Imsdyn 29, 1013
Cherry had been in Camford for the better part of a month, and until today she hadn’t gotten a single letter from Delyth. She’d gotten two letters from her parents, one from Banana in her shaky eight-year-year old’s handwriting, even one from the Cap’n, who hated to write. Granted, the Cap’n’s letter was mostly bewailing the fact that Jack didn’t have her tolerance for frosty walruses and his buddy Billy doubly didn’t have that tolerance (and had a mother who was, he assured Cherry, even scarier than Sorcha with a cutlass between her teeth), but there was more than one way to say, “I love you, I miss you, I can’t wait to see you again!”
Today Delyth’s first letter had come. Cherry should have been ecstatic. She should have been dancing through the halls of the dormitory. And so she had been … until she opened it up and started to read.
This was not going to be a fun letter.
Cherry pushed her hair out of her eyes and leaned forward, one finger tapping against her temple. Delyth started by apologizing for not writing earlier, and hoping that Cherry was doing well. But the tone was dull, listless. There wasn’t the flood of questions about collegiate life that Cherry had been expecting, especially given how Delyth had been pestering her for all the details before Cherry even had a chance to leave. There were just the standard questions, written so quickly that the ink smeared under Delyth’s hand as she had written them.
Then Delyth went into what Cherry was both hopeful and afraid that she would get into: the reason why she hadn’t written before this.
Cherry leaned forward, eyes narrowed, and began to read in more detail.
It’s not much of an excuse, I know [wrote Delyth], but there is a reason why I haven’t been writing.
me I broke up. Or, I should say — he broke up with me. And I still don’t know why!
But I guess I’d better start at the beginning …
It was New Year’s Day (can you believe the gall of him, breaking up with me on a holiday?), and we were all at the Tricross. Well, when I say “we,” I mean me, Dilys (of course), and a couple of the other girls — Florencia and Elizabeth — and there were a bunch of other boys there, too, but I wasn’t paying much attention to them. Dilys wasn’t, either, although she says that she thinks your little brother was one of them. I would have said hello if I would have seen him.
But anyway, the girls and I had just sat down at the Mah-Jong table, and we were getting a game started, when I saw George climbing up the stairs.
I was so happy! I thought he wouldn’t be able to make it — he said that wizards don’t like to go out around the Day of the Dead, because of … well, I forgot. Not that I should remember, anyway. Why should I care what wizards do now?
(But I did ask Dilys to ask Ravenna why wizards don’t go out around the Day of the Dead. Because now, of course, I’m curious!)
Anyway, George came up the stairs, came to the table, and asked me, very quietly, if we could talk. You know — in that kind of tone, the kind that says nothing good is going to come out of the conversation you’re about to have. Although I’m not sure I caught it at the time. I just said, “Sure! What do you need to know?”
He didn’t want to talk right there and then — where everyone could see and hear us, I mean. He brought me over to where the couches and the fireplace are. And then …
Well, Cherry, you won’t tell my parents that I used this kind of language — but that’s when the bullshit started.
He actually looked sad at first, and that made me nervous. I thought maybe something horrible had happened to him or his family, so I asked him what was wrong.
He tried to smile, you know, the awful fake smile you give when there’s something wrong and you don’t really want to go into what it is, but you know you have to. He took a deep breath, and then he told me that I was a nice girl, a great girl, and I knew that, right? Didn’t I?
Well, before he went on … I guess I would have said that I did know it. Not to be conceited, but I’m not a bad girl, I don’t think!
Then he apologized. I should have known — well, let me rephrase that. I did know that something was up, right from there. George never apologizes unless somebody is making him! It used to be one of the things I liked about him …
He told me that he was sorry that he wasn’t the guy for me. That I deserved better than him, and he hoped I was happy.
At first I didn’t understand. I mean, how did he know he wasn’t the guy for me? I certainly never thought he wasn’t. I mean … well, all right, in the beginning, I just wanted a little bit of fun, but as things went on … I really liked him, Cherry! I thought I even, you know, might have fallen in love with him. Just a little bit. Just enough to make things fun, to make things interesting. But now he was saying he wasn’t the guy for me, and I didn’t know why …
Then I realized why. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he was the guy for me. It was that he knew I wasn’t the girl for him. It was that he was breaking up with me.
