Silas Harding-Clarke

I knew from the start

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They did not, as it turns out, wait for the next available Hosmeade weekend to go on their date. It had grown increasingly difficult both to keep their plans secret from their friends as well as stifle their own excitement to see what could become of this new discovery that maybe there was something special between them.

 

Instead, one slow Saturday morning the pair had agreed to collect a picnic lunch from the kitchens and go to sit on the grounds in one of the last remaining autumn days before winter took over. 

 

Silas carefully laid down a blanket as Columbia held the basket, and he fussed over how straight it was, smoothing out lumpy bits and fixing the corners. It wasn't conscious but he wanted things to be perfect. He wanted Columbia to feel safe and happy.

 

"All set," he said, kneeling on the blanket and inviting her to join him with an outstretched hand.

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The blanket was smooth, the basket of food was full, and Silas's hand was sturdy and strong—but despite her excitement, Columbia couldn't help but feel worried about having a date with Silas in so public a space as the lakefront. It was a cold November day, for sure, and most of her classmates would likely be inside—Columbia and Silas were forced to bundled up and light a jar of bluebell flames for the occasion—but she couldn't shake the fear that someone would see both of them, and run to tell Gary what Columbia was up to.

 

But she couldn't remain preoccupied with concerns about Gary's feelings. Silas was right here, right in front of her. Perhaps she was imagining it, but he looked more handsome than usual that day; occasionally she peeked at him, and had to fight a rising giddy feeling that she might get to kiss him again. He had been her first kiss—though he did not look like the same little boy he did then.

 

Col collapsed on the blanket, and tried to see her old friend like he was new. "I'm glad we didn't wait any longer to do this," she confessed. "It wasn't an easy thing to keep from Grace." She spotted a dimple on Silas's cheek and, like a curse, it compelled her to go further. "Plus you're very cute, you know."

 

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"No kidding," Silas said on a sigh when Columbia lamented having to keep their date from Grace. Of course, it was a lot easier to keep things from Grace for Silas, but then it was easy for him to keep things from a lot of people. Lately Columbia had shown similar inclinations; he suspected it was what had drawn them together after all this time.

 

"Especially after that episode in the Great Hall," he remarked, and took the basket from Columbia and began to paw through it. The house elves always made good choices so Silas never bothered to make requests--it was like Christmas opening the picnic basket to see what was inside.

 

He pulled out a covered tin of what looked like Columbia's favorite welsh cakes, and gave her a shy smile when she said that he was cute. (Unbeknownst to him, the dimple deepened.) Then he drew a warm thermos and two heavy metal mugs. He unscrewed the cap and have a gentle sniff.

 

"Cocoa," he announced happily, pouring a healthy mug for each of them and looking into the thermos again to discover that it had refilled itself. He screwed the cap back on and slipped his fingers through the handle of his own mug, hand cupping the side. "Cheers," he said to her.

 

After a couple sips and a pause, Silas chewed his lip, eyes on a frayed bit of blanket. "I.. Was a little surprised at how dedicated she was to getting you guys back together," he admitted. "You never told me why you split up in the first place, you know."

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Columbia laughed when Silas brought out cocoa. "Every time I drink this stuff it makes me think of using Guin's potion on Addison," Columbia confessed, but took a sip anyway. It was good, creamy and smooth. "I don't know why you think I'm smart, Silas. I'm mostly an idiot." She was an idiot now, she knew, to try to go after Guin armed with just a smart Ravenclaw. But she wasn't doing it because it was the smart thing to do.

 

She fingered a Welsh cake, noticing that the house elves had also given her lemon tarts. Lemon anything these days reminded her of that horrible last date with Gary; this picnic basket was a minefield of memories. Luckily, the simple fact of her being Welsh had never let her down. Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad! She bit into the currant cake happily. 

 

But avoiding the lemon wasn't enough to will memories of Gary away, unfortunately. Silas brought him up without prompting. "I.. Was a little surprised at how dedicated she was to getting you guys back together," he said. "You never told me why you split up in the first place, you know."

