"R u in your dorm room rn?"
Matt's heart jumped as he spotted Emily's contact name on his phone screen. She hadn't texted him in ages – they only briefly caught each other on the campus, and she always had a class to run to, or a some "friends" to meet with. The only times when they could exchange more than two sentences were the group reunions Sam made them all attend each time. (You couldn't argue with Sam, never.)
At least, during those nights, Em wasn't avoiding him and it felt a bit like before again.
"Before", the word brought a bitter smile to his lips. Before what? The mountain? Them getting together? Or even further away, when she began dating Mike? Back to the time when he watched her from a bit afar, at the very edge on their friend group, when he saw her as smart and unwavering, the kind of girl that knew what she wanted and how to gain it. And she was all that, it was undeniable, but she was also… something else. She lied, manipulated people to bend them to her desires, belittled them to lift herself up. When thinking about it, it was her very qualities that he had admired so much that also made her a… well, a bitch.
He almost had forgotten to answer her text:
"Will be in 5, why?"
"Got some of my stuff still in your room, need it."
As he didn't answer, a new text came in a minute after:
He couldn't resist the urge to mess with her, to not cave in immediately to her request – a puerile way to prove to himself that he was more than her puppet.
"Come on, what r u waiting for? I'm not gonna beg you to let me in your room."
He read the text in her voice, almost saw her dark eyes glistening with something that used to scare him slightly.
"No, it's fine. You can come."
He sighed, pushed open his dorm room door.
"I'll be gone in an hour though, so be quick."
He had added the text as an afterthought. To be true, he had nothing else to do tonight, but she didn't need to know that, and he didn't feel like waiting around for her all afternoon.
His room felt empty and dark. He hadn't opened the blinds this morning again, refused to let the light of dawn inside. Something in the warm rays made his stomach churn, remind him of that time when they were blinding against the snow, after the darkness of the mines. They came with memories of Jess's fragile and trembling frame, only holding upright because she was heavily leaning on him, the biting cold, the coppery smell of her blood as they limped slowly to the blazing inferno that the lodge had become, attracted by its light like moths by a flame. Monsters hated fire, he knew that first-handed since the flare gun incident, so it seemed like a reasonable decision. He had been surprised to find the helicopter, to learn that the others had survived.
At that very moment, Matt had realized that, at some point during this nightmarish night, he had given up on hope.
"I'm on campus, won't take long."
The buzzing of his phone, which he was still holding with half-limp fingers, set him in motion again. He threw his bag on the unmade bed and himself next to it. He let his eyes wander over the mess on his desk, the pile of clothes on the chairs, empty bottles of energy drinks just laying around. He wondered if he should clean up, decided he didn't care. He won't clean for himself; he certainly won't do it for Emily.
By the time she knocked on his door, Matt was absent-mindedly folding a T-shirt and the plastic bottles were gathered up in a trash bag, ready to be taken outside to recycling.
He couldn't quite deny he was glad to see her.
She was as elegant as ever, her high-collar sweater wrapping tightly around her neck, beige against her olive skin, make-up highlighting the almond shape of her eyes and not quite managing to hide the dark bags under them. She ran her hand through her shorter hair, tilted her head a bit.
"Well, are you going to let me in?"
"Yeah, I… uh… come in," he stammered, taking a step backward to give her space.
He could see her eyes scanning around the room, the ever so slight twitch of her brow, could almost hear her condescending comment. He gritted his teeth, forced his voice to stay blank:
"Your stuff is still in the closet; I didn't touch it."
Without as much as a glance in his direction, Emily walked to said-closet, opened it in one swift motion, and then… kind of freeze. Matt couldn't take his eyes off her back, would have given anything to see her face.
"What is it?" he asked after what felt like minutes.
Em shook her head, as if getting back in touch with reality, reached for the purple bag at the bottom of the shelves.
"Nothing," she said.
She went to open the bag, had to try several times before it actually opened and she began to fill it with the clothes she had left behind when they ended things up. Or "decided to take a break", officially. Of course, she was the one who took the decision.
Matt stood awkwardly in the middle of his room, arms hanging limply at his sides, watching Em gather slowly her things, not knowing what to do, and even less what to say.
"This feels weird." The sound of her voice made him jump slightly. "I was beginning to get used to your little room."
He opened his mouth, but no word came out.
"Why do you have cushions on the floor?" she then wondered, her tone between incredulous and amused.
He felt his lips unexpectedly stretch into a smile. That, he knew how to answer:
"Remember, last game night? When we were playing Never have I ever? You said that our answers will change in the months to come, or something like this."
She hummed softly, turned around to look at him.