I … don’t know if I can describe how that made me feel. There are lots of silly clichés, aren’t there? All that dreck about your heart getting torn from your chest, and the sky falling on your head even as the ground crumbles under your feet. I asked Dilys how she felt when Kay kissed her and then took it back — did I ever tell you about that? Crap. Either way, don’t tell Dilys I mentioned it — and she said that it sort of felt like she was five years old again, and somebody had given her a dolly and taken it away again. She called it a “yawning loss,” whatever that means. I think she’s been spending too much time with Ravenna and Dindrane, and reading too many romances. Don’t tell her I said that!
But it didn’t feel like that to me. It felt like … honestly, it felt like a stomachache. I know that sounds silly, but that’s how it felt. Like someone had punched me in the stomach — like that time when I fell off my horse, and I tried to gasp and gasp and gasp, but no matter how hard I gasped, I still couldn’t breathe.
Then I lost it on George.
I told him — oh, Cherry, I was so angry with him! I told him exactly what I thought of him and his bullshit! I even called it bullshit to his face! I told him if he was going to break up with me, he ought to man up and tell just what it was about me that was so objectionable, because it wasn’t fair for him to feed me that line about it being him and not me when we were both smart enough to know that it wasn’t true.
And then, you know what he did? He didn’t even get angry! He flinched away a little bit, but he mostly just let me yell. Even when I said things that I know — now — were way out of line, he didn’t get angry about them. He just shrugged and said that I had every right to feel the way I did, and he didn’t blame me for it. But he kept saying that it was him, not me.
I finally managed to stare him down, and get in his face, and demand that he tell me just why, if it was him and not me, that it had to be right now and why I hadn’t gotten any warning. I know that we’d been fighting a bit — all right, a lot. But if it really was him, I don’t think that would be why he was breaking up with me — I mean, he wouldn’t be breaking up with me because of the fighting. If it was the fighting, then it would have been me, not him, right? Or at least, it would have been both of us.
I think I wanted to hear him say it — that I was a shrew, or a bitch, or whatever it is he wanted to call me. Then, if he said it …
I think if he said the problem was with me, and that’s why he couldn’t be with me anymore, I could have done one of two things. I could have either known he was wrong, and hated him, and been glad that he broke up with me because I didn’t want to deal with him anymore. Or whatever it is that’s wrong with me, I could work on fixing. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, is it? To know what I did wrong, so I could fix it, not do it again?
George, however, wouldn’t tell me what I did wrong.
He fed me another line of bullshit, instead. He just said that something had happened to him since he had last seen me. I don’t know what it was, because we’d seen each other a week beforehand and everything seemed all right. We hadn’t even fought! We actually had a good night …
Maybe we spent most of it snogging on the benches in front of the fire, and really didn’t talk at all, but still! It was almost like old times!
Anyway, George wouldn’t say what it was that had happened to him. He kept telling me I wouldn’t understand him, and that was if I believed him, which he said was a stretch. He even kind of snorted in that way he has, and rolled his eyes, and tossed his head, and said that he wouldn’t have believed what it was if he hadn’t lived through it. Whatever it was, though, he said it put everything into perspective for him. He said he had learned what was important, what he couldn’t live without, and what wasn’t as important. After he found that out about himself, he said that it would have been unfair for him to keep seeing me, so he wanted to break it off as quickly as possible. Then, Cherry, he did the worst possible thing he could have done.
He asked me to forgive him!
Here I am, still reeling, still not understanding why he was breaking up with me — and he wants me to say I’m not angry with him! He wanted me to say everything was all right! Cherry, how could I forgive him? I know that’s my duty as a good Wrightian … but I thought the Lord was supposed to give us a chance to be angry first! To be sad! To hate him for just a little while! I don’t want to hate him forever … just for a little while …
But George wouldn’t even give me time enough to do that.
I don’t know what I would have done to him, or said to him, after that, Cherry. I really don’t. Because that was when Dilys came up and asked if everything was all right.
That was when I remembered that we weren’t alone in the Tricross, George and I. There were all those other people around. And they had all seen me blow up at George. Which meant that by the time we went back to school, everybody would know that George and I had broken up. And they would all know that I had yelled at him like a fishwife. In public. Even if George wasn’t man enough to call me a shrew, everybody in the school was going to be calling me a shrew, I just knew it.
I lost it and started crying when I figured that out.