 

The question made her uncomfortable, but Columbia had no desire to hide anything from Silas. "I love Grace, but she doesn't understand me at all," she said, shrugging. "She thinks she'd just be able to get us to have a conversation and spill our guts and everything would be okay. As if me being honest wasn't what ruined it all anyway." Silas didn't seem scared off by the conversation, so she went further.

 

"Gary was upset that I never talked to him about Guin," she said, her jaw clenching. "Or my mum, or dad, or any of it. I thought—well, it wasn't like he talked to me about his thing with Kae, or his Death Eater attack. It was horrific, I knew, but I thought we just avoided that stuff. I thought we'd just try to be happy around each other. But he was upset, and he said he wanted to know. He was really insistent. So I told him. I even told him I wanted to kill Guin. And he just looked at me, like... like he was horrified, Silas. Or... or hurt. But he didn't say anything. Or, I guess, he said that it didn't make him happy to hear this. He said something like that. But that was it."

 

It was the first time she had told anyone about this since she had sobbed into Grace's arms that day. "I mean, I knew this would happen," she added. "I just saw his eyes collapse and I knew that I was only going to hurt him, or whatever, so I left and that was that. At the time, you know, I kept just thinking that he was better than me and he deserved better. Of course, maybe that isn't true, maybe he's some awful bully. I'm not going to make him happy either way. I mean, what if I... get hurt with this Guin stuff? Grace, or Gary, they'd try to stop me."

 

She grinned sadly at Silas. "You're different though. You're like me. You're a bloody soldier."

 

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"I don't know why you think I'm smart, Silas. I'm mostly an idiot."

 

He was young and inexperienced, so he wasn't able to identify it, but Columbia's sudden demureness brought with it a flagging of the attraction that he had felt for her in the dueling chamber. It was similar to how he felt about Addison, now that they were no longer speaking--she looked so sad and small and apologetic now, absent of the fire that had once consumed her. He hoped Columbia's confidence--the most attractive thing about her--was only faltering in this instant.
 
Now, having spoken to Grace, Silas listened patiently to Columbia but felt a little bit more pity for the absent party than he normally did. Columbia was right, and Grace didn't understand (either of them) all the time, but she truly did her best, and everything she did was with love, even if it ended up getting Silas cornered by people demanding to know the details of secrets that Grace had unwittingly spilled.

 

Silas fidgeted a little, remembering that he had accidentally told Toby about his upcoming date with the pale beauty in front of him, and also recalling the notable absence of any promise to keep it quiet. He would have to let Columbia know before the date was over so she could prepare herself for any kind of fallout.
 
"Gary was upset that I never talked to him about Guin,"

 

The Ravenclaw temporarily forgot all about Toby.

 

"What?" he asked, a bit sharply, gripping his cocoa mug tightly with anger.
 
"I just saw his eyes collapse and I knew that I was only going to hurt him, or whatever." 

 

The rest of Columbia's words should have pierced him in the cool autumn breeze, sharp and crisp and poignant, but he didn't hear any of them. For his entire life, Silas had collected secrets, his tiny gemstones, zealously protected, so careful of who he could trust with what, who would understand their value, and who would give them away easily as tokens to be traded for better goods. Even the smallest personal things, who he really was, how he really saw the world, he protected, just waiting for someone worthy enough to come along, someone that made him feel safe enough to open the treasure chest.

 

Columbia, he realized, had also felt that fear. She had fallen in love, found someone to share her most valuable secrets with, and she had paid the iron price for showing her true self. Silas had never identified with someone more in his entire life, felt like here was someone who understood exactly how he felt and could not fault him for being this way.
 
"You're a bloody soldier."

 

Silas put his mug down on the grass outside the blanket, pressed his palm into the space between himself and Columbia and leaned forward, taking his other hand to the girl's jaw--still tight, like she was holding back tears--and kissed her deeply on the mouth. After a second, he pulled away, still holding her face in his hand. There was no way he was going to let anything happen to Columbia, no matter what the status of their relationship. He would never let anything happen to her, or to Grace, or to anyone, as long as he was able to keep himself involved. Allowing Columbia to think he was an "at-any-means-necessary" person was the only reason he had been privy to so much of her planning.

 

"I am like you," he said softly. "But also, I'm different."

