Ows! were exchanged between them.
Connor's face was really red, but he felt relief upon seeing his friend. "A-Addy! Thank God!"
Addy stood up and helped him back up. "Connor! Are you okay?"
Ericka caught up with them, panting heavily. "Y-You run too fast...fuck...um, Connor! That was a joke! I didn't REALLY want to kiss you, okay?"
Connor blinked, her statement not helping his blush. "You didn't? Huff, that's good. I don't think I can deal with someone else wanting to kiss me..."
And right into that hall, Zach walked in being done with his meeting. He stared at all of them for a moment, processing the words. He looked at Ericka. Then at Addy. Then at Connor. Then at Ericka. Then at Connor. Then at Ericka.
Then at Connor.
Doing a silent 180 turn, Zach walked away. Addy groaned loudly. "Damn it! He's going to get even worse now! Zach! Wait!"
She stepped out. People seemed to be stepping a lot this one Monday. Connor and Ericka stood there in silence.
Ericka cleared her throat. "Um, what are you doing?"
Connor tilted his head. "W-what do you...oh! OH! You're right! I, um, thanks!"
Connor ran to follow his friends. No point in dragging it out any longer.
Ericka shrugged. Well, she did what she could. She helped, right?
Addy gripped Zach's shoulder and spun him around. He had the face of a puppy who'd lost his toy. And also whose tail had been stepped on. And heard fireworks.
Zach mumbled. "J-Just let me go. You saw it. They're together."
Addy shook him. "No! You got it all wrong! You can't keep living like this!"
Connor came into their field of view. "Zach!"
Zach panicked and flailed around, not like he could break away. "Oh my god Addy hide me. HIDE M-"
Addy delivered a swift smack to Zach's soft but adorable hair.
She shook him some more. "STOP! Stop being a little bitch and just TALK TO HIM!"
Connor scratched his ear. "D-Do you two need a moment?"
Addy groaned. "NO! NO MORE MOMENTS! HERE, HAVE HIM!"
She practically lifted Zach, and placed him right in front of Connor. His face was basically the color of Connor's hair by this point.
Zach lost many motor skills, but Addy make sure he wouldn't collapse into the ground.
There was a brief moment of awkwardness, but then the Zach-turbines started spinning.
"I um I'm sorry that I uh maybe that was a bit rushed and uh I should've considered your feelings and the timing and like what right do I have being jealous if we're not even a thing I'd LOVE it we were a thing but like I can totally get why you freaked out and I freaked out and it's okay if you hate me now an-"
"I, um, I do like yo-"
"And like it's just hard because you're cute even if you're kind of really dumb sometimes even though being dumb is kind of my thing and-"
"But it's way too fun hanging out and it'd be nice if we could hang out but like hang out hang out like on my bed oh my god did I say that out loud and you two heard me? But-"
"ZACH, I SAID I LIKE YOU TOO!"
Addy let go of Zach's shoulders, pretty sure that he'd be able to manage now. She was kind of glad there was magically no one around the halls.
Connor and Zach just looked everywhere but into each other's eyes. Awkward as hell.
But then Zach's brain kind of finally started working again. And as he processed the words he got all giggly and joyful again.
And then he leaped straight into Connor's arms for a tight spinning hug! And Connor let a rare huge grin get into his face as he hugged him back.
Math Olympics are some serious business. Pretty sure 90% of the things they'd been asking the contestants weren't in the standard High School curriculum!
Most students wouldn't want, care for, or be able to attend the event. So Elena was pretty much Zach's entire emotional support throughout the whole thing.
She'd been live-tweeting it though. And streaming it. Gotta get with the times.
She was pretty giddy though. Zach's team was considerably ahead. In fact, all he had to do was answer one more question, and the win was his!
The announcer cleared his throat. "Very well then. What are the first 50 digits of PI?"
Zach's eyes beamed up! He raised his hand lightning quick. Years of video games trained those reflexes!
"Okay. The first fifty digits of PI are...3.1415926535897932384629433832795028841971693993751!"
The whole room stood in silence.
The announcer shook his head. "I'm sorry, Zach. Seems you got the 24th digit wrong. Close one!"
Elena, hit by flashbacks, immediately lost her shit.
"ZACHARY RUSSEL! IF THIS IS A JOKE OR ABOUT YOUR LOVE LIFE I WILL END YOU! DON'T THROW THE GOD DAMN OLYMPICS ON ME OR I-"
The security guard had to restrain her, but she did manage to calm down before they kicked her out.
Zach rolled his eyes and grinned at her. "Oh I dunno miss Elena. That was so scary~ Maybe two rounds of ice cream instead of one?"
Elena grit her teeth. "Whatever. Just win!"
And so he did. All the way back at the school, Connor and Addy smiled at his success.
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