Dilys was right there for me, her arm over my shoulders, telling me everything was going to be all right. She was lying, of course, and she’s been lying ever since — but I’m sure you’ve lied like that for Banana. … Well, hopefully not exactly like that, but you know what I mean!
George was still hanging around, asking if I was going to be all right. Then Dilys — oh, Cherry, I’m so proud of her when I think of this! She looked away from me, right at George, and told him to get the hell out of there. She actually said hell, Cherry! She didn’t even stutter! Can you believe it? I barely can!
I didn’t even believe my ears when it happened, but I asked Dilys later if I had heard right, and she said I had. She almost looked a little proud of herself. My baby sis is growing up, Cherry, finally!
Anyway, George left after that. Dilys and I left really soon, too. The only reason Dilys kept me there as long as she did, she says, is because she wanted to make sure that George got well away before we left.
I bet he was so proud of himself when he left, too. If he came there just to break up with me, he did a damn good job of it.
But none of that helps me, Cherry. None of that makes me feel any better. Nothing’s made me feel much better, except Ravenna, oddly — but I’ll tell you about that in my next letter, if you’re curious. My parents tell me that this is normal, that sometimes people find the one they want to be with when they’re really young, and sometimes they don’t find that person until later. Dilys keeps telling me that it wasn’t my fault, that if George said it was him, I ought to believe him. Lamorak offered to beat George to a pulp for me, but Garnet told him that George would probably turn him into a toad, so that was the end of that.
What did I do wrong? What happened? George won’t even tell me, so I can’t just go by what he said. And I don’t even know where to begin to look back and try to understand.
What do you think happened, Cherry?
Oh, Lord, Cherry thought. What was she supposed to tell Delyth?
She picked up her pen, sucked on the end, dated the letter, and began to write.
After the preliminaries were out of the way, she started to try to answer Delyth’s questions.
I don’t know why George broke up with you, Delyth. I wish he would have told you. But I do think, maybe, he was telling the truth when he said it wasn’t you, it was him. It’s hard to understand what goes on in the Sim heart. Maybe he realized he didn’t feel as strongly for you as you do for him. If that was what happened, it would have been cruel for him to keep being with you, to keep leading you on.
And if that wasn’t it — well, that still doesn’t make what happened your fault, or anything you could have changed. You’re a great girl, Delyth, and any boy would be lucky to have you choose to be with …
Cherry stopped. This … wasn’t working.
What was she supposed to say to Delyth, anyway? She knew how Delyth felt about worn clichés — she’d said as much in her letter if Cherry hadn’t figured that out already. And what was there to say that wasn’t worn and cliché?
But what Delyth didn’t understand about worn clichés was this: they were worn for a reason. What had Delyth ever had that got a chance to be worn? When she wore a dress or fingered a blanket so much that parts of it grew shiny and threadbare, it was instantly taken away from her and replaced with something new, unless of course she begged for it to stay. But how often had Delyth begged for it to stay? She was quite content to have her old dresses cut down for trim, her old blankets given to charity. She didn’t need them. And she didn’t understand the comfort that came from a dress or a shawl or a blanket that had covered her for so long that it began to wear down to accommodate itself to her.
Cherry sighed, pushed the letter aside, and left her room. She’d come back to this later.
When she left the room, she intended to take walk around the campus — the weather was beautiful today — or maybe hit the library, or maybe a coffee shop. She had certainly intended to leave the building and clear her head that way. After all, what was the point of getting up and moving around if she wasn’t going to get out?
But when she reached the living room, she found something … something she saw every day, but never really looked at.
A Mah-Jong table. The other girls from the dorm were sitting at it, in the middle of a game.
Cherry hesitated, then sidled closer to the table. “Do you mind if I join?”
“Oh, no!” said Cordelia.
“Have a seat!” chimed in Kiena.
Cherry took them at their word and sat down.
“Something wrong?” asked Kiena, innocent as ever, as she began to shuffle the tiles.
Cherry hesitated … then she shrugged. “Just got a letter from home … a friend of mine is having … boy trouble.”
“They’re nothing but trouble, aren’t they?” laughed Cordelia.
“Is your friend all right?” asked Kiena.
Cherry stared at the tiles. “I … don’t think so. I mean, not right now. But … I think she will be.” She bit her lip. “I just don’t know what to say to her right now.”
“There’s often not much you can say,” Kiena commiserated.
Cherry nodded. “I know … but all the same, you have to say something.”
If only I knew what it was.