 

He was smarter.
 

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He kissed her.

 

They were on a date, and so she had expected it, expected something anyway, but to do it just then, just as she finished talking about Gary—it took her off-guard. She found herself wishing she had other, stronger magic—impossible magic. Magic that could freeze time, and keep the kiss from ending, so they wouldn't have to talk about it—

 

It was like the kiss activated a switch in Columbia. It had been easy to be open with Silas, to want him, even, when he felt like a brick wall to her; now, she worried he was more like sand, as likely to sink against her as anyone else.  Stop being crazy, she thought, but the thought just made her feel sicker. 

 

Finally, it was over, and she was looking into his eyes again, smiling at him, feeling herself beginning to lie to him already. Stop being crazy, she thought again. "I am like you," he said softly. "But also, I'm different." Columbia didn't know what he meant by that, but she made a guess:

 

The difference between her and Silas is that she had told Silas everything and he had told her close to nothing.

 

This fact didn't offend her; she understood it instinctively. Perhaps she told Silas her secrets to begin with because she saw in him someone who carried secrets like she did. It felt good to be with someone who withheld so much of himself from her. If he was a wall, he could hide her; if he was sand, he could bury her. 

 

She buried herself in him now, and kissed him again.

 

She kissed him harder, faster than he had kissed her; she kissed him in a way she borrowed from the version of her that loved Gary. Had that been why she kissed Gary, too? To hide something?

 

She kissed Silas more deeply, and pushed him against the blanket. She felt like nothing; numb; in two places at once. She could almost smell the earthiness of Gary's hair; the faint scent of butterbeer, spilled on his collar...

 

No, she hadn't kissed Gary to hide anything.

 

She hadn't wanted to hide anything from Gary, Columbia thought, kissing Silas's neck. She wanted  tell him everything. She had just been afraid. Maybe she was right to have been. 

 

But this was Silas, she reminded herself. Not Gary. 

 

Silas, who knew exactly what to say when she told him about Guin. Silas, who would never hurt an innocent kid like Jake. Silas, who smelled like old books and sandalwood and money.

 

Silas, who would never look at her the way Gary looked at her. Who would never let himself be vulnerable to her. Who would never make her laugh.

 

Gary and Silas looked similar when they studied, Columbia thought; Silas, his eyes focuses downward, his brow furrowed like he was an old man already; Gary, chewing on his tongue, sneaking glances up at her.

 

Gary, who held her in St. Mungo's, even as it hurt him to do so. Gary, who she had fallen asleep next to that night.

 

Gary, with whom she was still in love. 

 

Columbia closed her eyes and separated from Silas. She felt broken. Whatever had been there with Gary—whatever was still there—it was over now, even if she couldn't yet move on. 

 

"I'm sorry if that was too..." she said, and then suddenly laughed at the wreckage, realizing she had smushed all the lemon tarts. "My bum is covered in lemon curd."


Edited by Columbia Greybridge

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The sudden, complete sadness that had enveloped Silas for a moment upon realizing that Columbia thought he was willing to let her sabotage herself was pushed aside for a moment as Columbia moved into him, pressing forward fearlessly, seizing both him and the moment in the way that he'd imagined she would. It was a completely different kiss than the one that he had given her, different than their first kiss in the armor gallery, different than any kiss with Irene--and, he assumed, any with Gary. It felt like she was trying to drown herself in him, and he let her.

 

Silas closed his eyes as Columbia trailed a kiss on his neck; near her ear as he brushed his mouth to it he caught the scent of a more mature version of the rose fragrance she usually wore. It had other notes, it smelled more expensive, like something you bought in a boutique. His mother had probably given it to her; maybe had bought it for herself and didn't like it.

 

Columbia disentangled from him, her eyes closed, and then she was apologizing. 

 

Suddenly, Silas started laughing, not crazy, but he couldn't quite stop, and finally he got to his knees, shaking his head and looking in the picnic basket for napkins. 

