To Lose and Forgive

Searching the tree-lined streets of her university campus, emerald eyes squinted in anger as they rested on her quarry. The student with highlights in her long brown hair marched up to the pair of third-year students standing in the shade of a tree, engrossed in conversation. Although the September day was bright and clear, there was no mistaking the approach of a storm.

A tap on the young woman's shoulder interrupted her conversation with the man. As she turned to meet the person, her head was whipped to the side with a resounding smack. Out of the corner of her eye, Alyssa saw her companion take an angry step forward, and she stopped him with an outstretched hand, barring his way. With the other hand cupping her cheek, Alyssa turned to her assailant. After a moment of confused silence, recognition dawned in her sapphire eyes, quickly followed by the fire of anger. "What was that for, Jade?" she demanded in a tightly controlled voice.

"A warning. Stay away from my boyfriend, or next time, it will be more than just a slap," was the hissing reply.

"Your boyfriend? Stay away from him? That's kind of hard to do, since I haven't seen him in a while. You've obviously been mistaken."

"Stay the fuck away from him, you bitch. The next time I have to tell you that, you'll be on the ground, eating dirt."

Alyssa's eyes narrowed at the threat. "Don't accuse me of something you know I haven't done. I haven't seen Arthur much since you started seeing him." Alyssa forced her expression to relax a little, and asked in a mockingly sweet voice, "What's the matter? Can't keep a leash on him?"

Jet-black hair fluttered like a banner as Alyssa's head snapped back again, her other cheek now bright pink. "Shut up! I don't need a leash. He came to me willingly, and will stay with me!"

Alyssa coldly slid her eyes to Jade's. "Lay a hand on me again, and you will regret it." Warren, her companion, unconsciously stepped back from the dangerous tone in her voice. He had never seen this side of Alyssa before. Her eyes had become a frosty blue, and looked to be pure ice. Her tone, if possible, was even colder and harder than her gaze. Jade did not notice. Fury blinded her to Alyssa's subtle signals of tightly controlled rage.

"You fucking slut. Stay away from him."

Alyssa's eyes glinted, a part of her screaming to punish the wretched snob, but she shoved that thought away and let the slur pass. She had no intention of drawing out this confrontation. Warren, however, seemed to think differently, and she lay a restraining hand on his arm. "Is that all you can think of? Your brain seems to be as limited as your vocabulary. I told you, I haven't seen him, and I have no intention of seeing him. Learn to trust him. You can't go around slapping everyone he's been talking to. You'd never get any sleep." With that parting remark, Alyssa turned, and strode toward the student union building of her campus. Warren walked beside her, and cast sidelong glances at her. She didn't notice.

Jade, furious at being treated like a child, leapt at Alyssa's retreating form.

Alyssa suddenly felt herself hurtling forward. An outstretched hand prevented her head from crashing face-first into the cement. The hand slid along the pavement, leaving a bloody trail, but at the moment, she couldn't register the pain. The rest of her body met the ground, the impact driving air from her lungs.

Jade recovered first, positioning one knee on the small of the taller girl's back. She grabbed a fistful of Alyssa's raven hair and yanked her head back. Her left hand came to rest beside Alyssa's shoulder.

Before anyone could react, Jade was falling forward, then rolling underneath Alyssa. The latter had knocked Jade's supporting arm from under her, and used the temporary instability to roll on top of her adversary. Alyssa quickly came to her feet, desperately gasping for air. She braced herself as the lightheadedness passed.

As Jade stood up, Alyssa backhanded her. Hard. The shorter girl staggered, holding her burning cheek. She looked up, met the icy glare, and backed away. A hand slammed into her throat, and for a second, she felt weightless. Her vision burst into white light, leaving pain in its wake. Tears sprung to her tightly closed eyes, as she reflexively tried to curl into a fetal position on the hard pavement. The hand at her throat prevented that. She couldn't breathe. Her eyes flew open as she clawed at the hand. The vise around her throat tightened, as Alyssa growled in a low, menacing voice, "Don't. Touch. Me. Again." Just as Jade's vision began to dim, the weight lifted, and she rolled over and coughed.

As the coughs and the burning in her lungs subsided, Jade slowly pulled herself to her feet and looked at the three figures a few paces ahead of her. Alyssa was coldly regarding the slim man in front of her. His blond hair and silver necklace glinted in the afternoon sun. His golden eyes sparked with anger as he heatedly yelled at Alyssa. Beside her, Warren's fists were clenching and unclenching as he heard the verbal onslaught. He was desperately trying to keep a rein on his temper, and only Alyssa's subtle, but firm, grip kept him from violently silencing the stranger.

