Thank you so much for visiting me at the hospital and for bringing flowers and food. Thanks J'mee (sorry, forgot to take your picture) for the food. USAP friends - MJ, Elly, Ronan, Marvin, Renwick and Jesel. My family - Daddy, Mommy, Ate Ethel, Brighton, Tito Nat & Tita Raquel.❤️❤️❤️
Ronan hesitated, and then he stretched out his arm, wrapping it around Shelby’s shoulders and pulling her into him. She instinctively smiled as she nuzzled against her best friend. He kissed her quickly on the head and sighed, breathing into her hair, “Nothing could ever come in between us, Shelby.”
“You mean it?” Shelby asked.
“Of course I mean it,” Ronan said, truthfully. “You could date an army of stupid assholes, and I would still love you just as much. You’re my Shellfish, and you know how much I love shellfish.”
Shelby giggled, leaning her head on Ronan’s shoulder, “Thanks, Ro. I’m so glad you said that.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Shelby said quietly, her shoulders drooping. Her stomach felt sick and her chest felt heavy. She knew exactly what Ronan wanted her to say, obviously. He wanted her to love him back, and she wished that she could give him that. She wished more than anything that she didn’t have to hurt him, but she couldn’t fake something like that. “I’m in love with Aiden. I can’t just turn it on and off. I can’t be in love with you just because you want me to be.”
This time, Ronan couldn’t keep the tears from slipping from his eyes. They slowly spilled out, rolling down his soft, freckling cheek. He sniffed, “This is me, Shellfish. Me. I… I c-can’t believe you’d choose this life, these people… over me.”
“I love you, Shellfish,” Ronan said, his voice gruff and quiet. “I always have… but I… I can’t watch you destroy your life…”
Shelby’s eyes rose to meet his, a knot in her stomach that she couldn’t loosen, “W-what?”
“I’m sorry,” Ronan said, taking a step backwards. “But I… I need to go.”
Shelby blinked back her own tears, her blood running cold, “This… this will get better, Ro. We… we can go back to normal!”
Ronan exhaled shakily, taking another step back, “No, Shellfish. We… we c-can’t.”
Shelby jumped up from her seat but hesitated, her stomach suddenly nervous. What if this was awkward? What if they didn’t simply ‘click’ like they had at the library? What if Antoinette didn’t like her?
Finally, she moved forward and opened the door. “Hey guys! Come on in!” She said, moving aside to allow entry to Ronan and Antoinette.
Ronan stepped in first, a crooked smile on his face as he held Shelby’s gaze, “Hey, Shelby. Thanks again for the invite.” He paused and motioned towards Antoinette as she followed him in, “This is Antoinette. Annie, this is Shelby.”
“We’ve met,” Antoinette said with a smile, taking Shelby’s hand in a gentle handshake. Shelby felt instantly intimidated by Antoinette. Well, not by her… but by how beautiful she had become over the years. She was taller than Shelby now, with long, thin legs and a beautiful curve to her body. Her short, red hair accented the fierce yet elegant edges of her face, and her bright eyes bored straight through Shelby.
Ronan rose an eyebrow, “You have?”
“Once,” Antoinette responded, not elaborating. She gazed around, “You have a lovely home.”
Shelby smiled, “Thanks.”
Dean jumped up from the couch with a grin, “Can we eat, now!?”
“I appreciate that, Shelby,” Ronan said, seriously. “It’s important to me that the two of you get along, now that you’re back in my life. I know it’s only been a month or so, but I already feel just as close to you as I used to. I need to know that you two will get along.”
Shelby nodded, “I feel the same way. I promise. I’ll try harder. She’s great, and obviously if you like her then I will. We’re the same person, Ro.”
“I know. It’s creepy. Stop.”
“I’m three weeks older,” Shelby said. “You’re the one copying me.”
They grinned at each other, but soon Ronan’s smile had faded. “Listen,” he said with a serious tone. “There’s something else that I wanted to—”
"Andover?” A voice came from behind them. “Ellis!?”
Ronan turned, looking half surprised and half happy at seeing her, “Hi, Shellfi–” He stopped himself, cleared his throat, and began again, “Hey Shelby. I was going to come talk to you. Just… getting up the courage, I guess.”
“Courage?” Shelby replied. She had caught his hesitation at calling her his favorite nickname, and his decision against it might have caused her pain if her heart didn’t already feel so hollow. “It’s just me, Ronan.”
Ronan nodded, chewing on his lip. He looked unsure about what to say, “I’m… I’m so sorry about your dad.” Shelby bobbed her head up and down, but she gave no other response. Ronan sniffed, and it was suddenly obvious to her that he had been crying, “I… I can’t believe he’s gone.”
“Yeah,” She croaked. “Hard to believe it when the superhero loses, huh?”
Ronan cleared his throat, his eyes shimmering, “And how’s Dean?”
Shelby shrugged, “I don’t know. I mean… the doctors fixed him up. They technically saved his life, but he hasn’t woken up yet. It’s hard for me to be overjoyed when he’s in a coma.”
“He’ll wake up,” Ronan said, reassuringly. “He’s a fighter. I know he’s going to wake up.”
Shelby didn’t know what to say. Ronan wreck it? That thought was completely foreign to Shelby. She was the one who had pulled away from him to hang out with Aiden and his friends more. She was the one who had rejected him, leaving him brokenhearted. She was the one who had refused to give them a chance.
Ronan shifted uneasily, Shelby’s lengthy silence bothering him, “Should I not have brought it up?”
“I…” Shelby stopped herself. “You didn’t wreck anything, Ronan. What happened between us was not your fault.”
“Wasn’t it, though?” Ronan replied, seriously. “I shouldn’t have tried to make you choose between me and Aiden. And I shouldn’t have thrown a fit when you didn’t choose me.”