 

"Are we crazy?" he asked Columbia gently. He should have known better. She wasn't ready for this, she'd only just split with Gary--he certainly hadn't been ready for anything after Irene still wasn't ready, a part of his mind whispered, and he quickly brushed it aside. And though he found Columbia to be a classic beauty, he didn't feel his heart flutter when he looked at her. Sometimes it skipped a beat when they were challenging one another, working together, daring the other to find the holes in the plan, but...

 

That wasn't the kind of love he wanted, or the one she deserved. One of competition, of drive, of constant exhilaration. She deserved to wear sweatpants and be cuddled and for things to be easy, and Silas knew he was never easy. The thought saddened him a little. He knew what it had to be like, to love him. Grace had made it pretty clear.

 

So, as Columbia patted her bum with a napkin, Silas kissed her forehead. "Maybe this isn't for us, but I will always love you, Col. Grace and I will always be here. You will never be alone."

 

 

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As soon as Silas joined her laughing, Columbia found she couldn't stop—she was a giggling mess. She had kissed Silas's neck! Silas's! They had turned their elegantly prepared food into disaster scene; she noticed a Welsh cake stuck to the back of Silas's neck, and picked it off gently, laughing so hard her eyes watered, before popping it in her mouth.

 

"Are we crazy?" Silas asked her. Columbia looked at him then, and knew that he knew. Her laughing slowed, her broken heart beat hard, and she nodded. "What else is new?" she asked, overwhelmed with feeling for Silas. Her friend.

 

She took some napkins and began the rather extensive work of cleaning custard off her bum while Silas kissed her on the forehead. "Maybe this isn't for us, but I will always love you, Col. Grace and I will always be here. You will never be alone."

 

Columbia threw a scone at him, and then saw his face. He wasn't teasing her. "I love you too Silas," she said. "I mean it. Not like... whatever we were trying to do back there. But I just love you so much, you weirdo."

 

She snuggled up to him, without asking any permission—bit late for that, she decided—and lay on the frosting crusted blanket. "I just wish..." she said, quietly, her voice trailing off. She looked at Silas. "Silas... do you think... if you were in my position. If you were... with someone like Gary. Would you—do you think—is it worth even trying to get him to be nicer to Jake?"

 

She laughed. "I can't believe this is something I care about. I mean, God, if Jake could hear my thoughts about him, I don't think Grace would ever speak to me again."

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"I mean it. Not like... whatever we were trying to do back there. But I just love you so much, you weirdo."
 

He smiled ruefully at her but was in agreement. There were certainly worse things than misplaced affection with a pretty girl, and this time he could remember a fun--if sticky--kiss with her, instead of one that was heavy with a last goodbye. He picked idly at the hem of her sweater as she curled up against him, looking up at the sky.

 

"Mm?" he replied, glancing down as Columbia said his name.

 

"Would you—do you think—is it worth even trying to get him to be nicer to Jake? I mean, God, if Jake could hear my thoughts about him, I don't think Grace would ever speak to me again."

 

"Are they dirty?" Silas teased. Then he placed his hands on the blanket behind him and leaned back on his wrists. "I think it's worth it. Anything that's important to you is worth a try." The Ravenclaw went on, "I asked Toby to be nicer to Grace, cause it was clear his picking bothered her. Don't think he took me seriously the first time, but he seems to be making an effort now. Whether its really for me or not, I don't know."

 

Silas squinted one eye shut against a moment of stiff breeze. "I think Gary cares about you, a lot. I feel like it would bother him to know if you thought he was a bully."

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Did Gary even know he was a bully? Columbia wasn't sure—Gary had a lack of self-awareness, sometimes. She found it charming; she could see how other people could find it cold. But for her to bring up his behavior with him, now—after their fight, after her date with Silas—he might reject it out of anger. Columbia's pleas could very well just make everything worse.

 

The sky was beginning to darken, and she cuddled up closer to Silas, both for warmth and so he couldn't see her eyes beginning to water up again. It was hopeless. She had ruined every chance she had to reunite with Gary, and even if she did, the problems that had led to their fight to begin with would still be there. This knowledge didn't make the pain any duller. 

