It only took one whiff of the sugary air to know that Christina was upset over something and that something was probably me. I steeled my nerves, willing the little voice in the back of my head to be quiet. My doubt was already a rolling boil and I didn’t need it stoking the flames.
There was no turning back now, “Hi.” I gave Christina a small wave, easing out of the foyer I had been lurking in.
“Hi.” Christina echoed. She looked as awkward as I felt, which was a strange sensation given that we had done everything together before we even had a choice in the matter. Heck, she had first-hand experience with me wetting the bed and I had been the keeper of the pads in high school.
“What are you doing?” The question was rhetorical; I knew she was in the middle of a baking spree, but I needed to fill the air with something other than tension.
“I’m making cupcakes for Lauren’s baby shower.”
“Cheerleader Lauren?” I asked, linking my hands behind my back.
“That’s the one.” Her usual country lilt fell monotone.
I pressed on, hands fidgeting, “Remember when she used to insist she would never have children? Said she’d rather die than have stretch marks.” I laughed at the memory.
Christina’s porcelain face remained stoic, mechanically mixing batter with a wooden spoon, “Yeah, it looks like you aren’t the only one who has changed since high school.”
Her words stung and my tongue dried out, the apology I owed her shriveling before it had been properly conceived. I had always been stubborn; always loathed admitting when I was wrong. It was the reason I excelled in most things in life: if I was the smartest, most determined person in the room then I didn’t have to worry about being corrected or outdone. I had always thought it an asset. Now? Now, I wished I could just admit I was wrong – even if I still wasn’t convinced I was at fault – because pride wasn’t worth 22 years of friendship.
“Christina,” I mumbled, pausing as she turned to face me, “I’m sorry.”
Seconds strung along, turning in minutes, or what felt like it.
Then, suddenly, Christina burst into laughter, “You look like you’re in physical pain.”
“That’s not funny, jerk.” I picked up the nearest object, which happened to be a rag, and threw it at her face. The cloth hit her cheek but only amplified her laughter. It was so loud and boisterous tears were beginning to spill down her cheeks; snorts punctuating her deep inhales as she attempted to compose herself.
“This is the last time I ever apologize to you, ya hear me?” I huffed, crossing my arms in an attempt to regain some dignity.
She wiped at the corner of her eyes, nodding, “I’m sorry. I know how much you hate apologizing. You just really looked like you just stubbed your toe or something.”
Hard as I tried, I couldn’t be angry. Not at her. More than anything I was relieved that Christina seemed as ready to forgive me as I was to forget the whole ordeal, “Am I still your Maid of Honor or did Lauren steal that from me?”
“I’ll reinstate you on one condition,” Her smile faded, “Don’t make me chose between you and Christopher. I can’t take sides, Willow. I love you both too much. I won’t lose either of you because the two of you want to make eyes at each other.”
“Is that what you were mad about? You thought I’d try to pit you against your own brother?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“‘Topher said the same thing but then I freaked because you and Jay disappeared together and all I could think about was what would happen if you cheated on him or if he cheated on you or if you guys ended up hating each other and I just….” Her words ran together, the mere thought bringing anxiety to the surface, “I just got you back.”
My chest tightened. I had been waiting for Christina to bring up the past 3 years since I returned. I had expected anger, maybe even rage. Instead, Christina’s eyes welled with tears and my own followed suit. She pulled me into a hug and squeezed as hard as she could.
“I’m sorry.” I apologized for the second time that night. Only, this time I actually meant it.