Chapter 25:

Chapter 25: Jealousy

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

Emi’s heartbeat drowned out everything else around her. She found Cynthia at the end of the hallway, outside Matt’s room.Bookmark here

She was glad she was feeling so high right now. It had taken all day to summon up the courage to come talk to Cynthia, and she never would have been able to do it at her worst.Bookmark here

“Hi, Cynthia.”Bookmark here

Emi still felt uneasy around Cynthia. Serena had tried to convince her not to feel guilty, and she’d helped, but… the way Cynthia lit up when she saw Emi made her heart ache.Bookmark here

“Emi! Hey! You come to visit Matti?” Cynthia waved her over and Emi sat down.Bookmark here

“He’s… asleep?”Bookmark here

“Yep. Long day, you know how it is. I’m… gonna have to head out soon, actually.”Bookmark here

Emi noticed that Cynthia’s clothes were rumpled. And she kind of had a smell.Bookmark here

“Did you sleep here?”Bookmark here

“No, they wouldn’t let me. I had to camp outside, since I didn’t have a hotel room, and-“Bookmark here

“That’s no good!” Emi exclaimed. “You just slept in the street?!”Bookmark here

Cynthia nodded to her duffel bag and shrugged.Bookmark here

Emi couldn’t believe what she was hearing.Bookmark here

“I camped out all the time at my folks’ farm, it’s no big deal.”Bookmark here

Emi couldn’t imagine sleeping out in front of the hospital.Bookmark here

“Cynthia, you’re Matt’s girlfriend. You can stay with us, you know. With the Guardians.”Bookmark here

Cynthia lit up at the idea. She was as chatty as could be on the way to Strayhaven. Emi, on the other hand, was surprised at her own offer. She’d come to the hospital to apologize, and somehow that had turned into inviting Cynthia to stay with them.Bookmark here

“You know, I’m really jealous.”Bookmark here

Emi flinched. Cynthia must have suspected something about her and Matt!Bookmark here

“J-Jealous? B-But… I mean, I…”Bookmark here

“Matt’s already made so many friends like you! Meanwhile, my friends…” Her voice trailed off and a tear rolled down her cheek. “S-Sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to… you’re great! Really!”Bookmark here

Cynthia was trying to smile, but Emi could see she was hurt by something. She wanted to ask, but it wasn’t her place.Bookmark here

She wasn’t good with words. Hopefully Serena would be cooking something nice for dinner.Bookmark here

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Everyone took to Cynthia like a new puppy. The Guardians were in the common room entertaining their guest.Bookmark here

“…So Matti had to go up and do his entire presentation in a dress, it was amazing! Best prank I ever pulled!”Bookmark here

Ryan was practically doubled over laughing and even Willow had to politely hide her smirk. And Serena was eating every word with a big spoon.Bookmark here

“…Please, please stay here forever,” she pleaded, hugging Cynthia tightly. She was already figuring out ways to torture Matt with all these stories.Bookmark here

Emi watched them from the couch. She hated how jealous she felt, seeing Cynthia as the life of the party. She was everything Emi was too shy to be.Bookmark here

“So that’s the girlfriend, eh? Way to go Matt!”Bookmark here

Emi jumped in shock when Nick sat next to her. She scooted away from him, still sore about what he’d said in the hospital.Bookmark here

“You wish you were her, don’t you?” Nick’s voice had lost its playfulness. “You don’t need to deny it. I’ve got pretty good eyes.”Bookmark here

Emi took another glance at Cynthia’s beaming grin and nodded sadly. Her emotions had been in flux all day, and she could feel herself slipping back into the mire.Bookmark here

“She’s so bright… and nice. She says what’s on her mind and people like her. I wish I could be like that, but I- wait, why am I telling you this?!”Bookmark here

Nick shrugged. “You’re sensitive right now. Vulnerable. You’ve got your emotions bottled up and you’re reaching out for help because you feel insecure and want someone to comfort you. I’ve seen it plenty of times.”Bookmark here

“Uh…” Emi had no idea what to make of that.Bookmark here

“This would be the perfect time to make a move on you, but I’m not that kind of guy. Besides, you’re not my type.”Bookmark here

“…Thanks for that,” Emi muttered, rolling her eyes in disgust.Bookmark here

“Cynthia’s definitely got pluck. I can see why you’d be jealous of someone like that. But there’s nothing wrong with being a wallflower. You’re a great girl, Emi!”Bookmark here

“…This is you not trying to make a move on me, right? Because I’ve had guys hit on me before, and somehow they had more tact than I’m seeing right now.”Bookmark here

“Right there, see? You’ve got a great sense of humor.”Bookmark here

“Cynthia’s still funnier.” If Nick was trying to make her feel better, he sucked.Bookmark here

“Emi, it’s not a competition. Just because Cynthia is more outgoing than you, that doesn’t take anything away from who you are. Just because people like her, that doesn’t mean that they don’t like you.”Bookmark here

Emi knew he was right. But she still was still jealous.Bookmark here

“Are you really the right person to give advice about being liked?” What… what had she just said?! It had just slipped out because of her bad mood.Bookmark here

Nick took it on the chin with a laugh. “See? What did I say, a great sense of humor, cutting as it might be.”Bookmark here