"Shut up," commanded Alyssa. Surprised by the authoritative tone, the man blinked and lapsed into silence. "You should ask your precious girlfriend what happened. She attacked me first, and I lost my temper. Right now, she's in a lot better shape than I am. A couple bruises and a battered ego won't kill her. You two really should work out your problems instead of her attacking innocent people. I really don't know what you see in her." His eyes dimmed at that remark, while Jade's flared. Before either could open their mouth, Alyssa continued, "I've got to see to my hand, so I'll go now. Keep your girlfriend away from me, or next time, she'll be sporting more than just bruises." Alyssa threw a warning look at Jade, and left.

As she walked the short distance to the medical clinic, tears sprung to Alyssa's eyes. Now that the adrenaline had worn off, her hand burned, and her wrist throbbed. She bit her lower lip in pain, cradling her left hand against her chest.

The treatment for her hand made it burn hot, then cold. Some pebbles were embedded in her palm, and had to be removed. Her hand was scraped and dirty; it had to be washed and disinfected with a stinging solution. An ice pack was applied to her sprained wrist. As the swelling subsided, her wrist was bandaged to keep it immobilized. Finally, she was allowed to go.

Warren sprang from his seat upon seeing Alyssa come out of the examining room. "Are you ok?" Concern radiated from him.

"Yeah, just sprained and scraped. I'm gonna have problems taking notes for the next week or so. It hurts if I try to move my fingers." Seeing that she had only added to the worry, Alyssa smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, I'm fine. Let's go for some coffee."

The coffee shop was cozy. The two took a table by the window, where warm afternoon sunlight streamed in, bathing the table in a soft glow. Jazzy music played in the background, loud enough to put the shop's patrons at ease, but not so loud as to impede conversation.

Alyssa stared at the street outside, not seeing any of the people passing the window. Warren noticed this, and kept quiet. He knew his friend. She was trying to sort out her thoughts, and when she did, she would tell him what she thought was appropriate. Warren respected her privacy, just as she so often respected his. Alyssa was a very curious person, but she never pressed too hard for details.

The drinks arrived, and still Alyssa was deep in thought. Warren studied his friend over the rim of his iced mocha. He had known her for a year. They were in many of the same classes last year. He smiled as he remembered their first encounter.

[Flashback]

He rounded a corner in the corridor, and stumbled as something ran into him. Muttered curses drew his gaze down. A slender girl was scrambling to pick up the paper scattered around her. Warren stooped to help. In a few seconds, he straightened and handed a small stack to the girl. She was a head shorter than his six feet, with large blue eyes, and layered black hair that fell past her shoulders. She took her papers with a murmured apology and thank you, flashed him a smile, and was gone. Warren stared after her fleeing figure, and shrugged, ambling to class at an easy pace.

The lecture hall was already half-filled, and buzzed with the chatter of students waiting for class to start. Warren sat near the middle. He hated being in the front, where a professor could potentially pick him to answer a question, and the back was always too noisy to try to learn anything. His deep brown eyes scanned the room, looking for a familiar face. He sighed, there were none. It wasn't surprising. None of his friends had been interested in taking a course on the religious practices of Asian countries. They had all gaped at him, wondering why he chose to take such a course. They were more thinking-inclined, enjoying such courses as philosophy and political science.

Warren shuddered. He had made the mistake of sitting in on one philosophy class, and had nearly fallen asleep. He'd read a few passages from his friends' texts, and was glad he did not take any of the courses they considered 'fun.' He scanned the crowds again, looking for a friendly face this time. He was about to give up, when a girl stopped and gestured to the seat next to him, asking, "Is this seat taken?"

Warren's eyes crinkled, as he drawled, "Well, if it isn't the human bowling ball. Why were you in such a rush earlier?"

She frowned, trying to remember where she had met this person. His black hair was parted in the middle and fell over his forehead. When the light hit it at just the right angle, she saw that he had purple highlights. She looked into his laughing brown eyes and thought, 'Human bowling ball?' Her eyes widened, "Oh! Heh heh. Sorry about that." Her eyes then danced with laughter as she flopped down beside him. "So how do you like being a bowling pin?"

That had been the start of their friendship. It was a typical exchange for them. Both were able to trade sarcasm and jokes—however corny—with ease.

Alyssa sighed, running her good hand through her raven locks. "I know you're curious about what that whole thing was about. I don't know where to start, so you'll have to ask the questions."

Looking deep into her eyes, Warren asked softly, "Are you sure you want to talk about this? I don't want to pry."

