Time and Change
I stirred the ice around in the coffee that rested on the table before me. My eyes were glued to the door, waiting patiently. I was here to meet with an old friend, who I knew would show up soon, but as each solitary minute passed by, a cloud of concern grew heavier in the back of my mind.
There was no reason to worry, really; that was just me. I had arrived at the little coffee shop at 11:00 AM, right on the minute, and in the time it took for me to order an iced mocha latte and find a seat, it was 11:06, and three minutes later I was still by myself. This was the norm on most occasions, I was rarely a second late in any circumstance, and I was usually the one to wait around for my companions, anxiety building up naturally without cause.
I suppose that is simply me being me, though.
My concerns were put to rest as a slender white Xweetok slipped through the door and entered the coffee shop, looking around for me. I smiled and waved at her, and when she saw me, she hastily made her way over.
"Late as usual, Siella," I teased as I stood up to greet her.
"And I bet you were here the second the clock struck eleven," she responded with her wide, sparkly smile.
"Well of course," I responded with a grin. "May I buy you a medium dark roast, black, with a shot of coconut?"
"Oh Dylan, you know me so well, but no. I refuse to allow you to buy it for me this time, you do that enough as it is," she replied.
"Aw, I don't mind! After all, I invited you here," I said.
"That's no excuse. Even if you hadn't, you would want to. I can't take neopoints from you every time we meet." Before I could protest any more, Siella approached the counter and ordered her coffee herself, and rejoined me a few minutes later.
"So how have you been? I see you got painted," Siella commented as she sipped at her coffee.
She motioned to my fur. I was no longer a blue Gelert, but a spotted one.
"Ah, yes, a few months ago, actually. Not long after graduation. It was a gift from my aunt," I shrugged.
"It looks nice on you." she responded with a good-natured smile that I'd been missing.
I'd nearly forgotten Siella had not known I changed my color; I sometimes forget how long it's been between our meetings. The last time I saw her was almost seven months ago, shortly before my high school graduation. How time can elude us, I thought.
"And how is college going for you? Ready to face the real world once you receive your degree?" I asked.
It blew my mind to think that Siella was already a senior in college, and I was barely halfway through my first year. It was kind of like it was when we'd first met, I realized, and the irony of it made me want to laugh. Of course, things had been very different back then.
"It's alright. Stressful. But actually, I won't be done with school quite yet. I'm going for a graduate degree, which means two more years, since I won't be likely to find the job I want with an undergraduate in psychology," she explained.
"Oh, you are? That's great! Have you been accepted to a program already?" I asked.
Part of me was secretly glad Siella wouldn't be ending school so soon and entering the work force, because I knew that would only cause us to grow even more apart than we already have in the past four years.
"Not yet, but I'm holding my hopes up for a university in Shenkuu, I think I have a good chance, and it's my dream to study there. Brightvale is nice, but its programs seem dull to me now, and it's not nearly as scenic." she explained.
I nodded, though I felt slightly disappointed. Shenkuu was so far away.
"What about you though, what are you doing? You never told me," she said.
"Oh, well, you know I'm attending Neopia Central's local university, nothing fancy or far away. I'm studying business and economics, though. I enjoy the stock market and investing," I replied.
"That's nice! Kind of surprising to me, though, that you like investing. You're so logical and organized and investing is so unpredictable and disorderly," she commented.
"True, but I find it stimulating, despite how stressful it gets. I like being right, and figuring out where I went wrong when I'm not." I shrugged.
Siella chuckled, and I smiled. It was nice hearing her laugh again; I'd always loved hearing it. Her voice was so smooth and rhythmic, it matched her cyan blue eyes and snowy fur; all of which reflected her personality: kind, friendly, cheerful, clever; she seemed so flawless to me and at times I couldn't help but feel insecure, though I'd never let it show. Somehow I think she knew anyways. She had a way of sensing things in me that nobody else could.
"You sure have come a long way, Dylan, haven't you?" she commented softly, and I nodded.
I briefly flashed back to the way things used to be. Back in high school, when I was a scrawny little freshman and Siella was a mature, intelligent senior. Despite my immaturity, Siella still enjoyed talking to me- when I wasn't showing off or being lazy- and we were good friends. She was the first upperclassman who hadn't looked down on me. She'd never treated me like I was ignorant and annoying; she saw who I was, and I could talk to her without feeling too intimidated.
Back then, I was short and clumsy and careless. My grades were low and my teachers disliked me. I was failing science. When I met Siella, she selflessly offered to tutor me and help me raise my grades, and twice a week we sat in the library and she helped me study and do homework. She was so kind and smart, and I'd felt guilty sometimes for keeping her from her own homework and friends, though I knew she didn't mind. She was only three years older, and only an inch taller, but I still saw her as almost an adult.
Now, I stood nearly five inches taller than her, and I no longer felt like she's older than me. In fact, I'd made friends with a pet in his thirties, and even he didn't even seem old now. Once you leave high school, you realize that age truly is just a number. We aren't that different at all.