“…Sorry.”Bookmark here

“Listen, Emi. I’m not the genius who’s got all the answers. I’m just some guy. But I do know that if you want people to like you, then you have to be yourself.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“I know a thing or two about pretending to be something you’re not. Even if you acted like Cynthia to get people to like you, I think in the end you’d feel even worse. You’d feel like no one was seeing you for who you are.”Bookmark here

Emi stared at the floor and thought about what he was saying. It stung to hear his words ring so true in her ears. Nick barely knew her, she’d barely had a single conversation with him. So how was he able to see her so clearly?Bookmark here

Nick clapped her on the shoulder. “Well, don’t feel too bad. People like you just fine for who you are.” He left her with her thoughts. Emi would have to make her choices for herself.Bookmark here

Lori entering the common room made the perfect distraction.Bookmark here

“Lori. When’s the Guild Master going to come back?” Serena asked.Bookmark here

“She just called. There was an incident at New Margilia, and the conference is taking longer than she expected. She’ll be back in the morning.”Bookmark here

“Great!” Nick cheered. “So when’s dinner?”Bookmark here

Dinner was even worse than the common room. Cynthia wanted to sit next to Emi, putting her right in the center of the girl she was jealous of.Bookmark here

Cynthia continued to tell stories about Matt while Emi picked at her potatoes. She was afraid that her depression would take over, and then Cynthia did something unexpected.Bookmark here

“Emi, how’s the food?”Bookmark here

Emi was surprised that Cynthia was talking to her. “Um… I guess… it’s good?”Bookmark here

She felt small under the girl’s shining gaze. It was like a goddess granting kindness to an ugly shrew.Bookmark here

“Emi, did I tell you about the time me and Matti snuck into the swimming pool after hours? So, great story…”Bookmark here

Emi smiled and nodded along with her. She tried to have fun. The dinner was tense, but she was glad Cynthia was feeling better. It helped ease the guilt she felt for the girl.Bookmark here

After eating, Cynthia seemed to latch onto Emi. The other Guardians were still friendly to her, but Emi was the one she followed into the common room to chat with.Bookmark here

“That was just the best! It’s been a while since I had a dinner like that! You guys do that every day?”Bookmark here

Emi nodded. “Yeah, it’s… really lively.”Bookmark here

Cynthia had a wistful smile on her face. She stared off into the distance.Bookmark here

“The barracks in Carthade aren’t like that. I mean, sure, we all eat together, but this… it felt like I was back home with my family.”Bookmark here

Emi thought of her own family. She remembered her sisters gossiping around the table, her little brother telling his stories, and her mother’s warm smile.Bookmark here

“I have four sisters myself. And a little brother.” She didn’t know why she was telling Cynthia. Maybe because she wanted the girl to like her. Cynthia had that sort of air about her, like she was a warm and soothing wind.Bookmark here

“I have three brothers myself. Large families are a lot of fun, aren’t they? Never a dull moment!”Bookmark here

Emi laughed, she had to agree with that.Bookmark here

Cynthia stopped laughing and smiled again. “Dinner tonight… kind of made me wish I’d joined you guys, you know?”Bookmark here

“What? You mean the Guardians?”Bookmark here

“I’m real jealous of ya, Emi! This place is a blast! Heck, you guys have a pool table, how cool is that?!”Bookmark here

Cynthia… was jealous of her? Emi couldn’t believe it.Bookmark here

“That’s… it’s not so…”Bookmark here

Cynthia jumped onto the couch next to her and hugged her. She was a hugger alright, and it was making Emi really uncomfortable.Bookmark here

“It’s okay, as cool as this place is, Central Services is better,” Cynthia boasted, letting Emi go. “Getting to help people, serving Autoria… it’s amazing. But I’m glad he came here, instead of working with me.”Bookmark here

“R-Really? But wouldn’t you… um, don’t you want to work with him? So you can be together?” If Emi was Matt’s girlfriend, she would be with him all the time. It was so weird that Cynthia was okay with them being in different guilds.Bookmark here

“Oh, that would be awesome! But no, this place is better for Matt. A lot better.”Bookmark here

“Really? Why?”Bookmark here

The wistful smile crossed her face again.Bookmark here

“You know all those stories I was telling you guys about Matti?”Bookmark here

“Yeah…”Bookmark here

“Well, there’s one that really stands out to me. It’s a treasured memory. How much do you know about Matt’s family?”Bookmark here

“He… has a big brother, Kanone, right?”Bookmark here

“Yep. But Kanone was always busy with guild work. And since he doesn’t have any parents, he was alone a lot. He didn’t really have anything like a real family.”Bookmark here

Emi felt bad for him. That must have been hard.Bookmark here

“He used to be so rude and quiet. But I guess I felt a little bad for him, you know? Being all alone on the holidays like that. So I invited him to my house for break. And the way he lit up, being around my folks? It was like he was a totally different guy. It was like he had a family for the first time.”Bookmark here

“That’s… nice.” Emi tried not to get gooey inside as she imagined Matt’s smile.Bookmark here

“You guys are his family now. Dinners like that are just what he needs. Thank you for giving it to him.”Bookmark here

Cynthia’s smile lit up the room. She was so great. Nick was right, Emi wanted to be liked for who she was. But in the presence of someone like Cynthia, could Emi really be blamed for wishing to be like her?Bookmark here

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