THIS IS WHAT FORD expects from Adalia: a smile ebbing away at the edges, and in its place a crooked smirk; a bombardment of mismatched words, strung together by fizzling anger. He expects clenched fists, and rain, and thunder (and even more rain); he expects foul words and Adalia Barco embodied in red.
This is what he gets: a single text message — can we talk?
He has never been nervous around Adalia, not in the way most pubescent (and especially pre-pubescent) boys are. Perhaps before she pointed maniacally with disfigured fingers and laughed boisterously with deep, croaky cackles, he would've been, but he was not — usually.
But now, when Adalia's replies are terse and her actions inconsistent, he begins to feel as though he is stuck treading water; gasping, gulping, and heaving for air as he waits for her boat to coast to a stop.
"Ford," she addresses, her voice breathy as she settles down next to him.
"Uh, how are you?" He asks, his voice tense.
She sighs, in a manner equal parts conciliatory and equal parts caustic.
"You don't have to ask if you don't really care, Ford."
He bites down on his tongue sharply and almost lets out a string of hoarse laughs, each more guttural than the last. What a sight the two must've been then: Adalia — fluid, flirty, facile Adalia Barco — and awfully unassuming Ford O'Connell sitting stiffly side by side.
"I want you to know how much it sucked when you didn't show up. You probably think this is some petty scheme of mine, some Adalia Barco ploy to get you to agree to God knows what but—"
"O'Connell," Elliot greets as he wraps an arm around his neck. "You ready for— oh, I'll leave you two alone."
Ford stomps down on Elliot's foot, hard, a non-verbal plea for his divine intervention.
"Uh— sorry, 'Dalia, I gotta grab Ford for practice, now," Elliot splutters as Ford gives her a soft shrug.
Once the pair are out of earshot, Elliot hums, "If you want an out next time, maybe don't put your entire weight on my foot, okay?"
Ignoring Elliot's scowl, Ford thanks him and carries on. "You don't think she's actually mad, right?"
"I don't know, man. 'Dalia gets mad at a lot of petty things sometimes, but I think you might've really hurt her feelings," Elliot replies with a signature shrug.
"Do you really think so?" He asks with a groan.
If Ford could eliminate a feeling from his heart, it would be guilt. He hates the thing; he hates the clawing, and the tearing, and the constancy, the persistent reminder that says:
YOU'RE IN THE WRONG, FRIEND. SOMEONE'S VERY ANGRY, FRIEND. FIX IT SOON; HURRY UP AND FIX IT BEFORE THINGS GET WORSE. TIME IS TICKING, FRIEND.
Ford despises, detests, abhors the quality. He could not possibly feel guilty for not attending Adalia's party, not when she pilfers, palters, and swindles her way through life.
It's simpler to be Elliot, he thinks, simpler to shrug off conversations that tapped beneath the surface, simpler to wake up to girls who would never know him long enough to correct their first impressions of a charming casanova.
Being Ford O'Connell — a boy whose heart and head are constantly at odds, waging a war of adverse morals across a lethargic body — is a feat in itself, one he isn't even sure he wants.
"You should," Elliot pauses, and swallows an uncharacteristic lump, "really talk to her. I think she really does like you."
Ford glances at his best friend then, his brows furrowing slightly. This is not Elliot; Elliot is raucous, deafening hoots in an otherwise silent atmosphere. Elliot is hard slaps on the back, a body that basked in limelights; he is not a listener, someone to make polite conversation about trivial matters.