"A lot has changed," I stated, back to reality. "I'm more mature now, and driven. I'm making something of my life, of myself. I feel like I've come so far, especially when I see you..."
Siella cocked her head at this, and I grinned sheepishly.
"You know, we hardly see each other at all, not since you graduated yourself, and I'm always reminded of how different my life has become. I guess I feel like you're from my past." I added, darting my eyes into my latte.
The Xweetok continued to smile, though I was certain I caught a glimpse of sadness in her cyan eyes.
"I'm sorry, Dylan. It's just that I'm so busy with my job and my education. We live far apart most of the time, and we hardly run into each other. It is sad to think our paths have split. I wish we'd kept in touch more too..." she sighed, and I forced my frown away.
"It's okay, Siella. I understand. I'm busy too, anyway. We're in different schools, going into different professions, in different parts of the world. That's life. I... just thought you should know I miss you, sometimes," I admitted, and the small Xweetok's cheeks flushed slightly as she smiled.
"I've missed you too, Dylan." A small sigh escaped her lips, and we sat in silence for a moment.
Finally, I broke the silence with a sound something between a chuckle and a sigh.
"I guess we'll just have to work harder with keeping in touch," I said, and the light in Siella's eyes returned.
The subject changed again, back to school and friends and jobs, and drifted into the many changes that had taken place over the years. Despite the occasions Siella and I ran into each other- mainly during summer or winter breaks- we'd never had a good chance to catch up until now. The last time I'd seen her, it had been for a couple of minutes after my graduation ceremony in the Month of Relaxing. Before that, it might have been a run-in at the Marketplace, or perhaps a local restaurant.
Our friendship, though not strong, still existed, at least. When I'd neomailed her, hoping she would have the time to meet, I'd felt like it was a shot in the dark. I really had had no idea whether she would even respond, let alone agree to see me. Life keeps people apart sometimes, and in this case, the bond that we'd had so long ago seemed so stretched now that I wondered if it could last much longer.
I still cared about Siella, she was still my friend; but for how long? She would be moving even farther away after a while, perhaps find a home someplace far from Neopia Central, and I would be left here, remembering the good times when things were simple and all my friends lived within walking distance.
I tried not to dwell on the negative, though. I focused on enjoying her company, sharing with her my experiences through high school and listening to hers through college. She told me about her hobbies, reading and writing, one of the few things that hadn't changed it seemed. I told her about my disinterest in yooyuball and other sports. I was more into music, something she seemed surprised to hear.
Our reunion felt short, but pleasant all the same. We continued to converse long after both our coffee cups were empty and the sun was high in the sky. It was sunny for the wintertime; the Month of Sleeping was usually dark and dreary, but it almost looked like it would be warm stepping outside, like a spring afternoon.
My thoughts continued to jump place to place as we spoke; our conversation seemed to grow dry after a while. Meaningless things- weather, travel, and school again, friends and family- things we'd both heard over and over, from not only each other but others as well. I had enjoyed seeing Siella again, but the bond holding us together was wearing thin. I could feel it. Eventually, once our conversation slowed and we no longer had anything to sip or eat, Siella sighed and glanced out the window to her right. There was nothing out there- dirt roads and slushy snow, few neopets were around.
"It's getting late, Dylan. I should probably get going. I promised my mother I'd help her clean out the basement, and it's already almost 1:00..." she trailed off, and I nodded.
Of course, our short and sweet meeting was coming to a close. I felt the heavy weight of remorse in my chest again, like she was going away, and this time for good. It made me miss the days when things were simple, yet again. I wanted my close friend back. Why did life always have to get in the way?
But there was nothing I could do. Instead, I stood up to say goodbye, a cheerful grin spread on my face, pretending like I didn't know what this meant.
"It was so nice to see you again, Dylan. I hope we can meet again soon," Siella said as we walked out of the coffee shop.
I nodded, though I knew "soon" would be much longer than expected. She was going back to Brightvale in four days, and then maybe she would spend next summer working here a bit, but then she was moving to Shenkuu. Maybe I would see her again. But I didn't count on our friendship staying strong for much longer, and I knew it hurt me more so than her. Siella was too busy to worry about friendships.
"Good luck, Siella. You know I'm always here. Neomail me when you return," I said.
"Of course I will! Goodbye." And she walked away.
I stood outside the coffee shop for a moment, reminiscent of our friendship as it had been years ago, when it was strong and exciting and real , not an occasional thing. But I knew better than to dwell too much on one thing in life. Normally I wouldn't be bothered with an old friend who didn't have the time to stay around, but with Siella it was different. It had always been different.
Nothing left now but to continue with my own life, though, I thought. I turned and made my way down the opposite path- literally and figuratively- to my own neohome. I knew Siella was moving on, in some ways she already had, and now I knew it was time I did as well. Not everything lasts, and it was a truth that pained me more than it should have, for all my apathy and hardheadedness; emotions, after all, only made things difficult, yet I was still cursed to suffer through them.
It was much colder outside than the shining sun suggested from inside. I pulled my jacket tighter around myself and slipped on a pair of gloves as I trudged home through the sticky, slushy snow.