 

"I miss him so much and it doesn't even matter," Columbia said. She tried to think of Guin, to let herself feel angry; angry was a better feeling than sad, or at least a more alive feeling. But the anger didn't come. Guin was hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away, and Columbia's feelings toward her moved more toward the abstract every second she got farther from her own kidnapping. Gary, though, was feet away from her every night, on the other side of a narrow hallway separating the boys from the girls. Each morning, she could hear him plodding sleepily towards the showers in the morning, getting up early in order to avoid her. 

 

"How long," Columbia asked now, as the first night stars set themselves against the eastern sky, "did it take for you to get over Irene?"

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"I miss him so much and it doesn't even matter,"

 

Silas was sorry for his friend. He patted her hair. He was no good at heartbreak--in fact, in this situation, he was trying to imagine what Grace would do. Grace would hold her friend, tell her she was beautiful and worthy and that she could conquer anything. Right? And Silas could do some of that... But mostly, he saw the situation as a problem that needed fixing. He was about to ask Columbia if she wanted his advice (remembering from Toby that sometimes you just wanted to be told the world sucks), but her question went off like a nuclear bomb, and everything else in his mind was obliterated, leaving only ghostly shadows of thoughts.

 
"How long did it take for you to get over Irene?"

 

Following Columbia's gaze up to the sky, because it was so much easier than looking at her, than looking anywhere, Silas was quiet. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to Columbia about his breakup... it was that he didn't even know the answer to her question. The easiest way for him not to be consumed by guilt and regret over Irene had been ... to ignore it. To push it away. To tell himself that he had done the right thing and keep beating that horse until he himself died of exhaustion.

 

He thought of Irene's beaming face in the mirror that sleepy morning when she'd received her prefect badge. Of her curls, damp with tears and caked with dirt when she'd said goodbye to him. Of Nero, still sitting on his windowsill. Of her figure, perfectly pressed and straightened and polished on the train as she stood in front of him and Toby like she'd walked out of a magazine.

 

"I don't know yet," he said finally.

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There was a long silence after Columbia asked Silas about Irene, until Silas confessed that he didn't know how long it would take for him to get over Irene. They had broken up over a year ago, Columbia knew. A year, and he was still not over her. Would she be miserable for that long without Gary? She returned her Ravenclaw's friend's head pat, silly and sincere, and wished she could make everything immediately right for both of them.

 

"I talked to Irene while the rest of the year was in your tournament," she told Silas. "She's just so beautiful. And crazy. And I have a bit of a crush on her. I'm serious. But she mentioned that you guys were still good friends. And it feels like... I don't know. If you're not mad at each other... why aren't you together? Was she just angry that you risked your life to try to help people?"

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Silas smiled and scrunched his nose when Columbia ruffled his hair.

 

"She's just so beautiful. And crazy."

 

He laughed. "I don't think she's crazy... But she is definitely beautiful," he agreed, trailing off a little. He almost missed Columbia saying she had a crush on her. But, first of all, who wouldn't have a crush on Irene? Even Addison had kissed her, despite all of their problems now. And Columbia was attracted to anything with two legs (umm, maybe four, had she even seen a centaur?).

 

He was surprised to hear that Irene thought of them as good friends. Perhaps Columbia had misunderstood, or Irene had acted brave to look like less of a dummy in front of the Gryffindor. It would be like her to refuse to admit being defeated by something as societally sanctioned as the shame of a breakup.

 

"If you're not mad at each other... why aren't you together? Was she just angry that you risked your life to try to help people?"

 

Silas grinned. "Is it that easy? Just because we're friends, it doesn't mean.. I mean, you and I are friends, but we're not together." He rolled his head back a little. "Even if she still.. wanted me that way, she shouldn't take me back. I hurt her. I need to pay for that."

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"Well, since when do you not snog your friends?" Columbia joked, giving him a peck on the cheek to prove her point. It occurred to her then that if someone was to look at them from far away, unable to make out what they were saying, they would appear to actually be on a successful date instead of jointly commiserating about how much they missed their exes. Luckily, the light was dim now; only a faint sliver of orange lit Silas's startlingly symmetrical face.