"So, I decided," he went on, "to try the one-handed handstand I talked about. I mean, if Sam can almost do it, why couldn't?"
"And so, can you?"
Matt winced, rubbed the back of his neck with one hand.
"Uh, not really. I'm afraid to lose balance and hit the bed frame. Maybe I could in, like, a gym or something, or at least with someone to catch me if I fall."
"I could do that. I used to do gymnastics in middle school.
"And… why would you?"
Em looked away for a brief second, then she smiled:
"Because there are two rules and I'll do my best to enforce them."
"'Emily is always right', and 'nothing else matters'?"
Her smile widened, flashing the white of her teeth.
"I see I taught you well," she teased. "So, shall we?"
"Well, we are both here, right?"
He couldn't tell why exactly she had suggested this, why he complied – because you always comply, said the voice in his head – and in general, how they had ended in that position, him upside down in between the desk and the bed, her standing next to him, with her coat still on, surrounded by soft pillows.
He groaned, tried to shift his weight to the side as Em's fingers adjusted their firm grip on his ankles. His heart was racing as he slowly lifted one of his hands, his dominant arm shaking from his shoulder to his wrist. How someone as slim as Sam could pull this kind of shit, that was a mystery to him.
"Can I let go of your legs now?"
"Yeah… yeah, I think so."
She did, and for a second things were good. Then his body began to tilt to the right, and things went south from there.
Em tried to grab his legs again to stabilize him, but she failed as they were flailing around aimlessly, hitting the wall and… what was probably Em's face, or at least her shoulder, given the gasp she let out. Fortunately, the pillows cushioned his fall partly.
"Oh fuck! Matt, I'm so sorry! Are you okay?"
He felt her hand on his chest, looked at her. Her second hand was clasped to her cheek, probably where his feet landed, and her brown eyes were wide with… concern?
"I'm… I think I'm fine."
He straightened himself up, leaning against the wall, slightly grimacing as the motion tugs at what will become massive bruises very soon.
"And you?" he inquired.
Without thinking he reached for her wrist, gently pulling her hand away from her cheek, his fingers brushing softly over the red mark. Her eyes fluttered shut.
"That was stupid, right?"
"Probably. Looks like Em isn't always right," he added after a second of hesitation.
To his surprise, she blurted out a laugh and he found himself grinning too.
"I love you," she breathed – and immediately her eyes grew wide.
They staid frozen, his hand still on her cheek and hers resting on his thigh.
"That's… that's the first time I hear those words in your mouth. I'd have preferred other circumstances, like "still dating", though..."
Em gazed at him for the longest time, eyes locked into his, uncharacteristically quiet. The look on her face was almost one of longing.
"I'm sorry," she finally uttered, now averting his gaze. "I've been… oh, hell. I know I'm not the nicest person ever and I don't really intend on changing. But still… How I have treated you, that crossed the line, even for me. I'm sorry," she repeated, shaking her head.
"It's sad that it has taken me nearly losing you to realize that I actually cared for you. Deeply. When I fell down the mines… I heard you screaming, I heard it… her… I heard the Wendigo, didn't realize what it was, what you faced, before I run into it later, but still… I remember thinking you were dead. And that the last interaction we will ever have was me yelling at you."
"You were scared, you didn't know what you were saying…"
At least, that was what Matt had tried to-
"That's what you chose to believe?" she said with a bitter smile as if she had read his mind – Emily, his Emi, always so smart. She knew the way people were, understood how they were thinking. Usually didn't care, though. Or liked to act this way, at least.
Her, on the other hand, was very hard to read in the end.
"I'm sorry," she said once again. "God, I'm beginning to sound like a broken record…" She sighed, ran a hand through her dark hair again. She was averting his gaze now. "You probably hate me now."
"I don't," he said without hesitation. "No matter how hard I tried to. And I love you too… I think."
She let out a humorless chuckle.
"Shit, Matt. We are a mess, aren't we?"
He tried to clear his throat, stammered a "yes" which also might have been a "no", and then gave up on talking altogether.
"Even before that last night on the mountain…" she continued – she didn't need his input, had enough words for two. "I believe it all started one year before that. When we got the twins killed. I hated myself, hated Mike… we broke up, or rather I forced him to break up with him so I could act heartbroken about it. I was going to do the same with you."
"So… so, we haven't broken up? Not yet?"
Em looked so tired all of a sudden.
"I don't know. Honestly, I don't know. I don't want to hurt you, not anymore, not ever, and I don't trust myself right now to avoid it."
"… Friends, then?"
She smiled again, a little sad thing, but true nonetheless.
"Yeah… yeah, friends is good."