Track practice came to an end, and I once again found myself helping Regina down from the stands. “I think you’re getting faster, James.” She was smiling as she gripped my hand and descended the last few stairs. “I was actually a bit slower than normal today, but thank you.” She rolled her eyes and replied, “You still were faster than most of your team by a fair margin.” I was always faster than most of the team, but I couldn’t always hold second and never came in first. Nathan was my continuous competition for second, always pushing me to run faster. Luke managed to leave us in the dust, or so I felt. The guy was unbelievably quick, always running even faster if someone seemed to be keeping up. Coach was continuously frustrated by Luke, since he knew Luke never did his best. Coach always wanted us to do our best whenever we were timed. Luke had never cared about doing anything but winning the race.
Regina’s finger poking my side brought me out of my reverie of races and sent me jumping to the side. “Hey now,” I exclaimed as I shifted my bags between us. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she giggled, hardly looking apologetic. I shook my head and started walking when she did it again! My bags were down in a second, and I took a defensive stance, ready for any onslaught. She was doubled over with giggles now, incapable of even speaking. “Your face… that was hilarious,” she managed between fits of laughter. She knew better than to tickle me, and I could hardly tickle her back. In all the years knowing her, I never managed to find a single ticklish spot on Regina and gave up when she suggestively told me that I hadn’t tried everywhere yet. Life was just not fair at times.
I crossed my arms and started tapping my foot with my best stern look on my face for a good two seconds. I hadn’t seen her laughing this hard in ages and couldn’t help smiling at the sight. “Oh come on… It couldn’t have been that funny,” I half-heartedly complained. “Yes. Yes, it could,” she claimed, still laughing. After a couple minutes, she was calmed down enough to start walking to her car again. “What brought that on, Regina?” She smiled, her lips still trembling with mirth, and told me that tickling came up in a conversation with mother this morning. “We were talking about the days when you and I were taking Tai Chi together, and Rachel brought up how you were so paranoid about me tickling you that you lost matches against me.” I couldn’t deny it. Regina cheated, tickling me whenever the instructor wasn’t looking whenever we would be paired to spar.
“I occasionally do practice still, but finding the time is difficult.” Regina smiled and put her hand on my shoulder. I tried not fidget as she said, “I still practice as well if you ever want another sparring match.” My feelings must have been on my face for she started giggling again. I grabbed her hand when she went to poke me again, which might have been precisely what she wanted with how she held onto my hand. “Any chance that I get my hand back before your car?” She smiled sweetly at me, “Of course, James. I need my hand to find out which parts of your side are the most ticklish. I can’t seem to remember right off.” I held onto her hand as she was releasing mine. Regina cheats. That was just her way. “Ok, you. Let’s get going. I still have work tonight.” She pouted as I pulled her along to her car. “All work and no play makes James a dull boy.” I smiled and asked, “Does that mean you are tired of my company?” That disturbing, calculating look of hers came to her eyes.
“Not even close. Actually, I’m thinking I should charge you interest on the painting, since you keep trying to weasel your way out of the dance.” I sighed as I put my bags into her car and opened her door for her. “One opened door does not let you off the hook.” I stuck my tongue at her and hopped into the passenger seat. “So what color is your dress? I’ll need to know if I’m going to get a matching tux.” She smiled at that, replying, “Don’t worry. Your mother and I talked through everything already. Rachel’s such a sweetheart.” Regina was the only one of my friends who ever called my parents by their first names. I truly did think of her as a friend even when I called her the devil. “I suppose I should have seen that one coming. Is there anything I actually should worry about for it?” She smiled and shook her head. “No, but I am curious how your date went.” There was a waver to her voice as she spoke, so I knew she was still worried. “Emma is absolutely wonderful. We had a great time playing video games, though we never made it to the theater.”
“Oh?” Regina sounded worried, so I decided to go ahead and ease her concern. “I’m probably the first guy Emma ever dated. She’s way more into girls, so I’m rather certain that she just wants to be friends.” Regina was trying not to smile now as she replied, “I’m sorry things didn’t go as well as you had hoped.” I shook my head. “No you’re not, but thank you. We didn’t end up going to the theater because she broke her leg skateboarding the day before.” Regina suddenly looked truly sad. “What’s wrong,” I asked her. She just shook her head, a tear running down her cheek. “Regina, please tell me what’s bothering you.” She pulled over at my house and looked at me with tear-filled eyes. “James, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know she’d get hurt.” I was surprised that she took that so personally. “That was a freak accident. There’s no reason to blame yourself.” I leaned over and hugged her.
“James… I’m sorry. It was. It completely was… I was so upset on Saturday, thinking about you out with that girl and about you going on a date with Emma Sunday… I just couldn’t help it!” I pulled away from her startled. “What did you do? Did you set the dog after Emma?” She started crying in earnest. “Please, James.. I didn’t mean for her to get hurt!” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She occasionally lost matches in Tai Chi because she held back too much, fearing that she might hurt her opponent if she followed through on blows. Finding out now, in this way, that she was willing to hurt people over me disturbed me greatly. I was furious. “How did you even find her!?” She just shook her head and kept crying. I grabbed my bags and slammed the door. “Forget the dance. There’s no excuse for this, Regina.” I walked to the house without looking back, though part of me desperately wanted to look. I felt like screaming at her, but I knew I couldn’t handle her crying. Seeing her cry always tore me apart.
I heard her tires squeal as she pulled away and worried about her driving in such a state. Though the feelings were strong, I did my best to stifle them. Regina should be sorry for hurting Emma. I desperately wished I knew how she managed to find the girl. Frustrated and confused, I hurried to get changed, ate a couple sandwiches, and then headed to the bus stop. I was amazed once again at how quickly things could change. This morning I was planning on giving Regina a fair chance. Now I didn’t really want anything to do with her. Jarod was going to be disappointed about the dance, but I was certain he would understand after hearing about this. Poor Emma. I would have to ask her if she had seen a girl of Regina’s description around. She didn’t respond to the text quickly, since she was in the middle of a game. Apparently, she didn’t pay much attention to her audience while skateboarding. I didn’t know what to say when she inquired why I was asking, so I started talking with her about when she wanted to lose to me again at Call of Duty. That got her going.
Helping Wendy Wright gave me plenty of time to think. Her house was already fairly clean when I arrived. We just needed to clean more thoroughly under furniture as we moved things around. I honestly found the work to be relaxing until I was cleaning the tops of bookshelves and fans where she had trouble reaching. I was sneezing by the time I finished with those, but I was still unsure of how to deal with Regina. Not speaking with her would be too awkward to accomplish, but maybe mother would help once she found out that Regina had caused Emma’s injury. There was just no good way to deal with a friend doing something so horrible. What could I even say to Regina when we spoke again? I knew she would want to talk and to try apologizing again. I desperately wished for an easy way out, but I couldn’t imagine getting that lucky. Tomorrow would likely be a very long day.