Shelby swallowed hard, “Yeah, but–”
“But I guess it worked out for the best,” Ronan said, staring at his hands. “You have Chase, now, and I have Antoinette. Things went exactly how they were meant to, right?” He looked up at her with a genuine smile, his dark eyes twinkling.
Once Kylee and Dean had left, it took Shelby a minute to realize that she was alone with Ronan. But once she realized it, she couldn’t un-realize it. A strange feeling had settled over her. This was just like old times, right? She and Ronan used to spend hours playing video games together, alone in one of their rooms. But now it felt different. Something was off.
Maybe it was the way that his cologne tickled at her nose, a pleasant smell that she wasn’t used to but wanted more of. Maybe it was the way his laugh filled the room, the same old one she was used to, although it was just a little bit deeper. Maybe it was the way his tight Green Lantern t-shirt hugged his lean body, a contrast to the baggy clothes he used to use to cover what he called his ‘baby fat’.
Or maybe it was just that so many years had passed, and reuniting in this way was always awkward at first.
Ronan sighed, his eyes trailing up to Shelby’s face. With a gulp, he stood on shaky legs, unable to take his eyes off of her. To him, Shelby was already the most beautiful girl in the world. It didn’t matter if she was in sweats and a ponytail. She was perfect the way that she was.
Now, as she stood before him, her hair and make-up perfected for some other guy, she made his knees weak. Like this, Shelby was a whole other kind of beautiful. Like this, Shelby would have turned heads on the red carpet.
Palms sweaty, Ronan finally managed to speak, “Shellfish. You look… stunning.”
“I cannot believe it won’t turn on,” Shelby whined, hitting the power button again and receiving no response. The green light of the Xbox still blared at them, but the television just wouldn’t come back on.
Ronan frowned, “Maybe it’s a loose wire or something?” He glanced behind the television, but everything seemed intact. “Man, I don’t know.”
“You’re supposed to brilliant, Ro,” Shelby joked. “Fix it!”
“You know that computers are my forte.”
Shelby gave a frustrated sigh, putting her hands on her hips, “So… I guess that puts an end to our night.” She hesitated, “Unless you want to hang out a little longer?”
“Oh! Ro, I’m sorry!” Shelby said, pulling herself from her thoughts and turning to look at her best friend. She sighed, “I was completely distracted. I didn’t mean to ignore you.”
Ronan shrugged, “That’s okay, Shellfish. So… What did Collins want?”
Shelby raised her eyebrows, not hiding the surprise in her voice, “Actually… well, he asked me out.”
“He what!?” Ronan exclaimed as his calm disposition faltered. He cleared his throat, “I… wow, okay. Are you… What did you say?”
Shelby bit her lip, looking past Ronan to where Reed was still standing. He had his phone out, texting, but his eyes kept wandering over to where she and Ronan were standing. “I said yes,” Shelby replied, distractedly.
Ronan gulped, his face paling. “Oh… w-well that’s.. that’s great, then,” he stuttered. “I, uh… I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks, Ro,” Shelby replied quickly. “Sorry, I have to go do something. I’ll catch up to you later?” Without waiting for an answer, Shelby hurried past him.
Shelby and Ronan were lounging around Ronan’s house. It had been about a week since Dean’s party, and Shelby had been acting odd. Ronan noticed the difference, but he didn’t want to say anything. He’d been treading softly around Shelby since the day where she had confessed her crush on Jonathan Collins. He had acted immature and taken it out on Shelby, and that was stupid. He needed to face facts and be her friend.
Ronan was playing Halo 3 online while Shelby was stretched out on the couch beside him, watching. She normally played, but she had chosen not to today. “Where’s your girlfriend today, Cross?” A grainy voice came through the speakers and Ronan’s headset. Ronan’s gamer tag was Crosshair392, so he was known as Cross by all of their online friends.
“She doesn’t feel like playing today,” Ronan scoffed, looking over at Shelby.
Ronan was surprised as Shelby wrapped her arms around him, but he only hesitated for a moment. Soon, he raised his arms and held her tightly to him, running his hands up and down her back as she sniffed against his shoulder. “Oh Shellfish…” He murmured against her neck, a clenching feeling in his chest.
“I just don’t know how I’m supposed to do this,” Shelby said in barely more than a whisper. She buried her face further into his shoulder, “He was here just a few days ago. Days. And now I’m never going to see him again. I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep going. And… And Dean… If he wakes up…” She gulped, trying to correct herself. “When he wakes up… How are we supposed to tell him that his dad is gone?”
Ronan hugged her tighter, “I don’t know, Shellfish. It won’t be easy, but you have each other. You all have each other to help get you through this.”
“Except Mom won’t even look at us,” Shelby mumbled.
Ronan sighed, “I’m sorry… I’m… That will change. She just… She probably just needs time.”
“Everyone keeps saying that,” Shelby grunted, reluctantly pulling herself out of his arms. “Everyone keeps saying that we just need time. Can’t I skip to the part when this is all okay?”
Ronan nodded, “I understand the feeling, and it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard as hell, but you’ll get there. I promise.”
Shelby had finally begun to move around, feeling that her legs could sufficiently hold her. Her chest ached, and she felt like she could probably break down into tears at any moment, but she couldn’t sit in that chair any longer.
As she stood, her eyes swept across the graveyard, landing on a familiar back across the way. She hesitated before beginning that way. She was surprised that Ronan was still here, to be honest. She knew that he had come to pay his respects to her father, but she had assumed that he would take off pretty quickly afterwards. They weren’t friends anymore; they didn’t even know each other. There was no reason for him to stay.
But still, he did, and Shelby hoped for a moment it was so that he could speak with her. She took a breath and cleared her throat as she reached him, “Ro?”