The knock on the door startles me.
I sit up on my bed. The world seems to careen away from me, the dark silhouettes of my possessions smearing together. I had been singing a moment ago - until a fresh wave of dizziness had washed over me. I’d sunken to my bed, trying to regain my balance. I’m not dizzy - not anymore, that is - but my legs are too weak to even support my weight.
“Just a moment!” I shout to whoever is at the front door. It’s probably Paeline. Despite her promise not to come back inside, threats from children are usually fickle, and Paeline never makes good on hers, anyway.
I rise from my rumpled bed, blinking the blur from my eyes. I hope Paeline won’t notice my shaking legs or my unfocused eyes - inevitably, she will tell Mama if she does. I approach my bedroom door as quickly as my legs will allow, leaning on the wall for support as I open it.
The house is brighter than my room, sunlight streaming through the windows and giving the room a buttery glow. I stagger across the house, not bothering to check the window and see who is there. I’m so sure it’s Paeline.
I open the door and blink into the day in surprise.
Standing in my doorway is Peter Ringdulous.
I swallow. The world tilts - Peter’s arrival isn’t exactly helping my dizziness. Instead, it makes it worse.
I have mixed feelings seeing him here. I want to ask him why he acts like he cares for me one moment and ignores me completely the next. I want to slam the door in his face, the way he’d done on the night of our almost-kiss.
I do neither of these things. “Peter,” I say instead.
He watches me warily - like he’s waiting for me to turn him away. Finally, he asks, “Are you alright?”
I look away from his eyes - dark, chocolate, safe. I want to stand here and stare at them for hours… but I don’t even know why he came. “Why are you here?” I ask.
Peter looks surprised by my directness. “I came to tell you something,” he answers quietly. “But you have to promise to hear me out.”
It isn’t what I was expecting. Not that I was expecting much.
I tilt my head skeptically - an action that I immediately regret when nausea hits me. He stands awkwardly for a moment, looking nervous.
“Come in,” I finally add. The awkward barrier between us seems impossible to move. “Sit. If you want.”
I back away from the door, heading into the kitchen. My legs wobble under me. I take a seat at the kitchen table, pick up an apple, and bite into it.
Peter follows in, but instead of sitting down, he stands uneasily next to the table, a little too close to me… or a little too far away. His stance is skittish - like he’s preparing to bolt, as he has so often done.
He looks right into my eyes with his own soft, dark ones. “How have you been?”
I pretend to be very interested in my apple.
In my periphery, I can see a downturn come to Peter’s lips, a scrunch of his brows. “I’ve been worried for you, Azure. Your collapse in the Schoolhouse. Are you alright now?”
Setting the apple down on the table, I look up, finally daring to meet his eyes with mine. I smooth my purple skirt with my hands. “Why do you care?” I ask, surprising even myself with the venom in my voice. “You didn’t seem worried a year ago when I was crying myself to sleep every night.”
Pain flashes in his eyes. “I’m sorry, Azure,” he says.
I observe the words in my mind, trying to find the lie in them, but if there is one, I can’t find it. “Are you kidding me right now? Peter, you pushed me away. You ignored me for a year. Everything that’s broken between us is something that you broke. You didn’t even bother saying goodbye!”
His eyes bore into me. “I know.”
“Then why did you come here?” I ask.
He falls quiet for a moment, his eyes pleading with me. “You promised to hear me out,” he says finally. “Just give me two minutes.”
I look at my apple, thinking of long nights spent staring at my window, waiting for Peter’s face to appear in it. Waiting for him to signal me so I could sneak away with him - to eavesdrop on crazy Milo, to race through the trees in the forest together. They were long nights that had been wasted.
But despite the anger, despite the frustration, despite the tears and songs and long, wasted nights, I meet his eyes and nod. “Two minutes.”
He takes a deep breath and starts to talk.
“It was about seven years ago. I couldn’t sleep. You were awake, playing a game with your dolls - Izzy and Simone, remember them?” He smiles earnestly, almost coaxing a smile out of me. “I was waiting to see if you would signal to me… when I spotted Dominique watching you through your window.”