She smiled warmly at him, "You never do. You know how it is…if I don't want to answer, I won't. Besides," her smile turned mischievous, "you're practically bursting with curiosity!"

Warren chuckled. "All right, you've got me there. So who is she… Jade? And the guy too, I don't remember his name."

"Arthur. He's my ex. We had broken up a little before the start of school last year, so you've never heard of him. Jade's his current girlfriend. She doesn't particularly like me, as she aptly proved today. I'm actually a little surprised at her actions. I never realized that she really was as possessive as Arthur made her out to be." Seeing the question in his eyes, Alyssa answered, "I talk to him on occasion. We both agreed that we should remain friends, so we call each other to catch up from time to time. I've only met Jade once, before she started dating Arthur, so at first, I didn't recognize her. I'm surprised she recognized me."

"It's not so surprising. You have distinct features." At her startled expression, he explained, "Very few people have black hair and blue eyes. Even fewer Asians keep their hair undyed." Alyssa twirled a lock of jet-black hair with a finger, as if checking to see if his observation was correct. "Anyway, if you don't mind, how did you and Arthur break up? If you're still friends, it must not have been too bad, right?"

Alyssa's eyes darkened as she brought her hand down to rest on the dark wood of the table. "Actually, the circumstances were pretty bad at first. We were 'high school sweethearts,' a couple for almost five years. What do you think broke us up?"

Startled at the abrupt question, Warren blurted the first thing that came to his mind. "He cheated on you?"

He caught a glimpse of pain in her eyes before they slid closed. "Yes. And it was with her. Jade. I found out about two weeks after their relationship started, and called ours off."

He was hesitant to ask his next question, but forged ahead with: "How did you find out?"

Alyssa's eyes snapped open, and traveled to the window again. "I asked him."

[Flashback]

Alyssa slammed the phone. She was furious. She was finally able to get some time off her grueling work schedule, and her boyfriend would not spend any time with her. Instead, he was out shopping with his new acquaintance and her friend, claiming that the girls had 'dragged' him out and he couldn't leave them stranded without a way to get home. When Alyssa asked if he could try to hurry the girls along, he just grunted a noncommittal answer. Her high spirits had fallen; the glow of anticipating a date with her boyfriend vanished in the face of his nonchalance. This was the last straw, so she hung up on him.

Just two days ago, he had forgotten to pick her up from her job as a server in an upbeat downtown restaurant. Alyssa was normally an easy-going person. It would not have mattered much to her, but the shift had ended at midnight, and she had found out the next day that he had been drinking with her. His new acquaintance. Jade.

What bothered Alyssa the most was that he didn't even tell her ahead of time that he would not be picking her up. He had just completely forgotten. It was not like him. Arthur was responsible, and he always insisted on driving his girlfriend home, claiming that the streets weren't safe. Even though she was perfectly capable of driving, he insisted on delivering her to her door, saying that he would feel better knowing that she got home safely. Although sometimes exasperating her, it was a sweet gesture. Alyssa secretly liked being coddled.

Arthur had been spending a lot of time with Jade lately, as he and Alyssa had conflicting work schedules. Alyssa hadn't thought much of it. After all, her boyfriend deserved a life outside of work; it wasn't either's fault that it was so hard to find time together. However, these last two incidents were too much. She lost her grip on her temper, and was determined to confront her boyfriend. He was being negligent, and he was spending a lot of time with another girl. It was suspicious.

That evening, Arthur called. Alyssa had spent the whole day thinking of the best approach to the topic, but to no avail. Immediately, Arthur sensed that something was wrong. Alyssa was normally energetic and passionate about the things she said and heard. That she was distant was a cause for worry, especially since she had hung up on him earlier in the day. He had decided to give her some time to cool off before calling her again, but apparently, it was all in vain. He decided to directly ask, "Lyssie, what's wrong?"

It was not the best course of action. "What's wrong!" his girlfriend exploded. "What's wrong is that my boyfriend spends time with some other person when he and his girlfriend finally have some time alone! What's wrong is that he goes drinking with this same person while his girlfriend has to go home alone late at night after work! I don't know, Arthur, you tell me if something's wrong."

Silence.

"Well? Don't you have anything to say for yourself?"

"Lyssie, I'm sorry. I didn't know it would upset you so much that we don't spend an afternoon together. I—"

"Didn't know it would upset me," Alyssa echoed in a dead tone, before heatedly continuing, "We haven't had a day to ourselves in the last 2 months! If I'm not working, you are! I saw you all of 2 hours last week, and that was just for breakfast before work! You were the one who was complaining about how little we saw of each other! Then, I finally persuade my boss to give me time off to coincide with yours, and you don't want to spend it with me?" Alyssa asked, incredulous.