 

"Anyway, I don't know what I'm talking about, obviously," she said. "I mean, if Gary ever finds out about this—I mean, he'd probably try to punch you in the nads and then never speak to me again. I am a 100 percent true example of a hopeless case of a woman who will probably be alone forever. Eh, perhaps that's not true. Tobias will probably snog me when he gets bored of Kaelyn. Then immediately drop me to run to tell you that I should have used a breath mint. But you—I mean, you did what you thought was right in a very horrible situation. There must be something you can do to pay for that that isn't just, like, waiting and being sad."

 

She shrugged. "Unless you don't want her back. But you do, don't you?"

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"Well, since when do you not snog your friends?"
 
"Hmm," Silas said in a teasing tone as Columbia's lips brushed his jaw. When she went on to worry about how Gary would react to news of their date--however unconventional and unsuccessful--he began to wonder how Irene would feel about it. Would she care? Was it her place to care? Did he care if she cared?

 

Well, that was easy to answer. 

 

"Tobias will probably snog me when he gets bored of Kaelyn."

 

The breath hitched in his throat at the mention of his friends, who had once been a separate entity and then become one. One confusing mass that Silas had not known what to do with for the majority of term. But he didn't have a moment to ask Columbia if she really thought that Toby would do such a thing to his true best friend.
 
"Unless you don't want her back. But you do, don't you?"

 

"I don't know what I want," he said quietly. "I care about her. She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. We are really similar... well suited..." he sighed and looked at his friend. "But I have secrets, and she doesn't like secrets. And she doesn't have to. She has every right to expect honesty from her boyfriend." Or girlfriend. Or whoever.

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Columbia grew silent at that, for a while. Was it possible to have a relationship without honesty? Tearing down your defenses... it was hard. For Silas possibly even more than Columbia. Columbia wasn't even sure that Silas was honest with her, and here they were, in each other's arms. She felt so alone. But for the first time—like an idiot, watching her friend as if from afar, for the past year—she realized something. 

 

"Silas," she whispered, "what happened that day? During the attacks, I mean. Why did you and Kae decide to go rescue Addison? Why did that make Irene mad?"

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Normally so full of words and thoughts, Silas was at a loss when Columbia asked him about the circumstances that had led to his eventual breakup with Irene. Logically, he could trace the end back to the attacks and his decision to run to Addison's aid in Hogsmeade, but he had struggled for months to come to terms with the situation and why his actions had been perceived as wrong by so many of his peers.

 

That was what had made it so easy for him to fall into Kaelyn-- she had been with him on that day, sprinted into town with him, their hands entwined like iron claws in desperation and fear. She understood. She had never once questioned his motives, condemned him for making a bad choice. She simply let it be what it was. They had rescued their friends. Nothing more.

 

"I..." Silas felt it difficult to look at Columbia. She would be honest with him, however sympathetic she may have been. She would still tell him how it really looked. "I never explicitly asked Irene why it made her mad," he admitted. "It was suggested to me" by Tobias "that she was angry I put myself in danger for someone. Maybe because that someone was not her."

 

He felt a headache coming on between his eyes and put a hand over them. "That day.. Everyone in the castle was acting weird, professors were herding students. I heard something about death eaters. The last time-- well, after the first attacks, Addison took any opportunity she thought might get her a shot at a death eater. I thought--I KNEW--that she was in immediate danger."

 

Silas rubbed his hand down his face and then put it back on the blanket. "I called Kaelyn to see if they were together... She sensed my concern.. Came to meet me.. If all just happened so fast," he whispered. "I didn't have time to think."

 

Silas never didn't have time to think. Maybe that had been the problem. "I know it was wrong, but not for the reasons they said... I put Kae in danger, I acted irrationally, I did a stupid thing... But it was never because I didn't care about Irene."

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Columbia wished, then, that she loved Silas like she loved another boy. She held him tighter. It was so unfair, so wrong, that they had to be sad right now.

 

"Silas," she said, "You did the right thing." She really believed that. After all, Columbia too had gone running after danger that day, even though it had only been out of a sisterly desire to not leave Grace. But Columbia tried to imagine being safely out of danger, and having Gary team up with another girl to run and save a third girl. 

 

"Maybe she felt like Kae was like, your teammate or partner or something, and felt weird that she wasn't your partner, you know?" Columbia said. "Or maybe she felt like you should have gone to her instead, so you both could protect each other. In different ways she might have been jealous of both  Kae and Addison." Huh.