"I-I didn't expect you to get a day off today, that's all…" he trailed off uncertainly.

"Oh. So you didn't know," she mocked. "But when I called you, you didn't want to leave the company of those girls. That was weak, Arthur, and you know it. Oh, and since we're having such a wonderful conversation already, mind telling me what's going on between you and Jade?"

Silence.

"What's the matter? Cat got your tongue? Aren't you going to defend yourself? Tell me that you and she are just friends?"

The silence stretched on.

"Well?"

"What do you think is happening?"

"What! I asked you a question. You're not supposed to answer with another one. And if you don't say anything, I'm just going to assume the worst-case scenario, and I'm sure you don't want that."

"What is the worst-case scenario?"

"I'm not going to answer that. I want to know what you and she are doing, not have you parrot what I think is going on."

"I don't want to say," he whispered, his voice laced with pain.

"Did you cheat on me?"

A brief pause, then, "Yes." It was barely audible.

"And then everything went downhill from there. We spent the next week apart, trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to give him time to sort out his feelings, and decide what he wanted. It was an agonizing week for me, waiting for him to come to a conclusion. He claimed that he loved me dearly, but could not stay away from her, and I couldn't wait any longer for him to sort himself out. The uncertainty was tearing me apart, so I just called it off. It hurt a lot more than I'd anticipated. It still does, actually. That kind of betrayal just doesn't disappear so quickly. It's been a year already, but sometimes, I still fall into depression over it," Alyssa finished in a whisper.

Warren got up and went over to hug her. He could almost feel the hurt radiating from her, and saw the telltale gleam in her eyes. Noticing the curious stares, he murmured into her ear, "Let's finish this conversation somewhere else, ok?" At her nod, he paid their bill, and they left.

They went to a nearby field and sat in the shade of a tree. In the distance, children shrieked and laughed in the playground. At the far side of the field, cheers erupted from the baseball diamond. These sounds barely touched the tranquility of the area around them. It was the perfect place to talk, away from prying eyes and ears.

Warren patiently waited for Alyssa to begin again. She had retreated into herself on the short walk from the café. She sat with her knees drawn to her chest, right arm wrapped around her legs. The injured hand lay beside her, while her head rested facedown on her knees. She looked very small.

After several minutes, Warren knelt beside her and gently touched her shoulder. She started slightly and he was shocked to hear a sniffle. "Alyssa?" he began uncertainly, "You know you can always talk to me, right? I'm here for you."

With a sob, Alyssa threw her arms around Warren. They remained that way for a while. One of Warren's arms wrapped around her slim form, while the other hand came up to stroke her hair. "It's ok, Alyssa. That's it, just let it all out. I'm here for you," Warren murmured soothingly.

After what could have been hours or mere minutes, Alyssa's sobs stopped. She pulled away from the shelter of his arms, and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

Warren fumbled in his pockets, and produced some tissue. She blew her nose, and wiped away the last of her tears. When she was composed enough, she looked into his chocolate gaze and smiled shakily. "Thank you," she said, her voice hoarse.

"No problem. This shirt needed to be washed anyway."

Blushing, Alyssa still managed to retort, "A lot of good that did. You forgot detergent!"

Warren grinned, then asked in a serious tone, "Are you ok, though? Do you still want to talk about it?"

"I'm all right. What did you want to know?"

"The reason why Jade would attack you."

Shrugging, Alyssa replied, "She's clinically insane? I don't know. The times that I've spoken with Arthur, he said that Jade was really possessive and insecure about their relationship. Not that I blame her. She had cheatd on an ex before, and Arthur was cheating on me."

Nodding, Warren finished, "Not a good way to start a relationship. I get it. Still, it was extreme to physically attack you because of a little jealousy."

Alyssa shrugged again. "So long as she never does it again, I can leave it at that."

"That's another thing. You forgave him for cheating on you?"

"Yeah. I figured that things happen, and that's just life. The incident was forgiven, not forgotten, though. He and I are more like acquaintances than friends. We occasionally catch up in life, but that's rare, because of Jade's nature." Alyssa looked into the distance, her eyes becoming unfocused. "I'll never see him in the same light again, but I don't hate him. I'm a better person through knowing and loving him, as he is better because of me." She smiled sadly, and continued in a soft, steady voice, "That's what life's about: living, learning and feeling. To quote Tennyson: 'It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.' I know it's cliché, but it's true."

The two were silent after that, each lost in their own thoughts, while the sun slowly sank in the horizon, casting an orange glow. The children had long since gone home for supper, and all was calm and quiet in the field.