 

"Actually, I don't blame her for that," Columbia said, honestly, "I mean—Silas, you are my best friend in the world, but I think your girlfriend might notice that, like... you have a lot of one-on-one female friendships, you know? It's not like you are hanging out with Irene and Addison and Kae and me all at once—you're like going off to meetings—I mean, it feels like you're in a private little world with all of them. All of us, I guess." She liked their private club, of course. But she knew it was a false safe haven. 

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Columbia squeezing him around the middle made him feel like he'd said something sad, and she pitied him. He looked down at her when she promised he'd done the right thing. Rather than sinking into the tide of relief that had plowed into him when Toby had said the same, Silas just nodded, once, at Columbia's pardon. Not because her word meant any less than Toby's--more, in this matter, probably--but perhaps because Silas had finally begun to forgive himself. Ultimately, he had accepted that regardless of the reaction, he had done the right thing.
 
"Maybe she felt like Kae was like, your teammate or partner or something, and felt weird that she wasn't your partner, you know? In different ways she might have been jealous of both Kae and Addison."
 
This was something Silas certainly had not considered.

 

"Actually, I don't blame her for that,"

 

Oh no. 

 

"You have a lot of one-on-one female friendships, you know?"

 

"Most of our year is girls," he said, defensively at first, and then suddenly became self-conscious. "I... I'm not good in groups." This was true. Silas thrived in building relationships with other individuals, not establishing himself inside a community. He had always been that way. He felt that he bonded to people more strongly if they were one-on-one. It was a double-edged sword; being out of the loop spared him a lot of petty in-fighting and gossip, but apparently it also made him look really shady. "I hang out with Toby alone, too, obviously. And Luke's all right. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly a 'people person.'"

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Silas seemed like he was made a bit uncomfortable by Columbia's line of thinking, and in some perverse way Columbia was proud of it—she didn't want to shake Silas, but it was nice to know that he wasn't unshakeable.  

 

"I hang out with Toby alone, too, obviously. And Luke's all right. I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not exactly a 'people person.'"

 

"Yes, but hanging out with Toby and Luke alone is different. I mean, from Irene's point of view. Because you look like—well, you—and so Irene has to know that all the girls you 'hang out' with are going to want to snog you. I'm sure Kae does, Addison does. Maybe even on some level Grace does. I mean, have you honestly looked at yourself recently, Silas? I'm not sure that I'll be able to stand without swooning after this." Columbia smiled mischievously at him, guessing that going on about his looks might very well mortify him beyond belief.

 

"Anyway," she said, and her smile faded as she remembered her sadness, that the person she was flirting with was not the person she wanted. Would it be different someday? Would she and Silas someday find themselves free from mourning the past? Could Columbia ever kiss Silas without seeing someone else? People seemed to get over their exes all the time. Someday, she knew, she really might be able to wake up and not be sad about Gary. This was something people did; an ordinary passage of life. But knowing that fact was different than believing it. Not when every day felt like a dirge. 

 

"I miss him so much" was again on her tongue, but she swallowed it, certain she must have already said it. The phrase swam through her brain like it was doing laps. Instead, she turned to him. "If we ever get through this... this feeling," Columbia said, though "feeling" seemed too limp a word—"obsession," "torment," "Herculean trial" would all be better—"think of me, okay?"

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"Because you look like—well, you—and so Irene has to know that all the girls you 'hang out' with are going to want to snog you."

 

Silas began to feel heat around his collar and tsk'ed and looked away, and she continued relentlessly--

 

"I mean, have you honestly looked at yourself recently, Silas? I'm not sure that I'll be able to stand without swooning after this."

 

"Shut up," he said finally with an awkward laugh. Columbia quieted and became more serious, asking him to think of her if things ever changed. Would they? Would things ever be different? If they were healthy, would they still look to one another? Would Columbia be his match if Irene didn't exist? Silas nodded anyway, despite his doubts.

 

"I will," he said, looking around at the ruins of their picnic, their date, but thankfully not their friendship. "Well, we did the best we could. Ready to go?"

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